Category Archives: Building Maintenance

Keep a close watch on utility bills

Keep a close watch on your utility bills

 

Utility Bills

Utility Bills

When I got into multi-family investing, I learned very quickly that the old saying “a penny saved is a penny earned” applies to property management.  One of the most important reasons to have your property professionally managed is to watch the expenses.

Some of the basics are doing routine inspections, every six months or at the very least once per year.  It is important to focus on preventative maintenance.  It is better to have a proactive mindset, rather than a reactive mindset.

Another area you can save money is to watch for inconsistencies in any of the utility bills you pay.  It is common in Nova Scotia to pay the water bill for your properties.  In the Halifax area, even if you transfer the water bill into your tenants name, if they do not pay, the landlord will be required to pick up the bill.  That is why most landlords include it, in the rent.

Yesterday we noticed a problem with a water bill at one of our properties.  The usage was double the previous month.  That indicated a problem.  Either the tenant was suddenly using way more water, or there was a leak.

We immediately sent our handyman to investigate.  What he discovered was the bathtub tap was leaking.  He replaced the cartridge, and now the problem is solved.  This simple fix will save us a lot of money over time.

We had a power bill problem a few years ago that we were able to fix.  We had made a deal with a tenant to have power included in the rent.  It was ok at first, but when it got cold, the power bill went sky high.  We had our property manager talk to the tenant.  When he arrived the thermostats were on twenty five degrees, and I mean all of them.  Every room.  What we decided to do was set up programmable thermostats.  We did not just install them and leave, we had our electrician set them all up based around the tenants work schedule.  This proved to be an easy fix that has saved us hundreds of dollars.

If you are paying any of the utilities at your properties, make sure to check for inconsistencies.

These are just a couple of examples where you can save / earn more money.  Make sure to check all your bills related to each property to maximize your cash flow.

Michael P Currie

Book launch September 22, 2016 pre-order the Kindle version by clicking this link

 

Do not delay important maintenance

Do not delay important maintenance

 

Maintenance

Maintenance

Shelly and I enjoy writing about property management for a number of reasons, one of the main reasons is to hopefully prevent our readers from making the same mistakes we have, the other main reason is to show our readers a way to solve a problem.

We pride our selves on looking after our properties, and are huge believers in preventative maintenance, however, we recently made an error in judgement in waiting too long to replace a roof and it lead to a leak inside the house during a recent rain storm.

It all began about one year ago when a piece of aluminum facia blew off the edge of the building.  I had my general contractor re-attach it, and had him take a look at the roof surface.

He told me the wood under the aluminum facia was in poor condition, also the roof appeared to be close to the end of its life.

It is a flat roofed building, so I figured I would get a couple of quotes on flat roof replacement, and the cost of changing it to a pitched roof.

I had my general contractor price up the supplies for turning it into a pitched roof.  He suggested I contact a roofing specialist to get a quote on both a flat and a pitched roof.

I contacted a roofer and when they provided their

flat roof quote, it was cheaper than I expected, so I asked them to price up the cost to change it to a pitched roof.

That is where my problem began, over the next four months it became a game of telephone tag due to some staff turnover.  The roofing company I deal with also does snow removal, so I figured I would wait until March, then really be persistent and get the quote.

I know the company does great work, for extremely competitive prices, so I wanted to deal with them specifically.

The unfortunate part is due to my lack of persistence, the roof started to leak.

The great news, is that I contacted the company that I was getting to quote on the job and they came over and did an emergency repair.  I really appreciated there quick action and help.

Here is what I learned from the experience:

The company I was trying to get a quote from obviously care about there customers, and were able to help me in an emergency, so I really appreciated the service.

It would have been better for me to have been more persistent with this company or moved on to another company to get the roof replaced.

I also realized that I am really lucky, because we were able to stop the leak before it did any significant damage to the interior of the house.

It also reinforced the importance of preventative maintenance, I should not have delayed the roof replacement, as long as I did.

And of course I also learned that I got my full moneys worth out of the current roof.  We used it right to the end.

Michael P Currie

Book launch September 22, 2016 pre-order the Kindle version by clicking this link 

What to look for when inspecting a rental property

What to look for when inspecting a rental property

 

Property Inspection

Property Inspection

I was inspired to write this post by an incident that happened the other day.  I had to gain access to an apartment to check a ventilation system.  When I entered the unit, I noticed the smoke detector was missing from the living room, I then discovered that the smoke detector in the hall (which is hard wired) was not working.  When you see problems, even if you are there for a different reason, it is important to take action.  It is impossible to unsee something.  What I did in this case, was go to a local building supply centre and picked up a new smoke detector.  I installed it and got in touch with the tenant about the missing smoke detector.

It is important to do a walk through at least once per year to look for maintenance items.  We have some tenants that will call us for minor problems, and other tenants that never contact us, and of course everything in between.  If you are in a unit between your annual checks (as I was the other day) it is important to take a quick glance around.  Look for things like dripping taps, water heaters, washing machines, check around windows and doors for signs of leaks and just the overall condition of the unit.  We have been able to solve several maintenance issues just by looking around, whenever we are in a unit.

Property management is a physical activity, you need to stay involved.

I am not sure if I over do it, but I do a weekly drive by on all our local properties.  I do not go inside them, but I take a look at the exterior for anything unusual.

Some of the things I have been able to find and take action on are as follows:

Loose siding flapping in the wind, I was able to reattach it, before it got damaged.

Paint peeling – It is amazing how easily you can increase curb appeal with a bit of paint.  I have noticed paint peeling around windows, foundations, and rust spots on doors.

Facia board – after windstorms, I have lost a few pieces of facia.  I have been able to reattach it, sometimes I have been able to find the piece that blew off.  I once discovered that all the wood under the aluminum facia on a particular house was rotten , so I was able to address that problem.

Leaning oil tank – I once noticed an oil tank that was leaning due to the ground shifting under it, I was able to contact a tank installer and get it levelled up.

Over grown bushes – I have seen small trees and bushes start to take over the front of a house.  That can be easily be brought under control.

Garbage and recyclables placed at the curb on the correct day – I once had a by-law enforcement officer contact me to say I would get a fine if I did not remove the recyclables from in front of one of our houses right away.  I got in touch with the tenant and they had gone to there cottage for a couple of weeks, so they figured they would place the recyclables out a week early.  I went by and picked up the bag in question.

I also do a yard walk about every four months.  It is important to take a quick look at the back of the house, here are some of the things I have found:

Check decks – I noticed a deck starting to pull away from a house, I immediately contacted my general contractor and had joist hangers and proper bolts to support the deck properly installed.

Items placed on oil lines – make sure to check oil tank lines, it is amazing what you might find piled on oil lines, I have seen, rakes, rocks, bikes, and garden hoses tangled in oil lines.

Excessive dog poop – We allow dogs at some properties based on strict guidelines.  One thing we require is that the yard does not get full of dog poop, also we check to make sure dogs do not dig holes.  Dogs can do a lot of damage to a yard.

Garbage stacked up – we have been able to correct the bad habit of tenants stacking garbage bags on back steps or decks.

Neglected lawns – Some of our lawns are mowed by lawn mowing companies and some are cut by the tenants.  Either way, we do not want our lawns over grown.  I can remember doing a drive by on a property and I noticed the grass was getting really long.  When I went by on week number two, I called the company that was taking care of the lawn.  They gave me an excuse about rain (that is a common excuse I have heard from smaller lawn care companies).  The good new is, that they came right away and mowed it, then I never had a problem after that.

I will save the annual inspection list for another post, I just wanted to share my story on the importance of being an active property manager.

Michael P Currie

 Book launch September 22, 2016 pre-order the Kindle version by clicking this link

The real deal on hiring contractors

The real deal on hiring contractors

 

Happy Contractor

Happy Contractor

We have been renovating properties for close to 15 years.  We have used the same contractors for several projects, we have had to let some go, some moved away, some did crappy work, so we did not rehire.

We have hired people for small, medium and large jobs.  I wanted to write about hiring contractors with a bit of a twist.  The theory I have read about hiring contractors does not line up with the reality.  Most of the articles I have read, also do not explain the size of the contract.  I have also noticed most articles do not talk about timeline, or availability of contractors willing and able to do the job.

I want to let all the property managers, builders, land lords, developers, investors and flippers know that if you can not seem to get the theory you have read to match up to your reality, you are not alone.

Here is the advice that is usually written (or some version similar to the following):

Part 1 – Always make sure to hire a contractor with reliable references.  Confirm that it was done well, on time and on budget.

Part 2 – Get three detailed quotes.  Compare based on time, materials and price.

Part 3 – Make sure you get a performance guarantee in writing, make sure the contractor has proper insurance and pays into workers compensation.

Part 4 – Do not pay for work in advance, unless it is a large project.  Even on a large project do not pay more than one third of the project in advance.

Part 5 – Make sure to have a penalty discount in place for delays or incomplete work.

I know many of you are likely thinking, that all sounds reasonable.  You may have even read similar advice.  I would have to agree, that it is great advice, but it lacks context.  In the property management, flipping, land lording, development, business projects come in all shapes, sizes and costs.  You may have a contractor involved in something as small as replacing a light fixture to building an apartment building.  The budget for a renovation could rage from under one hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Well, here it is; the real deal:

Part 1: References – yes, word of mouth is usually the best way.  I agree, you absolutely should use someone that comes recommended by someone who has used them.  One of the best sources is a local real estate group.  I have met some fantastic contractors in the local real estate group I attend.  Talk to people who have used them, however, here is the deal.  Make sure they do the type of work you are looking to get done.  If they specialize and exclusively build million dollar homes, you would likely not hire them to renovate a kitchen on basic bungalow.  I would be reluctant to hire a contractor without a recommendation from someone you know.  If you are new to an area and are dealing with a realtor, home inspector, etc.., they should have a name of at least one good contractor.  It is also a good idea to Google the contractors name and check the better business bureau.  The other thing to remember is that good contractors are usually busy, so the more notice you can provide of your up coming project the better.  When you are talking to references keep an open mind around questions related to budget.  A lot of times it is the client that adds to the projects budget and timeline.

Part 2: Get three detailed quotes – This might be a challenge.  There are a few variables involved in this process.  If you expect to Google three local contractors, call them up, and they are going to run over and do a detailed quote, I think you will be disappointed.  That is why part one is so important.  If you are a real estate investor you need to use some estimating tricks to have an idea about how much renovations cost.  For example you can estimate labour based on the cost of an item.  For example:  A bathtub my cost $300, and rule of thumb labor estimate would be $300, so the project would cost approximately $600.  The other factor will be the size of the project.  If you are trying to get one door, a kitchen counter top and a few other minor repairs done, I would not beat yourself up, if you cannot find three contractors to come give you an estimate.  If you are planning a major renovation you may need some time and patience to find three contractors to give you proper estimates.  It sounds like it would be easy to do, but is a major challenge for most the people I work with.  What I would recommend is forming a relationship with a great general contractor.  That way you will have someone willing to work with you on small and large projects.  I would also form a separate relationship with a painter, electrician, plumber and handyman, so that you will have a person on your team to handle any size project, or maintenance issue.  The bottom line is that if you are finding it had or impossible to get three written quotes from contractors, that is more the norm.  The second part about materials is going to be up to you.  If you want to invest in real estate you need to educate yourself on what materials cost.  All materials can vary in cost.  An obvious one would be a granite counter top compared to laminate, however, in some cases some cheaper materials can take just as much or more labour to install.  An example might be ceramic tile versus a laminate floor that may take just as much time for an experienced tile installer.  You do not have to know the exact cost to do projects, however, as an expert you will be required to do some research and learn from experience.  That way if a contractor quotes you $2000 to install a basic steel door, you will know that either some major work needs to be done around the door frame, or you are being over charged.  The same can be said if someone quotes you $200 to install a steel door (door included) that either they are dealing with stolen building supplies, or they are going to ask for the money up front, and you will never see them again.

Part3: Make sure you get a performance guarantee in writing, make sure the contractor has proper insurance and pays into workers compensation – Workers compensation and liability insurance are important for your contractors to have.  It is a good idea to make sure they have proper insurance, including errors and omissions, general liability and workers compensation.  Especially if they are hiring sub-contractors to help.  A performance guarantee would usually only apply if the project is large (maybe 100K plus).  In most cases projects of any size will come with a written estimate and a discussed timeline.    I do find that sometimes contracts get delayed for various reasons, it could be a material delay, a sub-contractor, a major surprise, which often happen when you are working on old buildings or a number of other reasons.  It is important to realize that if you are going to be in the real estate investment business, surprizes happen.  The best contractor in the world cannot predict surprises, such as asbestos, knob and tube electrical hidden in the wall or in one project we were doing our electrician discovered zero insulation in a couple of walls.  When we bought the house we did a few test holes and found insulation, so we were surprised.  You could also get a permit delay from the city.  It is important to be reasonable with the contractor you hire.  If you blame them and refuse to pay any extra for a surprise problem, you will likely start a dispute, which will cost you time and money.  I will also admit that we have hired the odd contractor to do a small project like one door or some miscellaneous repairs and have not checked for insurance.  We just paid cash, I do not recommend this especially for jobs over $2500, but it is petty common in our business.

Part 4:  Do not pay for work in advance, unless it is a large project- The subject of payment needs context.  If you are hiring a handyman or small contractor to do a small job like relace one door or lay down a couple floors, they may want you to pay for the supplies up front.  That can be ok.  I would be reluctant to pay for any of the labour up front, but be prepared to pay immediately when the job is done.  Especially if you are going to hire them again.  If you are doing a larger project with a larger company, they will likely not ask you for much money up front.  I even had one contractor tell me to make sure I never hire a flat broke contractor.  A larger company will usually ask for installments, especially if they are providing sub-contractor labour and materials.  I would never pay in full until the contract is complete.  You need to have some leverage.  If you are dealing with a reputable contractor, they will not ask for a final payment until the job is done and you are happy.

Part 5 :  Make sure to have a penalty discount in place for delays or incomplete work – This is advice that I often hear, but I am not sure who follows it.  The most predictable thing about construction and renovations is that it is unpredictable.  We have renovated several old buildings over the years and performed lots of various maintenance projects on old buildings.  I have to tell you surprises happen.  If you are doing a new build of an apartment building and the project is several hundred thousand or millions of dollars, then I would put some rewards or penalties in place. The final payment will not be required until the job is done, so that should be incentive to have the job completed.  I think for the average project if you started talking about a penalty based on performance you may scare several contractors away.

In summary, in my opinion it is important to build a relationship with a contractor that will treat you well, charge you a fair price and be there for you when you need them.  They also should have an understanding of what your project goal is.  You need a contractor that understands time is money.  They need to understand the importance of timelines, and the kind of work you expect.

As the client, you need to realize that all customers are different, your standards may be different from every other client they worked with.  In my opinion many disputes could be avoided or resolved with better communication between the client and contractor.  I hope I have been able to add some perspective to common contractor hiring advice.

Michael P Currie

Book launch September 22, 2016 pre-order the Kindle version by clicking this link

Should you allow your tenants to paint?

Should you allow your tenants to paint?

 

Painting

Painted White color for new house

This is a subject we get asked about a lot.  We often get asked by new tenants if they can paint, we also have landlords and property managers asking what we do.  This topic has to be addressed every time we have a tenant turnover.

I am going to share with you four stories, then I will tell you our current position.  The stories will show you how we arrived at our current position and you can take it from there.

Story 1: Adding color to a multi-family – Several years ago we purchased an apartment building.  We had a few vacant units when we closed on the property.  We had also just completed a renovation on a personal property.  This meant we had various colors of paint.  In our personal house we do not like to have just one color.  This gave me an idea.  I felt that the units in this building were in good condition, however, they seemed boring.  They were off white.  Not quite white, and not quite beige.  I decided I would paint the apartments I was redoing with our left over paint.  I thought I was taking a stand against boring apartments, I figured I would be making a difference in peoples lives.

Here is how it actually turned out.  Everyone I showed the apartments too complained about the colors.  I did not have one person say, wow, awesome paint, or great job.  Even my superintendent questioned my judgement.

I did manage to get tenants for the apartments, but I had to paint them a new color.  I bought a five gallon bucket of high quality, one coat paint.  I named my new color renters beige.  It is actually a really nice non-offensive color that most people seem to like.

I talked to other landlords about painting apartments, and if you should allow your tenants to paint.  I have to agree, that if you are dealing apartments in regular buildings, you should include painting in your “make ready” process.

The time spent may depend on how fast you need to turn over the unit, and what the history of the tenure of the tenants are in the building.

There are three ways to paint an apartment:

Made for speed- walls, ceiling, baseboards / trim all one color.

Deluxe –  baseboards / trim and walls one color, with a white ceiling.

Luxury – white ceiling, white baseboards, and colored walls.

I would suggest using a light beige, however, I did see a recent headline on an article and it read something like this: notice to landlords from your tenants, put down the beige paint and back away slowly.  That may be an indication that beige is being played out.

Story 2: The sports fan – I got this story from a landlord in a meetup group I belong to.  The landlord did not know about it until the tenant moved out (they did a mid-night move).  When this landlord went to inspect the flat, it had one wall in the master bedroom dedicated to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The whole wall was a logo.  I am sure you can see some obvious problems with this.  The background to the logo is dark blue.  It took a lot of paint to cover up this logo.  This situation may have been unavoidable, however, my landlord friend had to admit they did not discuss paint, when the tenant moved in.  This particular tenant ended up skipping out on rent, so it was not something he could deduct from the damage deposit.  If you do run into this type of situation it is important to tell the tenant before the final inspection, how much will be deducted from the damage deposit, providing a specific amount may encourage the tenant to do the painting themselves, or they may decide to leave it, either way it will prevent any surprises.

Story 3: My tenants only thought they knew how to paint – We rented a house to a family a few years back.  I will say they were great tenants other than this one thing.  When they moved in, it was a situation where the other tenants were moving out at the same time they were coming in.  We did not have time to paint, now the place did not look too bad, but the tenant moving out had been there for a couple of years, so a couple of rooms could have used a refresh.  The new tenants did not mind, but they asked if they were allowed to paint.  We said yes, you do the work and we will pay for the paint.  I sometimes forget and I do not want to brag, but Shelly and I are really good at cutting in.  We do not use tape and our paint jobs always look great.  We just assume that everyone else will be as good, or use tape until they get the experience required to do a great job.  In the case of this house, when I was doing the move out pre-inspection, I realized that my tenants did not know how to paint.  They only painted a few rooms, but the cutting in job where the walls met the ceiling was terrible.  It may have been one of the worst cut in jobs, I have ever seen.  The lesson learned from this story is that if a tenant asks if they can paint, it is important to ask about painting experience and what colors they are going to use.

Story 4: The double paint job – We aim to have give every apartment a fresh coat of paint before a new tenant moves in.  We hire a painter to do the work.  In our area you can get a two bedroom apartment painted for $400 – $500 it could be more, if all the trim and baseboards need to be done.  We provide the paint.  Most pro-painters usually bring there own brush.  This is a story of a bit of mis-communication.  The tenants viewed the apartment before they moved in and asked about the painting policy.  Shelly explained it to them, and asked if they were interested in painting the apartment themselves.  The current tenant had moved out early, so we had agreed to give them the place early for them to paint.  They filled out an application and accepted the apartment.  They decided they would rather have us paint the apartment before they moved in, so we did.  They lived in the apartment for about three months, then they called Shelly and asked if she would still honor the deal where we pay for the paint and they do the work.  Shelly and I had to way the pro and cons of saying yes or no to this request.  In the interest of customer service we said yes.  The down side is that we paid to have the apartment painted twice.  The upside is that these tenants were happy, did a great job painting and stayed another couple of years.

Where we stand today: I can sum it up in three sections – Timing, expectations, budget

Timing: this is always a challenge in our business.  We want to turn apartments over quick so we do not lose revenue.  We also like to have a fresh coat of paint on the walls before we do the move in, inspection.  That is the theory, however, we all know, theory and reality are often two different things.  I do find that even if you have to do some painting after a tenant moves in, they are generally understanding.  If the unit you are renting is a house / flat, you may want to talk to your tenants about the painting.  We notice on flats and houses, the people looking for this type of accommodation are a bit more fussy about paint color.  I will have to leave it on this thought.  Shoot for the ideal, but be willing to negotiate timing of paint with your tenant.

Expectations: One of the main reasons we like to have an apartment fully painted before a tenant moves in, is that it demonstrates how we would like the apartment to look at all times.  If you do not do the painting, it makes your move in inspection more difficult, and could set the expectation that paint and cleanliness is not a big deal.  The other side also is that the tenant may think you are lazy and do not care.  That could be a red flag for your potential tenants.  The bottom line is that whatever, you decide it is important that you and your tenant understand the expectations of each other, in regards to the painting.

Budget: there are two parts to this.  One is your apartment turnover side.  The stage is set in our area for how much a painter can charge to paint an apartment.  Unless they are doing something special, the market price exists.  We always buy 5 gallon buckets of the same color paint, so we have some available at all times.  The other part is that if you allow your tenants to paint, and agree to pay for supplies, explain what that means.  Get a quote in advance.  We have been caught off guard with receipts sent to us for expensive paint brushes and high end paint.  You can also set a maximum limit, and tell them you will pay up to that amount.  Then if they want to use expensive paint, they still can.

The apartment rental business is competitive, so we feel it is important to be flexible.  The key is in communication.  Make sure you and your tenant are on the same page.

Michael P Currie

Amazon Book Launch September 22, 2016 Pre-order the Kindle version by clicking this link

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