Most disputes and litigation between an owner and their agent are over the condition of the property, and in most cases, the routine inspection is directly or indirectly connected.
Guest post – Darren Hunter
Ensuring that the routine inspection is done thoroughly and competently is essential for any property management service.
These are the most common mistakes we see when conducting routine inspections (collected as part of a recent competition and we thank everyone for their contribution).
#1 Doing too many inspections in a day
Routine inspections can be quite tiring. After you’ve done more than a few, this can result in corners being cut and shortcuts taken. Understand your personal energy levels and be realistic about your limit. Keep the number of inspections that you conduct in a row at a level that works for you. If you get tired quickly, then you should not be doing a whole day of them all in a row!
#2 Beware the ‘desk’ inspection attitude!
Too many property managers trade thoroughness for complacency just to get through as quickly as possible and do not access all rooms inside and all areas outside, looking out for issues like un-authorised pets, suspicious warning signs and concerning repair and damage issues.
Once this habit begins, it is likely to become permanent until a situation blows up when something obvious gets missed. Where does this attitude end? The slippery slope of human nature kicks in.
This becomes the Kitchen Inspection (walk into the kitchen and say ‘well, it’s a waste of time me being here’ and walk out). This then turns into the Front Door Inspection (knock, ask for the repair request form, thank the tenant and leave), then to the Kerb-side Inspection (park, look and drive off), to the Drive-by Inspection (you don’t even stop) and then to the most lazy and negligent inspection of all – the Desk Inspection!
It happens, I’ve seen this occur too many times! Don’t let it happen to you.
#3 Not referring to the ingoing condition report or photos
The property needs to be maintained as it was found (less fair wear and tear) and how can you check this properly without referring to the ingoing condition report and photos?
It is easy to check the outside by looking at the initial inspection photos first. Referring to previous inspections on an iPad makes this process so much easier these days, or simply take the file with you to check the photos on record.
#4 Not referring to or being aware of special conditions
When you conduct an inspection without being aware if the property is ‘no pets’, or ‘garage is not for tenant use’ or some other special tenancy condition specific to that property, issues can be overlooked and missed that will blow up later.
This can typically happen when the inspecting property manager is relieving or is a replacement property manager not making themselves aware of the special conditions set at tenancy start.
There’s nothing more incompetent than a property manager complimenting a tenant on their dog when they were not even aware it should not have been there in the first place!
#5 Not following up on reported repairs
How many property managers get the sense of ‘deja vu’ at inspections, having reported the very same issue three months before but nothing got done?
When an owner gets an email (with all the other hundreds of emails they get) it can quickly get overlooked. Call the owner several days after the inspection to discuss what should be done and get their instructions.
Using ‘screen recording’ to create a video message from your computer recording what you say and see, and send it to them as a link they can watch (like a YouTube clip, but kept private). See screencast-o-matic.com for this easy-to-use, cheap software.
#6 Not inspecting typical outside issues
When the average property manager spends only 20 minutes at a routine inspection, things like eaves, facias, outside sills, guttering/drop pipes, flyscreens and ridge capping don’t even warrant a glimpse.
If you have no time for this, or you say ‘that’s not my job’ you need to ensure you’ve arranged for a tradesperson to go to the property for a repairs and maintenance inspection every 6-12 months. If you don’t, this issue WILL come back and bite you!
#7 Not thanking the tenant
Imagine this; the tenant gets a notice of inspection and then spends hours and hours cleaning the home and making sure the outside is perfect. As they work during the day they’re unable to attend the inspection.
The property manager attends, likes what they see and lets the owner know everything is presented really well with NO FEEDBACK to the tenant left in writing or otherwise?
Heard that one before? You now run the risk of the tenant developing a bad attitude towards you and you’re wondering why they’re a little ‘brief’ with you next time you see them.
Give credit where credit is due and thank your good tenants at EVERY opportunity. They make your life that bit easier. Make sure you’re thankful for that!
#8 Not giving written feedback to the tenant
Too many property managers leave no written feedback as to how the tenant has performed, good or otherwise. If you do leave a note, make sure you take a photo or picture as a record and place it on file.
#9 Not addressing tenant damage or issues
When you’ve noticed tenant damage, don’t ignore it. Present the issue to the tenant. Leaving or ignoring it will come back and bite you later on if the issue goes to tribunal or court later on. The fact that it was overlooked or ignored and not addressed at that inspection could be the very reason why the tenant wasn’t held responsible for it.
#10 – Not booking in geographic clusters
When you book in an inspection based on the date (for example 6 weeks after or 3 months after the tenancy start) then you might be spending too much time on the road.
Make sure you book all your inspections as close together geographically, to totally minimise drive time between inspections so you can get the maximum number done. The first inspection might not be exactly in line with your traditional time frames but as long as your promise to owners doesn’t stipulate these time frames exactly, then you can fit them in when you’re doing that area next.
#11 Booking in too many inspections
Ever set aside a two or three-hour time block for inspections only to find that you’ve tried to fit too many in or another person has scheduled too many for you?
The number that you can do depends on location, size and structure (2 bedroom apartment as opposed to a 4 bedroom house with a yard/garage), but a good rule to follow is how many can you easily get done in the time slot given, without rushing and compromising on quality and thoroughness, taking into account any properties you need to spend more time at due to unforeseen issues arising that require more attention and inspecting.
#12 Not accessing all areas
When a tenant says “sorry, you can’t access the third bedroom because…” or “the garage is locked and my boyfriend has the key and he’s away at the moment” then you need to reschedule and come back to inspect that room or area. Tenants don’t always tell the truth (shock horror!) and they could be disallowing access for devious reasons. Naturally, never walk into a situation that could result in your safety being compromised. Perhaps bring a second person with you next time to look at that area or room if required.
Another tip is to explain at tenant sign-up and have it as a special condition that the tenant is aware that all rooms and areas will be accessed at the inspection, so they’re on notice right from the start.
#13 Not ensuring your gadgets are powered up
Ensure that your camera, smart-phone, iPad and other gadgets are adequately charged up for your inspections. A good property manager is prepared at all times.
#14 Not re-confirming the inspection beforehand
Just because you’ve advised the tenant that you’re coming with an official notice, you cannot assume that they always remember or that every tenant is aware of the times and dates of inspections at the property.
Send an SMS text a couple days before to everyone on the lease reminding them of the day and time that you will be there, and even a link to download your checklist again.
#15 Being ‘too heavy-handed’
Don’t go on a power trip!
The tenant only needs to keep the property ‘reasonably clean’ and it’s not an army boot camp where everything has to be scrubbed with a toothbrush and shine.
If the house is untidy but generally clean it’s OK, and if the morning dishes are not done or the beds not made don’t trip out. If something is dirty and can affect the rental property in any way then address it with the tenant.
One of the best lines a tenant applying for a property with me once said, “I asked my last property manager how presentable the property should be for a routine inspection, and she replied ‘Just imagine the Queen is coming around!’”. Fail!
#16 Sending out an untrained person to do the inspection
Why send a person to do a routine inspection when they’ve received no training in this task? This means that big issues will be missed and poor tenant performance will get overlooked. Recipe for a disaster in the making!
#17 Overlooking poor tenant performance
If the carpets are dirty, the walls grubby and other areas unacceptable, don’t think “We can address this when the tenant leaves”. When the tenant vacates, their bond may already be taken up with overdue rent, so you may not even have a bond to use.
Here are a couple of sayings that have stuck with me – ‘If the tenant absconded tomorrow, what will they leave for me to clean up today?’ and ‘Poor routine inspection today, poor vacate inspection tomorrow’. If it isn’t up to scratch, address it today!
#18 Not ensuring your keys are up to date
When the tenant is not home and you’re allowed to access the property but you cannot because you haven’t updated the keys or kept a check on them. Big waste of time.
#19 Not taking adequate photos
We need to be careful here because no tribunal/court in Australia will be happy with you taking photos of tenant belongings but you can still take photos of the grounds front and back, any repairs required and also other issues and concerns. Your owners want to see not just read what’s going on. Take photos and don’t leave your clients guessing!
#20 Not respecting the tenant’s home
Let’s face it, tenants are still treated as second-class citizens in property management (in general). It really hasn’t changed.
It’s not just a rental property to them and it’s definitely not an investment or a money maker. To the tenant, it’s their home, their safe place for them and their family.
Treat them with the respect they deserve, don’t blow them off. Attend to their queries and concerns promptly. The tenant is your partner in the rental property and without them, you don’t have a job!