Micromanaging? Are You Shooting Yourself In the Foot?

 

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Today’s post addresses situations that we, as vacation rental managers, go through daily.  Property maintenance, repairs and upkeep of supplies, but more pointedly, how owners handle these issues and the charges they incur.  I will give you two examples that came up this week.  If you are a property owner, you will want to take note.

First I will say that Vacation Rentals of the Desert is perhaps a bit different than other vacation management companies.  When a maintenance or repair call comes in from a tenant, we try to contact the owner to give them a heads-up on the issue and let them know how we plan to address it, or in the event that we can speak to the owner, discuss how it can best be handled.  I believe that it is best to give owners a heads-up rather than blind-side them with an unexpected bill on their statement.

So in this first example, an older, retired couple called to report that a smoke detector is chirping, indicating that the battery needs to be replaced.  We call the owner and leave a voice mail message as well as send an email.  We call our handyman and send him over to change the faulty battery.  When changing batteries, rule-of-thumb is to change ALL the batteries.  If all the batteries are the same age, typically they will run out at the same time.  This practice will most likely save multiple trips as each battery dies out.  We did not hear back from this owner until she received a bill for $40 … and absolutely threw a fit!  Apparently she had changed all the batteries two months ago and she did not want to pay for this maintenance.  I calmly tried to explain that the majority of the charge was for the handyman fee and that between the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, four batteries were replaced.  She informed me that in the future, for non-emergency calls, she would like to speak to us BEFORE we send out a handyman.  She said that she knew people that would have done the job for about $10!  Here is my view … this was an emergency as far as the tenants were concerned.  A chirping smoke detector would drive anyone crazy!  The batteries the owner had purchased a couple of months ago … at least one was bad, leading me to think that the others would have gone soon and an additional trip charge for changing a battery the next month would have been even more irritating to the owner.  You may think that the owner should have supplied replacement batteries in the property but think again … you absolutely do not want tenants, climbing up on a chair to change the batteries, older retirees, or young … it is a liability risk to the owner in the event of a fall.  The cost for four batteries was about $15, leaving the handyman fee at $25.  Try to find a reliable handyman for $25!  Local handymen typically run from $45 to $125 per trip.  And finally … REALLY!  The tenants paid over $3,000.  Owners need to remember that there is a “cost to doing business.”

My second example comes from a gorgeous property, completely remodeled and updated, hence a high-end rental rate.  The couple staying at this property are just lovely, and when asked how they were enjoying their one month stay, only had one negative to report … no toaster.  There was a toaster oven but as I’m sure most of you know, toaster ovens do not do a good job toasting a piece of bread.  They told us that their toast came out hard as bricks.  On our “minimum requirement” list, we note that properties need to supply a toaster or toaster oven.  Not any more.  I’ve changed that … toasters are a must!  So, we contacted the owner who promptly told us she was not going to buy a toaster and that the toaster oven was fine. This time of the year is not the height of rental season.  It is difficult to find tenants for the month of November and early December … they come few and far between.  Our season does not kick in until late December … so a tenant now is a very welcome bonus to an owner’s season and generates several thousands more to their annual gross.  But … alas for this property, even after loaning a toaster, from one of our employees much less, this owner has lost a repeat customer.  The tenants have already found and secured an alternate property for next year.  Now there is no guarantee that a $30 toaster would have secured these tenants for next season, but you can bet that over the long run, there will be other tenants with the same complaint.

I know this post sounds like I am venting … and I am, I guess.  Owners sometimes ask me how they can improve their rental income and my answer is always the same … give us a nice, well maintained property … then let US manage it.  Sometimes owners unknowingly, get in their own way and cost themselves money.  Spending $30 or even $100 to secure a repeat tenants that generates thousands of dollars would seem to be a no-brainer!

There are a few important facts that owners have to keep in mind.  #1) This is a “business” and owners must learn to separate their feelings from the property when rented.  Whether you manage it yourself or have a professional … tenant’s needs and wants should not make you angry.  Basic needs are not negotiable.  Expect to spend money … continually … as you do at your own home.  When a smoke detector chirps, toilet leaks, toaster is requested … this is part of the deal and if it makes you angry, you are in the wrong business … period!   #2)  This is important for those who have a management company: If an owner constantly challenges or blocks maintenance issues, repairs, minimum required supplies and is basically difficult to work with … common sense is that when prospective tenants inquire about rentals and a reservationist has multiple properties available … guess which property the reservationist is going to push?  The path of least resistance, always … the property where repairs will be made and supplies kept up, where owners won’t call yelling and upset about repairs and the properties where the tenants won’t call upset with the reservationist that recommended that property.  This is simple human nature.  I don’t know why all owners don’t see this.   #3) For professionally handled properties … we, management companies, don’t make our money by addressing maintenance, repairs and various issues.  In fact these events hurt our company and may damage our reputation, as well as the property itself due to bad reviews.  We do not make these things up!  We do not like coordinating work and repairs, taking pictures, sending employees to verify the damage or that there is a missing item … that is not our primary business.  We do not like sending owner’s bills.  We do not like having to explain how the tenant did not cause the sink to leak or the batteries to expire in their smoke detectors or why they would need a proper toaster.  So when issues arise, most companies just want to get them handled as quickly and inexpensively as possible so that it does not ultimately end up in a bad review.

So I’m letting off steam.  This is a post I have wanted to write for years but have avoided for fear of upsetting vacation property owners.  It is very upsetting when working hard for a property owner, to watch the owner shoot themselves in the foot with a bad call.  I would say about 50% of our property owners take any “constructive” comment from tenants personally and in a negative light.  I spend a lot of time walking eggshells, soothing hurt feelings and justifying repairs and the costs associated.  It is one of the worst aspects of my job.  I really hope my owners are reading this post!

Photo:  http://hubpages.com/family/Things-My-Mother-Said

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