Apartment Management and Landlord Manual: Ongoing General Maintenance

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Getting your product ready is half the job. Keeping it ready is the other half. In an existing apartment complex, you are constantly in the process of showing and renting units. Current residents are prospects for the next lease renewal period. You can’t afford to let the property run down once it’s in shape. You must work at upkeep continuously. So far the discussion has focused on the challenge of getting the property in market-ready condition. Now let’s turn our attention to keeping it that way.

Most properties suffer physically and economically as a result of crisis maintenance, the kind performed only after something goes wrong. The manager delays acting until conditions are really bad or a piece of equipment breaks down. For example, a lamppost begins to lean; it will never right itself and very likely will lean more until it topples over completely. At that point, a major repair or replacement is in order; whereas, if the pole had been straightened earlier, the cost would have been less. On the other hand, the manager may simply neglect to maintain a piece of equipment with a predictable life span. Tending to it at regular intervals involves a small cost; replacing a broken or burned-out piece of machinery can be a major expense.

Many breakdowns occur because the manager fails to maintain equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Fans and motors may have to be oiled regularly. Pumps may have to be dismantled and cleaned periodically. Perhaps the manager doesn’t know what’s required because the instruction booklets have long since been lost. If this is your predicament, write to the manufacturers for replacement booklets and set up a permanent library of these manuals. Most manufacturers will gladly send extra booklets because they’re anxious for their equipment to operate properly. Some manufacturers will even offer to train your staff in proper maintenance procedures.

You can be sure that maintenance is a constant. While a building’s mechanical equipment must have frequent maintenance, the property’s many structural components also require attention. Wear and tear on these items usually occurs so gradually that it is hardly noticed, but it does take place.

If you haven’t taken the time to prepare a schedule and assign various maintenance responsibilities, the property will suffer, as will your nerves when you follow up and find conditions deteriorating.

Identify problem areas, establish a schedule, and allocate the time. Make a sample chart to describe some of the areas of greatest concern and include a schedule of maintenance frequency. Take the time to prepare such a chart for each of your properties and continually check to see that the assigned personnel are performing these tasks. The manager is directly accountable when conditions begin to slip.

MAINTAINING THE PROPERTY

In the sections that follow, I’ll outline a program of planned maintenance that can be used to avoid a continuing stream of crises and keep your property looking as sharp as possible. You’ll discover that planned maintenance can be done with fewer people, and this inevitably leads to lower operating and maintenance costs. Again, the payoff is more net operating income for the owner.

Maintenance and Equipment Rooms

If you are ever hired to judge the caliber of the maintenance in a particular complex and your time is limited to just a few minutes, you should ask to see the maintenance and equipment rooms. They will reveal the level of organization and cleanliness in the property. A messy, poorly organized maintenance shop is almost always indicative of the condition of the property’s equipment. When there is a chaotic accumulation of questionably useful things, there is little hope of ever locating a specific item when it’s needed. Also, this practice can create a fire hazard.

Bins and shelving are certainly affordable items, and there is no excuse for not having a specific place for all of the property’s tools, equipment, supplies, and replacement parts. The time and money spent setting up a proper maintenance operation will pay dividends for years to come.

Mechanical Equipment Inventory

Every piece of mechanical equipment in the building should be located, identified, and inventoried. As manager, you should know what equipment is on the property and where it is. The way to get this information is to walk through each building looking for the equipment and making a list as you go along. Your custodial engineer may accompany you. In a larger structure, you may want to hire a mechanical engineer, preferably the one who was involved in the design of the building, to help you locate the equipment. Still, you must know where all equipment is.

The equipment you’re seeking includes fans, motors, pumps, ventilators, and valves. You should note anything that has moving parts or needs even occasional maintenance. As you go through each building, make a list of what you discover, identifying items by their general name, manufacturer, and model number. Generally, you’ll find this information stamped, printed, or engraved right on the equipment. You may discover maintenance instructions on the equipment, too.

Back in your office, draw up a maintenance schedule listing each piece of equipment and when it needs attention. The manufacturer’s instruction manuals will help you with this job. When all of this is written down, you can determine who will maintain each item: your own people, a factory representative, or a service contractor.

Now assign each piece of equipment a code number and place a large, legible sticker or tag on each item so that the code number shows clearly. You can then refer to items by their code numbers on a maintenance and inspection check list. The item’s sticker or tag should be large enough so maintenance workers can write on it to indicate the last date of maintenance.

Warranties

In setting up a maintenance program, find out which items are protected by warranties. This may be indicated by labels on the equipment, in the manufacturer’s instruction booklets, by separate warranty certificates, and possibly on invoices. Generally, the roof, heating and air-conditioning equipment, pumps, and apartment appliances are protected by warranties.

You need warranties for two reasons: First, a warranty may provide service coverage for an item if it needs repair or replacement; there’s no sense in paying for work if the warranty covers it. Second, many warranties are valid only if service is performed by the manufacturer or an authorized agent. If you tinker with the item yourself or have someone unqualified do it, the warranty may no longer apply.

Apartment Maintenance

The maintenance schedule should also take into account a number of items that are found in the individual apartments. Some of the more important considerations are:

Plumbing. Without waiting for leaks to develop, arrange to have faucet washers and valve seats replaced periodically. Inspect the ball cock or flap valve in each toilet tank. Have spare parts on hand to make quick replacements. The quickest and best way to make plumbing repairs is before a crisis develops, when you can select a time that’s convenient for you and the residents. It’s better to shut down an entire building for one day to replace all worn plumbing parts, than it is to shut down repeatedly for short intervals to handle emergencies. Repairs never get cheaper if you wait; in fact, waiting increases the risk of higher costs and greater damage later.

Tub and shower caulking. As a building settles, the grout between tiles and the caulking at the joint between the tile and the tub or shower floor will work loose. Unless these joints are kept tight, water eventually will seep into the cracks and damage the walls. Replace caulking or grout as soon as cracks are noticed.

Fans. Many apartments have ventilator fans in kitchens and bath rooms. Unless these are permanently lubricated, they will need oiling periodically.

Filters. There is no excuse for not changing the filters in heating or air ducts several times a year. A dirty filter causes the furnace and air conditioner to work harder, and this increases the fuel bill unnecessarily. If the owner is paying the bill, you’re losing money. If residents are paying the bill, they undoubtedly are disgruntled about paying too much.

Cannibalization. Sometimes parts are taken from one apartment to make repairs in another. This practice is harmful. First, it doubles the work because both the working part and the defective part must be removed. Sooner or later, the working item that was cannibalized will have to be replaced. Second, a resident feels shortchanged when used parts are installed. Once you allow cannibalizing, it will be difficult to stop. First, a switch plate is removed from a unit, then the toilet seat; and before long a major overhaul is needed to restore the cannibalized apartment. When the situation becomes extreme, it’s not unusual for a cannibalized apartment to become a store room, or for workers to strip other parts and take them home. All of this reduces the chances of that apartment ever being restored to income-producing condition. Cannibalization should never be permitted. You should maintain an ample stock of frequently used parts or know where they can be obtained quickly.

Performing scheduled preventive maintenance may require entering a resident’s unit. If the resident is a pet owner, he or she should be instructed to confine the pet to a separate room. Be sure to give all residents several days advance notice before any inspections are done or work is performed.

If the crew enters the apartment while the resident is out, make sure they (1) post a sign on the door to alert the resident who may return while the crew is still inside and (2) leave a notice saying that maintenance work was done. This will keep the resident from becoming upset if the crew has left anything behind. Naturally, this should not ordinarily happen.

Complaints may stem from a resident’s misuse of the apartment or equipment. If it appears that this has happened, your maintenance worker should suspend work and notify you. You, in turn, should obtain payment from the resident before proceeding, unless you are required to make the repair for health or safety reasons.

Maintenance Staff Communications

We promise fast service; and in our efforts to deliver, we find ourselves searching for effective ways to communicate quickly with our maintenance personnel. The beeper is the most popular device, but it has its limitations. Some services can delay sending the message for a considerable period of time. Many services only flash a telephone number requiring the message recipient to find a place to call or to report to the office. Obviously, such interruptions can be very inconvenient. While beepers are commonplace in large apartment complexes, they may cause more problems and inefficiencies than they were intended to cure. The office staff, eager to respond quickly to a problem, will frequently beep maintenance personnel throughout the day. The person doing the beeping does not have any idea of what the other person is doing. The assumption that maintenance personnel are just idly waiting for the next assignment is rarely true.

Many times tasks are interrupted and dropped for another assignment. After a while the frustration may lead to employees choosing not to respond to their beepers. When we tracked the beeper calls made to a staff of two maintenance people over a period of a week, we found that only 30 percent of the calls were really necessary; and many, many work hours were wasted responding to calls that could have waited or could have been handled without taking the worker away from the job at hand.

Portable telephones are instantaneous and provide two-way communication, but their use can generate a substantial bill every month. Port able phones have their place, but they can make communication too easy. Employees can be tempted to sit outside of the office and make calls on a portable phone rather than use the less-expensive stationary phone inside.

The two-way radio is an effective, economical way to keep in touch with the office. It is instantaneous and provides the two-way conversation capability that is often needed. As is true with many technologies, the quality and dependability of these units continually increases while the size and cost per unit shrinks. Granted, two-way radios have limited range, but this does not often create a problem within the confines of a single complex.

Painting

The subject of painting deserves some discussion because it’s an operation the manager will deal with constantly. Every vacant apartment should he painted before it’s placed on the market. In addition, occupied apartments will need redecorating as determined by your policy or the lease renewal terms.

Whether your own staff does the painting or you hire an outside con tractor, experience will help to establish a painting norm for each apartment. This will let you know how much paint is required and how much time is needed. A full-time “house” painter would only be appropriate in unusually large developments. Typically, contract painters can answer our needs given short notice and tend to be more efficient.

A number of suggestions follow to help you get the best possible results.

• The manager, rather than the painter, should buy the paint or at least supervise the purchase, so color and quality can be controlled.

• Latex paint is used almost universally. It wears as well as other paints, is easier to clean up, and doesn’t produce odors that annoy residents in the building.

• Don’t use spray paint; use only rollers or brushes. Spray paint is messy, and you risk overspraying and damaging apartment components (e.g., carpeting, appliances).

• Have the painters use drop cloths and make them responsible for all spills. Painters should also be responsible for unclogging drains if they clean their brushes and rollers in a sink or tub.

• Use semigloss paint in kitchens and bathrooms and on painted doors and woodwork, including window frames. Semigloss is more resistant than flat paint to water, dirt and stains. It is also easier to clean and wears longer.

• Don’t paint any baked enamel surfaces in the apartment, such as grilles, ventilators, or convectors. These surfaces attract dirt, and, once painted, they can’t be washed as easily. Leave them the way they are.

• Don’t paint ceilings that have been sprayed with acoustical coating. These surfaces not only soak up vast quantities of paint but, more important, they lose their acoustical properties once painted. If there are stains on the ceiling, it’s better to reapply the acoustical material than it is to paint it.

• Painters should not paint any electric outlets, telephone jacks, switches, master antenna outlets, window or door hardware, tile, laminated plastic surfaces, or plumbing fixtures. Insist that all switch and outlet plates and window and door hardware be removed be fore painting and then replaced afterwards.

• Natural-finish doors, windows, cabinets, and other woodwork should be oiled or varnished, not painted. You will not need to varnish as often as you paint.

• Remember to paint all closet walls and shelving, the inside of the bathroom vanity, and the bottom of the medicine cabinet (areas that are easy to forget and sure to be noticed by prospects). The medicine cabinet may have a baked enamel interior surface, but if necessary, it should be painted nonetheless. Today, there are many epoxy paints that will simulate the cabinet’s original finish.

The popularity of paint colors changes with almost the same rapidity as that of carpet colors and patterns. There was a time when the industry standard was clearly off-white and nothing more. That is no longer the case, particularly in the middle to upper-middle rent levels. Just about every conceivable color and even combinations of colors are being offered. Wall coverings in kitchens and bathrooms are also very popular.

There are still some apartment managers who insist on limiting the color and decorating choices to off-white. They hang on to the old ways hoping for a greater profit based on the savings they think they will achieve in labor and paint costs. Sticking to such habits means missing some of the very best residents who are searching for an apartment that can really be made into a home.

Owners complain that they could make a mistake in the color combination and lose an otherwise acceptable resident, because the decor didn’t suit the prospect’s furnishings. The risk exists: You can lose a few prospects when you depart from sterile white. The fact that colors and pat terns follow fashion trends allows you to predict resident preferences with some degree of accuracy. Also, one prospect may adore the same apartment that another prospect disliked. Imagine, if all clothes or auto mobiles had to meet an exact set of specifications. We are interested in finding the discerning resident, who will stay and join our family of stable residents. These discerning residents are preferable to those who take little care in their moving decisions and will soon move their few possessions to the next complex in search of a new round of move-in enticements.

Experiment with color and textures. When you find a combination that works, don’t repeat it. Instead, look for an even better solution. This way you will be constantly improving the property’s image and, ultimately, resident quality—which will increase the value of the property.

Pest Control

Insects and other vermin are objectionable to prospects and residents alike, and justifiably so. Roaches and rodents are among the most common invaders and are difficult to eliminate. Roaches are rarely in the building to begin with and often enter via grocery bags and food products. Rodents need food to survive and prefer darkness. You must take steps to provide a pest-free environment.

When you exterminate, do the whole building, not just one apartment. Otherwise, you simply drive the pests from one apartment to another.

It is usually advisable to contract for pest control; hire a licensed ex terminator to do this work.

Grounds Keeping

How the grounds and particularly the landscaping are maintained will depend largely on the region of the country the building is in, the climate and season of the year, and the type of landscaping. Obviously, a regular schedule for fertilizing, weeding, spraying for insects, and disease control is needed.

The county extension agent is the right person to ask for assistance in planning this schedule. Often, the state agricultural service will analyze soil samples and recommend ways to improve soil quality. In addition, you should work with local landscape contractors in developing a program.

Seasonal Maintenance

Snow and ice control are major maintenance problems in many areas of the country. You need to determine who is going to do the work—your own crew or an outside service—and where to pile the shoveled and plowed snow.

Most apartment complexes aren’t large enough to justify the cost of a large snowplow. Trying to do the job with plows mounted on smaller vehicles leads to early transmission burn-outs. Generally, it is better to con tract for plowing service and have the building staff take care of walks and stoops. Planning a program during the summer means you’ll be prepared for the first snowfall.

Be careful in your use of snow-melting materials. Rock salt is the cheapest and most commonly used; but it can damage pavements and plants severely, and it won’t work at all if the temperature is too low. Also, rock salt can damage carpeting if it’s tracked inside. You should be aware, too, that some localities prohibit the use of rock salt.

Chemical snow-melting pellets cost more than rock salt but cause less damage and continue to work at very low temperatures. However, these pellets cannot be stored for long periods or they may solidify or lose their effectiveness. So if pellets are used, buy only what can be consumed in a short time.

Shoveling is better than using salt or snow-melting chemicals. Usually, sand can be used to provide traction on slippery ice.

Your Check List

Many of the foregoing points are contained in standard maintenance check lists available from the Institute of Real Estate Management, local apartment associations, or local real estate boards. These check lists are adequate guides, hut, since every building is unique, you are advised to develop a custom check list that contains everything you need to know about your property.

There are only two acceptable answers on an inspection and maintenance check list: ‘okay” and “not okay.” If an item is “okay,” then it’s in the best possible condition and needs no further explanation. If it’s “not okay,” then an explanation is required. Leave room on the check list for a description of items that are “not okay.” The person who performs the inspection should write down whatever is wrong; the inspection should be done by the manager in most cases. Don’t use terms such as “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” They tell you nothing. The narrative explanation, on the other hand, clearly states what is wrong and what needs to be done about it.

DEFERRED MAINTENANCE

If you set up a program carefully, most maintenance will be routine and emergency maintenance will be minimal. There is a third category, deferred maintenance, that takes into account items that will need care sooner or later but have not received immediate attention.

In a sense, all properties are in a constant state of decay. The property manager has to keep maintenance expenses within the budget and the property looking well. Those things that should be done, but have not yet been addressed, qualify as deferred maintenance. Actually, almost every one has some deferred maintenance on their property—the key is to keep it in control.

You must keep a sharp eye out for deferred maintenance items, because they have a tendency to build up and then cause sudden, serious breakdowns. For example, if six water heaters fail in one year, you can expect that the other twenty-two installed at the same time will fail very shortly. Be prepared for this eventuality and have enough money in re serve to pay for replacements.

Maintenance that has been deferred may be noticed by prospects whose favorable opinion of the property will diminish. Most apartment complexes have long lists of deferred maintenance items such as cracked concrete sidewalks or curbing, dead shrubs, worn patches in the parking lot, and clogged water drains. Some of these items—for example, the dead shrubs and the holes in the pavement—should have been corrected by routine maintenance.

The purpose of planned maintenance is to avoid surprising the owner with expenses. You do this by constantly allocating money for necessary repairs and by replacement of aging equipment and components on a rotating basis. Practically every piece of equipment in an apartment building has a predictable life span. Knowing this, plans can be made for replacements, and cash reserves can be set aside to cover the costs. Sometimes it is even possible to extend the life of one of the components of your equipment. For instance, recoating a built-up composition roof in its sixth or seventh year, can extend the life of that roof another seven years. If you wait until the ninth year before recoating, the impregnated or fiberglass felt may have disintegrated and a completely new roof will be necessary. Water heaters are another example. Sometimes it is possible to prolong their lives and cut replacement costs by installing a water-treatment facility.

At least once a year, right after an inspection, make a list of all of the items that can be classified as deferred maintenance. This is when a narrative inspection report is invaluable. If you find that the roof needs re pair, the inspection report should indicate its condition and provide an estimate of its remaining life. Make similar notes for every item on the check list. Then, take whatever action is appropriate to prevent matters from getting worse, and advise the owner how much money must be set aside to cover eventual replacement or major repair.

STAFF REQUIREMENTS

By following the recommendation for programmed maintenance presented here, it should be possible to reduce both the size of your maintenance staff and your maintenance costs. Two people performing jobs that are planned and programmed usually can accomplish as much as three people working in a crisis situation. As a rule of thumb, one full-time maintenance employee will be needed for each fifty apartment units. The chart below, developed by my firm after many years of apartment management experience, shows how large a supervisory and maintenance staff is needed for various sizes of developments.

Employee Classification

Number of Units: 50-100

100-150

150-200

200-250

250-350

350-450

Maintenance Supervisor

 

 

 

1

1

1

Maintenance Personnel

1

1

2

2

3

4

Custodians / Groundskeepers

1

2

2

3

3

4

Note: Covers all normal repairs and maintenance performed by staff personnel, including apartment cleaning and grounds maintenance. Seasonal work has been adjusted: 2,080 hours of work = one employee’s working year. Apartment and common area painting is not included.

In-house or Outside Personnel

Once inspections have been made and the maintenance schedule is pre pared, you still need to decide who will do the work. Should you use your own maintenance people or outside organizations? This question is hotly debated at practically every gathering of management people. Contracting maintenance work to outsiders has certain advantages. For instance, at peak periods, you can get extra help without adding permanently to your payroll. Employee record keeping can be minimized, and often expenses can be kept low. You may acquire access to some specialized skills that members of your staff do not have. Also, you may minimize union pressures by dealing with an outside firm.

The disadvantages are (1) it often costs more, and (2) you lose control. Given two equally able crews, one your own and the other belonging to an outside contractor, your crew will do the job for less. Also, an out side organization’s reaction time is slower; you can’t give direct orders be cause you must work through a designated supervisor. Most contracts pro vide for specific services to be performed under specific terms, with no provision for extra duties. Finally, although using an outside service is an easy way to avoid training a crew, it results in spending more of the owner’s money instead of maximizing net operating income.

In general, you probably are better off doing the work with your own labor. There is more control this way and, if proper supervision is pro vided, it’s considerably less expensive.

However, there are certain maintenance tasks in an apartment operation for which outside service is advisable. I have already discussed the desirability of hiring contract painters. Other examples include:

Central air conditioning. At the very least, an expert is needed to start the system at the beginning of the season and shut it down properly at the end. Failure to do this correctly can mean interruptions and costly repairs during the cooling season. Generally, the building crew can take care of individual apartment air conditioners.

Elevators. Authorized service organizations have the training and equipment to provide the constant maintenance necessary to keep building elevators functioning properly. Never attempt repairs or adjustments yourself; the risk to human life and safety is too great.

Managers often disagree when discussing the advantages of full-service contracts as opposed to limited service “grease and oil” contracts. Full-service contracts probably have a slight edge, but they can cost considerably more. Even a full-service contract can involve overtime charges for off-hour emergency calls.

Swimming pools. Like central air-conditioning systems, swimming pools need experts to get them in operating condition at the beginning of the season and close them down at the end. Routine pool maintenance between these two times can usually be performed by your own crew, except when special licensing is required.

Master antennas. With the advent of cable television, these are increasingly rare. Most antenna systems are solid-state and virtually maintenance-free. If the building has an old antenna system, a specialist will probably be needed for maintenance and repairs.

Pest control. Check local laws to find out if this job must be done by a licensed exterminator. Some states prohibit the sale and application of exterminating chemicals to anyone who is not licensed.

Recharging fire extinguishers. Virtually all municipalities require annual fire extinguisher tagging. Licensed services can recharge and retag these units for a nominal fee.

Sewer rodding. Generally, the site crew can be trained to rod as much as 500 feet of sewer length. Anything beyond this requires professionals with special equipment and training.

Window-washing. Windows in tall buildings or in places that require special equipment are better served by outside contractors.

Most garden apartment windows can be cleaned by your own staff.

Landscaping and snow removal. As already mentioned, outside contractors can be employed to reduce seasonal peak demands on staffing and large capital outlays to purchase major equipment.

In summary, outside service is often dictated on the basis of licensing requirements the complexity of the machinery to be serviced, and the need for specialized equipment or skills.

Service Contracts

Whether you purchase outside services on an as-needed basis or contract for them on a regular basis will depend on your analysis of the property’s requirements. A good contract that provides for preventive maintenance can help you avoid big expenses later.

Before hiring outside services, shop for a reliable firm and examine the contract to see what is included. Does the fee cover everything, or is there a deductible amount? Does it cover parts and labor? Are overtime emergency calls included? Not surprisingly, the more the contract includes, the more it will cost.

You also have to determine whether to deal with a manufacturer’s ser vice organization or an independent contractor. Service from the manufacturer may cost more, but the manufacturer’s organization understands the equipment better and has easier access to parts.

SUPPLIES AND PARTS

Having the right parts and supplies on hand is essential to a maintenance program. If you run Out of 100-watt bulbs and start using 150-watt replacements, you’ll create spotty lighting, and bulbs will have to be replaced more often because of heat buildup. Not having the right parts and sup plies means the building maintenance program will not be effective.

The supplies you need will be determined by the property itself. A walk-through inspection of the property, as previously recommended, along with market-ready preparation of apartments will help you to com pile a list of what should be on hand.

The following recommendations may be useful:

• Keep supplies and parts in a central place, not scattered. This will enable you to monitor what’s available, what should be ordered, and what may be disappearing because of pilferage.

• Balance the inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts and, at the same time, avoid having too much on hand. Some chemical sup plies may deteriorate with time, so it doesn’t always pay to buy in large quantities.

• Buying in bulk lots discourages theft. Paint in small containers disappears especially fast. Instead of buying it in one-gallon cans, buy it in containers of five gallons or more. Long-lasting chemicals can be purchased in bulk quantities and dispensed into smaller containers.

• Avoid aerosol sprays. Apart from environmental considerations they’re expensive and easy to steal. You can usually buy the same chemicals less expensively in other forms.

• Anticipate needs and schedule purchases so that orders are placed as seldom as possible. Group orders and arrange for a single delivery instead of having your staff waste time making individual trips to the hardware store. If such trips are necessary, limit them to twice a month.

• All orders should be authorized and signed only by the manager or assistant manager. This reduces the chances of the staff buying too much, buying what isn’t needed, buying personal items, and getting kickbacks from suppliers.

Maintenance Equipment and Major

Tool Inventory

A complete inventory should be made of all maintenance tools owned by the property, noting the specific location for each item. If an article is as signed to a particular person, list this, too. Tools and equipment also require regular maintenance; this should be scheduled during the off-season when they are not in heavy use and when you can get good service at fair prices.

To reduce pilferage, consider painting equipment a special color or applying a distinctive marking so it can be identified readily and is no longer salable or worth stealing. Proper storage under lock and key will reduce theft, if not eliminate it. Only the manager and the head of maintenance should have these keys.

GETTING THE RIGHT START

Many managers who attend seminars on property maintenance come away fired up with enthusiasm and the determination to set things right at their properties, but their enthusiasm soon wanes and the maintenance pro gram bogs down. Why? Because in most cases, the manager attacks problems all at once. This seldom works. There are just too many tasks for the staff to accomplish at one time. Resistance builds up, discouragement sets in, and it’s back to business as usual.

Programmed maintenance can work, f each task is divided into manageable segments and each is finished completely before proceeding to the next. Consider this approach: Take a site plan of your property (or a building plan if you have only a single building) and divide it into areas or Zones. Label them A,B,C, etc.

First consider area A. List everything that needs to be done to make area A first-rate. Determine the equipment and staff needed. Gather the staff together and explain what needs to be done in area A. Give each per son a calendar and a list of specific tasks. Don’t simply say, “Maintain it.”

Instead, give detailed instructions: “Once every two weeks the grille must be removed; the filter taken out, washed and replaced; and the grille re placed.” That’s an instruction few could misunderstand. Then put the crew to work on area A. Watch them as they work. When they do something right, tell them so. If they do something wrong, correct them. Evaluate the work as they go along. While there may be a supervisor in charge, you must be involved so the supervisor knows what is expected. Work together to set standards of quality, establish schedules, and determine if other tools are needed.

When area A is in first-class condition, then, and only then, proceed to area B. Meanwhile, set up a continuing maintenance program for area A so it won’t slip again. Proceed through the entire building or development in this way, item by item. By the time you are finished, the entire property will be in top condition, and you will have a self-sustaining maintenance program.

This kind of program is only possible if you, the manager, do a thorough job of scheduling, supervising, and evaluating. By doing your home work, you know what has to be done and when, how many people are needed, what kind of supervision is required, and what tools and equipment must be provided. Finally, regular inspections provide the feedback needed to evaluate your system and make corrections.

If you think all of this will cost extra money, think again. As we’ve noted, an ongoing product preparation and maintenance program costs less than one based on crisis management. Experience proves there is little or no difference between the cost of operating a first-class development and a run-of-the-mill one. The difference is in daily attention and supervision.

There is also a significant difference in occupancy and turnover rates. A better-maintained property will attract desirable residents faster and keep them longer than a run-down property will. A difference like this makes a lot of sense to the manager who wants to see net operating in come at its maximum level.

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