Making the Repair Process a Breeze, Not a Bust

Condo and apartment property managers deal with many resident repairs–some of which are the building’s responsibility, some of which aren’t.

As I type this, a contractor is replacing my front door–in part because my circa-1985 door began splitting like a wishbone a week ago (the hallway got the larger half–so make a wish, elevators!), and in part (of course) because I believe in supporting the remodeling and repair industry.

Yet the experience has illustrated a few methods that can make the repair/remodel process smoother for property managers, contractors and residents–who are often all working independently for the same goal: A safe, reasonable repair that won’t disturb the building’s character or quality of living.

That said, because everyone is working independently, there can be a lot of back and forth, confusion and sometimes costly mistakes. So I’ve compiled the following suggestions for property managers, contractors and residents. Feel free to read them, develop them into a client handout, forward them, comment on them, add to them–I’d love to hear your input.

Ways Property Managers Can Make Their Lives (and Their Residents’ Repairs) Easier

You’re the source of knowledge for renters and for owners (maybe owners should know what repairs you cover and what ones you don’t, but more often than not, they’ll shoot you an e-mail or call to ask.)

As such, even if you’re not responsible for a repair (like, say, a condo unit’s front door), you can provide helpful guidance to residents to get the job done the way the building wants it done–and hopefully reduce future problems or eating up your time handling the issue. Some things to consider:

  • Have standard (but customizable) responses to common questions. When my door first began having issues, my building manager told me it was common in our building, and that I could swap it out with any solid wood core door. I assumed I’d also need to find a doorknob that looked like my old one–but the building didn’t have information on where to find it (or let me know most residents who replace doors swap it out from the current door, along with the peephole). As it turns out, the knob, peephole and deadbolt had to match the previous versions–which the contractor I hired told me. Had I done the repair myself, I wouldn’t have done that–resulting in more work for my property manager to let me know it had to be replaced and possible fines for my unit.
  • Provide a general timeline. The residents request may not
    be first priority on your list due to other pressing concerns–but you
    can bet it’s first on theirs. For repairs the building is responsible for, even if there will be a wait for the unit
    repair to be made, giving owners or renters an accurate estimate of
    when the problem will be fixed goes a long way toward building trust
    and resident satisfaction.
  • Keep a database of renter repairs. Have you had a lot of window frame issues in recent years? Are plumbing issues on the 4th floor becoming an increasing issue? Tracking unit issues can help you gauge overall building needs.
  • Consider doing an annual resident repair survey. In addition to finding out how residents feel about your level of service, an annual survey can help property managers find out what problems unit owners or renters are having and also can allow managers to develop a list of frequently used (and liked) contractors.
  • Go the extra mile on the first request. If a resident e-mails to ask about a repair that isn’t the building’s responsibility, providing a complimentary list of building-approved contractors and information on where to order any replacement parts the building requires isn’t just being proactive–it’s doing the job to the fullest and best extent possible.

Ways Contractors Can Make The Repair Process Easier

Always remember that residents have different levels of repair know-how–don’t assume they have too little or too much. They’re often desperate for a fix to be made or totally confused; other times, they’re debating doing it themselves, and you’re going to get hired based on your expertise. A few thoughts:

  • Be in touch–as promptly as possible. It’s hard to call potential clients back when you’re out working on jobs, but being in contact is important. One contractor I talked to Friday promised to call back with a quote either Saturday or Monday; I never heard from him. I moved on to another contractor, but even if I hadn’t, I took that as a sign of irresponsibility.
  • Be realistic about deadlines. If you’re not going to be able to get to the area for three days to do the repair, don’t say you’ll try to stop by that day.
  • Consider giving a quick quote. Obviously, you’ll need to come look at the unit for some repairs before giving a price estimate; but if it’s a fairly fast, standard job you’ve done many times in the building, give the unit owner an approximation or range. I called several contractors about the door; only one wanted to make an appointment to come see it, even after I told them it needed to be replaced very soon and they told me they’d done dozens in my building. When I pushed for a price estimate, it was so much higher than the other contractors I’d talked to, that–coupled with the fact they wanted to come out later in the week before starting work and my door was barely functional now–I took them off my list.
  • Make sure you include any extras. If your price includes a post-job cleaning service, special features or other services, tell the client on that first call. Always highlight your high level of service–almost all the contractors I spoke to made sure I knew they would also paint the door once it was installed.
  • Develop relationships with large buildings. Rental buildings may outsource a number of their repairs; condo buildings often recommend contractors regularly who are known for doing good work–which can significantly cut the amount of time you spend on marketing yourself to new clients.

And Finally, Ways Residents Can Make Life in General Easier for Everyone

You may want the repair done yesterday–but you want it done right.

  • Confirm all repairs with the building. It’s better to check beforehand about approved materials and installation methods–before you do the work and risk a fine.
  • Don’t panic, and be polite. When you contact your property manager,
    realize the situation will be fixed, if it is by the building or you.
    Hysteria isn’t going to help.
  • Consider using a building-approved contractor. It’s less paperwork and you may get them sooner if they’re already there working on other projects. (Mine came the next day because they were working on someone’s unit on the 6th floor.)
  • Do your homework. Figure out what’s wrong, look up any related terms and be able to describe the problem to any contractors or the property manager–it makes everyone’s life easier.
  • Confirm the services are what you want. Are you responsible for clean-up? Do you need to sand or paint anything, or will the contractor do that before leaving?

Have any other tips or suggestions for property managers, renters or contractors? Share your industry knowledge by posting below!