Most relationships for property management last for years, so it’s good to ask any property manager you may hire an array of important questions. In addition to addressing things specifically important that you’ve already identified, I suggest that you also consider the following:
How many units does a given manager oversee? A manager with support staff like someone to show properties, a dedicated bookkeeper who does client statements, and other support could reasonably manage about 110 or so units. A small company—like Smiley and Associates where one person does nearly everything, with occasional help from an assistant—could reasonably handle about 65 units maximum without compromising quality of service.
How does the company treat the renters it oversees? How do tenants report maintenance issues? By email, phone call, a portal? How soon can your tenant expect to hear from the management company once they’ve made a maintenance or any other request? How easy is it for a tenant to reach a live human being at the management company?
Does the company call landlord references of potential tenants or farm it out to a service? Do they ever approve applications without having reached references? When I hung my license (apprenticed) I worked in an office with four managers. They farmed out their application processing. I’d often see reports come back with “could not reach landlord.” Some of the managers would note it and respond appropriately, by speaking with the renter and perhaps increasing the amount of security deposit or getting a co-signer, but some managers would just take the report sheet and file it without checking it out in detail or adjusting for missing info.
Does the company help you keep track of things like making sure your roof is okay before there’s an issue? Do they walkthrough the property periodically and if so, what do they look for and how often? Do they customize things for you, for example if you want to have your furnace tuned up every two years by a particular company, will they use the company you want and not impose a more frequent schedule than you want? Do they mark up any of the invoices that you pay and keep a cut?
How many years’ experience does the manager assigned to your property have under his or her belt? How old is the company and is it fully legal in regard to licensing and insurance? Calling a few client references is a good idea too.
Does the management company ever charge your renters for things beyond their monthly rent obligation? If so, for what and what is that process? I’ve heard from renters who report a company giving them no notice for sending someone to clean up their yard (workers who the renters observed being in the yard for about 15 minutes), and then sending them a large bill with a demand that they pay it immediately.
Landlords vetting a management company might also learn some good information by asking to see the lease that they provide to renters. How often does the manager impose fines on tenants, what for and how much?
Does the management company require that you do anything specific regarding maintenance, such as annual furnace tune ups? I know of a company that requires its landlords to consent to twice annual gutter cleaning, which is not usually needed that frequently.
Does the company require you to have any particulars in place at a rental, such as a sprinkler system for lawns, blinds on windows, or a fire extinguisher? Is the manager willing to keep a list of any house ideosyncracies, such as making sure wool carpet is cleaned properly or making sure to tell all new renters any unique operating instructions for any appurtenances?
Happy renters make longer-term renters. If your management company treats your renters with class and dignity, you will benefit. That said, be skeptical of some bad online reviews you may find. Renters can be very passionate about small slights from a property manager and sometimes those bad reviews are not fully founded. But of course, many times they are. The internet is a wild and mostly unrestrained ecosystem in that regard in this business.
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