The annual check-up: to improve curb appeal, apartment communities must be examined regularly, their conditions must be kept strong and their residents must be made happy.
Maintaining an apartment community's interior units is one of the most important tasks for apartment owners and managers. An apartment manager's ability to inspect every unit in a portfolio and evaluate its flooring, appliances, fixtures, landscaping, exteriors and potential liabilities and maintenance concerns is essential to both short-term and long-term success.
Community managers today are placing a greater emphasis on prevention. Clearly, inspecting each unit in an entire portfolio is a time-consuming process, but taking the time to do so can result in more accurate cost predictions and safer communities, leading to stronger relationships with residents.
Where should a community manager start? Checking the functionality of smoke detectors and HVAC systems and replacing batteries and filters, as required, is a good first step. Preventive maintenance in these cases will ensure functionality and prevent loss, whether mitigating the extent of a fire or protecting life, preventing water intrusion or maintaining or increasing the life span of a building system.
Regularly assessing the remaining life of appliances, flooring, cabinets, countertops and fixtures also should be considered. Additionally, depending on the community's age, the inspection could include water heaters, sinks and tubs. The inspection should include a check for potential water intrusion or leaks. Notations should be made about any significant housekeeping issues, storage issues and pets.
Inspections generally are well received by residents, as long as they understand that the objective is to keep residences in optimal shape. This also is an excellent time for the manager to ask residents how they feel about the community and staff and where improvements could be made.
Who, What and Where
The inspection team generally' is comprised of an onsite community manager, a service manager (or maintenance technician) and the area or regional manager, as well as staff members who carry keys and take notes. It also is advisable for maintenance technicians to inspect each others' buildings--not their own. This allows other sets of eyes to examine repairs and maintenance in the apartments. Western National's policy is for area managers to walk 20 percent of the residences and all employee apartments.
The inspection should begin in a vacant apartment or a model apartment. Area or regional managers will direct the entire inspection team about standards that are in place for each building-for example, what constitutes carpet replacement or repair. If a renovation is planned, knowing the color of the existing appliances and countertops and their conditions is crucial. A rating system, customized for the individual community, also is established at this time.
Perhaps the most challenging element of the unit-by-unit inspection process is resident cooperation. However, inspections can be positive experiences for the residents and good times to confirm their satisfaction with the community, their apartments and the management team. The key is to give plenty of advance notice (i.e., make sure all legal notice requirements have been followed) and cause as little disruption as possible to the resident. Make sure any resident requests are taken care of when inspecting residences with pets and follow up quickly on any required repairs.
Lastly, make a permanent record of findings. The information will help greatly in the annual budgeting process, will provide good backup to your capital and maintenance operations budgets and will assist with any future loss prevention and loss control efforts.
INSPECT AND PROTECT
Must See: Community managers must regularly inspect smoke detectors and HVAC systems for flaws, completing any preventive maintenance.
Must Have: Notations must be made about any significant housekeeping issues, storage issues and pets in units found during the inspections.
Must Do: Assemble a team of an onsite community manager, a service manager, an area or regional manager and staff members to inspect the community--first vacant and model apartments, then occupied ones.
Cindy Shepardson is Vice President of Operations of Western National Property Management, a company that manages more than 20,500 multifamily units throughout California. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.