Mastering Multifamily Maintenance Challenges
By Meeghan Fuhr with Joe Killinger
Experts weigh in on best practices for finding, training and retaining the skilled maintenance techs that every multifamily property needs.
In the current tight labor market, finding and retaining good multifamily maintenance technicians is often challenging. Emerging operators, in particular, are well advised to look for someone who can do it all.
“If you have a smaller property and you’re a new property manager or a new landlord, you want to have somebody who can really handle almost everything on the property—and those people are worth their weight in gold,” said Joe Killinger, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Pono Asset Management.
Those 24-karat team members don’t just happen by accident, however; after they come on board, it’s up to management to train them properly in the company way. As Killinger explained: “You want somebody who’s always looking for a way to get it done that is going to last, not a temporary fix. If they fix an issue right the first time, it’s going to save on callbacks, so you’re not doubling up your work.”
Finding and keeping good maintenance techs requires attention to a variety of other issues: compensation, incentives, and making them feel valued. Pamela Sullens, COO of Golden Mountain Real Estate makes the case for rewards and incentive programs as a strategy to cultivate loyalty.
“I think it’s about employee treatment and how you treat your employees, and I think if they have good performance, you have to recognize that,” said Sullens, who served as the Institute of Real Estate Management’s 2018-2019 regional vice president for five western states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah). Various incentives can be effective; when they come under budget on a big project, for example, you can offer them a percentage of savings as a bonus.
Using your maintenance teams’ time efficiently is imperative to keeping costs down, and preventive maintenance is the key. Unfortunately, as Sullens observes, “It often gets put on the back burner.” All too often, maintenance teams are in the habit of working on demand and addressing issues as they come up. Sullens stressed the importance of keeping the big picture in view and dedicating time to preventive maintenance to minimize the need for future repairs and reduce financial risk.
Creating a schedule for the team to walk the property is a simple but effective way to start a preventive maintenance program. Whenever visiting a unit on a service call, technicians should take a quick look around for potential problem areas. A quick check of the smoke alarms or fire extinguishers takes only a few minutes but can avoid trouble down the road.
“You want to make sure you walk every unit once a quarter or twice a year,” said Killinger. Also part of the strategy, he says, are weekly team meetings to review maintenance issues and keep the entire team working toward the same goals.
Sullens agreed: “I think it’s important for maintenance techs to participate in your property plans, include them in the goals that you have on behalf of the owner; they shouldn’t be left in the dark.”
Maintenance techs play an important role in the resident experience, and their value should not be underestimated. “The selection of maintenance techs, I believe, is paramount to the success of the bottom line,” said Sullens. Even after a solid team is in place, the task of maintaining a high level of performance continues. It is up to the property manager to provide the training, benefits and team atmosphere that produce positive results.