Whether you self manage or hire a property manager, make it habit of inspecting the property twice a year. We do ours usually in spring and fall. Making this a routine demonstrates to your tenants that you are involved to keep their homes safe and in good working order, and by making fixes while problems are small, you pay $10 now instead of hundreds of dollars later.
I am not a contractor but pretty well versed in repairs, and although I tackle home improvement projects at my own home, I bring our contractor along with me for expertise and speed. The cost to me for this semi-annual inspection is my time, any materials, plus one day of my contractor’s labor.
We have several rentals in the same area, so Steve and I set the date and I notify the tenants in advance. My notification is usually a friendly hello and brief description, followed by the official notification language provided through Washington State’s landlord tenant act. If your tenant has dogs, you should consider asking them to secure the dog, especially if the dog does not know you. You may have to schedule the inspection while the tenant is there. In addition to notification, I also ask if the tenants are aware of anything we should take a look at. We are pretty thorough but we won’t always know if we don’t activate all the equipment and we are not opening every cabinet, testing every outlet. One tenant mentioned a mouse so I packed fine steel wool and we walked the perimeter of the house and stuffed steel wool in crevices. (mouse problem gone). Separately, I make a list of known items from previous visits. Steve drives his van with many tools and supplies so small repairs like caulking, fastening or reattaching, even a toilet wax ring replacement can be done on the spot. Lastly, sometimes I may enhance the property with new shelving, hooks in the bathroom, etc so I prepare that in advance and let Steve know.
Essentially, you are conducting a short version of the inspection you had when you bought the property.
Pack in your vehicle:
- Notebook preferably on clipboard and pen
- Thin nitrile gloves
- Toolbox: hammer, screwdriver (manual and cordless), tape measure, some screws and nails, tape, caulk gun with color caulking for the colors used in your rentals (eg, white, clear, almond), scraper
- Plastic trash bag to clean any debris from your repairs
- Stepladder (2-3 steps to reach up to the ceiling). Taller if you are planning get on the roof, etc
- Shoecovers if you know your tenants like you to take your shoes off.
- Few lightbulbs (if you want to change any dead bulbs. Or just remind tenants they need to replace for safety reasons)
Here is our process:
- Arrive at property.
- Before entering the property or grounds, we knock to let people know. (Ever have contractors walk into your yard at 7am when you are using the bathroom? Or his helpers are walking past your window and you never met them before?)
- Inspect the outside, then the inside
- look at the roof, gutters (anything falling, shingles blown off, lots of leaves and needles?
- Peeling paint, railing loose, paving stones or walkways slippery or uneven (that can cause a trip or fall)?
- Windows cracked? holes
- Loose caulking
- Condition of the yard and maintenance
- Pet droppings around the yard (especially if tenants don’t have approved dogs and cats!)
- Walk each room and see if there are any obvious damages: doors, windows, ceilings, walls, flooring.
- Under each sink, feel the pipes and look at the cabinet floor for leaks or drips. Then run some water and check again.
- Flush the toilets
- Run your bare hands along window sills to see if they are wet
- Turn some lights on and off. See if there are obvious problems
- Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Signs of additional people living there or unknown/not approved pets (we don’t mind the goldfish and hamsters).
- I don’t go into crawl spaces or attics unless we have a reason to.
- Generally, take notice whether house is functioning and is safe. Jot down if tenants are using the property inappropriately (say haven’t mowed lawn, removed smoke detectors, hung 6 towels on a 18 inch towel bar which is starting to sag or loosen, cardboard boxes and other flammables stored by furnace)
- Throughout your walk-through, note down items needing work or to monitor, and any potential items you might wish to add or replace in the future. (once you see how your tenants have set up their home, it’s easier to see what enhancements might be more valuable to them and you can fit those into your schedule and budget).
Once you are back in your home office, send them a note and let them know if everything is working fine (upbeat tone) or inform them of what repairs were done and if some repairs were done because of something they did (you don’t need to blame, but point out and politely a behavior modification), or that you will return to do additional repairs because you didn’t have the materials, tools, or time.
Of course, you can walk each property by yourself and send your contractor later. It is not quite as efficient and you may have to take additional photos and spend more time describing what needs to be fixed and coordinate for additional access to the properties. One way or another, or even if it is just once a year because that is what you are able to do, a periodic inspection makes a big difference financially and help create a better landlord tenant relationship.