If you're a new investment property owner, you may be unfamiliar with property inspections as they apply to these properties. Unlike home inspections when purchasing a new property, inspections of rental properties are conducted to ensure that the property is being well taken care of by tenants, check for maintenance issues and see that there are no obvious lease violations occurring. The sensible property management company will routinely conduct inspections of the units it manages as this is one of the top ways to protect an owner's investment. Keep reading for an overview of the property inspection, or as we at Sweyer Property Management call it, "property review", process.
Why Perform Property Inspections?
There are a number of reasons routine inspections of your investment property should be performed and nearly all of them revolve around preserving the value of your property. Having a professional check for maintenance and compliance issues at regular intervals helps ensure that your home is being well cared for and that the items in it - appliances, flooring, paint, HVAC systems, etc. - will last for as long as possible.
- Preventative Maintenance: Having a property management professional visit your rental home a few times a year is essential in ensuring that preventative maintenance is properly kept up. Though most tenants do their best to report any maintenance issues, there may be some things they simply don't notice or think to report, things that if left unattended can lead to increased repair costs. A property inspector can check for evidence of things like roof leaks, termites, excessively filthy air filters or busted pipes. If issues like these are properly mitigated in a timely fashion, the needed repairs will likely be less expensive versus waiting to discover big maintenance issues after a tenant has vacated.
- Safety Hazards: Another great benefit of a property inspection is having a professional check for potential safety issues. This includes checking the operation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, replacing batteries or the units themselves if needed, or, if it is discovered that tenants have removed these items altogether, informing the property manager so the situation can be addressed immediately. Excessively filthy/clogged air filters can not only damage the function of your HVAC system, but can also be a potential fire hazard. Trained property inspectors will check air filters and pass on any recommendations to tenants or the property manager if necessary.
- Lease Violations: Noting any obvious lease violations is yet another perk of having regularly scheduled property inspections. While in the home, the inspector will be able to easily tell if tenants have been smoking in the home, if there are multiple pets present, if it looks like 6 people live there when there should only be 3, or if they have decided to paint a room cherry red without permission. By bringing items such as these to the property manager’s attention, it allows the manager to step in before the issues multiply and cause more potential property damage.
When to Perform Property Inspections
Now of course you don't want to go barging into a tenants home every other week to check up on them - you aren't their overbearing Aunt Joan and, besides, that would not only interrupt their peaceful enjoyment of the property but also cost you a lot of wasted time and money. So, when should you do property inspections? There are a few crucial times throughout the year.
- Prior to Move-In: Now, this isn't necessarily the type of inspection we've just described above because, of course, no one lives there yet. A move-in inspection serves to benefit both the tenant and the property owner as its purpose is to document the condition of the property before the tenant ever begins bringing boxes into the home. With the use of photos and videos, property managers are able to record every detail of a property and save this information until a tenant moves out. So, if there was already a big scratch on the kitchen counter, the property manager will be aware that this existed prior to the tenant's move-in and the renter won’t be to blame. However, if there was brand new carpet documented by photos at the move-in inspection and a year later the home is returned to you with stained, ripped carpet, you have proof that the tenant had something to do with that.
- Throughout the Lease Term: Inspecting an investment property during someone's tenancy is not unreasonable and, in fact, any property management company worth their weight will have this on their list of regular services. Typically, visiting the property twice per year, or every six months, is a good rule of thumb. This allows enough time for tenants to get settled after move-in so inspectors can get a clear picture of how they're maintaining the property and also creates enough space between inspections so tenants don't feel they're being pestered. Inspecting the property twice per year gives property managers and owners a good indication of how the property is being cared for and sheds light on any ongoing issues the property itself may be experiencing.
- At Move-Out: Just as we discussed with the move-in inspection, a property management professional should visit an investment property once a tenant has vacated to check the condition of the home and compare it to notes taken at the move-in inspection. The information gathered from the initial move-in inspection will easily illustrate what (if any) damages have been done to the property that exceed normal wear-and-tear. And, if there are to be security deposit charges, having this backup information handy will be invaluable in showing why charges are justified. Move-out inspections also allow property managers to make maintenance and upgrade recommendations that can be completed during the vacancy period.
Property Inspection Best Practices
One of the main things property inspectors must remember when inspecting rental properties is that they are visiting someone's home. Though they may not be the owner, that dwelling is the tenant's home for the time being and should be treated as such. If a few best practices are kept in mind, the inspection process can be a breeze for all involved.
- Give Proper Notice: Unless you suspect there is a big lease violation or something illegal going on at a property, always give the tenants proper notice of upcoming property inspections. Just like the rest of us, they have jobs, children and other obligations, and need to know when someone may be visiting their home. While some tenants may be fine with the inspection taking place while they're out, others will want to be present. By making sure that tenants receive ample text and email notifications and reminders of inspection appointments, they will not feel blindsided and are much more likely to cooperate throughout the visit.
- Safety Precautions: With Covid-19 still very much an issue in the US, following all appropriate social distancing and safety guidelines is an absolute must. Always wear a mask and encourage residents to do the same if they plan to be home. Maintain as much social distancing as possible and wear gloves as much as your work will allow. Taking these simple steps will show residents that you respect their home and care about their safety.
- Help Tenants Understand Why You're There: Unfortunately, many tenants may view inspections as a ploy to simply "check up on them". If the resident has questions, explain to them the point of your visit. Once they understand you are there to check for potential maintenance and safety issues and how this benefits them as well, they are much more likely to be compliant in letting you go through the home and complete your inspection.
- Document Everything! This may be a bit of a no-brainer, but a skilled property inspector will of course document any issues that he or she discovers at a property with both photos and a description of the issue. Photos are essential in helping property managers and owners understand any potential issues occurring at the property. Documentation is key in potential lease violations as well - if there are six dogs in the house and they're all posing for the camera, take a picture! A photo will be essential in proving that the tenant did, in fact, have multiple animals in the home that day. Beware, however, of taking photos of tenants' personal items. Though this may be unavoidable in some areas of the home, do your best to leave things like family photos and valuables out of inspection photos.
Value of Property Inspections to Owners
The value of property inspections to investment property owners cannot be overstated enough. Having a professional thoroughly check the home for a multitude of issues can allow owners to rest a bit easier knowing that someone is keeping an eye on their property and, therefore, their bottom line. Though the discoveries made at property inspections may not always be wonderful news, it is always best to get ahead of potential issues versus having them play out for an extended period of time and potentially get worse.
At Sweyer Property Management, having twice-yearly property reviews performed is part of our standard services list. We have dedicated, professional property inspectors who are keenly aware of what to look for and report and who know how to respectfully go through a tenant's home with minimal disruption. Does your investment property currently receive regularly scheduled property reviews? If you have additional questions or would like to learn more about the services offered by Sweyer Property Management, please reach out to our team of experts today to schedule a no-obligation rental analysis.