Multifamily Property Maintenance: Don’t Miss the Real Problem

Here’s a suggestion from the FIRM team that can prevent property owners and property managers from incurring unnecessary expenses and prolonged out-of-service periods for units on their property:

Be sure to solve the underlying issue, not just the obvious problem.

That may not sound like an earth-shattering concept, but you would be surprised to see how often we are called in to help correct a situation others have missed.

There are several reasons why this happens (and we will list them below), but the bottom line is that hurry-up repairs that don’t include a proper inspection/diagnosis can create more trouble than they solve.

Two Examples of Multi-unit Property Repairs That Failed to Work

In one case, a windstorm didn’t cause any obvious damage to the structure, but dumped 18 inches of rain on the property in 24 hours. The property manager wisely instructed the maintenance crew to inspect all roof surfaces for missing shingles and to check the attic for leaks. Thankfully, no problems were found. Within a few days, however, staff discovered the basement was flooded.

How did this happen?

Here’s another example:

A leaking HVAC unit produced moisture that spawned an amazing amount of mold growth in the room. The property’s maintenance team replaced the HVAC, then cleaned the room of mold. Within a few weeks, though, the dense mold growth reappeared.

How did this happen?

Turns out, there was also a leaky drain line just above the affected unit, and that was the main source of the growth. The apparent HVAC unit replaced contributed to the problem, but it was not the primary concern. The maintenance team was quick to deal with the obvious issue, but the team failed to inspect the area for additional concerns. Consequently, the underlying source of excessive moisture remained hidden.

Reasons Why the Real Multi-unit Maintenance Problem Sometimes Gets Missed

The tendency towards “myopic problem solving” isn’t limited to property management. You probably won’t need to reflect too hard on your own life to find cases where you thought you knew what was wrong, but failed to see the complete picture. It’s easy to get fooled by appearances.

Primarily, though, underlying issues get missed for one of three reasons:

  1. The inspection is shortsighted and insufficient: Many times, the person or team performing inspections accepts an obvious problem for the entire problem. In the case cited above, for example, the first look revealed an HVAC unit that was leaking and mold rapidly developing. The solution was to replace the unit. The problem was more extensive than initially diagnosed, however, so the problem was bandaged, but not fixed.
  2. The property manager assigns specific work to specific people. Whether utilizing outside vendors or the internal maintenance team, the directions might say “Replace the damaged roof tiles.” The crew or person assigned to the job will do what’s required in the work order — but they will seldom look beyond that task to see if additional repairs are needed. The aim is to mitigate the entire problem, not just a piece of it.
  3. Property managers field a steady stream of complaints, concerns, and repair needs. It’s easy for urgent matters to fill the day, leaving little or no time for tasks falling under the description of “preventative maintenance.” That’s why it is critical to prepare and follow a preventative maintenance checklist and to instruct the maintenance team to regularly inspect the entire property. When vision is expanded beyond today’s urgencies, tomorrow’s surprises can very often be avoided.

The FIRM Way to Multi-unit Property Inspections and Repairs

FIRM teams know the importance of looking beyond the obvious. We help clients develop a strategic maintenance plan that fits the needs of the properties. We help train maintenance staff on how to implement the plan, and we coach the management staff on ways to make sure the plan is enacted.

FIRM also contracts with suitable Restoration vendors to provide necessary services to the property. We verify that they understand the importance of thorough inspections to make sure the real problem is being addressed. A FIRM representative oversees all phases of repair to confirm the problem is solved and that the fees charged were appropriate.

Current FIRM clients have one number to call when help is needed. You may or may not be a candidate for that level of service. Regardless, you do have property to maintain and manage. Make sure your strategic plan covers all the bases that need covered, and always instruct workers to look deeper than the obvious issue to make sure nothing is being missed. Inspections do add additional time to a job, but the value they return in preventing or rectifying deeper problems is invaluable.

Questions? Call (888) 910-0994 and ask to speak with a FIRM representative.