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A Guide to Maintenance and Repairs for Rental Properties

Your property wears down naturally over time, especially when a tenant is living in it. When things break, it can be extremely inconvenient to tenants and landlords. 

Fixing issues promptly keeps tenants satisfied and prevents smaller issues from morphing into costly projects. As a result, you can maximize your returns and keep tenants around much longer.

Regular repairs are critical to maximizing your returns and keeping costs low. To do so, you must create an annual maintenance schedule, sufficiently budget, and know what to look for in a contractor.

With that in mind, this article will discuss everything to know as a landlord or investor about rental property maintenance and repairs. 

How Much to Save For Maintenance

One of the biggest mistakes investors and landlords can make is underestimating repair costs. You may lack the cash to handle the repairs if you don’t save enough. That leaves you with several bad choices:

  • Let the issue sit, which can create a much bigger problem later:
  • Let the repair consume all of your cash flows
  • Take on additional debt to fix the problem

Therefore, setting aside some of your cash flow on a monthly basis will pay off in the long run.

There are a few general rules you can follow when budgeting for repairs and maintenance

The 1% Rule

One general rule is to save 1% of the property’s value per year. Save that out of your monthly income, though.

For example, imagine you own a home worth $200,000. You should budget approximately $2,000 per year for maintenance. That’s just $166 a month.

The 50% Rule

Under the 50% rule, you save 50% of your gross monthly rental income for repairs and maintenance.

For example, if you earn $1,000 in gross rent, save $500 for maintenance and repairs.

The Square Footage Rule

The Square Footage Rule involves setting aside $1 per square foot. For example, if your property is 2,000 square feet, save $2,000 per year for maintenance.

Keep in mind that these three rules are estimates. Every property will have different costs for maintenance and repairs, but these general rules can help landlords and investors forecast and budget to avoid future out of pocket expenses. 

Furthermore, some professionals may charge more than others for the same services. More on that later.

Annual Maintenance Schedule

A maintenance schedule helps you create a routine for proactively keeping your rental property in good shape. You don’t have to think as hard about what to repair and when — you just follow the plan. As a result, addressing wear and tear before it becomes a costly headache is a lot easier.

Below are several key tasks to include on your annual property maintenance schedule.

Windows

Look for window damage on framing, glass, fixtures, and caulking, and ensure they are clean and function well. That includes repairing or replacing screens if necessary. Here are a few benefits to keeping your windows in top shape:

  • Functioning Windows Are Less Likely to Incur Damage: Tenants are less likely to force a window open or closed if the fixture is clean and functioning properly. Ensure that windows glide open and glide closed during your annual property inspection. Check lock fixtures on each window and replace any damaged parts.
  • Deep Clean Windows to Set High Tenant Expectations: Grooves and ledges, along with the frame and glass, make windows some of the dustiest and dirtiest places on a property. Include window cleaning in your maintenance checklist to ensure no insect bodies, leaf debris, cobwebs, or grime are stuck in the tracks or on the frame.
  • Clean Windows Increase Appeal for New Tenants: Making sure that all windows are cleaned during turn over will increase your unit’s appeal to future tenants. Show off the landscaping and views with clean glass and screen inserts.

Exterior Pressure Washing

Long-term dirt accumulation on exterior surfaces can erode exterior finishes and hamper property appreciation. Regular power washing is another task to add to your list to ensure your property maintains or even increases in value. Areas like driveways, walkways, concrete walls/patios, and some decks may be pressure washed to quickly and thoroughly remove accumulating dirt and debris.

DIY landlords can rent pressure washers by the hour from their local hardware store once a year to refresh a property’s exterior. Low-touch rental property investors may prefer to hire a contractor to provide this service.

Siding/Roof Inspection and Gutter Cleaning

Damaged roofs and siding can cause leaks that annoy tenants in the short term, and lead to major repairs in the long term. Inspect your roof and ensure shingles, soffits, and exterior vents and fixtures  are in order and not visibly damaged.

Do not overlook your gutters while conducting this exterior inspection. Plant material and debris can clog them, leading to water damage inside and outside of the home. Weeds can grow in your spouting if left long enough. This causes water to pool, which can run down the side of your house and flood the ground near the foundation. 

Such issues can create serious and expensive problems later, such as:

  • Gutter rusting and degradation
  • Internal leaks and damage within the roof cavity
  • Damage to the property’s facade
  • Landscaping erosion
  • Sinking foundations

We recommend cleaning your rental property’s gutters every year. Certain areas, such as those with lots of trees or overgrowth, can benefit from more frequent cleanings.

Major Lawn Maintenance

Develop an annual lawn and yard maintenance plan. Even if your tenants are accountable for lawn and yard maintenance, there are some aspects you might have to handle.

For instance, you have to cut down the following:

  • Small trees 
  • Intrusive limbs
  • Hanging overhead branches (they can damage shingles or create other hazards)

Regular lawn maintenance every year helps you identify any damaged limbs and trees that could fall. This is also a good opportunity to assess the status of your landscaping elements including perennial flowers, bushes, shrubs, paved pathways, or garden beds. If landscaping elements have degraded over time, consider replanting decorative garden beds during the turn to increase curb appeal and perceived rental value. 

Heating and Cooling System Maintenance

Regularly evaluate your property’s heating and cooling equipment to ensure they function properly without issues. Change air filters annually and schedule HVAC technician visits as needed for additional servicing and maintenance.

Failure of small components in cooling units can produce excessive carbon monoxide and may create major airflow problems. Annual maintenance visits will allow you to notice all these potential equipment failures — avoiding costly and catastrophic emergencies.  

Sluicing Out Water Heater

It’s a good rule of thumb to flush your water heaters at least once a year to maintain water cleanliness, especially if they’re heavily used. You should include this in the annual maintenance schedule, at your desired frequency.

Failure to flush the water heaters can cause them to deteriorate or malfunction. They may leak or even flood your basement. A handy landlord can sluice the hot water heater in a single quick visit with a garden hose on a warm day. Or hire a professional plumber to sluice the hot water heater as a part of additional maintenance or inspection. They will advise on operating the equipment, flushing recommendations, and sediment buildup.  

Pest Control Evaluations

If your property is located in a rural area or among several trees, it can potentially become a haven for rodents and pests. Some rodent and pest threats include:

  • Mice building nests in the walls
  • Raccoons creating openings in the attic
  • Squirrels hiding in the garage

All that said, properties in suburban and urban areas can also fall victim to pests.

These issues can become intrusive to tenants, damage electrical wires, ruin insulation, and block airflow. To reduce rental property expenses and keep pests at bay, consider scheduling annual maintenance checks and calling a pest professional.

Plumbing

Some plumbing issues can create a full-scale water emergency. Older properties may operate on aged plumbing design, including a poor sewer system, which can increase these risks. 

However, new properties also experience plumbing difficulties that could turn into expensive repairs.

Schedule annual maintenance checks and sewage cleaning services with trusted plumbing professionals. Relying on sewage cleaning services is smart, but you can ask the plumbing professional to install capital guards to prevent debris from clotting the sewage system.

These plumbing professionals will:

  • Gauge the major aspects of your property, including sewer lines. 
  • Help spot small leaks or pooling water that could become fungal growth concerns or major water flow issues.
  • Replace loosened shower grout, garbage disposals, or the wax rings over toilet seats

These are relatively small investments that can prevent major costly damage in the long-term as your property ages.

Patching Cracks on Plaster

Fixing plaster cracks may seem purely cosmetic, but scheduling these fixes can help prevent major damage later. You can fix tiny cracks easily. If you wait too long, these can become large, expensive fixes. 

Symptoms such as a fresh crack in the ceiling could lead to a floor falling from upstairs. Great dwellings can face small cracks due to the property’s weight, but hiring a patching professional to examine your property will ease your mind regarding cracks or fissures. 

Fireplace and Chimney

Hiring a chimney sweeper is vital if your rental property has a fireplace. Clogged chimneys can create fire hazards. 

Chimney masonry parts may also fail over time, requiring immediate support and repairs. We suggest not allowing your tenants to light the fireplace without an expert inspecting it first and, if necessary, doing a deep clean. 

Lease Agreement Violations

Maintenance walkthroughs may be a good time to check that tenants aren’t violating the lease. For example, indications of smoking happening in the property, a pet that wasn’t allowed, or people that aren’t on the lease.

Other Safety Checks

Here are some additional safety checks you need to add to your annual checklist:

  • Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors yearly
  • Replace the loose and deteriorating boards on decks, patios, and steps
  • Check if door sensors are operational and if they retract upon obstruction
  • Check that doors have proper locks and sufficient unlocking mechanisms
  • Make sure that all windows are functional and have secure locking mechanisms
  • Verify that on-premises fire extinguishers function correctly

How to Find a Contractor

It’s tempting to go for the contractor that offers the lowest prices. However, be careful — you often get what you pay for.

Now, lower-priced contractors aren’t always bad. We know some great contractors on the lower end of the price spectrum. It’s just that lower prices sometimes correlate with lower-quality work. Poorer work quality can come back to bite in the form of repeated issues with the same repair.

Paying for a more skilled and experienced contractor can save you a lot down the road by reducing the need for future fixes.

In this section, we’ll dive into a few factors to consider when looking for a contractor. Keep in mind that none of these in isolation guarantee a high-quality contractor. However, the more of these factors that look good, the higher the chance you’re working with a reputable professional.

License and Insurance

Many, but not all, states and localities require contractors to be licensed. Even if your area does not, licensure shows that a contractor is willing to invest in their education so they can do the best work. It also indicates that they’re less likely to be scammy or shady.

Meanwhile, looking for an insured contractor is critical to protecting you. If an uninsured contractor is injured on the job, such as falling off a roof, they may sue you. Insured contractors instead receive compensation from their insurance policy if this happens.

Additionally, the contractor’s insurance may protect you if the contractor damages your property, installs something incorrectly, or harms you or others.

Licensed and insured contractors may cost more than unlicensed, uninsured contractors. We assure you the peace of mind is often well worth the cost.

Past Work Examples

Good contractors don’t have much to hide. Ask to see examples of a contractor’s past work to get a better idea of what they can do for you.

Look for evidence of quality materials and workmanship when viewing a contractor’s past work. Also, verify that the work they’re showing you is similar to what you need. Some contractors specialize in certain projects — if you don’t see a project similar to your needs in their portfolio, they may not be the right contractor.

References/Recommendations

Ask for at least three references from every contractor you’re strongly considering. References can help you learn about a contractor’s work habits, timeliness, communications, and other aspects that are hard to glean simply from talking to a contractor or observing past work.

When talking to a reference, verify that it’s valid by discussing your project and checking that the work performed is similar to what you need.

Recommendations from other landlords with similar properties and needs is an excellent way to start the search. Still, you will want to check other references beyond those who referred you.

Online Reviews

Online reviews are a good place to start and to cross-check other factors on this list. A large number of positive online reviews tells you a few things:

  • The contractor is well known
  • The contractor delivers a good experience

You can find online reviews in places like:

  • Angi (formerly Angie’s List)
  • Google reviews
  • HomeAdvisor
  • Thumbtack

One Last Note About Contractors

Finding a good contractor and screening out the bad ones requires plenty of time and energy. As a result, great contractors are in high demand. If you don’t build rapport with a good contractor early on, they may seek out work elsewhere.

Therefore, you want to build a strong relationship early so that they enjoy working with you and want to partner with you for the long term. 

Don’t Forget Inspections

Landlords should perform regular inspections on top of repairs and maintenance. This can help landlords document their property’s condition, catch future fixes early, and detect potential lease violations.

Some rental property inspections you might add to your routine include:

  • Move-in inspections
  • Move-out inspections
  • Drive-by inspections
  • Routine inspections

Final Thoughts on Maintenance and Repairs

Once a tenant has signed the lease and moved in, maintenance becomes one of your biggest responsibilities. Create an annual maintenance schedule (perhaps using the one we laid out), and save enough to afford these and other surprise issues.

Look for a contractor you can trust to be a long-term partner and start building that relationship as soon as possible. That way, you’ll have someone to depend on when these repairs come up.

By taking this proactive approach to maintenance, you can keep your tenants happy, mitigate more expensive repair projects, and maximize your rental success.


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