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Property Maintenance

October 8, 2020

What Is Property Maintenance?

Property maintenance is the process of ensuring buildings and their immediate environments are in optimum condition. It includes maintenance activities such as safety checks, cleaning, rodent control, garbage disposal, gardening, landscaping, and asset repairs. 

Overview

Property maintenance is an integral aspect of both property ownership and property management. Unlike Mother Nature, facility assets don’t renew themselves over time. For this reason, property managers must put systems in place to maintain functional, comfortable, and safe environments for their buildings’ occupants. 

While exact maintenance practices vary by asset, occupancy standards are enforced via state laws, local laws, and the International Property Maintenance Code. Of course, savvy property owners don’t solely enforce maintenance because they want to avoid run-ins with the law—they prioritize routine upkeep because they want to retain their investments’ value, while keeping occupants safe and happy. 

It’s worth mentioning that the term property maintenance is often used interchangeably with general building maintenance. While there is overlap between the responsibilities entailed, there are some minor, technical differences. 

What Is General Building Maintenance?

Building maintenance refers to activities undertaken to ensure buildings and their utility systems are safe, habitable, and in working order. While building maintenance shares the same goals as property maintenance, it doesn’t always include caring for the environment surrounding buildings. 

The most common building maintenance activities include:

  • Cleaning surfaces such as gutters, handrails, windows, floors, and bathrooms
  • Undertaking repairs on assets such as elevators and HVACs
  • Maintaining utility systems such as plumbing and electrical services
  • Ensuring the doors, roofs, walls, and windows are in excellent condition

Building maintenance activities are often categorized by level of priority. For example, emergency repairs are prioritized over less critical tasks because of time and budgetary constraints. Workers involved in building maintenance include janitors, facility managers, and maintenance technicians. 

Examples of Property Maintenance Tasks

Examples of everyday property maintenance tasks include:

  • Fixing Leaks: A tenant reports a toilet leak to the property manager, who will outsource a plumber to fix the problem before it results in water damage.
  • Elevator Maintenance: Elevator cars, hoistways, and machine rooms must be routinely serviced to ensure occupants don’t get stuck in between floors. 
  • Proper Drainage: Any stagnant water around a building should be cleared and adequate drainage systems installed. Stagnant water provides a breeding ground for insects that cause illnesses.

Other maintenance activities undertaken on properties are proactive inspections and servicing of electrical and water supply systems.

What Do You Need to Manage a Property? 

Regardless of the size of the property, routine maintenance is integral to staying in business. Put simply, there’s no running away from property maintenance. Property owners can choose to either a) do everything themselves, b) build an in-house maintenance team or b) outsource their maintenance needs to a commercial property management company.  

Tips on Developing an In-House Team

The potential downside to developing an in-house maintenance team is that “everything is on you!” Property owners and managers become responsible for the time-consuming tasks associated with planning, scheduling, and overseeing all maintenance activities. However, the upside to building an in-house team is tighter control over maintenance spending, deeper insights into tenant challenges, and greater personal investment in success. 

Those wanting to put together an in-house property maintenance team should prioritize: 

  • Drilling Down on Staff Requirements: What skills are needed? How many different roles do those needs divide into? Which positions are the most important to fill, and which ones can be added later?  Begin by matching every required maintenance activity with a specified skill. For example, which skills does a gardener need? As for the team’s size, consider each employee’s work shift and how many shifts are needed in a day.
  • Do Due Diligence: Take your time to find the right fit for each role. Rushing interviews with maintenance technicians could prove costly in the long run. It’s advisable to do background checks on your applicants and take the time to identify the right fit for each role. Maintenance tasks that are only performed once in a while, such as repairing broken down elevators, can be outsourced. 

Tips on Hiring Commercial Property Maintenance Support

For those seeking more widespread support, professional property management companies offer a more structured maintenance approach. They employ maintenance personnel who are trained and experienced in different areas of maintenance. Their services include:

  • Preventative Maintenance Planning and Scheduling: Professional maintenance companies develop well-organized maintenance management software that include maintenance planning and scheduling for your property. The system includes regular inspections, maintenance task documentation, equipment upgrade recommendations, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for suppliers.
  • Tenant Communication: The company will provide tenants with a system to lodge maintenance requests directly with them without bothering you. You will only need to attend to issues that need your specific attention.
  • Financial Reporting: Maintenance companies create an estimated maintenance budget for the property. They also share periodic reports on maintenance expenses.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Depending on your jurisdiction, every property owner must adhere to state and local laws and regulations. Professional maintenance companies regularly monitor and stay updated on the latest regulations to ensure compliance.

Unfortunately, selecting a reliable property maintenance company can be challenging. The best place to begin is to ask other local property owners for personal recommendations before conducting an Internet search. It’s essential to carry out due diligence before settling on a particular company. This includes asking for a portfolio including the provider’s present and past clients, licensing paperwork, and advertised accreditations. Often, the biggest challenge is finding that sweet spot between the management service you want and the budget you have. 

The table below summarizes the benefits and disadvantages of going in-house vs. outsourcing a professional management team:

 In-House Maintenance TeamProfessional Management Team
Pros
● Direct supervision of team and activities
● Better insights into maintenance issues
● Improved communication and relationship with occupants
● Complete control of maintenance budget
● Faster response to emergencies

●Structured maintenance planning and scheduling
● Take responsibilities off the property owner
● Full compliance with regulations
● Easy budgeting for maintenance
Cons
●Requires time to build effective team
● Increased pressure to balance maintenance issues and property operations
● Increased employee costs
● Risk of non-compliance with regulations due to lack of knowledge

● Possibly expensive in long run
● Risk of unreliable service provider
● Decreased interaction between property owner and tenants
● Can take time to react to emergencies
● Difficult to get reliable insights into maintenance activities

Types of Buildings and Industries That Manage Properties

Private residential properties are often successfully managed by ownership without the help of outsourced management services and extensive in-house teams. However, most larger properties and facilities require additional maintenance support. Facilities with several elevators, boilers, and HVAC units require regular servicing, as well as buildings with large spaces such as parking lots, hallways, and common areas. 

Properties that require extensive property maintenance include:

  • Hotels
  • Bed and Breakfast Lodges
  • Apartment Complexes
  • Community Living Properties
  • Government Buildings
  • Educational Facilities 

With that said, organizations within all industries may require both general building maintenance and property maintenance. 

How to Lead a Property Maintenance Team

A property maintenance team is only as good as its leader. Here are a few tips on how top property managers successfully build and lead world-class maintenance teams:

  • Display Trust: Encourage autonomy and give the team a sense of ownership over maintenance tasks. Independence not only gives them a sense of purpose but also enables them to improve their skills. Micromanagement signals that you don’t trust the team to deliver without constant supervision. 
  • Encourage Learning: New maintenance techniques and technologies are always emerging. Keep the team updated on the latest trends by organizing workshops and seminars to learn new skills.
  • Take a Preventive Maintenance Approach: Constantly reacting to emergencies isn’t only expensive but is damaging to a leader’s reputation and a team’s morale. Stay ahead of things and employees will feel better utilized.
  • Adopt CMMS Software: Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) makes it easier to scale maintenance needs. It also improves response time to maintenance requests as one can quickly get information on inventory plus maintenance schedules from a centralized database. While up to 80 percent of CMMS implementations fail, Reliability Plant provides tips to successfully implement the system.

The quickest way to uplevel a property maintenance team is by introducing work order software with built-in chat. MaintainX is the only provider in the marketplace with a smartphone app that includes instant messaging, group chat, and digital work order commenting. The feature allows technicians to quickly troubleshoot with property managers and owners. 

FAQ: Property Maintenance

What Is the Easiest Way to Schedule Maintenance Tasks? 

Even the most efficient maintenance technicians sometimes lose track of important pieces of asset information in email threads, text messages, paper stacks, and voicemails. The easiest way to schedule, assign, and track maintenance tasks is to streamline work orders within Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMs). Good CMMS software enables property managers and owners to maintain a bird’s eye view of what’s happening, while noticing patterns on how to reduce unnecessary expenses. Today’s best CMMS platforms are scalable, user-friendly, and designed for smartphone usage.

How Do You Calculate Maintenance Costs? 

Because maintenance costs are indirect—and cannot be directly assigned to an end product or process—property owners may be tempted to minimize spending on maintenance. But cutting back maintenance funding can be costly and counterproductive to original intentions in the long run. How should property owners estimate maintenance spending? It’s often advised to set aside 4 percent of the property’s replacement value for annual maintenance tasks.

What Is O&M?

Determining the allocation of limited resources in favor of preventive vs. corrective maintenance is an ongoing challenge for all types of facility managers. O&M, or operational and management guidelines are often created as an organizational roadmap for reducing O&M life-cycle expenses, extending equipment life spans, and improving reliability. Solid O&M plans document unique maintenance strategies and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each individual asset. This proactive maintenance approach helps organizations minimize unplanned downtimes, increase equipment efficiency, and optimize maintenance costs.

Other O&M plan goals include but are not limited to:

  • Mitigating safety hazards, risk, and unplanned events
  • Advocating a “customer centric,” LEAN operating model
  • Enhancing facility user experiences
  • Securing predictable O&M funding levels
  • Assure appropriate staffing levels and capability
  • Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs)

As reported by Whole Building Design Guide, budgeting from a life-cycle perspective has “proven to provide the highest likelihood of positive overall results.” Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for organizations to spend the majority of their O&M funding on emergency maintenance resulting in minimized value.

Conclusion

Even if property maintenance isn’t a requirement in most jurisdictions, it is in property owners’ best interest to develop organized strategies to extend the lifespan of critical assets, enhance their professional reputation for reliability, and reduce occupant turnover. Investing in a skilled maintenance team and user-friendly CMMS software will pay long-term dividends by achieving these goals. 

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