Wednesday, June 10, 2020 / by AJ Shepard
Here is episode one of our Property Management Bootcamp. We are going to talk about the work order process today, and the idea is that once a tenant who is already existing, they're already on a lease, they're already living in one of our units and we've made it past the move-in period where we're trying to get everything dialed in for the tenant. Because generally after a move in there is a handful of work orders, and those are different than the work orders that we're talking about today. This is if something breaks or if a problem arises that has kind of occurred over a long period of time. So what do we do when a work order comes in?
Roni: The first thing that I do is I acknowledge the tenant because it's important that they know that someone has received their request and has heard them. We evaluate if it's an emergency situation such as a water leak or electrical problem that could be a danger. If it is, then we act upon those immediately. If it's not an emergency situation, then we try to troubleshoot with the tenant. Perhaps it's an appliance that went out. We'll ask them to reset the breakers, garbage disposer, things like that. We'll ask them to turn the bottom and see if they can unclog it. And then we will ask them to, if it's an appliance, we'll ask them to give us a make and model. We ask them for photos as well and then we tell them that we're going to let the owners know and that we'll get back to them.
Chris: Okay. So when the work order comes in and then how exactly are we responding? What tool do we use?
Roni: I always use AppFolio because it stays in the system and we have proof of how quickly we responded, what we said. So it's timestamped and all of our comments are in there.
Chris: Okay. And then let's say that a tenant calls in with a work order, how are we handling that situation right now?
Roni: We ask them to put in a work order. We did have a situation with a tenant who is over 80 years old and found to be very illiterate when it comes to the computer, and it was an important issue, so I created a work order for that tenant, again, so that we have it in the record. But that doesn't happen very often.
Chris: And then what if a tenant calls you about an existing work order? How do we handle a situation like that?
Roni: I look up the work order in AppFolio and I read the notes and I try to see what's been told to the tenant. I see if anyone was assigned to it, and then I will let them know. Sometimes we drop the ball, I will say, and then I'll apologize and I'll say, "Ma'am, it fell through the cracks. I'm very sorry," and then we take care of it as quickly as possible.
Chris: Absolutely. So if somebody calls in, you're updating the work order by putting it in the notes when you talk to them on the phone.
Roni: Yes. And then I try to, it's at least once a week I go through all of the work orders and I will see where we are on them and I will make notes, I update. I will send the tenant a message and I'll say, "Hey, has this been taken care of? Is everything working properly?" Just in case we did not have a followup conversation with the vendor that may have gone out and taken care of it or our maintenance man.
Chris: Okay. How would you rate the importance of communication with the tenant?
Roni: I think that that's at the top of their priority list because you can have a very bad situation, but because of the way and the speed at which you communicate with a tenant, you can make them feel as if they've been heard, they're important and they're going to be taken care of.
Chris: So sometimes you would say that communication is even more important than actually getting the work order finished?
Roni: Yes, definitely. And then the followup afterward. Tenants, I get a lot of thank-yous from tenants when I follow up with them and then I say, "I'm following up to make sure you've been taken care of," and they'll say, "Thank you so much. This is great. You've been wonderful throughout the process." And then that's your foot in the door to send them a review.
Chris: Ah, to ask for reviews.
Chris: Okay. So that's kind of handles how we respond. How do we determine what needs to be done when that work order comes in?
Roni: So a lot of this it's repeat jobs. I can't tell you how many garbage disposers have been clogged or how many times an appliance it has gone out. And so it's just kind of from experience and to see if those have happened before. Sometimes it's something new that I've never dealt with, so I will ask you and AJ, what do you think? Or I'll call Brett and ask if he had an idea about this. We brainstorm together a lot on how to handle the situation. I get the owner involved in that. Some of our owners might have a preferred vendor. We have two or three owners who like to go out and take care of the situation themselves as well.
Chris: Absolutely. So at what point are you calling or contacting the owner of the property?
Roni: I like to let the owner know right away if it's something that I can't troubleshoot and take care of. Again, I have a limit of $300 but I still send a note to the owners just to let them know. That's worked out very well for us.
Chris: Okay. Okay, so what if a work order comes in and it's really vague and you're just not very sure what the problem is?
Roni: Well, that's the communication with the tenant again. Ask them, just say, "I need some more information." Then I'll ask very specific questions that try to give me the information that I know I'm going to need to send a vendor out or to let the owner know. I'll never want to send a vague work order to an owner because I know I'm going to get an email back saying, "What do you mean?"
Roni: So spearhead that.
Chris: So breaking it down even a little further, how do you clarify with the tenant? How do you break down like, okay, let's get to the heart of the issue?
Roni: I'll give you an example. I had a tenant say, "Bathroom fan," and that's all he sent. And so I sent him an email back and I said, "Can you be more specific? Is your bathroom fan not working? Was it working before and all of a sudden stopped? Because I want to see if it's a breaker issue, something like that. And can you take photos?" Yeah, just asking specific questions about it.
Chris: Okay. And so, I guess breaking it down even a little further there, you have your different types of vendors that deal with different types of issues. I mean, what types of questions do you ask to determine if it's, say, an electrical problem or if it's a plumbing problem or if it's some sort of handyman or painting or kind of cosmetic problem or if it's some other issue that maybe we don't know exactly what we need to do?
Roni: I try to use our handyman first. So I try to use Brett first and then I'll defer it to Scott if it's something that Brett can't handle. I know what Brett's strengths and weaknesses are, and I don't mind giving him a call or talking to him about the situation. Because maybe he's very comfortable with it, maybe he's not. I mean, he's YouTubed how to do a doorbell. So now he's an expert at putting doorbells in. So I'll try to use our handyman because it is less expensive than using a contracted vendor that we have for the owner. It's also, it keeps our handymen busy as well. If it's something that is electrical, then we need to send the electrician out. And I've definitely let the owners know that we do not handle that, we need to send a licensed electrician out to take care of that problem.
Chris: Okay. I know that for a lot of my properties we have drain issues, a clogged drain, something's backing up. How do you handle those types of problems?
Roni: Well, with your properties, you, Dale, since you're doing so many remodel jobs, you have plumbers it seems, just at your fingertips. They're already at some of those properties, so I always contact you first. Again, if I couldn't find you and I couldn't contact one of your plumbers, then I'll call Apollo Drain, something like that, to go out and take care of it.
Chris: And then what do we do if Apollo Drain says they can't get out until next week?
Roni: Then I'll call somebody else. If it's a livability issue. If it's a sewer backing up like we had over the weekend, I mean, you've got to take care of that right away. If it's a bathroom that needs to be unclogged and they have two bathrooms, that can wait until next week.
Chris: Okay. All right. So once we determine what needs to be done, how do we assign that job? How does the vendor get the work order?
Roni: I send the work order through AppFolio to the vendor and then I ask them to contact me once it's scheduled so I know the scheduled date of the service.
Chris: Okay. And so that's done, so I guess before we can assign a vendor, they need to be set up in our system, correct?
Chris: So why don't we step back and talk about how do we get a new vendor into the system.
Roni: Well, you go to the vendor tab in AppFolio, and then there, on the right side there's another tab that says, "Set up a new vendor." Then you just put their name in that, business name, a personal name. Hopefully, you get a W-9 of proof of insurance with properties as additionally insured. We like to have that. Their contact information, email, phone number. And then always uncheck electronic payment because we like to send checks to them.
Chris: Absolutely. Okay. So that's how you get a vendor signed up in the system so that you can assign them a work order. Once the work order is created, we've identified the work, we've communicated with the tenant and given them an idea of how the process works, then we assign a job. Can you talk a little bit more about exactly how the job is assigned and how we know that the vendor got it?
Roni: Okay. Again, I go to AppFolio and I pull up the work order, and you edit the work order and then there's assigned to box, and I plug in the vendor's name and then I send it. I send a little note and I'll say, "Please contact this tenant directly to schedule and then let me know what day it's been scheduled for." Then I send it to them. And then I've got a pretty good rapport with our vendors, so they'll either call me or send me an email. And then I go back into the work order and once it's scheduled I'll select schedule instead of waiting and I'll put the date that it's scheduled.
Chris: Great. And then how do you know that the vendor received that work order?
Roni: Because they'll either email me or give me a phone call.
Chris: Okay. Do you know what the vendor actually sees when that work order gets assigned?
Roni: I sent one to myself before, and it's actually printed out nicely. It has the address, the tenant name, a contact phone number, and then what the tenant wrote as being the problem and any notes that I've written.
Chris: Okay. So at that point, how do we notify the tenants when the work's going to get done?
Roni: What I do is after I assign the vendor, then I email the tenants and I tell them that I've contacted Benjamin Jones to come out and take care of the gutters. I like the tenants to know the name of the company and the name of the person coming out, and that they'll contact them directly. I can't give them a date because that's between the vendor and the tenant, but they know who will be calling them and they know that they're calling to schedule a service appointment.
Chris: Okay. So the vendor schedules directly with the tenant and then we don't have to give the tenant notice.
Chris: So what if the tenant says, "I'm not going to be home but I still want the work to get done"?
Roni: I'll ask them if they can leave a key in a secure location for the vendor. Depending on how problematic their issue is, I might ask Taylor to go over and take a key. But the vendors, if they have to come to our office to pick up a key and then bring it back, it's going to be an additional charge.
Chris: At least a one-way trip
Roni: Yeah. We really try to avoid that. If it's an emergency situation, then we need to get that taken care of.
Chris: Okay. So the vendors or our handyman schedule with the tenants and that's how they are notified when they're coming out.
Chris: And then, so it's scheduled and then that date comes, how do we know that the work got done?
Roni: We get a bill pretty quickly from those vendors. So I know that it's been done when I get a bill. I always get a bill within two to three days. And unless it's a pressing issue, I'm not going to follow up immediately with them. And then I always send an email to the tenant after I get the bill just to make sure it's been completed to their satisfaction.
Chris: Wow. That is my next question. How do we know if the tenant is satisfied?
Roni: There you go. Ask them.
Chris: So then, how do we respond to the range of responses from the tenant being satisfied or not satisfied? What if the tenant is not satisfied?
Roni: Then I would like to know more specifically what it was that they're not satisfied with. Was it the amount of time it took? Do they not like the vendor? Is it still not flushing properly if it's a toilet? So then I will get a response that way and I'll know why they're not satisfied, and then we need to try to correct that.
Chris: Okay. And so if they're not satisfied, what if they are very satisfied? How do we move forward?
Roni: If they're very satisfied, I'll say, "Excellent," and then I'll send them a request to do a survey and then I will close the work order. They'll say there's a completed tab, and then in that completed tab I will also make note work was done by Brett, completed by Brett or work completed by Caliber or whoever it's completed by. It's dated that way as well.
Chris: Okay. Is there anything else about work orders that you think we need to cover?
Roni: I think it's really important to try to touch them every day if you can. I can't stress the importance of letting the tenant know that you've received it. At least respond to the new ones right away. And then if you can go to the work orders, I try, three days a week would be really, really good to do it, but I would like to get to it every day and just go through and see what we're doing, get them closed out.
Chris: So it's something you need to spend, would you say an hour or two hours a day?
Roni: I'd say it would be an easy two hours per day every day.
Chris: Easy two hours per day. Just going through all the work orders. What is that process like? So let's say that today's the day that you need to go through the work orders. Can you just describe how you approach that?
Roni: I start at the top to make sure any that say, "New," that-
Chris: When you say the top, what is that?
Roni: The most current work orders.
Chris: So they come in based on how recently? So the top one is the newest work order?
Roni: Yeah. So I'll take care of the new ones first because if it says, "New," it means no one has responded to that tenant. Or if they have then they haven't marked it as waiting. I know that for Franklin and Tucker or for the Macadam that happens often. So I send an email to the onsite managers at those complexes if they've been sitting in new or if they've been in there a long time and I ask them to update. And so we didn't talk about that, but that is something that we want to take care of too because it's on our report.
Roni: And then I go to the oldest ones, which to make sure what's happening on those and what needs to be done and why they aren't closed, are we waiting for an owner? Is it a cosmetic thing? Exactly why they're still opening. So I pick through them.
Chris: So when you're doing that, you literally go through every single work order?
Roni: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because we have Cat works on some of the work orders as well. On Saturdays and Sundays, she takes care of the work orders and then I check them. I get in there on Sunday perhaps and look at them to see what's been happening and then I have her follow up on the work order she started with. Even though I can see her notes, I'll read her notes and I'll send maybe advice or something else to ask the tenant or something else to ask the owner because she's still... I mean, it's a tough process to learn, and so I have her follow up on it because it's a good learning process. And I like the tenant to feel as though we're handling them in a consistent matter. So one person instead of hearing from three different people.
Chris: Absolutely. Okay. Yeah. Is there anything else that you feel is important to the work order process?
Roni: No, I think we've covered it.
Chris: All right. Well, thank you so much, Roni.
Roni: You're welcome.