Reducing Multifamily Maintenance Costs by Teaching DIY Repairs During COVID-19

Savvy properties are reducing multifamily maintenance costs by virtually teaching DIY repairs during COVID-19.


Savvy properties are reducing multifamily maintenance costs by virtually teaching DIY repairs during COVID-19. This might seem to contradict a property manager’s promise to provide maintenance service and fixes. But times change, and the community may score big points from residents who are apprehensive about allowing technicians inside their apartments to fix a clogged toilet or handle other maintenance issues.

Handing over a bright red plunger might just be a nice way of saying we care.

Over the years, maintenance instructors and leaders have long encouraged resident education about how apartments operate to minimize service requests. Multifamily maintenance costs are among a portfolio’s top operating expenses and can be a dagger in the heart if not performed efficiently. Long response times can be a sore spot with residents.

Maintenance teams have been viewed as the true face of the community. After all, they are in front of residents typically more often than management.

Today, some residents may be hesitant to interact with staff. So, sharing a few basic maintenance tips and fixes that allow residents to solve problems without creating a service request can be beneficial now and have a lasting effect.

Social distancing in maintenance is expected

COVID-19 has changed maintenance in a big way.

Not long after the U.S. outbreak, the NAA issued guidance discouraging members to send facilities management or maintenance staff to an apartment occupied by a resident believed to have the coronavirus.

Further, property managers should consider limiting or prioritizing maintenance service requests and repairs to emergencies and other material conditions affecting health or safety. Suffice to say, neither the resident nor maintenance team member wants to be in a situation where exposure to the virus is at risk.

Even if everybody is healthy, social distancing practices are encouraged and expected.

Reaching a comfort level through resident DIY maintenance

In a situation like COVID-19, DIY maintenance is a way to reach that comfort level between resident and management, says Steve Ostipow, who is Drucker & Falk’s director of marketing. Ostipow shared the real estate service and investment firm’s take on meeting residents halfway on the recent webcast, “Impact on Resident Engagement.”

Drucker & Falk implemented a three-pronged approach to staying engaged with residents during a time when distancing is the norm. The third leg shows residents how to manage the not-so-complex side of maintenance.

How-to videos guide residents through simple DIY fixes to avoid a service request and engaging with a technician. The approach obviously minimizes contact between residents and property but also frees up maintenance personnel to address more complicated calls.

The DIY option is up to the resident; a maintenance team member will show up if necessary.

“We know that maintenance is still available to come into apartments,” Ostipow said. “But at the same time, we know that everyone’s comfort level with having people from outside of their family unit come into their apartments is going to vary.”

Maintenance can improve resident engagement

The videos are a page out of an NAA maintenance session presented in 2015 suggesting that maintenance can improve resident engagement. The organization’s former maintenance and safety instructor, Paul Rhodes, gave 10 ways communities can strengthen the renter/management relationship through a wrench.

Now the director of maintenance operations for The Life Properties, Rhodes has long advocated that good maintenance drives renewals.

No. 4 on his list was showing short videos featuring onsite technicians teaching residents how to work appliances and so forth. The lesson was not just about working the appliances but understanding how they work in some cases. He suggested the videos offer helpful tips, like just how much food should go down garbage disposal before it backs up the sewer line (just the small pieces, not the whole enchilada).

Another tip was when to hand over that toilet plunger. There is a right time for everything, he suggested, and move-in day probably isn’t one of them.

During a pandemic, the plunger may be a welcome token at that time. It’s now a symbol that the apartment community cares about the resident’s comfort level regarding staff entering the apartment. It should also be a reminder that maintenance is ready, willing, and able to perform necessary tasks if the resident so prefers.

Relying on technology to strengthen relationships

Not every resident is DIY-ready, but challenging times require new approaches. Giving residents the confidence to tackle simple repairs or maintenance saves staff time. And time is money in the high-cost world of repairs.

Technology enables property management and maintenance teams to engage residents through communication and relay information about how to unclog a toilet. The result: lower multifamily maintenance costs.

DIY resident maintenance tutorials can easily be relayed through mobile technology within ActiveBuilding, where video and other media uploads can be posted. Contests or games can also be used to encourage resident participation and learning through platforms like Community Rewards.

Engaging residents is important, no matter the conditions. Respecting a renter’s space is a basic premise of property management. In a world of consumed by media, leveraging technology helps property managers strengthen relationships and help retain residents now and in the future.

Learn more about how your property can further engage residents

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