By now, it’s pretty well known that current market conditions have made investing in long-term rentals more appealing than ever. If you buy a few rentals and then self-manage them, you’ll have several duties (other than cashing checks). One of the biggest is trying to keep your maintenance costs as low as possible.

The best way to keep maintenance costs low, often over 25% lower, is to visit your properties on a regular basis to make sure your tenants are taking proper care of them. But what do you actually do when you visit your properties? Well, lots of things!

For starters, take a look at the air conditioning filter. If that is dirty, it is putting a strain on your heating and air conditioning equipment and will shorten its life. It will also reduce the comfort of the tenant and increase his steadily rising utility bills. You need to mention that. It lets the tenant know that you are on his side.

Check the faucets for leaks, and check for leaks under the sinks. It’s easy to make a plumbing repair when the leak is new, but if you let it go, you have a plumbing repair and also a carpentry repair, and we don’t need any of that.

Look for trees touching the roof or the sides of the house. They can abrade the roof and start leaks. You can take a little of your paint along and do the odd touch-up when you are there, telling the tenant to “let me just pretty this up for you.” Your concern for them and your concern for their having a nice place to live can easily translate into goodwill that you just can’t buy anywhere.

Check the smoke alarms. Do it for the safety of the tenants, do it because you don’t want to have the house burn down, or do it because you don’t want to respond to a wrongful death suit. Just do it. Smoke alarm batteries are cheap. Bring a full set of fresh batteries, one for each smoke alarm in the house, about once a year.

Check the disposal if there is one. Some folks don’t use the disposal, and lack of use can end up with the blades in the disposal seizing up and the unit having to be replaced.

Same with the dishwasher. Some folks who live by themselves or with one other person don’t feel like it’s worth running the dishwasher for the small amount of dishes. If you don’t run the dishwasher, the seals dry out, and then they like to leak when you get around to running them again. Ask your tenant to run the dishwasher once or twice a month to keep it operating properly.

Poke your head up in the attic. Make sure that the tenant is not stacking his “treasures” around the gas furnace, causing a fire hazard. Look for anything broken or damaged that could progress into something that is a major expense. An example would be a roof leak around a water heater vent. Catch it now and it is cheap to fix. Wait until the water is coming through the roof and into the house and that’s a different story.

If you don’t allow pets and happen to see a dog on the porch, say something like “is that the neighbor’s dog?” It is disarming and gets your point across without anyone getting unnecessarily frosty with anyone else. The next thing you do is to revisit your lease agreement with them and remind them that NO violations of the agreement will be allowed.

Treat them nicely when you make your visit. You are in your investment, and you are in their home. Act like you would like your guests to act and keep everything positive and respectful. It will go a long way to enlisting their help in the maintenance of your property.

And if you’re not interested in spending the time or energy to take care of your property on your own, here’s one final tip that can make you life much easier: Network with other real estate investors to find the best property management company in your city. They’ll never manage your property as well as you would, but they can sure help you to save your sanity!

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