Most Austin Property Managers, in fact all that I know, require tenant repair requests to be submitted in writing. This is required by Texas Property Code as well as the commonly used TAR (Texas Association of Realtors) and TAA (Texas Apartment Association) lease forms. It’s good practice for tenants to follow, even if the landlord or property manager doesn’t strictly enforce it. As a tenant, you want all of your important communication regarding your lease to be documented in case the worst case scenario ever comes about and you end up in court over a dispute.
At Crossland Property Management, we provide an online repair request form for the convenience of our tenants. 99% of our repair requests originate here, albeit sometimes after I direct a tenant there from a phone call or email. Occassionally tenants fuss about this. “Why can’t you just take the info over the phone?” is a common gripe. “Because we already agreed in the lease agreement that repair requests are submitted in writing or online” is my response. “And we make that super easy for you by providing an online form”.
The operational efficiencies of having all repair requests originate online through a repair request form are phenomenal.
1) The online request form is interactive.
This is very important. All property managers should be programming your online repair requests with this functionality. It’s simple to do even for non-programmers if you’re using the right web tools. Sorry, but none of the “out of the box” pre-fab websites that many property managers use provide for this, which is another good reason to develop, host and manage your own website with WordPress, then you can use a simple Forms Plugin.
For example, on my repair request form, once the checkbox under “Problem” is checked “Air Conditioner” or “Furnace”, an informational blurb automatically appears above the Submit button. It reads:
“Many of our service calls for A/C and/or furnace result in “user error” as the cause, especially when seasons change from hot/cold and thermostats are not properly set. Please double-check your thermostat and also make sure you have clean filters properly installed. If you feel confident that the thermostat and filter(s) are in order, proceed with your request so we can get out to have a look.”
Likewise, if the tenant checks “Electrical” as the problem, the following blurb automatically appears:
Sylvia and I just sold a couple of acreage lots that we purchased in Oak Hill back in Feb 2007. For those who remember, Austin’s real estate market was still running full tilt in early 2007. I bought three lots in a new subdivision, we built a new custom home on one of them and moved in, and held the other two for investment.
The Original Plan – what was suppose to happen
We bought the lots directly from the developer for around $85K and $90K each. I figured they would be worth $150K or more within the following year or two. The house we built, which we really didn’t need but which I though would be a good investment, cost about $475K to build turnkey, including lot purchase. It appraised for $610K when we closed the loan, which I thought was a bit high, but nevertheless I figured the value would appreciate to over $700K within two 2 years. We’d sell it, take the tax free capital gains, and buy again in Westlake near the high school.
I think of this strategy as “laddering up”, whereby each successive home purchase/build and move-up results in tax free income and an increase in net worth. Others I know have done this with “slow flips”, buying fixers and staying the required 2 years while renovating, then capturing the tax free capital gain and reinvesting into the next home. Over time, this is a powerful formula.
On paper, this all made sense. The home we’d lived in prior and sold to build this one was built in 2003 on another lot we’d owned since 1999, and it had appreciated nicely. Because of our convoluted tax system, there was a sizeable capital gain profit to be taken tax free on the sale of that one. Those proceeds were dumped into the new one to start a new two-year clock ticking. Any home you sell that you’ve owner-occupied for at least 2 of the past 5 years is not subject to capital gains tax upon sale, so in an appreciating Austin real estate market, moving often can actually be a wealth building strategy and a way to earn tax free capital gains.
What Actually Happened
The plan didn’t work out as expected.
The Real Estate company Redfin recently announced the release of its Agent Scouting Report in its various markets around the US. This allows Redfin “clients” (term in quotes because anyone can sign up at Redfin.com and instantly be a “client”, whereas most agents think of a client as someone who has signed an actual Listing or Buyer Representation Agreement).
What is the Scouting Report? It allows consumers to view some stats on the current and past activities of Austin real estate agents. Here is a screen shot of Sylvia’s below, so you can see what we’re talking about, then I’ll elaborate further.
It would be a good idea to click on the screen shot to view an enlarged version. If you have a Redfin account, you can click here to view the actual live version.
The Scouting Report allows anyone, in seconds, to type in the name of an Austin Realtor and see what the past 36-month production stats are for that agent. If this becomes a widely adopted and accepted way for consumers to evaluate agents before hiring, it could be a game changer for our industry. I’m all for it, with some reservations. But overall, I think it’s a good thing.
For example, Sylvia’s Scouting Report will reveal that, in the past 36 months, she’s closed 107 sales (53 Buyers, 54 Sellers), which is about 3 per month over a 36 month period, through the Austin MLS. It doesn’t include builder sales or non-MLS sales. The report will show a map of the location of each home and a link to the photos, sold price and full details of each sold home. The easy-glance maps helps a consumer see the geographic areas of operation of an agent, and where the concentration of business is for that agent.
One word keeps appearing in most of the articles and Blogs I’ve read about this – “Disruptive”. As one who thinks the term “disruptive is thrown around too often by the media, especially in the past 5 years about the real estate industry, I think this could actually be disruptive to the real estate industry and its agents.
Let’s start with one well known fact. Real Estate Consumers do a very poor job of selecting agents. The Scouting Report might change that and start weeding out the dead wood agents from the industry.