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.
Most homes in Austin have fenced back yards. Most fences are built on the property line. The standard wood fence lasts about 8-15 years before it needs replacing (less if it’s a cheap starter home fence).
Usually, when replacement is needed, reasonable neighbors work it out and get it done, sharing materials and labor in a way agreeable to both, depending on who gets the “good” side and who wants the fence the most. Ideally, this is just an old fashioned handshake agreement and all goes well, and both neighbors are happy with the result.
But often things don’t go well. It only takes one unreasonable neighbor to make things difficult. Having managed and owned rentals in Austin for 20+ years, I’ve had many more “fence encounters” the past three months alone than most Austinites will encounter in 2 decades. What have I learned? … there are some very weird Austin kooks out there when it comes to dealing with fence issues.
Scenario #1 – Petulant ManBoy Brat and his Parents, Fiancee and Great Dane
I own a duplex in South Austin. I use to own the duplex next door as well. I purchased both in 1999 and sold one in 2003, keeping the other. There had never been a fence between the two duplexes, though there had always been fences along the surrounding lot lines in back and the outer sides. I’ve never rented to tenants with pets at the duplex, so I never needed or wanted a fence for each individual yard.
At some point, the new owner next door, without my knowledge or permission, installed a chain-link fence connecting the front corners of the two duplexes, thus creating a large combined “shared” fenced yard in back encompassing the back yard of my Unit B and their Unit A. Apparently, the tenant (daughter of the owner) asked my tenant at the time if it would be ok for them to have a dog. My tenant, as I’m told by the neighbor, said it would be ok. I never knew of this. Besides, the tenant wasn’t the proper person to ask as they don’t own the property.
Recently my new tenant reported to me ongoing problems with the neighbor, now the owner’s son, and dogs roaming the back yard, crapping in it, and making the yard a health hazard for her small kids because of all the dung.
At this point, and perhaps I expect too much of people, one would think:
A) Good pet owners don’t let their dogs run loose and crap in their neighbor’s yard.
B) it should take no more than a simple request to keep someone else’s dogs off my property.
That’s not how it went.
One of the toughest things to balance as an Austin Realtor is finding the right frequency and methods for staying in touch with our past clients. On the one hand, we have the National Association of Realtor (NAR) surveys of buyers and sellers showing that over 90% of real estate consumers never hear from their Realtor again after closing.
Wow! This, in an industry where repeat business and referrals are extremely important to succeeding, is amazing. Clearly most Realtors drop the ball on “after the sale” follow up.
At the other extreme are those Realtors who follow up too much. Consider the quote from this Inman article titled “Is your real estate client a friend?“:
“There are salespeople out there who have inserted themselves into my life with constant contact, and I don’t seem to be able to get rid of them. They put themselves into my online conversations and follow me everywhere. Once we get onto their mailing list we can never get off”.
As my teenage daughters would say, “Eww, creepy”. I know what the author means. I’ve met mortgage and insurance people at industry events such as “lunch and learns”, we exchange cards, and next thing you know I’m receiving regular automated email newsletters and junk mail, getting followed on Twitter and Friend Requested on Facebook and LinkedIn.
None of those “connections” makes me more likely to become a customer or referral source. And in these instances, I’m not even a client or past client. That said, I do receive follow-ups and “just touching base” calls and annual birthday and/or holiday communications from various vendors, and I do value those follow-ups. But the weekly email newsletters from the mortgage gal I met just once at a Realtor lunch? Not valuable or useful in an way.
Sylvia and I don’t generally seek out clients online and try to “Friend” them or otherwise get connected. Many “Social Networking for Realtors” workshop classes encourage this as a lead building strategy and as a way to stay in touch and “connected”. No thanks. Feels too creepy. They should title those classes “how to be super annoying and bother people”.
The exception is for the clients who actually do become real off-line friends as a result of the real estate transaction, or for those who initiate the connection with us themselves.
So, for an Austin Realtor, what is the right mix and balance of staying in touch with past clients without bugging them or becoming a creepy Social Networking Stalker?
Last year I made (saved) $120 by spending 3 minutes on the telephone. All I did was call Sheraton Hotel in Seattle and say “I’d like to convert my reservation to the internet rate“. A couple of minutes later it was done. No fuss about it. I then paid $30 less per night during our 4 night stay, saving me $120 plus whatever the taxes would have been on the extra $120, so probably more like $150. That paid for all of mine and Sylvia’s dining out.
Why didn’t I make the original reservation with the internet rate? Because the “internet rate” is non-refundable and is charged to the credit card immediately. The “normal” reservation is refundable and you don’t pay until you stay. A lot can happen in the two or three months between a hotel reservation and an arrival, so paying in full months in advance, and having it be non-refundable, just isn’t the best way to manage your travel expenses. The smart-money thing to do is make a fully refundable hotel reservation and convert it just prior to your arrival, thereby receiving the benefits of a refundable reservation at the discounted non-refundable price.
I use this example because so much of our modern money management efforts require knowing stuff and doing something extra as a result of what you know. Prices that seem “cheaper” are often not, especially in the airline and hotel industry when you factor in the risk value of up front non-refundable charges. And they gloss over that small detail that when you make the reservation (and/or you don’t read the fine print). You have to know about it, or learn about it the unfortunate way, when life circumstances force the cancellation of a trip.
I bring up this topic because so many real estate consumers get bogged down in the infinitesimally small cost factors of buying and owning a home, as if the homes we live in are the only source of expenses and savings in life. And, as American consumers, we often remain blissfully unaware of the multitude of simple things that can be done daily to, as Clark Howard puts it, save more, spend less, and avoid being ripped off.