For Property Managers: Making the Best Use of Your Service Providers

Most business people know that a company needs the big three — lawyer, banker, and accountant — to avoid problems and to keep things humming along.  But real estate managers also need a group of inspection and preventive maintenance service providers.  That group should cover all aspects of your properties so that when any emergency arises you can call someone already familiar with your facility, cutting cut hours or even days off emergency response and resolution times.

You most likely already have a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist for your own staff covering things like security and lighting.  And probably several service contracts such as for fire protection code compliance.  But your list of repair and preventive maintenance companies maybe not so well organized.  You might even have something that’s fallen through the cracks so that when there’s an emergency you’ll need to search for and then qualify a contractor… or take a risk on whomever you run across first.  At the opposite extreme there might be a few activities that could be more economically combined into a single full-service contractor or performed less often.

Create a Complete Preventive Maintenance Plan

Your maintenance schedule is an important part of your risk management plan.  Many tasks are beyond what your in-house maintenance crew can handle, including those where regulations require inspection and testing by an outside party.  Besides reducing code-compliance hassles, re-inspections, and fines a coordinated plan combining all of your providers will relieve your work- and stress-load with more convenient scheduling.

Identify All Needs

The first step is creating a list covering all of your needs.  It’s important to think beyond routine maintenance and identify emergency services for which you many not have a trusted provider.  You probably already have someone for plumbing problems, but most facilities need many more.  Here are only a few of the key areas where 3rd party services are often employed.  It’s just a starting point for your own brainstorming.

  • Building Exterior
    • Exterior surfaces should be power washed twice a year.  Real estate managers often outsource this job along with more frequent window washing.
    • Gutters and storm drain gates might be checked and cleaned by your own staff.
    • Roofing and flashing should be professionally inspected twice a year and after any significant storm.
    • Trim, finishes, and weather stripping may benefit from a professional inspection every few years.
  • Building Interior
    • Trash collection, general cleaning, and carpet cleaning — whether in-house or outsourced — should keep an eye out for maintenance issues.
    • Pest control on a regular schedule prevents rather than reacts to problems after occupant complaints.
  • Electrical
    • Interior and exterior lighting should be checked regularly, usually by your own staff.  Proper maintenance includes replacing florescent bulbs before they completely fail and cleaning reflectors, lenses, etc.  Consider switching to state-of-the-art LED lighting, even if that involves bringing an electrician and new fixtures.  The savings in air-conditioning as well as lighting electrical savings can be huge, even to the point of significantly reducing the capacity of any HVAC replacement in commercial buildings.
    • Switch gear, panels, breakers, and connections should be inspected by a licensed electrician every 3 to 5 years.
  • Grounds
    • Fountains and pools are best maintained by an outside specialist. Expert assistance for filters, pumps, and other equipment is also worthwhile.
    • Irrigation systems need checkups and occasional timer adjustments and lawn sprinkler head replacements.  This might be outsourced to your landscaping service.
    • Landscaping and lawn maintenance is often contracted out for better appearance and for avoiding costly equipment that sits idle most of the time.
    • Parking and pavement need frequent inspections and regular resurfacing.  By regularly filling cracks and seal-coating asphalt paving as soon as it’s needed repaving should only be needed once every 20 years!
    • Signage cleaning and maintenance is often outsourced when access is difficult.
  • Mechanical
    • Building automation systems call for regular checks and tests, especially for sensors.
    • HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) window units as well as central systems should have twice-yearly professional service, ideally at the start of the heating and cooling seasons.  Beyond your own activities such as checking and changing air filters as often as once a month, outsourced care includes tasks such as pump and fan lubrication, coil cleaning, tests, and manufacturer-recommended scheduled replacement of components.  Thorough service also includes checking gaskets, p- and u-traps and condensate pans as well as measuring equipment pressures and temperatures.  Fans and dampers also require inspection and test.  Cooling towers have extensive inspection and maintenance needs.
    • Plumbing maintenance includes fixtures, the plumbing itself, drain and sewer lines, and storm drains.  We’ll say more about this later.
  • Safety and Security
    • Access control systems should be checked frequently along with regular professional inspections and testing.
    • Alarms for fire (as well as for and unauthorized access are critical for the building, parking lot, and their perimeters) need certified testing.
    • Emergency exit lighting requires periodic checks, but a professional service can save you time and provide extra peace of mind.
    • Fire protection maintenance begins with monthly visual inspections and checks of extinguishers, hoses, and alarms.  The rest must be performed by licensed specialists.  That includes testing and recharging portable fire extinguishers, maintaining and testing fire hoses, and periodic testing and certification of sprinkler systems as required by local codes and ordinances.

There are many other items, most of which can be checked and taken care of by your own staff, such as kitchen and break-room appliances.  Don’t forget cleaning gutters and down spouts at least once a year and storm drain grates before and after each storm.  Nor safety-critical interior features such as stair and balcony railings as well as door closers.  It helps to imagine yourself walking through and observing every last part of the building and grounds, inside and out.  You should also go through records and other documentation to help assure a complete list for each facility you manage, including the following.

  • Appliance and equipment installation and repair manuals.
  • Local, state, and federal regulations and ordinances.
  • Prior emergency and repair records.

Go through your records of prior emergencies along with ordinances and regulations, as well as any installation and user’s manuals you might have to help create a complete list for each facility you manage.

Initial Inspections and Quotations

Next it’s time to identify and qualify new service providers, getting quotes from them as well as your current providers for any services you don’t already have covered.  Actually, it’s a very good idea to have them take a fresh look at what you’re already covering.  Their inspections, either as part of a free quotation or as a low-cost service, may identify impending yet preventable problems.  You can establish the costs of bringing conditions up to where maintenance will be fully protecting the future rather than constantly trying to catch up.

Let them be your consultants for each aspect of each facility.

Repairs and Upgrade

Once you have the big picture and all the details, you’re ready to set priorities, budgets, and schedules.  You may have identified problems that need to be taken care of immediately, and systems that need to be brought up to code before your next inspections.

It may also be a good time to replace aging equipment and other items.  If so, seriously consider upgrades to high-efficiency low-maintenance products to reduce future operation and maintenance costs.  For electric DHW, heat-pump technologies cut energy use in half.  Window glazings are now better at thermal insulation, controlling sun, and deadening sound than just a few years ago.  Many current roof shingles, exterior-wall coatings, patio covers, and sewer lines have 20-30 year lifetimes.  Similar benefits accrue to pool equipment upgrades.  And speaking of pools, don’t forget safety features there and throughout the building and site.

A Coordinated Preventive Maintenance Program

Now you’re ready to set up the maintenance plan, update your in-house checklists, expand service contracts, and bring in new providers.  You’ll be creating your own master plan, but you also want each service provider to outline a plan specific to each of your sites.  That way you’ll have everything that’s important without paying for anything you don’t need.

Putting all services and providers into a spreadsheet is often a big help as you can add columns for categories, sort, add together totals and subtotals, update status, and so on.  Or you can do it the old-fashioned way with an accountant’s or other multi-column pad.  Either way, on one or more pages each column can be a year, a month, a week, or even a day, with each row a particular maintenance action grouped by who will be performing that work.  You’ll need to make a complete set for each facility, and then distribute those copies to each location while safely storing the master yourself.  You may also want to use those copies as checklists, marked off as each item is completed along with the date any notes that seem appropriate.

Then it’s time to choose companies and work out contracts. It’s worthwhile to look for full-service companies and make better use of those you’re already dealing with.  Besides having fewer companies to deal with that usually means lower fees, benefiting from package rates and low-cost add-ons.  For example, many fire protection companies offer services that include emergency exit lighting and kitchen hood cleaning along with alarms, fire extinguisher and hose maintenance, and sprinkler system testing.  As another example, it’s usually best to go with a full-service plumber rather than a drain cleaner and a plumber.  The company you choose should have capabilities such as leak detection, in-pipe video inspection cameras, and hydro-jetting equipment.  If you manage both commercial and residential properties, choose one experienced in both.

Remember to choose contractors experienced in both the type and size of your facilities.  It’s always worth a reminder not to base choices on price alone.  Reputation and good working relationships are vital.  And it’s always worthwhile to spend a little more for quality work and prompt service, especially when downtime means lost customers or idle employees.

After setting intervals or number of visits each year in the contract, work out a maintenance schedule right down to the day and hour.  You can minimize the distractions to you and your staff as well as disruption to occupants.  For example schedule work that needs roof, basement, or equipment room access together.  And of course schedule maintenance before an inspection rather than a little while afterward.

Finally, keep all that paperwork (including contracts) organized, and your list of companies and their contact information always handy.

The Benefits

Risk management is at the heart of maintenance planning, minimizing unexpected expenses and disruptions while reducing costs and helping to retaining tenants.  Proper maintenance keeps small problems from becoming big problems and extends the lifetime of equipment and building components.  A comprehensive maintenance schedule makes your property management job easier, with far less chance of something being neglected until it’s too late. And documenting good maintenance practices can go a long way in insurance and warranty claims.  Here are a few more key benefits.

Alerted to Impending Problems

The initial inspections for everything on you list will identify immanent risks, and scheduled maintenance will spot problems that develop after that well before they become major headaches.

Balance the Budget

Strategic planning almost always pays off, usually with some big budget savings.  Rather than a laundry list created on the fly you’ll have coordinated priorities so that services with the best ROI are included and those that don’t pay their way are dropped. You will also have determined the best balance of in-house staff duties and outside services.  Each facility has its own “sweet spot” based on scale and special conditions and amenities.  Plus, costs will be integrated into your monthly, annual, and capital budgets.  Besides saving money in the long run, preventive maintenance also makes your expenses and cash flow much more predictable.  You’ll also be maintaining the value of the building.

Emergency Services at the Ready

You don’t want to be caught in emergency situation and not know who to turn to.  Having considered all needs and interviewed prospects, at the very least you’ll have a short list.  And for those you choose for ongoing maintenance you’ll have someone you know and trust who is already familiar with your properties for the fastest emergency diagnosis and repair.

Plumbing System Maintenance

Plumbing systems are often neglected until there’s a problem, but there’s actually a lot that can be done to prevent problems.  As a full-service plumbing company we can provide some additional details regarding scheduled services. In establishing a residential or commercial plumbing maintenance plan we walk the property and can then proceed with detailed inspections and tests.  From there we recommend long-term preventive maintenance tasks and help you establish schedules.

Scheduled Maintenance

Don’t forget to remind your janitorial staff to be on the lookout for leaking faucets and other fixtures as well as discoloration and other signs of water damage.  Then schedule professional inspection and maintenance services for at least once a year.

Here are the most commonly included tasks for commercial and larger residential properties such as apartment buildings and complexes.

  • DHW booster and circulation pumps usually need lubrication annually if not more frequently.
  • Pressure testing and leak surveys.  Quick tests can prevent significant water wastage, and more sensitive testing can head off water damage before it becomes significant.  A single leaky faucet can waste as much as 3,000 gallons a year.
  • Preventive drain, sewer, and storm drain cleaning, with or without video camera inspection.  Hydro jetting provides the most complete cleaning for accumulated grease and sludge, and is usually justifiable wherever food is processed, cooked, or served to guard against disruptions from back-ups.
  • Sump pumps and sewage pumps need regular inspection and maintenance.
  • Water fountain chillers should have annual maintenance, typically including bearing lubrication along with refrigerant and compressor oil reservoir checks.
  • Water heater drain and flush removes sediment that reduces efficiency and capacity, and extends the lifetime of the heater.  Safety inspection, testing the pressure/temperature release valve, checking the protection anode, and making burner adjustments and carbon monoxide measurements are commonly part of this service as well.
Commercial Plumbing Considerations

Commercial facilities have additional maintenance needs, primarily due to the presence of high-usage fixtures and appliance along with any food service.  Here again are the key items.

  • Back-flow testing and certification may be periodically required for your building.
  • Boilers require specialists for regular maintenance and testing due to the added importance of efficiency as well as safety issues.
  • Flushometer type fixtures need periodic adjustment and component replacement.  Commercial flush valves include some two-dozen parts.  Wear often leads to no-flushing, too little or too much water, overflows, leaks, and noise.
  • FOG (fats, oils, and grease) is an important issue wherever there is any sort of food service, greatly increasing the importance of frequent and thorough drain cleaning.  Grease interceptors require periodic inspection, cleaning, and maintenance with such work documented and submitted to the proper agencies.
  • FOG issues also apply to automatic hood-wash systems, dishwashers, floor drains, garbage disposals, mop sinks, pot sinks, pre-rinse sinks, rotisseries and broilers. Hydro jetting is frequently worthwhile for these drains in addition to the main sewer line.
  • Waterless urinals require frequent maintenance that can often be performed by in-house janitorial staff but are frequently outsourced.
  • Water heaters as well as boilers should be fire-tested, including flu-gas analysis and adjustments for efficiency and safety.

Local, state, and federal regulations and ordinances often apply, along with ASHRAE, ASME, CSA, and UL certification and inspection requirements.  Fire sprinkler systems must be handled by a licensed fire protection service.

Upgrade Opportunities

Whether at the start of a maintenance plan or over the years when appliances, equipment, and fixtures need replacing it’s a good time to consider water-conservation and energy-efficiency upgrades.

Low-flow shower heads, toilets, and urinals are available with usage well below that of even a few years ago without compromising performance.  Older commercial toilets may be using 4.5 gpf (gallons per flush) while newer designs are at 1.6 gpf with none of the headaches of a decade ago.  Older urinals use 3 gpf, sometimes more.  But recent designs us a maximum of 1 gpf, some as low as 0.5 gpf, with few if any complaints.  And the latest in waterless urinals are gaining acceptance, even in residential situations.

Recent (2015) federal regulations mean that all water heater replacements larger than 55 gallons must now include condensing heat exchangers on gas models or heat-pump technology on electric models.  The latter can cut DHW energy use in half.  For additions and tenant upgrades tankless water heaters may be a great option, saving water as well as energy while avoiding a size upgrade to a central unit.


A well thought out and well executed maintenance program saves you time and stress, reducing risks and saving money over the years.  That makes it an investment rather than an expense.  Even for new facilities many maintenance items must begin the first year, if not the first month, and most need to kick in within just a few years.  That may seem a bit painful at the start, but it will deliver big benefits in the long run.  If you’re not ready to tackle everything at once, a good strategy is to ask each of your services to perform an inspection and make recommendations the next time they’re out.  Then incorporate your choices and incidents that arise into an updated schedule.  Within a year or two you should have a comprehensive maintenance plan that helps you, property owners, and occupants alike.

About ASAP Drain Guys & Plumbing

We provide 24/7 emergency, installation, and maintenance services for residential, commercial, and industrial properties.  With licensed master plumbers we’re experienced fully qualified for all plumbing, sewer, septic, and gas-line work.  Pleased to work with HOAs and property management companies, ASAP Drain Guys & Plumbing is a member of the San Diego County Apartment Association (SDCAA) and a Friend of IREM.  We see the big picture to provide the best in technical and customer service.