If you own rental property, having experienced HVAC contractors as part of your property management team can be essential to keeping your tenants happy and keep your capital expenditures within your budget.
Guest post by Bob Wells
HVAC Contractors Don’t Bite: We’re Glad to Develop a Working Relationship With You
My clients don’t always sound thrilled when they first call to ask for a quote. They are often skeptical, suspicious, and worried about money. Real estate investors and homeowners feel like they are fighting a losing battle against contractors and professional HVAC contractors alike.
The good news and the honest truth is: we don’t bite. More than half of my career as a contractor is spent developing and working on my relationships with clients to build trust because a reputable contractor is a successful contractor.
I think I speak for the vast majority of my peers when I say we’d love to have a healthy, mutually respectful relationship with real-estate investors and help you achieve a great ROI.
Keep Your Tenants Happy With Well-Maintained Heating and Cooling
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you want your HVAC system working well. These issues can be a direct consequence of a poorly functioning or completely broken HVAC system.
Tenants act as canaries in a coal mine for your property’s HVAC system. If there is a problem with the system, you are likely to hear about it ASAP from an angry tenant. The faster you act to fix the problem, the better you will be able to diffuse the tension.
Tenants might decide to withhold their monthly rent if they are dissatisfied with their HVAC systems. Tenants without hot water or heat in the dead of winter are likely to not pay their rent if the problems aren’t addressed in a timely fashion.
If your HVAC system is not functioning efficiently, the tenants may have to foot the bill themselves. For example, a leak in a duct could cause their electric heat bills to go through the roof.
While tenants may not be savvy enough to know what is causing their high utility bills, they may end up moving due to the expense. A high tenant turnover rate is a property owner’s worst nightmare.
Your units might suffer some damage from leaks or the hot water heater flooding; in addition, consider that the tenant’s personal property might also get damaged or destroyed if HVAC systems are not properly maintained.
This can cause your tenants to become angry, not to mention the money it will cost to replace the personal property and fix up on your own.
Finding Dependable HVAC Contractors
The best way to avoid the issue we just discussed is to work closely with a team of reliable HVAC contractors who not only will do repairs but also advise you on minimizing costs and maintaining your system in tip-top shape.
When you first invest in a property, it is important you hope for the best and plan for the worst. Don’t wait for an emergency repair! Shop around for reliable HVAC contractors, technicians, or service company now and start building a relationship with them.
Ask other building owners, friends, or family in the area who the best professionals are and reach out to them as soon as you make your investment.
It is important to do your research and find professional HVAC contractors you can trust to keep in your Rolodex (if you’re traditional) or your phone’s address book.
As a contractor myself, I’m always happy to have consistent clients. It’s easier to understand what’s going on. It also helps to make sure we’ll have a small, constant cash flow, rather than relying on emergencies to crop up.
The Regular Maintenance Plan Is Usually Worth It
Having a regular maintenance plan with HVAC contractors can save you money in the long run. To maintain your system’s efficiency and extend your equipment’s lifespan, you will need to develop a maintenance plan and have the proper personnel in place to execute it.
Any contractor will agree: prevention is your friend.
Look over your contractor’s proposal for an annual plan carefully and make sure you understand it. But generally, you’re getting your money’s worth.
This article on LinkedIn can serve as your step-by-step guide to planning out your building’s maintenance. First you will need to take inventory of your system and catalog the specs for each piece of equipment.
Then create a plan based on the F-B-B-C: filters, belts, bearings, and cleanliness. Be sure to have a system in place to log each time maintenance is performed. Routine maintenance will help you detect problems early and avoid catastrophe.
If you have a building manager or regular maintenance staff, they may be able to do the basics. But having a specialist come in regularly is essential.
Don’t Be Afraid To Call HVAC Contractors
A lot of my clients call only when a problem has gotten out of hand. I try to remind them that in the long run, they will save money if they employ a regular maintenance plan and make the service call at the first sign of trouble.
Don’t wait for things to become an emergency! If a tenant complains or calls you with a concern, schedule an appointment with one of the HVAC contractors you have waiting on deck. If the problem is minor, sometimes we can even troubleshoot with you over the phone.
The better relationship you have with your contractors, the easier navigating an issue will be.
Be Aware Of When Major Expenses Are Coming Due
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems require proper and regular maintenance in order to work efficiently, but even in the best case scenarios most components of such systems only last 15 to 25 years.
- Furnaces on average last 15-20 years, heat pumps 16 years, and air conditioning units 10-15 years.
- Tankless water heaters last more than 20 years, while an electric or gas water heater has a life expectancy of about 10 years.
- Thermostats are usually replaced before the end of their 35-year lifespan due to technological improvements.
Any reputable contractor will be more than happy to help you plan for your building’s future. You will need to plan ahead for major expenses that come with installing new equipment, instead of waiting for it to break down to worry.
Many property owners prepare a “capital budget” – a long-range plan to address the larger but occasional aspects of maintenance. In addition to heating and cooling systems, it might include items like paving the parking lot or replacing the roof. A plan like this can help avoid the “sticker shock” when it’s time to make the replacement.
Let’s look at just a couple of HVAC items to consider in your long-range planning.
Heat pumps have an average lifespan of about 10-16 years. You may think continuing to patch up an old heat pump is saving you money. In reality, it may save you more money in utilities to install a new pump.
If the pump is still in decent condition it might be more efficient to replace the compressor to save on energy bills. Consult your HVAC contractors and create a game plan you can include in your budget.
Oil/Natural Gas Furnaces
If your furnace has been well maintained, it may have a lot of life left in it even after 12 years. Call in a contractor to help you further extend its life and put other energy efficient improvements in place.
Thermostats are the exception to the rule and can last up to 35 years. If there is a problem with your thermostat it may have to do more with bad placement than the thermostat itself.
When you do upgrade your thermostat, HVAC contractors can help you plan the installation in a location that best suits your unit to save on energy costs.
Ask Us Questions!
Some property owners will avoid asking the tough questions, because they don’t want to know the real, and possibly expensive, answers I might have for them. Ignorance to the reality of your HVAC system will not magically make the need for repairs and replacements disappear.
Some investors are skittish about asking technical questions, but it is important to know your system. HVAC contractors are usually happy to educate you, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking about your HVAC infrastructure. The more you understand what is going on, the easier both our jobs become.
Keep Your HVAC Contractors Informed
Tell us what is going on. A lot of people forget that picking up the phone to call is free. The more your techs and contractors stay informed about the state of your units, the better we can plan and take precautionary steps to save you money.
For example, if you expect your units will be vacant on certain dates, we can limit the heat to occupied areas only to lower your utilities. If there is a remodel coming up, a technician can take a look to see how it will affect your heating and cooling system’s efficiency.
The Bottom Line
If you are worried about hemorrhaging cash on your real estate investment, the best thing you can do for yourself is this: PLAN.
Plan your maintenance, plan your roster of professionals, call at the first sign of trouble, and plan for upcoming repairs and replacements.
The more your professionals know about your system and the more you know, the more money you can save on utilities, repairs, and replacements.
Keep the lines of communication open. This will create a rental property with happy and comfortable tenants who have low utility bills. Don’t forget to consult HVAC specialists for total system checkups regularly, it is always better to act now than react later.
About the Author:
Bob Wells is a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website hvactraining101.com. Bob worked over 30 years in the field, 23 of which he ran his own contracting business. He’s dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in the field and helping others to learn the trade better and advance their own careers.