CASE STUDY -- Skilling up

Making the most of a bad situation can come down to capitalising on the opportunities at hand, as one property manager discovered recently. Real Estate Business explains…

As a property manager, taking over properties from another manager and boosting your rent roll is part of the job.

But what happens if the property turns out to have a massive plumbing problem, and the main room is infested with mould?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to the director of Mitchell Property Management in South Melbourne, Hayley Mitchell, when she entered one of three units recently transferred to her management.

“We took over management of a property from another agent mid-tenancy, and there were some issues,” the REIV 2011 Residential Property Manager of the Year says. One of those issues was a leaky bathroom pipe.

“You could see the origin of where the water was coming from because you could actually stick your whole finger through the wall,” she says. What the previous property manager described to the tenants as ‘just rising damp’ was in fact a serious case of mould.

“I told the tenants there is an obvious water leak and I don’t think it is due to a lack of ventilation. We need to get you out of the property and get this fixed,” she recalls.

“As soon as I left the property, after going through it, I called the owner,” Ms Mitchell explains. “I said that the tenants are out tomorrow and we need to get the builders in. The landlord said yes, get it done – she was horrified.”

Aside from the obvious health risks of the situation, Ms Mitchell was legally obliged to act. This is why she was so surprised to hear the previous manager had simply advised the tenants to open a window and had not reported the problem to the landlord.

The landlord was unaware of the state of the property as the routine reports showed no sign of the issue.

Ms Mitchell not only recognised the problem, she was also quick to capitalise on several things that were going her way.

First, she knew if she acted quickly she could utilise the builders who were already at the apartment block working on another unit. This saved both time and another callout fee.

“When the builders got there and pulled the tiles up they could see there was a hole in the pipe,” she says.

“They fixed the pipe, retiled the home and it turned out to be a rather simple $2,500 repair [covered by the Owner’s Corporation insurance].”

Second, she was already in close consultation with the body corporate, so adding the damaged unit to these discussions again saved time.
Ms Mitchell, who comes from a family of builders, also had a good idea of how long the repairs would take. So, knowing the tenants were scheduled to leave on holiday the day after she found the problem, she took the opportunity to ask them if they would extend their break. As part of this offer, she gave them a free rent allowance.

In the end, while the problem was solved fairly easily, much of this was due to Ms Mitchell’s experience and ability to adapt quickly to the situation at hand.

“I actually don’t think there is enough training for property managers,” she says. “If I had only been in the industry for five minutes I probablywouldn’t have known, either.”

But it was her drive to gain industry knowledge that allowed her to make the most of this bad situation: “My brother and my dad are both builders so

I have learnt a lot of stuff from their experience,” she explains.

“I have also done various free courses from the Archicentre and have completed their course on identifying and dealing with mould.”

Ms Mitchell believes there are many things to be taken away from the situation.

“I think when people are going through and doing routine [inspections], they have got to take greater care and report back to the owner,” she says.

“If there is a troublesome property and I can’t quite work [the problem] out I will actually meet the builders at the property so they can explain it to me.”

And yes, while this approach will require more time out of the office, the acquired knowledge will certainly assist you in the future.

“The builders will actually sit down and explain what the issue is – once you can recognise these things, it will make it a lot easier in the future,” she says.

And, as Ms Mitchell discovered, it pays to be selective with the properties you decide to manage.

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