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Is preventive maintenance really worth it?

By Bianca Dabu
29 December 2020 | 1 minute read

Good property managers will often encourage landlords to practice preventive maintenance, but what are the actual benefits?

In a recent REB Maintenance Masterclass, Your Empire founder Chris Gray said that while proactive maintenance does certainly entail additional costs, it’s all about maximising money.

According to him, if you look at the vacant properties in the market today, most are one or a mixture of the following: “The wrong property, property not in the right condition, property with too much rent, or property with the wrong property manager.

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“All of that stuff can be managed. If you’ve got the right property and its well maintained, its got light, its been renovated, and youve got the right property manager, there should be zero vacancy.

“All of these things can be fixed. Its the bad properties that are unrenovated, with the poor or the cheapest property manager, that have the problems.”

For Mr Gray, most of his property purchases come with a renovation almost immediately.

His strategy is “do it once, and do it properly”.

“Rather than do a cosmetic one, a lot of the time, we’ll do it back to bare walls. Do it once, do it properly. Then, between the tenancies, you just need to steam-clean the carpets, get it repainted, and then its almost like brand new again,” he said.

While most landlords opt to do away with preventive maintenance due to the associated costs, Mr Gray explained that good property managers should be able to convince them of its importance.

For LJ Hooker Ashfield’s head of property management, Marc Crisafulli, his team makes it a point to discuss opportunities to renovate during routine inspections and in between tenancies.

“During a routine inspection, well note things that need to get done, preventive works as well. And then, whenever tenants do vacate, we do a pre-vacate inspection. That gives us a real heads-up on what the propertys looking like at that point and what we need to do,” he said.

“Well communicate that back to the landlord and well have a plan in place that, if work needs to be done, this is what the scope of works is, so that as soon as its available, well get in there, reduce the days vacant, and re-advertise that property looking like a million dollars again, all while maintaining a very small average days on market.

“I still don’t want to spend.”

For property managers whose landlords are still hesitant to spend on preventive maintenance, Mr Crisafulli has spelled out the benefits using numbers.

When explaining the “why” to clients, he will reiterate the potential damage of an extended vacancy to the property’s earning potential, and then do a comparative analysis of other properties in the same market to find out why they remain tenanted or garner higher rents.

“Look at the average days on market and what that property is going to be rented for currently. What does it look like compared to other properties in that one market? In our area, its closer to 38 days vacant and rents have dropped. Were seeing rents 10 years ago that we were getting for two-bedroom units at the moment in our area,” he said.

“So, if the propertys not well maintained, the owners going to use all that 30 days or 40 days’ worth of lost income. That could have gone to do some renovation within one or two weeks, have the property back on the market and be receiving income.

“Youve got to spell it out. The numbers will tell you what you need to do. Thats what it comes down to. Youve got to go through that education process with the landlord and actually show them what needs to be done.”

From Mr Gray’s perspective, this education has to go on consistently for years in order for it to become fully ingrained into the mindset of the landlord.

He said that landlords who fully understand the benefits of preventive maintenance often don’t hesitate to spend $30,000 to $40,000 or up to $100,000 to $1,000,000 on renovation.

Moving on from COVID

While COVID-19 has definitely affected the market, Mr Gray said that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not always the best option to sell and get out of the market.

Even though rents are down, he is encouraging of investors focusing on the relationship between rent and mortgage instead.

“Its actually about the difference between the rent and the mortgage. So, 20 years ago, a $500,000 property was $500 a week. So, that’s 5 per cent yield, but we were paying 7, 8, or 9 per cent mortgages. So, we were basically losing 3 or 4 per cent on gross rent,” Mr Gray said.

“Whereas now, were getting 3 or 3.5 per cent rent, but our mortgages are 2 or 3 per cent, which means theyre actually positive 1 per cent. So, who cares if rents down? Were actually more positive cash flow now than weve ever been.”

Further, the anticipation next year is that the market will achieve up to 10 per cent growth.

“So, if youve got a million-dollar property, thats $50,000 or $100,000. So, who cares if you drop $5,000 or $10,000 in rent? Youre gaining $50,000 or $100,000.”

The buyer’s agent believes “thats what property investing is about”.

“Its not about the cash flow. Its about getting that $50,000 or $100,000 growth from your property,” Mr Gray concluded.

Is preventive maintenance really worth it?
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