Maintenance staff can handle many different tasks but, at some point, a property manager must solicit subcontractors for jobs that require additional proficiency—particularly when the safety of employees or tenants comes into question.
“Some property managers want maintenance personnel to fix every single problem,” says Chad Moulin, national maintenance trainer and founder of Prop Ops: Property Operations Training and Consulting. “[But] if you’re not really comfortable working on something, or it is outside your expertise, you really need to let someone know.”
Hiring skilled labor for a job can also shorten the project timeline, which helps reduce the inconvenience for building residents and allows the maintenance staff to tackle other jobs around the property during the same timeframe.
“If there’s something large going on, say an electrical outage [in which] the main breaker needs to be replaced, an electrician is going to get that job done a lot more efficiently and faster than your regular run-of-the-mill maintenance person,” Moulin says.
Which jobs typically call for a subcontractor?
Some municipalities mandate a license in order to perform work on property assets such as an HVAC system or swimming pool; therefore, building managers should do their research and become educated about their options before making a decision.
“One of the things we actually started in our market is getting property managers to call us to come out and assess their flooring,” says David Grace, general manager of Rainbow International Restoration & Cleaning in Kansas City, Missouri. “A lot of budget dollars are wasted on replacement based on the personal decision of a property manager or a maintenance supervisor.”
Knowing the skillsets of the people on the maintenance staff can help property managers determine whether they should seek professional assistance for a specific project, or rely on somebody in-house to complete the job.
“There are a lot of people in maintenance who might have an expertise in a certain type of background,” Moulin says. “You may have a person on your property who has done concrete before and could pour a pad of concrete, and make it look professional and not have a problem.”
Many projects, however, will almost always necessitate the participation of a third party, such as dryer-duct cleaning and roofing. “[Management] cannot employ all of the expert services that are needed on any given property,” Grace says. “Financially, it’s impossible to retain that much skilled labor.”
How do property managers choose the right one?
Meeting with multiple subcontractors at once to bid a particular job enables them to see their competition for the work and ensures that they understand the expectations as well as the specifications for that project if their bid wins.
“If anyone has a question, [you] stop and discuss it right there, [so] everybody’s going to handle that project the exact same way,” Moulin says. “Your bids are going to come back more apples-to-apples than if you [had] toured everyone separately and tried to explain it separately to everyone.”
Property managers who rebid services such as carpet cleaning each year and use multiple vendors for the same service (an 80/20 split between the two, for example) increase their likelihood of receiving exemplary work, and doing so gives them another option in case of an emergency as long as they stay upfront with their subcontractors.
“I found that the 80 percent vendor works harder—they will do more for you, they will get things done, and you will not have to go back after them because they know that the 20 percent vendor is always there to take over their part,” Moulin says. “The 20 percent vendor, they're always willing to help out, and they want to show you that they can do a good job because they want more of that business.”
When searching for a new subcontractor, property managers should tap into local groups and associations and contact as many references as possible. “Don’t [just] get a reference of what [a subcontractor] did two weeks ago—get a reference of what they did two years ago,” Moulin says.
What are the advantages of hiring a subcontractor?
If property managers vet subcontractors properly, they should benefit from superior work and craftsmanship. “There shouldn’t be any guessing in their work; they’re the experts in their field, and they should be able to handle it as such,” Moulin says.
Another advantage of hiring a third party has to do with accountability. “If we have a fire unit or a mold unit and we remediate it or restore it, all of the liability with the associated work performed is then transferred to us,” Grace says. “If they try to accomplish things in-house, they’re buying that liability.”
Property managers should be aware, however, that their customer service might suffer the more they employ subcontractors. “You’re in their homes, you know their schedules, you know what they like and what they dislike, and [so] you take a little extra care to clean up after yourself,” Moulin says. “Those are some of the small things that can get overlooked when hiring subcontractors.”
But the relationship with subcontractors remains a give-and-take proposition, so property managers would be wise to listen to their partners and take care of them whenever possible. “I know there’s going to be a time where I’m going to pick up that phone, and I’m going to need that vendor to do something for me, and they’ll remember,” Moulin says.
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