Why DIY buy-to-let landlords never find a good maintenance man they want

How Ezytrac gets the best tradespeople to work for buy-to-let landlords

The truth is that the DIY buy-to-let landlord rarely finds a great contractor and we know the reasons why. In this post I explore why you’ll never find a great contractor, and what we do to make sure that the tradespeople we use are the best in the business. As you can imagine, we meet with a lot of new property investors and landlords every week. Some of these are new to property investment, others are seasoned property investors with portfolios of properties around the UK. Buy-to-let landlords come to us for a number of reasons. Many of those with existing investments are less than thrilled with their current property manager and come to us by recommendation from one of our current landlord clients.

The DIY buy-to-let landlords we see all share some of frustrations and concerns. These include:

  • Tenants that are always late paying
  • Tenants that are just too needy and demanding
  • Excessive void periods they could do without

One of the most common frustrations buy-to-let landlords share is how difficult it is to find good tradespeople. Maintenance men, gas contractors (with the qualifications to provide gas safety certificates) and electricians usually always fall short of expectations. Even a recommended tradesperson, most of the time don’t come up to scratch.

Why do your contractors always underperform?

“He isn’t as good as we thought he would be. He just doesn’t measure up and he’s unreliable.”

That’s a description of contractors that we hear time and again. The reality is that whatever job we have done, we expect the person doing it to be spot on every time. Think about the last time you went to a restaurant. I bet that when you left after paying the bill, one of the things you spoke about was the service you received. It was either good or bad. And if it was good, the chances are that as you’re discussing your experience you happen upon a little something that wasn’t quite right about that service.

Have you ever stopped to think that, as a buy-to-let landlord, the expectations you have of the tradespeople you hire are too high? For example, you want:

  • 24-hour availability, seven days a week
  • Super responsive – they’ll be at your beck and call at the drop of a hat
  • Fast and efficient workers
  • Independent – they don’t need supervising
  • Always punctual
  • High-quality work every time
  • The tradesperson to give loads of free advice about the job
  • The lowest prices

When you list out expectations like this, it becomes clear how unrealistic they can be. It’s a rare tradesperson indeed that can hit all of the above. For example, the guy who always completes work at the highest quality is unlikely to be the one with the lowest price.

So you’ve got this list of performance expectations, with a 99% chance that they won’t all be hit. Naturally, when you have someone working for you, you’ll focus on the one or two areas where the tradesperson falls short. “He is never available when I need him. I always have to wait a couple of days before he can ‘squeeze me in.’ ” Perhaps that’s a sign of how in demand the contractor is, and not unreliability?

Why don’t landlords ever get value for money?

Another common complaint that we hear about tradesmen used by DIY buy-to-let landlords is that they aren’t value for money. It’s when we start talking about the tradesmen they use that we find out why. Nine out of ten property investors use the tried-and-trusted method of getting three quotes to compare. The majority of landlords with a gripe about value for money have selected the cheapest quote.

Maintenance and repair work, decorating, brickwork, electrics and gas, they aren’t products, they’re services. It’s not like buying a car, a computer, or a sofa. Products with standard dimensions and qualities are compared price wise. Services are different, and generally speaking, you get what you pay for.

Inexperienced buy-to-let landlords want their list of expectations to be met by the tradesperson who costs the least. Is this truly a realistic expectation?

Why are the tradespeople landlords use here one day and gone the next?

“I phoned the guy I always use, and the number wasn’t recognised. Apparently,  he’s working in a factory now, and I’ve been left high and dry right when I’ve got a property with a major central heating problem.”

This issue is more common than you might think and it’s always the tradesperson who offered the lowest quote that goes out of business. The thing is that the tradespeople who give the lowest quote don’t understand business so well. They don’t allow for a reasonable profit margin. The overheads they’ve allowed for don’t include any contingencies.

It turns out that they’re making less than they would if they worked for someone else. Is it any surprise they throw in the towel?

Why doesn’t your tradesperson have the same dedication as you?

We also hear that tradespeople simply don’t care. They do shoddy work, don’t turn up to a job when they say, and let you down.

Okay, so this might be for several reasons. Perhaps they simply aren’t good at what they do. They may have slashed their price so much to get your business that you’re at the back of the queue when it comes to giving their time.

Most tradespeople are good at their job. They want to earn a reasonable wage to support their family, home and lifestyle. But their goals and ambitions may not be the same as yours. A heating engineer who normally works on contracts for developers, fitting out several apartments simultaneously, is probably not the right fit for a buy-to-let landlord that rents out semi-detached family homes in four corners of a town.

How to make sure you get the best tradespeople

At Ezytrac we have some advantages when we negotiate with contractors. The most obvious are our size. We manage more than 2,500 properties across the UK. In most areas, we act for several landlords, with portfolios ranging from a single property to dozens of tenanted homes. That means we can negotiate on price, using our scale as a bargaining chip to attract the best tradespeople.

For example, we have the ability to offer retainers guaranteeing a tradesperson’s income. We then ensure that our contracts with contractors are very particular, with clauses that dictate the level of service provided (including call-out charges, hours of availability, and so on).

However, even DIY buy-to-let landlords can use the following strategies to ensure they get the best tradespeople working with them:

Communication

We’ll make sure that the way in which we communicate is agreed and acceptable. Two phone numbers is pretty much a standard, but we also use email, Skype, WhatsApp, and text messaging. What’s the point of contracting the best tradesperson if you can’t get hold of them?

Expectations

Just like you, we’ve got a long list of expectations of our trade and maintenance contractors. We also understand that there’s a cost to meet these expectations and that we need to balance cost and quality. A contractor that is too expensive will seriously affect rental profits. We want our tradespeople to give the best service and do the best work, but we know that’s not going to come at cheap-as-chips prices.

When we compare contractors, we rank them against a list of expectations we have. Only then do we compare them on cost. When we work with tradespeople, we continually monitor their performance. We replace contractors that underperform.

Cost

It might be tempting to take the lowest quote, but it will work out more expensive in the long run if the work isn’t up to the required standard. When we’re comparing costs, we focus on our needs first. If the tradesperson doesn’t measure up, we discard their quote.

We’re also very wary of quotes at the margins (quotes that are either way above or way below their competition). So we get rid of those, too.

Remember that the best tradespeople are in demand

The best tradespeople tend to be in demand. Unless you have something to offer, you probably won’t get tradespeople on board. That’s where our scale gives us such an advantage. But it’s not just the promise of a stream of business that tempts the best. If your interests line up, you’ll be more attractive to a contractor. If you can offer a long-term working relationship with a family man, it could provide the stability of earnings that swings the deal in your favour.

Understand that perfect doesn’t exist

The perfect tradesperson doesn’t exist, but great ones do. There is always some give and take, and some compromise to make. If you focus only on price, you’ll get lower-quality work. Instead, concentrate on finding the tradespeople that can do the job you need to have done. When you do this, you’ll discover the best contractors at a reasonable cost.

Contact us on +44 1522 503 717 or use our online form to discover more about how we select the tradespeople we use across the country, and what benefit our size and scope provides the buy-to-let landlord.

Yours in effortless property management,

Brett Alegre-Wood MARLA MNAEA

By | 2018-06-22T05:48:51+00:00 November 5th, 2016|Ezytrac Team, Landlord lessons, News, Tenant Management|0 Comments

About the Author:

Arlene didn't start in property, she worked for the likes of Marks and Spencer, Harrods and her own consulting business in Food Technology. In 2009 she took over the chair of Ezytrac Property Group and has overseen its growth since then. Arlene conceived the famous 'Effortless Property' mantra and has been a big proponent of the constant push towards its achievement. Arlene is married to Brett, a fellow property expert and they have 4 kids.