How to be on the best of terms with your trades

When it’s a weekend or public holiday, trades for urgent repairs are going to be in short supply. And keeping on the right side of your regular trades will help you deliver a faster, better service to tenants and owners at any time of year. Brock and Kathryn share their tips for getting the best from your trades and doing your bit as a property manager to avoid those dreaded out-of-hours emergencies.

Having quality trades to call on when you need them is your ace in the hole in property management. It’s essential for keeping things sweet with tenants and owners in a situation that’s usually inconvenient for the first party and results in a bill for the second. A swift fix to a burst pipe or faulty appliance can go a long way to keeping both sides happy to have you as their property manager.

Love your trades and they’ll love you back

Getting a fast response and quality work from reliable trades won’t happen by accident. It’s worth showing them some love, as well as setting clear expectations for the level of service you expect. Here are four top tips for having a relationship with trades that will serve you well:

Pretend you live in a small country town

This doesn’t mean driving from property to property in a tractor or on a horse. What we mean by this is showing your trades some country-town hospitality so you can connect over something other than broken aircon. We’ve both worked in regional towns where having golf days with electricians or plumbers is a thing. That might not work if you live in suburban Sydney or Brisbane but you get the idea. If you’re a night owl, take them out for a drink. If not, get up early and treat them to coffee once in a while.

Have their backs too

Tradies might go above and beyond for you just because they’re nice people. But their goodwill is more or less guaranteed if you look after them. Make a point of referring jobs their way whenever you can and be aware of the kind of work you’re asking them to do. Is it always really tiny jobs that are hardly worth the call-out fee? Instead, give them a fair go at fixes they can make a decent profit from. And don’t ask for a discount on every single quote. Accept and respect that charging reasonable rates is how business owners hire good people and deliver a better service.

Share the love

Good trades are like gold dust. But they’re not so rare that you should only have one to rely on. Spreading the work around gives you a plan B or C when your number one tradie just can’t make time. And going back to the last point, don’t treat your back-up trades as second rate. Asking them to quote just for comparison or giving them only the crummy jobs could mean you’ll be turned down in situations when you need them most.

Set the boundaries

Getting the best result from repairs and maintenance is all about communication. Letting them know what you expect in the way of response times and standards is also essential. That way your tenant isn’t in limbo waiting for them to sort things out or left dealing with dust and debris after the repair. This is also true for how trades treat tenants and vice versa. Of course you want trades to be friendly but they have a job to do, so make it clear that respect and efficiency are both important. And they’re definitely not there to take care of any extra fixes the tenant mentions without checking first.

Adding value for owners

Whether it’s routine repairs or maintenance, owners place a lot of value on having trades they can trust to do the work for a reasonable fee. And some will have their own trades they’ve come to know and trust. But for many, a property manager is their gatekeeper to those reliable, cost-competitive operators. This is why strong trade relationships are such a key part of the role and your whole approach to client service and retention.

There’s also nothing like saving owners money to get even more gold stars on your report card. When a tenant reports a fault, some savvy troubleshooting can determine whether you need to get a trade involved. When they’ve lost power, talking them through checking the fuse box or unplugging appliances to isolate an electrical fault should definitely come before asking your trusty sparky to pay them a visit. And that solid tradie relationship should also come with an understanding that they’ll triage problems with tenants on the phone before resorting to a call-out and the cost that comes with it.

You can also add value by suggesting less expensive options. When the cooktop is on the blink, ask if they’d prefer a fix or to replace it with a new or second hand model. Ironically, talking to owners about spending more on maintenance, can be another way to save overall. If you’re adding a property to your rent roll, check in with the owner on the maintenance status of hot water systems and aircon. Regular servicing can save them paying for emergency call-out fees when things break down, or a whole replacement system down the track.

Keeping it reasonable

This last point is important. If routine inspections are done properly and both tenants and owners are aware of their obligations to keep things shipshape around the property, calling out a trade over a long weekend really shouldn’t happen. And while you have legal responsibility to attend to emergencies, it’s important to be clear on where that responsibility begins and ends. When there’s a storm and the power goes out, it’s the power company that they should be calling. If a tree has fallen or a flooding, it's State Emergency Services.

While we love a property manager who’s committed to their customers, you’re not a concierge service. Tenants are more than capable of calling trades out-of-hours, if you’ve briefed them on this at the outset. Never be afraid to discuss and agree on reasonable expectations with everyone – trades, tenants and owners – and stick to them when something unexpected happens.