The lowdown on virtual inspections

Technology is a lifesaver for rental inspections during COVID-19. We’re spoilt for choice with so many free and fabulous video conferencing apps and without them we’d be risking a hefty fine in some states just to get access to properties on our rent roll. But cut too many corners in your virtual inspection process and other risks start to creep in.

Here are five things to keep in mind when using video tech for your inspections to help you make sure you’re doing the right thing by tenants and owners.

1. Know your obligations

Over the 20 years I’ve been working in property I’ve had the odd personal injury claim to navigate. No matter how vigilant you are, accidents happen, people get hurt and then lawyer-up to get compensation. But to keep you from being stuck with more than your fair share of a payout, there’s a lot to be said for having inspection records in perfect order. When you can show reports have been done on time and to a high standard, you don’t leave as much room for ‘contributory negligence’ to bump up your liability for a settlement to the injured party.

Just because you’re going the virtual route with inspections, you can’t afford to slack off on being thorough in how you go about it. And it’s definitely worth checking with your legal adviser and insurer to get their take on what would stand up in court if a claim is made.

2. Start with the process

With that in mind, you should definitely go back to basics in nutting out a process for your virtual inspections. And no matter what tech you choose, it can’t deliver the right result if your process isn’t all it should be. A really thorough inspection checklist and cues for what to film and photograph around the property is a good start. And given your tenant is going to be in the driving seat for this guided tour, you’ll need to check out what their tech capacity is. Getting the right result can depend as much on the device your tenant is recording on and how good their Wi-Fi or mobile reception is.

3. Stay hands on

Be sure to keep limits to your liability in mind when it comes to designing your virtual inspection process. Sending your tenant a link and a list of what to check is one approach you could take. But tenants can’t all be expected to notice repairs or hazards that would stand out a mile to a property manager. Outside maintenance issues are a classic example and common cause of accidents. Damaged stair treads or loose decking are just the sort of thing that get overlooked, until they trip somebody up as they enter or leave the property.

By running virtual inspections as a carefully guided two-way interaction, you’re far more likely to pick up on repairs or any other problems you need to stay on top of.

4. App options

The actual app you decide to use will likely come down to budget. There are some great inspection apps built just for property managers to make your life easier, but they’re clearly going to cost more than FaceTime or Skype. If a low-cost option is what you’re looking for, consider a paid Zoom account. That way you can record inspections and make them as long as they need to be, instead of dealing with the 40-minute time limit for the free version.

5. Always choose value

As I’ve said, leaving tenants to their own devices to do inspections can leave you open to liability issues if a claim comes up. But it also means passing up an opportunity to prove your value, to both tenant and property owner. Routine inspections and reports are a chance to show property owners how you’re looking after their interests. So you want the results to speak to the high level of service you’re providing. And with their heightened awareness of fees, it’s important to be delivering the value they expect and deserve.

And the same goes for getting back in front of tenants as soon as humanly possible. Your relationship with them also counts for a lot in delivering value. A happier tenant stays longer, is more likely to accept rent increases. Face-to-face inspections are tricky when social distancing is the norm, and may even be off limits in some states, but I would caution against doubling down on running remote inspections when restrictions are lifted.

Until that happens and we all get to enjoy more freedom of movement, the virtual inspection really is a must-have for property managers. And while this way of doing things comes with drawbacks, the right process can see you delivering a standout service and keeping a clean sheet for complaints or claims.