Your Complete Guide to Centralized Maintenance

Inside this one-stop guide, we'll cover what centralization looks like, how your communities will benefit from it, and the 15 components you need in place to successfully embark on your maintenance centralization journey.

Inside this one-stop guide, we'll cover what centralization looks like, how your communities will benefit from it, and the 15 components you need in place to successfully embark on your maintenance centralization journey.

Your Complete Guide to Centralized Maintenance
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What You Need to Know

  • The most forward-thinking companies are already centralizing their maintenance operations—here’s why you should be one of them.
  • Your residents’ homes are more important to them than ever before, and while property managers often prioritize the resident experience, maintenance issues aren’t going anywhere.
  • The multifamily industry is up against their fair share of roadblocks—high interest rates, labor shortages, and negative maintenance experiences—to name a few.
  • At the same time, property owners are prioritizing profitable properties, centralizing leasing operations, and adopting even more technology to help them along the way.
  • At HappyCo, we believe maintenance centralization is the next frontier for multifamily.
  • While you’ll need a modern infrastructure to successfully centralize your maintenance operations, it will ultimately lead to long-term gains in both profitability and efficiency.
  • We’ve laid out 15 components you’ll need for maintenance centralization including, but not limited to, an automated IVR call center, a supportive exec team, and remote technicians—read the full paper to get the complete list.

Inside this one-stop guide, we'll cover what centralization looks like, how your communities will benefit from it, and the 15 components you need in place to successfully embark on your maintenance centralization journey.

Now more than ever, your residents’ homes are important to them—whether they’re new to the property or have lived in their unit for years. But, with more of your residents working from, and staying at, home there will be increased wear and tear on your units, leading to an increased need for routine maintenance. If you and your maintenance technicians aren’t prepared to handle unpredictable ticket volume, you’ll risk your reputation and resident satisfaction.

So, how do you get faster repairs, avoid overworking your technicians, and provide a seamless, contactless maintenance experience for your residents?

Introducing: maintenance centralization. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the problems plaguing the industry and how centralizing your maintenance operations can increase your technicians productivity while keeping a smile on your residents’ faces.

Trends & Problems the Multifamily Industry is Facing Today

Before we dive into the specifics of centralizing maintenance, let’s take a deeper dive into the state of the multifamily market.

Multifamily Pain Points

Finance

In November 2022, the U.S. central bank raised interest rates by three-quarters of a point for the fourth time this year, bringing the benchmark interest rate to its highest percentage since early 2008. Financial analysts at Bankrate predict that the Fed’s interest rates will continue to rise and that economic growth will slow considerably before we see lower inflation rates.

On top of that, the rent-to-income ratio is growing—while the industry standard recommends that rental payments should be no more than 30% of a resident’s monthly income, external factors have caused the ratio to rise. The housing market is extremely competitive, raising the demand and lowering the supply of rental housing. Additionally, government-backed rent relief programs (and voluntary rent reductions given by property managers) during COVID-19 are now ending.

However, while rent prices are much higher than they were two years ago, market rents are starting to plateau in certain areas, indicating that a less competitive market might be on the horizon.

Labor

Nearly every sector is facing labor shortages, and maintenance staff are no exception. With the rise in popularity of remote work, on-site staffing has become less attractive than it was pre-pandemic. Aside from that, the existing maintenance population is aging, and younger generations are less interested in manual work—creating an even more pronounced shortage of workers.

On the other hand, more residents working from home means more maintenance issues cropping up at a faster pace, overwhelming short-staffed properties.

Resident Satisfaction

Customer expectations are on the rise, and residents’ expectations of their property managers and maintenance staff are no different. In today’s digital age, negative experiences lead to negative reviews, creating a major setback to brand reputation.

To say most residents’ perception of maintenance could be improved would be an understatement. In a recent HappyCo survey, we found that only one in 12 residents reported a positive experience with maintenance. That means nearly 92%1 of residents had never had a positive maintenance experience—which leaves serious room for improvement.

Multifamily Trends

Prioritizing Profitable Properties—and Trimming the Underperforming Fat

Capitalization rates (also known as cap rates) show the expected rate of return for any given real estate investment property. In such a competitive market, there’s a growing need for investors to generate returns—especially in multifamily, where cap rates have continued to compress.

With the increasing cost of capital, alongside banks tightening their lending requirements or even removing lending products from the market, multifamily property owners are looking to trim the fat and potentially cut underperforming investments from their portfolio.

If property owners can’t generate more revenue, the next place to look to increase NOI (net operating income) is to decrease costs. How? By focusing on cutting costs in multiple ways—in this scenario, centralization is just one tool in your toolbelt.

Rising Technology Adoption

Like most other industries, multifamily is adapting to an increasingly digital world by bringing technology to the forefront of their operations. With the increasing urgency to focus on the resident experience, multifamily organizations have found that PropTech can help them improve their brand perception for prospective residents and their current residents’ overall experience.

So far, much of this technology has centered around using platforms for self-leasing and virtual tours, use cases spurred by the pandemic but maintaining popularity for many prospective renters with busy schedules. Going forward, the most competitive PropTech offerings will continue to find new, innovative ways to offer prospects and residents a more convenient experience—and simplify the lift for onsite teams.

The Centralization of Everything

Many years ago, there was an upswell in accounting to centralize back-office operations, saving organizations time and money. In recent years, the multifamily industry has taken a similar approach with increased efforts to centralize leasing.

What, exactly does centralized leasing look like? In essence, it means property managers are less focused on leasing individual properties and are instead shifting their focus to centralized teams (typically organized by region) who can schedule in-person tours, give virtual tours, answer prospective resident questions, and give pricing information from one central location.

While centralized leasing efforts certainly cut down costs and create efficiencies, it’s not all that multifamily can do. At HappyCo, we believe the next frontier is maintenance centralization.

The Pros and Cons of Maintenance Centralization

Before we show you how to go about centralization, let’s dig a bit more into the why. Is it even worth your time and effort to centralize your maintenance operations?

Barriers to Centralization 

If there’s one thing centralization requires, it’s a modern technology structure to support it. If multifamily companies are relying on legacy infrastructure focused on a property-by-property basis, centralizing could require a moderate to complete overhaul of their current tech stack. If you find yourself in this category, you’ll need to be willing to invest in new technology before you begin your centralization efforts.

Benefits of Centralization 

While centralizing comes with a short-term upfront cost, it leads to long-term profitability and gains in efficiency in return. Having all of your maintenance requests in one place, with detailed information at your fingertips, makes everyone’s job infinitely more convenient.

In addition to the aforementioned labor shortage, the next generation of maintenance workers aren’t backfilling the openings that older generations have left. In fact, the average age of a maintenance technician is 47.8. With less maintenance technicians coming into the labor market than leaving it, multifamily companies need to think of ways to work smarter with the resources they have—and centralization is certainly an appealing option.

You might be wondering, do companies even have a choice when it comes to centralization? Well, it’s clear something needs to change—maintenance positions have the highest turnover rate of all onsite roles nearing 40% in 2019, according to CEL & Associates, Inc. And, in our opinion, centralization is the best way to develop a competitive advantage in the industry.

The Necessary Components of Maintenance Centralization

At this point, we hope you’re ready to centralize your maintenance operations. But, this is no small task. Here’s everything you’ll need to get started.

The 15 Elements of Your Maintenance Centralization Strategy

  1. A Supportive Team
  2. Resident Portal
  3. An Automated IVR Call Center
  4. A Comprehensive Property Manual
  5. AI and ML Capabilities
  6. A Self-Help Guide
  7. Properly Structured Integrations
  8. A Work Order Task Management System
  9. Remote Technicians
  10. After-Hours 24/7 Concierge Service
  11. Parts Ordering and Procurement Capabilities
  12. Onsite Team Member Integration
  13. An Onsite Technician
  14. Insurance and Liability Coverage
  15. Reporting and Full Visibility
A Supportive Team

First, who’s in charge? Before you worry about the technology you’ll need, you must identify the advocate for your centralization initiative. Without a strong leader who believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of centralizing your operations and is committed to doing what it takes to get it done, you have no way to shepherd this project from an idea to a reality.

However, your centralization train won’t be able to leave the station if you don’t have buy-in from your executive team. If your executives and property owners see a clear path to centralization, and view it as a high ROI initiative, you’re golden.

Once you’ve established your point person and garnered buy-in, get all of your leaders to align on an internal business structure that best supports the project. Can your marketing team develop metrics to measure success? Has your onsite team(s) been briefed on how to talk about the new initiative? Has your finance team approved the necessary budget?

Resident Portal

Maintenance centralization is futile without a resident portal or some way for residents to report issues they encounter. 

While most multifamily organizations already have something in place, could your existing system be improved? When it comes to resident portals, we live by the tenet of “the simpler, the better” and want residents to have multiple ways to communicate any issues they come across. Whether it be by phone call, email, text, QR code, or a pre-established portal, all roads lead to the same outcome—just make sure you have a reliable process in place.

An Automated IVR Call Center

A smart, automated IVR, or Interactive Voice Response, system ensures that your team never misses a call. A capable IVR system answers all incoming calls, gathers information from callers, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to transcribe messages to text, and routes the caller to the appropriate team member.

The goal is to have your IVR call center fully integrated with your work order system so that new tickets can be automatically generated.

Looking to get started on your call center transformation?

HappyCo’s Call Complete uses smart IVR technology to automatically capture, route, and respond to all of your missed calls, quickly settling unresolved issues and enabling your team to deliver flawless customer service.

Let's Talk

Looking to get started on your call center transformation?

HappyCo’s Call Complete uses smart IVR technology to automatically capture, route, and respond to all of your missed calls, quickly settling unresolved issues and enabling your team to deliver flawless customer service.

Let's Talk
A Comprehensive Property Manual

While some companies may already have property manuals created, if you don’t, this could be a time-consuming step. A property manual is intended to help residents and technicians alike understand the ground rules per unit—information like where the breaker box is, where GFI reset outlets are located, an inventory of smart home features, etc.

These manuals can’t be generic—they need to be created specific to each property, and even more specifically, to each unit.

AI and ML Capabilities

Any AI-enabled organization will have an advantage over a non-AI-enabled organization when it comes to driving smart solutions. 

In a multifamily setting, here’s how this might look. You create and digitize your property manual, which has built-in “rules” such as what types of issues could be solved by a resident with a bit of guidance versus which issues are urgent and require onsite assistance. From there, the machine learning model, which has been created with these parameters in mind, uses those rules to create and prioritize tickets accordingly.

A Self-Help Guide

In addition to a property manual, each unit should be equipped with a self-help guide that contains a library of solutions to common problems, like how to unclog a toilet or reset a power outlet. Luckily, this guide can be much more generic than the individualized property manuals, unless specific units use different appliances, smart home features, etc.

Properly Structured Integrations

What’s the point of all this effort if your systems aren’t properly connected? When you think about centralizing your maintenance operations, make sure there are integrations in place that connect your work order system and incoming requests with your resident data and property information.

This can be at a PMS (Property Management System) level or within a platform that acts as a comprehensive maintenance system, like HappyCo. Regardless, you need your data to sync both ways so that all the information you have stays up-to-date.

A Work Order Task Management System

This next piece is super important because the task management system you choose could be the difference between reliably responding to resident tickets and missing urgent requests.

When selecting the right work order task management system, there are a few key capabilities your chosen platform should have, such as:

  • An easy-to-use interface that technicians have access to in real-time
  • The ability to handle work orders, notify with preventative maintenance recommendations, and provide a customizable make ready turnboard
  • Integrations with renovation and Capex tracking and reporting tools
  • The ability to serve as a complete, comprehensive solution to unite property managers, maintenance technicians, and residents
Remote Technicians

Much like centralized leasing, when it comes to centralized maintenance, leveraging virtual programs as much as possible will make your teams more efficient. By utilizing a well-trained team of technicians that understand how to solve simple tickets remotely, you can resolve more tickets, faster, all while empowering residents to learn new skills.

Happy Force, for example, provides guidelines (remember those comprehensive property manuals?) for all of their expert remote technicians so they understand the nuances of the property and the unit before they even interact with the resident. In this way, they have a clearer idea of what the issue is, the recommended action, and how to respond before they reach out to the resident. 

Happy Force also records all interactions between the technician and the customer and uses AI and ML to flag and understand key conversation points for any necessary follow-ups.

Want to see Happy Force in action?

To maximize efficiency, you need a maintenance team that complements yours. Happy Force experts provide real-time, personalized assistance to your residents.

Learn More

A couple of things to keep in mind—with a remote technician model, the technicians are the customer-facing folks that residents interact with, so make sure you choose a provider that prioritizes customer service. In addition, since your onsite team will be one step removed from the interactions, choose a platform that provides post-service resident surveys and gives real-time feedback to your maintenance supervisors.

After-Hours 24/7 Concierge Service

Based on feedback from HappyCo customers, as many as 50% of after-hours calls are not an emergency. That means that most of the time when on-site technicians are woken up in the middle of the night, the issue they’re going to investigate isn’t urgent.

This major inconvenience is one of the top reasons why onsite technicians are unhappy with their jobs, and one way to solve it is around-the-clock staffing through a third-party service provider. The best centralized maintenance teams are trained on how to answer after-hours calls and understand what’s an emergency that actually requires onsite assistance versus something they can simply solve over the phone.

Parts Ordering and Procurement Capabilities

Sometimes, the solution to a work order might be as simple as flicking a light switch to a half-hot outlet or flipping a circuit breaker. However, based on the virtual technician’s recommendation, parts may need to be ordered to the unit.

This can include parts needed to guide the resident to solve the issue, like a drain snake, or parts provided for the onsite staff to replace, such as light bulbs that would be too high for the resident to reach without a ladder.

By entrusting your centralized maintenance team with procurement capabilities, you ensure that necessary parts get delivered faster, without any red tape to cross.

Onsite Team Member Integration

While some issues might just need a part to be delivered directly to the resident, sometimes, a ticket might require a physical visit to the unit. If this is the case, the virtual technician should provide thorough notes with enough information to equip the onsite technician to perform the necessary work more efficiently.

To do so, you need a system that’s accessible to your residents, virtual technicians, and onsite technicians alike so that communication is as easy as possible. The system should provide notes and/or video instructions, and any attached content should integrate back into the main work order system or PMS.

An Onsite Technician

In the event onsite help is necessary, you must have some process in place to notify and deploy your onsite technician to the apartment. Using the integration mentioned above, your onsite technician should walk into the unit with all of the information they need to quickly turn the problem into a solution.

Insurance and Liability Coverage

Make sure there are safeguards in place to ensure you minimize liability risks as much as possible. For example, only have your centralized technicians advise residents on simple service requests that pose minimal-to-no risk to residents and the property itself. It’s also a good idea to use a system that records all text and video interactions with residents and stores the data for a reasonable amount of time.

It’s in your best interest to provide your residents with as much information as possible about their risks, further mitigating your own.

Reporting and Full Visibility

At the beginning of this section, we encouraged you to get the full team on board and excited about maintenance centralization. The best way to prove your initiative’s success is with consistent reporting on key metrics and KPIs that can be rolled back to the corporate level.

We recommend reporting on a property-by-property or region-by-region basis to provide maximum value to each of your investors or ownership groups. Your reports should contain key information about the type of work order and average resolution time, separated by technician with efficiency and resident satisfaction scores.

To make your reporting process seamless, you should also be able to export this data for internal use. Alternately, the data should integrate with your PMS as another dataset for resident lease renewal retention activities.

Are You Ready to Get Started on Your Maintenance Centralization Journey?

Dealing with the rising pressure to adapt to ever-evolving technology trends while grappling with critical on-the-ground issues—like keeping your residents happy, retaining your maintenance technicians, and keeping your properties profitable—is overwhelming, to say the least.

With that in mind, adding maintenance centralization to the mix might seem like a lot—in this whitepaper alone, we’ve listed 15 necessary elements you’ll need to get started. While there are several important pieces you’ll need to put into place, there’s also plenty of components that a partner can help you fit together.

1Data Source: HappyCo Research, June 2022

Jindou Lee
About the Author
Jindou Lee
Founder & CEO

Jindou Lee is the CEO and Co-Founder of HappyCo, a software company that builds mobile and cloud solutions to enable real-time property operations. Prior to his current role, Jindou also founded and exited two previous tech companies. Jindou spent most of his adult life growing up in Australia and graduated from the University of South Australia with a Bachelor of Visual Communications (Design). After that he worked at Midway Games where he led the User Interface team to work on classic titles such as Mortal Kombat, Gauntlet and Dukes of Hazzard. Besides his love for technology, Jindou is also an avid real estate investor, ex-semi pro soccer player and speaks five languages.

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