Property Management Tips: Tracking Appliances on Apartment Properties
A stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator or other top-line appliances can be a deal maker for many residents when choosing the right apartment community. Property owners can easily invest $2,000-$3,000 per unit in the latest kitchen equipment in an attempt to stay one step ahead in the amenity game.
But with each refrigerator, microwave oven, stove top and dishwasher comes a potential long list of paperwork and management headache, especially if the appliance is defective, out of warranty and worn out, or has been recalled by the manufacturer. Keeping track of every unit is essential, especially when defects send millions of appliances to recall lists, as Consumer Reports Magazine reports in their article “Appliance fires: Is your home safe?”
According to the article, more than 15 million appliance units – about half of them dishwashers – have been recalled in the past five years for defects that cause fire. The complexity of today’s appliances can lead to problems, according to industry experts. Features such as push buttons, digital touch-pad controls, and other refined operating features – you name it – are just some of the things that can go wrong.
Problems can even be as simple as doors falling off their hinges. In November, The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a second recall of about 8,000 refrigerators manufactured by a Canadian importer because doors on the units were prone to detach. The fridges, built by Liebherr-Hausgeraete Lienz GmbH of Austria, were also recalled in March 2011.
And recalls can affect more than just appliances on multifamily properties. In February, Bosch Security Systems, Inc., of Fairport, N.Y., recalled about 330 fire alarm control panels that were sold nationwide from May 2009 through October 2011. The panels would not sound an alarm if a fire occurred while the verification feature of the system was turned on.
The rate of recalls is a reminder for buyers to send in registration cards so that warranty information is not only recorded, but recall notices and other updates can be received. But if you’re an apartment property owner or manager with multiple properties, the paperwork can be challenging. For example, let’s say there are on average 150 units per property, each with a fridge, dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, oven, stovetop … one, two, three, four, five, six and multiply that by the number of properties you own or manage and a registration card for each … Whew! What a challenge for the maintenance staff.
Mark Juleen, vice president of marketing at Indianapolis, Indiana-based J.C. Hart Company, says keeping track of appliances on its portfolio of 15 properties is done manually and is not fool proof. A log that includes the description and purchase date of each appliance is kept at the corporate office separately from the company’s automated property management system, and because the life cycles of products vary from unit to unit, some appliances can get lost in the shuffle and recall notices go unnoticed over time.
“Because [the manual log] is not a permanent data base, if a piece breaks and we dispose of it, sometimes that can get lost,” he said. “Sometimes we may get notifications and we may not be as diligent. So while we have a record of what we own and what the warranty is on them, and we probably do a pretty good job within the warranty period, once they get beyond the warranty period, I would say the [log] starts to slip a little bit.”
Appliance contractors can help a property owner keep track of the paperwork. But for that to work, the property has to contract with one large supplier who will provide most, if not all, of the appliances throughout the property, says Gerry Henigsman, executive vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas. Newer properties typically work with a single manufacturer that handles specific types of appliances to reduce the complexity of maintenance and replacement.
“You populate the property with one type of appliance,” Henigsman said. “For that period of time until they break down or become obsolete, I think you’re pretty well protected.”
As a rule, J.C. Hart installs mostly General Electric and Whirlpool appliances, depending on best competitive bids, in the company’s 3,200 units throughout Indiana and Ohio. Working with just a few manufacturers eases some of the burden of managing the paperwork, Juleen says.
But that can be more difficult with an older property or one that has changed hands when appliances are replaced at different times and brands varied because of pricing. Small property owners with only about two dozen units typically shop for the best available product, sometimes leaving one unit from the next with different models and technologies.
“[A small property owner] is going to try to find the most economic [appliance] that he can get,” Henigsman said. “Over a period of time, if you have a 20-unit community, you could end up with a complete hodge-podge of appliances and a lot of different types of products in a property.”
The National Multifamily Housing Council and National Apartment Association can help property owners track recalls or problems if a particular product becomes an industry concern. Henigsman remembered a recent issue when regulations changed for swimming pool and spa drains, and that industry associations were on the ball spreading news of a recall.
In December 2008, all public pools and spas, including those located in apartment communities, were required by the energy bill P.L. 110-140 enacted a year earlier to be equipped with anti-entrapment devices. The legislation was passed in an effort to reduce drowning in pools and spas such as the one in 2002 that took the life of the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker.
In May last year, the NMHC posted on its web site CPSC’s recall of about one million pool and in-ground spa drain covers manufactured by eight companies. While there were no incidents reported, the recalled drain covers were incorrectly rated to handle water flow through the cover, which CPSC said could pose a possible entrapment hazard to swimmers and bathers.
“That’s another way the industry finds out about issues like that,” Henigsman said.
Juleen said J.C. Hart plans to look more closely at managing appliances as properties are refinanced and remodeled or prepared for sale. And he’s certain that the process will continue to be manual, unless the industry’s property management systems can be upgraded .
How does your property manage its roster of appliances? Does your vendor take care of the paperwork, or does your maintenance team handle that? Let us know.