Why Hiring a 5-Star Property Maintenance Team is Critical in Multifamily

property maintenance

Anticipation hung in the air as Pinnacle Senior Vice President Raymond Van Beveren waited for the “interview.” The standing room only crowd, uncharacteristic for a property maintenance-oriented session at a multifamily conference, stifled a few giggles as the applicant, a broad-shouldered man, sauntered to the stage.

“I’m here, I’m here!” he said as the crowd erupted in laughter. “It’s all good! I’ve got my résumé and I’m all dressed good. It’s maintenance. I’m here to solve the problem!”

For the next several minutes, Paul Rhodes, the National Apartment Association’s maintenance and safety instructor, gave his glossy spiel in a mock job interview with Van Beveren at June’s NAA Education & Exposition in Atlanta. He tossed around acronyms like they were alphabet soup and boasted that he was a Certified Maintenance Swimming Technician.

“I have the ability and I’m certified to be able to view people who swim and to make sure they swim properly. I’m certified.”

Van Beveren look puzzled but trudged on. He asked about the EPA 608 Type 1 designation on the sketchy-looking résumé. Unfazed, Rhodes embellished his qualifications about “frawn,” or what he said they call refrigerant in the South. He rattled off a string of cheeky designations that left Van Beveren scratching his head.

And then there was the plunger award.

“I’ve got the Golden Plunger Award,” Rhodes boasted, “because my plunger is always the cleanest.”

Property maintenance team’s role has become more important

Although exaggerated (you think?), the skit showed what an unprepared property management interviewer might face with an overeager applicant when trying to fill what has become a critical position in the multifamily industry.

The size of the crowd was testament to maintenance personnel becoming key players in day-to-day property management. Once the butt of jokes, the men and women fixing toilets, repairing HVAC units and caulking windows are now the face of management. They often engage personally with residents more than the front office does.

When one attendee remarked about the crowd, a North Carolina regional vice president put it into perspective.

“I think we’ve all come to realize how important a role the maintenance team plays in property management with our residents,” she said while keeping her eyes glued to the stage.

For about an hour, the charismatic Rhodes and Van Beveren, who heads Pinnacle’s construction and facilities services, offered tips on how to conduct a maintenance interview. The session was particularly relevant: When asked, most in the room said they had open maintenance positions at their properties.

Perhaps a sign of the times.

Skilled positions like maintenance technician are getting harder to fill as the nation’s job growth is fueled by more lucrative areas like health care, social assistance and financial activities, according to June’s U.S. Department of Labor job report.

Employment in natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations isn’t growing as fast and ranks at the bottom of major vocations. Year-over-year, employment grew just 2 percent in installation, maintenance and repair.

property maintenance

Know your property’s needs and prepare for interviews

Neither Van Beveren nor Rhodes said multifamily has a maintenance technician crisis but property managers do need to be smarter when filling positions. Good people are hard to find, but they’re out there, Rhodes said. And employers need to ask plenty of questions and be choosy.

“We have to hold our candidates responsible for something,” he said. “Quite frequently we’re short-staffed on maintenance and we get farther and farther behind. The more behind we are, the farther we have to go to catch up.”

Rhodes often hears that managers invest effort looking for the right candidate, then they hire the wrong one. Sometimes the applicant who’s in the right place at the right time, like during a crisis, gets the nod, even though qualifications may ultimately fall short.

The duo stressed that property managers should prepare for interviews so they don’t get blindsided by unqualified candidates who have seemingly award-winning résumés and toss around ambiguous designations and certifications. Don’t hesitate to probe into a short résumé, the preferred choice of recruiters. Be selective, says Rhodes.

Consider asking applicants to complete a maintenance test

Asking pointed questions about skills and even hands-on testing is a good bet.

“Every leasing office has a toilet,” Rhodes said. “Make them install a flapper right there.”

Van Beveren said Pinnacle asks applicants to complete an online maintenance test that reveals their knowledge base. He recommends that properties learn the basics like EPA certifications and compliance issues, even if it means having a consultant help create the test before interviews begin.

“Bring in someone to help answer those questions and make sure an applicant isn’t making up something or trying to convince you of something,” he said. “Does the applicant know certain certifications? How to fix compliance issues? Have that general knowledge that gives you a baseline.”

From there, walking applicants through a vacant unit is a sensible place to start. It’s critical that applicants have a complete understanding of the property’s needs before they’re offered a job. They need to be familiar with systems in place and how to navigate particular unit features, like smart home technology and other recent innovations in apartment living.

Also, with mobile maintenance technology omnipresent, Van Beveren said familiarity with cellphones and facilities applications and online reporting is crucial.

“They have to be able to respond to a work order,” he said. “Mobile is the future, and the future is here. Everything is going mobile. It’s definitely a question that should be asked, if they are willing to use (mobile). They definitely should know how to use the phone, the apps and the technology.”

Finally, check any vendor references to get a feel for the applicant’s reputation with others in the trade. How well the applicant works with paint suppliers, flooring companies and HVAC professionals may indicate an ability to interact with residents.

Personality skills are just as important as technical abilities

Attitude is more important than ever.

“Maintenance is becoming that interpersonal relationship between our office and the resident,” Rhodes said. “With technology, maintenance is becoming more and more the face of our management. Those personality skills weigh higher than they ever have.”

And so, too, the condition of that plunger.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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