HVAC is an acronym to which landlords need to pay particular attention. It refers to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—systems which have to be in good working order.
Keeping a rental unit warm in winter and cool in summer obviously benefits your tenants, but it also benefits the HVAC unit itself, which can suffer damage from extremely high or low temperatures as well as from moisture buildup caused by a lack of ventilation.
1. “H” is for “Heat”
The implied warrant of habitability requires landlords to supply some method of heat, and some communities get pretty specific about heating requirements. For example, New York City requires heating units to maintain a minimum temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit from October 31 to May 31, and San Francisco requires a minimum temperature of 68 degrees between the hours of 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. all year.
Don’t give your tenants the cold shoulder! State laws define what temperature your rentals need to conform to.
Most states set heating requirements. Maine, for example, requires a minimum indoor temperature of 68 degrees when the outside temperature falls below 20 degrees. It’s important to be familiar with requirements established by your state as well as your community.
2. “V” is for Ventilation
The “V” in HVAC” doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Central heating and cooling systems provide automatic air circulation, but rentals that rely on room heaters and lack air circulation systems may suffer the effects the stale air. These include paint deterioration, wood rot, pest infestations, and mold.
Ceiling fans and room fans can provide the circulation needed to control moisture and keep tenants comfortable. You also need to maintain them unless otherwise specified in the lease agreement.
3. “AC” is for Air Conditioning
Landlords generally don’t have the same responsibility to provide air conditioning. If you rent a unit with air conditioning, though, there’s a contractual responsibility for you to maintain it. If you don’t, your tenant may be entitled to a rent reduction or some other consideration.
Common HVAC Maintenance Issues
Whether the heat in a rental unit comes from a forced air furnace, a heat pump, or a radiant heat system, there are usually two main maintenance concerns. One is the heating unit itself—which includes the heat source and the blowers—and the other is the control network. An air conditioning system, which is essentially a refrigeration system, also has a control network, and it’s often the same one that controls the heating system.
Blowers, burners, heating elements, and refrigeration coils can all malfunction, and when they do, the landlord has to repair or replace them. Many HVAC problems, however, result from the thermostat, which can easily be maintained by tenants.
Failure to program the thermostat properly is such a common occurrence that many appliance repair specialists address it first. Is the thermostat switch properly selected for heating or cooling? Is the target temperature properly selected? Is the unit even on? Tenants should have a copy of the manual so they can check the settings themselves before calling for help.
If the batteries in the thermostat are weak, the heating/cooling system won’t get the message to turn on. Batteries are easy to replace, and the tenants can do that themselves, especially if they have the manual.
Thermostat leads can get dusty, and all it takes is a blast of compressed air to clean them. Accessing the leads means removing the cover, which tenants can do if they have the manual to guide them.
Persistent failure of the central air system to maintain the target temperature could be caused by a poor thermostat location. It may be in the sun, behind a bookshelf, or in the path of a draft. Moving the thermostat, as well as replacing worn wires, is usually a major job.
The heating and cooling system connects to the living space via a network of metal ducts, and if you’ve ever looked inside one of these ducts, you’ll appreciate the need for filters. When dust enters the ducts and gets drawn into the central system, it can block gas orifices, hinder fan rotation, reduce heating and cooling efficiency, and even potentially create a fire hazard.
Many HVAC pros offer duct cleaning services, but you generally need these only if you’re renovating; if animals, mold, or contaminants got sucked into the ducts; or if someone in the house has become ill. In most cases, however, you just need to service the filters.
The MERV Rating
Changing the filters at least once a year, which is the best way to maintain system efficiency, is another job that tenants can do, especially if you supply the filters. Filters are classified according to their MERV rating, which is an acronym that means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter.
Filters with high MERV ratings can filter out contaminants as small as bacteria, but they also restrict air flow, so it’s best to stick with a filter with a rating in the range of 5 to 8. Ratings go as high as 16, so this is on the low side of average.
Two Ways to Approach Maintenance
The HVAC system, like the rental unit itself, belongs to the landlord who has a vested interest in maintaining it in good condition. As the beneficiary of clean, conditioned air from a properly functioning system, however, the tenant also has an interest in keeping things in working order. You can retain full responsibility for maintaining the system or can share that responsibility with your tenant.
- Landlord Controlled and Maintained
The landlord assumes full responsibility for maintenance. The lease usually specifies standard hours for maintenance, such as from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. If maintenance is required at other times, there is usually an extra charge. This arrangement is typical in multi-unit dwellings.
- Landlord Controlled/Tenant Maintained
The tenant pays for filters and minor service calls, such as cleaning and minor malfunctions, while you pay for major service. The tenant also typically pays the utility bills. This can be a good arrangement for sensitive tenants who require enhanced air filtration or who require temperatures outside normal ranges.
Hang Onto Repair Records
Minor HVAC maintenance responsibilities are seldom overwhelming, so it’s usually in your best interest to maintain your property’s HVAC system. That way, you ensure that proper repairs are made and that all servicing conforms to acceptable standards.
Whether you opt to share the maintenance responsibilities with your tenants or not, keep all the maintenance records in a safe place to ensure faster resolution to problems when they do arise.
Credit to Chris Deziel
Chris has owned and managed 4 rental properties in Santa Cruz, CA, and Salida, CO. He is a DIY handyman expert for popular sites like Pro Referral.
Like rookie buyers, clients who are new to selling need extra hand-holding through the sales process.
Even the most steely-eyed sellers can get emotional when it’s time to list their home. It’s the place where they raised their children, gathered friends for annual holiday parties, or painstakingly executed their design vision over many years. The longer they have stayed in a home, the greater the challenges they may face getting up-to-date on the rules and regulations governing transactions. Those who have never before sold are, indeed, in uncharted territory. Here are suggestions for working with first-time sellers who may find the financial and legal complexities, as well as the emotional terrain, especially daunting.
First-time sellers who have never contended with buyer demands may not initially understand how neutralizing their home or adding small upgrades can make their property more competitive on the market. Using data to highlight comparable nearby homes and what they’re selling for is a good place to start, but make sure to explain how the data supports your argument. Andy Werner, abr, e-pro, associate broker at RE/MAX Realty Group in Gaithersburg, Md., says many first-time sellers don’t realize how minor repairs can elevate their property’s market value. Buyers typically expect a home to be in move-in condition, so sellers who choose not to upgrade could face a $10,000 to $15,000 price reduction, he says.
“I tell buyers that if you don’t fix up your house, the buyer will go around the corner and buy from someone who did—and they’ll pay $5,000 more,” Werner says. Such an explanation demonstrates market fundamentals to your clients and keeps them on track toward the closing table. The costs of modest repairs, such as repainting, installing carpet, and refinishing or replacing kitchen cabinetry, are often recouped at resale, Werner adds.
Selling After Decades of Owning
Some common seller issues become more difficult simply because of how long a first-time seller has lived in a home. Decluttering, for example, can be hard enough for someone who’s been in their home only five years. Imagine how challenging it is for sellers who have lived in a home for their entire adult life.
It’s not just emotional resistance they’re experiencing. First-timers may simply not be aware of how clearing out personal items improves the odds of a sale. Alice Chin, psa, a broker with Keller Williams Infinity in Naperville, Ill., recommends that sellers who have never dramatically decluttered their homes before do it in stages, clearing one room at a time. Slowing down the pace can ease the mental and emotional pressure involved in getting rid of personal items, she says, and once sellers see the results in one room, it can encourage them to continue working on the rest of the house. If your client needs more convincing, ask a professional home stager to weigh in, Chin says.
Patience Is a Virtue
All sellers benefit from practicing patience while waiting for the right buyer, but this is doubly true for those who are listing a vacation home in resort areas for the first time. They face different market dynamics than if they were selling a primary residence, says McKee Macdonald, a broker with Coldwell Banker Carlson Real Estate in the ski resort town of Stowe, Vt. Many of his clients who are new to selling are shocked to learn how long it can take to sell—an average of 250 days in his market. Some properties have languished for as long as five years, he says.
Therefore, first-time sellers require a higher degree of communication so they can be prepared for the realities of a niche market, Macdonald says. He explains that traditional marketing tactics such as open houses aren’t always effective because the number of skiers (who are prospective buyers) in town on weekends is unpredictable. Instead, he advises his clients to consider renting out vacation properties while they wait for a buyer. After all, selling a second home often isn’t urgent, and a seller’s motivation can change. “Some sellers say, ‘Throw it out there. If we get the price we want, great. If not, I’m still using it,’” Macdonald says.
Experienced Sellers Can Be Rookies
Even seasoned sellers can feel like newbies when market conditions have changed markedly since their last sale. A client who sold one property during a downturn may be ill-prepared for today’s tight-inventory environment and the stress of handling multiple offers. Though it’s a nice problem to have, it can still be overwhelming.
Ashleigh Fredrickson, sales associate at 8Z Real Estate in Denver, says the biggest challenge for sellers of all experience levels is determining which offers stand the best chance of holding up. In a strong seller’s market, buyers can get swept up in the heat of the moment and bid 10 percent over list price only to realize later they won’t be able to qualify for financing, she says. So it’s important to counsel sellers—particularly those who have never been in such a situation—that the highest bid isn’t necessarily the best. “You want to make sure you’re getting the most qualified buyer so that you’re not back out on the market again,” Fredrickson says.
She suggests using a spreadsheet to help sellers analyze competing bids, taking special note of any contingencies. Your clients need to understand that a higher offer with more contingencies may not be in their best interest. “Maybe the timeline is paramount, so the seller will sacrifice a couple of thousand dollars to ensure the deal is done by a certain time,” Fredrickson says.
Above all, directness and thorough education are what every first-time seller needs, Macdonald adds. When a sale isn’t going the way a seller had imagined it would, “you need to look for strategies to offset the negatives.” But always “give sellers the honest truth, and don’t sugarcoat it,” he says.