Ask the Expert: SFR Maintenance Challenges

Ask the Expert: SFR Maintenance Challenges

PWSC works with builders, property managers, institutional investors, and property owners across the country. As experts in the industry, we field many questions on trends and best practices. I recently sat down with one of PWSC’s resident experts, Anthony Wilk, director of operations, to talk about some of those frequent questions. Here’s what he had to say.

Hi Anthony.  Thanks for joining us for this discussion on rental home maintenance challenges.  To get started, can you tell me a little bit about your experience?

Sure thing.  I’ve worked in the home warranty industry for over 20 years and covered a lot of ground during that time. From the onset of the claim and customer service to authorizing claim spend and determining eligibility, writing new products, and administering claims. Contractors, renters, owners, and managers, I’ve worked with them all!

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned while managing the operations for PWSC’s HomePRO Rental Property Protection?

I’ve certainly learned that build-to-rent and existing single-family rentals are two very different things when it comes to maintenance or warranty work! To the resident, an issue is an issue, but what happens behind the scenes looks completely different. Build-to-rent homes can have pre-agreed warranties from the builder. That can look different from one builder agreement to the next, and those warranties always work differently from a third-party system and appliance warranty like ours. System and appliance warranties use a network of vendors who are getting paid to do the work, but work performed under the builder’s warranty comes at an additional cost, either to the builder or the subcontractor. This can impact the sense of urgency in their response versus warranty vendors who are incentivized to respond quickly.  

On the other hand, I’ve also seen that renters tend to expect a faster response than homeowners. Residents view their rent payment as paying for the property manager’s service. Renters have an issue with their home and think, “I’m paying rent every month. This needs to be fixed now.” Homeowners don’t have that other party to look to when something goes wrong.

What are the most common requests you and your team receive?

Our top three requests are for the home’s major systems.

Plumbing – anywhere from small leaks around faucets to stoppages.

HVAC – Heating and AC issues are one of the first things people notice. The most common issues here are clogged drain lines.  We also get a lot of calls from new residents who aren’t familiar with smart home thermostats.

Electrical – A lot of these calls are for simple items like understanding or resetting GFIs, breakers, or simply understanding what the system can and can’t take. Sometimes we can talk through these issues and resolve them over the phone, but renters get cautious about touching anything. Understandably, they don’t want to be held responsible for the problem or make it worse.

Do you have any advice for property managers and their maintenance teams?

Communication is everything! The more proactive information and education a property manager can give their residents before an issue occurs, the less time they’ll need to spend on those simple calls. How does that smart thermostat work? Where is the breaker panel? Empower the resident to correct minor issues!

Proactive maintenance practices go hand-in-hand with that too. Are they providing filter subscriptions? Do they have tutorials for inspecting drain lines? These are just a couple of examples of common failures where renters can help ease the system and limit emergency calls.

Are there common themes or trends property managers should look out for?

I keep coming back to the importance of renter communication and education. That’s definitely number one.

Another trend is issues with quality. It’s a balancing act between keeping costs reasonable and paying to get the work done quickly and correctly. Our philosophy is to pay more than other programs and limit those quality issues.

One more theme is consistency. This is a big one for build-to-rent. An owner-operator could be working with 15 or 20 different builders. Keeping track of those programs creates confusion and takes time. Anything a property manager can do to create a consistent maintenance/warranty program will create some real efficiency.

In your experience working with clients, what do you find to be the most important or helpful to them?

It’s definitely the extra attention to their renter’s needs and our frequent communication with both parties. We have to be a partner they can trust as an extension of their team.

In your experience working with renters, what do you find to be the most important or helpful to them?

We communicate with them.  Calls, texts, emails… we’re open to communicate with residents in their preferred method. We keep them in the loop and we follow up.  We over communicate, and they seem to really appreciate that.

What are some of the biggest differences you see between the HomePRO program and others?

We have no deductibles or service fees, and that small change makes a huge difference when it comes to keeping the repair moving. We’re also more focused on service. We’ve built our program with the understanding that rental scenarios call for more attention to detail and a different strategy to handle multiple homes for a single client.

What are the most common items that aren’t covered by a warranty program?

These are usually simple fit and finish items in newly built homes. That includes items like door drags, garage doors, wall damage, drywall cracks, programming smart home features, windows rubbing… items like that.

Do you find that renters are more open with you when they have issues since you are not the property manager or owner? 

We see it both ways.  It depends on how the account is set-up. If the renter is contacting us through the property manager’s portal, they see us as an extension of the team, so there’s really no difference. If they’re contacting us directly, they could be more forthright. We’ve definitely gotten some confessions!

Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

I would just say don’t discount the workload a program like this can take off of an internal team. The biggest time spend happens with the communication and coordination of these work orders, and we can save stress, time, and money!

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