Northern Virginia Real Estate and Community News Blog

Landlord and Friends Update

System - Wednesday, June 9, 2021

On May 28th, Gov. Northam lifted the COVID mandates for masks and distancing, and is now allowing all places of business and entertainment to resume normal seating and service.  He has asked that unvaccinated people follow CDC guidance.   We notice that more and more people are not wearing masks in restaurants and stores, but servers and staff still are wearing masks to help the customers feel comfortable.
The positivity rate in Virginia is below 2.5% and we’re averaging less than 400 cases per day state-wide.  Vaccines clearly have made a dramatic difference.  Recruiting enough employees for restaurants and stores is still a problem.   With travel restrictions in place still for some European and Asian countries, there’s difficulty getting summer camp helpers and lifeguards – as many of these are young seasonal workers coming from Russia or Europe.

Real Estate is starting to cool a little.  With new sales listings, we may see 3 offers in a weekend, as opposed to the 15 we saw back in February and March.  Some homes actually take a few weeks to sell!  Rentals are still tight and in high demand, but many of the military families have already locked-in a new home in time for their summer moves.  Congrats to our sales team for closing over $4million in sales in the past two weeks!

New home starts are dropping – while earlier this year buyers were snapping up everything in sight and also putting contracts on any new-built home available, the rising lumber and material prices have slowed construction and this is putting new-home builders into a bind.  Many developments have sections that are “sold out,” but time to build, normally 6 – 8 months, may now be well over a year.  They can’t take new home orders or open up new sections until they catch up with existing orders.   Increased building costs resulting in higher sales prices have made new-built homes less attractive to many buyers.

We are slowly catching up with in-home inspections.  Thankfully MOST tenants have continued to take good care of the interiors and we’re not finding too many unpleasant surprises inside the homes.   As we make the inspections, we will let you know if we find any repair needs or concerns.

With the continued scarcity of appliances and parts, one of our biggest frustrations is getting repairs done in a timely manner.   This is made much worse when a home warranty company is involved, unfortunately.   Some owners want to save money with home warranties (with companies such as AHS, HMS, Old Republic) – this covers many interior repairs to electrical, plumbing, HVAC and appliances at a set co-pay rate – usually $75 or $100.   Owners are led to believe that if an appliance or AC system fails, the home warranty company will replace it for the co-pay only.   Unfortunately, this really is not true.

What often happens is like this:  a tenant calls us to say the hot water heater is not working (usually on a Friday, of course).  We place the order with the home warranty company.  They let us know to expect a 48 hour response back from a repair company.  Some 3rd rate repair company calls and says they are not authorized by the home warranty company to work weekends, and that no hot water is not an emergency.  They let us know someone will go out on Tuesday.  When they arrive Tuesday, they tell us a part is needed and must be ordered.  That can take up to another week.  You can only imagine how the tenant is feeling at this point.  No warm showers for the children for well over a week?

Another very common scenario is where the AC stops cooling.  We’ve had the home warranty company out already three times this season, and each time they order a part, or top it off with coolant (cost of coolant is extra – owner has to pay for that on top of the co-pay).  They get the system going but say it’s failing, but they don’t have authority to replace it.  After the 5th visit in three months, we beg for a new system (as advertised!), but are told by the home warranty company that it’s still fixable.  Finally after lots of calls and threats (and yes, for calls, we sit on hold for over an hour usually), they say we can go get someone else to install a new system and they’ll give us a partial replacement credit.   Meanwhile, the tenant gives notice not to renew the lease, as they’re fed up with the lousy landlord and property manager.

Many property management companies flat out refuse to work with home warranties.  We do our best, but we caution our landlords that if needed, we’ll go to an outside vendor to get a repair done in a timely manner – especially in emergencies where the home warranty company refuses to respond (because they don’t think it’s an emergency and their standard response time is 48 hours and not on weekends or holidays).

I am not telling you not to buy a home warranty.  Sometimes they work well, and often they save you money.   But I do want you to be aware that tenants expect timely repairs, and Virginia lease law supports them in this.   If a tenant decides to get their own repairman or go buy a new stove, after waiting three weeks for the stove to be fixed, it’s most likely that a judge will support the tenants’ decision to deduct the expense from their rent.

As your property manager, it’s our job to make sure the lease is enforced in such a manner to protect you.  This means that we’re also making sure the tenants’ rights are being respected under Virginia lease law.  Repair requests are responded to promptly, and repairs are made as soon as is practical. Unfortunately, it might cost more than $100.  You have a legal contract with your tenant to provide a service, and it’s our job to honor that contract, while keeping your costs as low as possible given the circumstances.  

If you’ve worked with our team on a difficult home warranty repair, you know we bend over backwards to use the warranty.  Maybe you don’t hear the cussing and swearing when Jake gets off the phone with them (after an hour on hold) and they tell him the part won’t come in until next week!   But we really don’t want the tenant to be the one cussing us (and you) for taking almost two weeks to fix their hot water heater.  Oddly, our standard plumbers usually have the needed part on hand and don’t have to order it... and can make the same repair today for only a little more than the home warranty co-pay.

Sorry for the rant, but I promised my hard-working team that I’d make sure our owners think twice before buying or renewing a home warranty.  As I often tell owners, home warranty companies don’t make a profit by replacing failed appliances or using top-rated contractors.

Betty and team

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