As lettings regulations are only set to intensify (for example, the forthcoming extension of smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations), agents are relying on their contractors more and more.

As we all know, working with outside organisations can be a mixed blessing. When it works well, it saves us time and ensures work is completed to high standards, but when it goes badly, it can result in bad feelings, wasted effort, and unhappy clients.

Maintaining healthy relationships between property managers and contractors is, therefore, essential. Such relationships must be based on mutual trust, respect and accountability.

With technical skills in high demand, it’s as important for our contractors to have a great experience working with us as it is for them to provide excellent service for us. Fixflo and Keyzapp both work to help foster good working relations between property managers and contractors, particularly in the following 3 focus areas.

 

Streamline job communications

“Communication is key” is one of the most repeated pieces of relationship advice you’ll find on the internet, and that’s no less true when working with contractors. But what does this really mean?

When commissioning a job, it’s important to start things off on the right foot by being as clear as possible about the task involved. Routine activities like gas safety checks are usually straightforward, but repairs can be more challenging.

Being able to communicate as much as possible about the problem up front really helps the contractor. So too, does making them aware of constraints, such as timescale and budget. Fixflo is great at helping you get the right information straight from your tenants and passing it along in a way that answers all the common questions. The result is that your contractor is well-prepared and able to set better expectations with you about timescales and costs.

Once a job has started, keeping everyone informed of progress can be a challenge. Traditionally, you’ll wait for a phone call or a verbal update from the contractor at the end of the day. Though this process seems simple enough, having to wait for an update does have drawbacks which sometimes result in misunderstandings and extra work for one person or another.

The feedback you get is not timely - there’s usually a delay, during which time the contractor may have forgotten some important detail. If the property manager dealing with the case isn’t available in the office when the contractor returns, a crucial piece of information may get missed as colleagues try to pass it on. Even if the right person is present, they are likely busy on something else when the contractor gets in touch. None of these things is anyone’s fault, but it’s easy to see why it’s less than ideal for all concerned.

Furthermore, verbal feedback needs to be written down after the fact, meaning important information can be lost in translation. Sometimes there is no time to write it up, and if you get a query from a client sometime later, neither party can claim to remember exactly what was passed on.

If you can enable your contractor to easily communicate notes and updates while they are onsite, you can ensure that accurate information is captured straight away and in writing so, you can refer back to it later.

Messaging apps like WhatsApp are a popular way to do this, but something more structured like Fixflo’s commenting system is ideal for keeping track of feedback and giving you an accurate reference point for later. You can even reply in real time on the status of work and update landlords as you learn of progress.

 

Make contractors’ visits to your office quick and painless

Time is at a premium for all of us, not least for contractors. Not only are they in a hurry to get to the next job, but, as they often have to park in a temporary location to see you, they’ll thank you if you’re able to make their visit brief!

Introducing more real-time communication, as discussed above, reduces the need for lengthy conversations. What’s left should be just a verbal confirmation of information already shared, collecting/returning keys, and passing along any required documentation.

Unfortunately, these things do not always go as smoothly as they should. For contractors, there is nothing more frustrating than turning up to do a job, only to find there’s no key available, and having to wait whilst people in the branch scramble around to find it. The best way to prevent this is by having a reservation system, ensuring that people know when the key is going to be needed and that it will be back on the hook in time.

Using Fixflo’s integration with Keyzapp, you can easily reserve the key when you’re scheduling the work, checking availability as you go. When the contractor arrives, Keyzapp removes all the usual friction of issuing keys, with contactless smart fobs on each key, allowing you to check them out in seconds. If you have a close relationship with your contractors, you can go one step further and let them check out their own keys using their phones or a dedicated kiosk.

Continuing the self-service theme, Fixflo allows your contractors to submit items such as documentation, certifications, and invoices electronically by themselves, meaning they don’t have to do it at the branch or wait for a team member to become available. This streamlines the workflow for both them and you, as well as reducing the physical paperwork required.

 

Eliminate blame games with clear accountability

As your contractors complete more and more work, it is inevitable that something will go wrong at some stage - and nothing sours a relationship more quickly than a blame game! Having keys go missing is a classic example of this, where one party swears blind that they were handed over, but the other side remembers things differently. Either way, there’s no proof, and bad feeling is created on both sides.

A first step to avoiding a blame game is to have a documented agreement about the standards you expect and the responsibilities of each party. You may have formal service agreements with your contractors, in which case it’s a great idea to keep them handy and prominent in your communications through good times and bad.

However, just having an agreement isn’t enough; it requires two further things:

  • That a summary of your expectations is shared regularly, so it stays at the top of their mind.
  • That there is sufficient documentation (or an audit trail) of who has done what to ensure that responsibility is clear at all times.

 

We’ve found that an automated email that is sent to your contractor when they pick up the keys for a job works well. You can customise this email to remind them of the expectations you’ve agreed to. This email also acts as a documented record of when keys changed hands between you and your contractor and when work started.

Once a job is underway, your maintenance and key systems can send timely reminders to update on progress and alert both parties of potential problems (e.g. keys not having been brought back). All these things help considerably by preventing problems that often start as an oversight but can end up in a dispute if not addressed quickly. Both Fixflo and Keyzapp will provide these capabilities for you.

Working towards more streamlined processes, communications, and stronger accountability not only helps maintain good relationships with your contractors but also improves the quality and efficiency of the service you provide back to your clients. If you want to discuss how tools from Fixflo and Keyzapp specifically help with these objectives, please do get in touch.


Certifications are one of the most important things to consider when choosing and managing contractors. Learn what to look for and how to stay compliant with our Property Manager's Guide to Contractor Certification.

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Tim Hill

Tim Hill

Tim Hill has over a decade's worth of experience in management consultancy and tech development. Having studied at the University of Cambridge, he has a keen eye for using technology to improve the way large companies manage their information. In 2014 he co-founded Keyzapp, a key tracking software for letting agents and property managers. In his free time, Tim enjoys motor racing and practising his guitar skills.

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This article is intended for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions related to issues in this article, we strongly advise contacting a legal professional.

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Tim Hill
By Tim Hill