There’s no shortage of guides out there that focus on dealing with problem tenants once they’ve become an expensive and frustrating liability, but what about guides to preventing your relationship with particular clients from ever deteriorating to the point at which you’re pulling your hair out?
Are we really just supposed to accept that a given percentage of our clients will inevitably end up dragging us into small claims court, or bombarding us with irate emails?
There’s no question that some tenants are, indeed, just “born difficult”, but for the overwhelming majority of cases, I’d argue that there are plenty of ways in which the intelligent and thoughtful amongst us could sidestep seemingly inevitable conflicts, and even turn “problem” tenants into tentative allies – mainly by making sure that their expectations are properly set at the very beginning of our interactions, and by taking careful steps to avoid a few key communication mistakes that can set the stage for disaster later on down the line.
In her rather spectacular article on forbes.com, (which is admittedly geared towards the financial industry, but does contain some very interesting and highly relevant tips on relationship management that we could incorporate into our client management strategies) Annie Scranton talks at length about the fact that honesty, transparency, over delivery and anticipation are all at the “heart and soul” of developing positive relationships and that’s something I’d really like to unpack and explore here; could we be doing more to proactively ensure that problems never developed in the first place?
Certainly her point about establishing ground rules early on is an important one; I know from personal experience that many tenants will just assume that you’re on call 24/7 to fix their problems or answer their questions, and I think one of the easiest ways to stop that particular mind-set from developing is to be brutally honest in the early stages of the relationship – normally by stating upfront that you’ll be available between certain hours, unless, of course, there’s a legitimate emergency to sort out.
Her point about constant communication is a good one too – it’s often tempting to let residents just get on with living their lives in your property but regular attempts to reach out for updates/visit the property will make sure your tenants view you as a proactive (and therefore reliable) landlord, and also, potentially, prevent them from becoming neglectful of your property.
Establishing that you’ll be in constant contact can also help to prevent that all-to-familiar wave of email spam from cluttering up your inbox too – tenants that feel like they have a direct line to you will often be far more understanding if you can’t get back to them immediately, as they’ll see it as a one off occurrence rather than the norm.
Anticipating your client’s (or tenants) needs is the next big one – it’s a niche example, but if you know that the new couple moving in are likely to ask questions about the central heating/cooker/fridge/local by-laws sooner, rather than later, make sure you provide handbooks or guides as early as possible, so that they don’t even need to come looking for you. Doing so will ensure your tenants feel well supported, and potentially offset any ill will that might otherwise develop further down the line.
Explaining potential obstacles early in the process can be a great help too – particularly if you’ve an inkling that some clients are likely to cause problems you’ve encountered before. A good friend of mine is always very careful to tell his clients that fixing the electric immersion heater in his property generally takes three to four working days, because he knows that it can break, and he knows that people are generally very, very antagonistic towards him if he has to let them know once they’re actually out of hot water…
As with all things, these tips and tricks for client management wont apply to all of us – some might find that they only offset the development of problems, while others might already be putting most of them into practice – and those of us that do find them useful might find that they need some refining for your own particular circumstances, but I do think that they can help us all to take a step back, and refocus on the small things that could be done to actively prevent bad relationships from forming.
This article was written by Alex Degaul, who was born the only child of two landlords, and who can’t seem to escape his preordained fate despite multiple attempts. He’s currently working with Squires Estates – A London-based estate agency.