How often to inspect your property is a personal decision that depends on the kind of relationship you want to have with your tenants, the type of property you let and the style of tenant you attract.
From our own experience if a tenancy is going to go wrong, it's likely to do so in the first three to six months so this makes sense. Also, from the tenant's perspective, the first few weeks are when they are going to have questions and need the most support.
We asked our landlords what they thought and chose the ten we felt were the most useful and thought-provoking. Here they are...
This will also ensure they are familiar with the property and how things work and so you can get a feel for the type of people they are and how they will live in your property. Usually the first couple of visits give you a feel for the tenants which can determine how often you'll need to visit but every 6 months as a minimum is advisable for the first year or two. If in any doubt about the tenants at each visit take a camera and the inventory to keep on top of any potential issues. For long term trusted tenants (2 years plus) we only visit when a maintenance issue is required.
We write to them saying we assume they wish to renew as we have not heard otherwise, which also lets us know we are not expecting a void. This should alert them they need to look after it from the outset. Sometimes the tenant is happy to let us do the visit alone. In this way we have always found that we just note any minor issues, ask if the tenant has any maintenance or neighbour issues and record whether they have or not. We then both sign the record (as evidence if there are any deposit issues later, to show they had no issues).
Then, if they wish to renew the tenancy, on that day we provide a bottle of wine in appreciation or if the tenant has children who visit we give small Christmas chocolate novelties or latterly some packs of cards we had acquired free with our shopping for the children. It always takes the tenants by surprise and seems really appreciated. Obviously interim visits are within 24 hours if the tenant contacts us with a problem, which we encourage them to do. Same again if the tenant has been inconvenienced we might leave a bottle of wine.
I inspect the rented rooms every 3 months. I check the radiator thermostats, hoover the smoke detectors, spray WD40 on the window hinges and check overall condition.
I use the first visit to make sure tenants know how the heating and hot water work and to make sure everything else is working OK. That way they can't turn round later and complain. I always ask to see their copy of the inventory and mark it up with any changes. Otherwise I have found that tenants have lost or forgotten the inventory at checkout, remember things differently from how they were and assume my copy is mistaken.
Make him/her feel that the purpose of the visit is to check all is going OK, he/she has no issues, there are no niggles with the property. Some landlords may worry that this is inviting tenants to "find problems" or to make unreasonable demands. However, I contest that showing an interest in the tenant and his/her home helps to nurture a professional relationship built on mutual trust and respect. Ultimately, both landlord and tenant benefit.
Otherwise: If you have a new tenant then you need to visit at 3 months into the tenancy - ensuring you prearrange and give your tenant notice in writing in advance. If you are not happy with the condition of the property you should explain to the tenant and put it in writing specifying what you want them to improve and why. Give them a date to complete this and then complete a second visit.
If you are very happy with the condition of the property you should then visit at 1 year or if you were just satisfied visit at 6 months. You have to consider the tenants rights and privacy so ideally you don't want to visit too often unless you have reason to consider that the condition of your property may deteriorate. Once you are happy you have a good tenant you should visit either 6 monthly where you are only satisfied with the condition or yearly if you are very happy that the tenant respects the property. If the tenant has any issues you can offer to visit in the mean time but must not make the tenant feel pressured as that will be the easiest way to lose a good long term tenant. As to what you do:
Make yourself a checklist that you can complete on the visit - this should include:
1. each room
1a. condition of walls
1b. condition of flooring
1c. condition of fixtures and fittings etc
1d. any issues the tenant brings up
2. External condition of property itemising front / back / side / gates / fencing / garage etc
3. Roof / guttering / chimney / TV aerial if relevant - visual check
4. discuss when next gas safety check / pat test (if there are any portable appliances ) / buildings insurance / items services due etc and arrange if relevant
5. Any other issues
6. Satisfaction of tenant / landlord.
You need to ensure everything is safe. I personally would sign the check list and ask the tenant to sign too - dating it. This is another part of the audit trail and shows good tenancy management.
If you have a thorough check list of all relevant information then you will not miss anything on the visit as the saying goes Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail!
I usually pick up any post of course, and take a general look around the property (check carpets, walls and furniture for any obvious damage). It is worth checking the kitchen/bathroom to ensure they are being kept clean and no mould is being allowed to settle.
I usually take a Dishwasher cleaner (£2 from Tesco) and a Calgon tablet and run it through the white goods just to help keep away any needs for repair. The whole visit takes 20 mins tops, but lets the tenants know you care about the place, and allows you to have a chit chat and keep a more human relationship - this is very useful when it comes to renewing contracts.
If the property is all up together with little to go wrong then less often. If it's older with more regular maintenance required then more often. If the tenants are professionals, always pay on time and keep it spotless then less often. More often if not I guess. My two flats fit well into the very less often camp so I tend to pop in six monthly roughly. Early evening to their convenience but in good daylight so I can see the place properly - avoiding dark and a need to have the lights on makes sense to me. But I usually swap emails every three months to check they are all OK.
What to do when there? A good eyeball check on how clean and tidy they're keeping it and if there's any damage to furniture. Kitchen equipment cleanliness is important to me as are bathrooms. I'm also keen that they're keeping the place well ventilated so I look out for mould around windows and in the bathroom. I don't agree with taking a bottle around - far too familiar. I don't agree with a clipboard - far too officious (I'm not an agent!). But if there is anything to note then mention it to them right away and it needs a written record so an e-mail's good enough (print off and put on my file!).
I take a copy of the Inventory with me just in case as it has a record of the flat's condition when they moved in (but I leave it in my briefcase unless it's needed). But by far the most important of all I'm keen to pick up on their plans and if there is anything that hints at them giving notice - I want to keep good tenants! So I'm friendly, personable and have a good chat with them about what they're up to work-wise, what's going on locally etc. They chose my flat because they didn't want to have to deal with a rental agency so I owe them that at the least!
Formalise this process with a follow up email and have photos signed by both parties. Specifically if your property is being damaged by current tenants, an inspection is the time to confront this and protect yourself. Take your initial check- in / inventory report to check the state of the property from when they moved in to the check in time. If there are any glaring issues like blood stains on the mattress, footprints on the sofas, broken chairs, untidy garden, iron marks on the carpet or mould eating through the sealant on your bathroom (to name a few) then you now have the opportunity to try and ask the tenant to rectify this before the lease / tenancy is over as getting any compensation for damage from DPS is like getting blood out of a stone. Make sure you start collecting evidence in emails and photographs (and get them signed) if there is excessive damage (versus wear and tear).
The theme of perspectives runs through all of the winning tips; whether its ensuring the tenant has the same perspective as you when it comes to their commitments; to making sure you keep a consistent view on things throughout the tenancy.