Trouble shooting maintenance problems is a core skill that any investment property owner should become good at. Having the ability to asses a problem and recognize what will be needed to perform a repair, will save you money and for the sake of your renters, save valuable time. There are not many things more frustrating to a renter then having no electricity in half there rental unit or having a constant clogged sink. I have learned over the years to keep a list in my head of any issues that occurred in a given unit and what it took to resolve the problem. You will be surprised how this knowledge can build and be used on all of the units you own.
A particularly memorable maintenance issue that I had a few years back involved the above mentioned electrical issue. Nearly half of a two story unit was without power. It took nearly a month to resolve. Needless to say the renters where a bit frustrated. The problem with tracing the issue was largely due to the areas around the unit which were effected, seemingly random in nature and not following a very logical path. The kitchen, dining room, stairway, and outlets in one and a half bedrooms were all effected, almost impossible to trace.
I first assessed the breakers, all seemed OK. Next I investigated the kitchen lights, (I had good access to that area) all seemed OK. I looked at all the wiring at the outlets, assuming they where gang feeding into other areas of the house; all looked in good shape. I had a friend who had electrical experience take a look. He began to attempt to trace the wires from the basement breakers but came up with nothing. I was convinced that what was needed was an $800.00 tool called a tracer (or some such name).
One thing I have learned when doing this type of investigating is to ask what was occurring at the time of the outage. Was a blow dryer being used in the bedroom, was the washer, dryer and a vacuum cleaner all going at the same time as the oven and so on. In this case the cable guy was attaching a cable box to the exterior of the house. I thought maybe he shorted out a wire while attaching the box or cable to the exterior but he had noticed nothing while attaching and had used a wire detector to all areas. I had a call into an electrician, but the earliest anyone could come out was in two weeks. So two weeks into the outage they came and also tried to trace the issue. They did a bit of grumbling about the way the place had been wired, checked pretty much the same areas I and my friend had checked and hit me with; I think the only solution is to rewire. That was a job that would be in the thousands of dollars and make a complete mess of the walls in many rooms of the unit. I was not convinced and noted that they were without the tracing device I suspected would be needed to find the issue.
In one last desperate attempt I located a new electrician in town who just happened to have this tracer in his possession and swore by it as a trouble shooting tool. Within 15 minutes he traced the issue to a junction box in the basement which had a wire nut that failed and needed to be replaced. You don’t always get away with an easy fix like that but I certainly kept the info in the back of my mind. Being present and observant when maintenance is being performed on a unit, can save a ton of money, increase your trouble shooting skills and allow you to tackle some of the maintenance issue on your rental properties in the future.