Maintenance Teams Using Tech Gadgets to Improve On-Site Efficiency

Magazine ,

By Paul Bergeron

With an increasing number of communities struggling to find, hire, and train maintenance technicians, some companies are leaning more heavily on technology to help bring greater efficiency to their on-site operations.

Among the strategies are the use of drones for due diligence, virtual training, and automating unit inspections.

Taking Due Diligence to a Higher Level

Steve Hayworth, director of maintenance, Drucker and Falk, said he’s benefiting from using drones during inspections on properties that his company is considering purchasing or if he is assessing major renovations. 

“Shooting aerial images and video allows us to get a much better look at things compared to previous inspections,” Hayworth said. “We check on asphalt, chimney caps, siding, windows. They also help when looking at wooded areas, such as the trees touching the roof, and give us a good look at the condition of the gutters. This helps us save a great deal of time, and they are much safer than using ladders.”

A drone was recently used by Cypress Run Apartments in Orlando as it assessed a $5 million, three-year renovation that is expected to be completed next year.

Drucker and Falk has six drones serving its portfolio. They are housed in its corporate offices in North Carolina and Virginia and then provided to properties in need. A few years ago, it purchased the DJI Phantom 4 model for about $1,400. Since then, it has chosen a smaller and lighter model DJI Mini Mavic Pro, which can fit in the palm of a hand and sells for about $600.

“The smaller version is easier because you don’t have to carry it around in a big, clunky case,” Hayworth said. “It’s easy to fly using a remote. You can use your smartphone with it and see where the drone is flying and where the camera is pointing, and that helps you to position it better.”

Drucker and Falk also is using iPads during walkthroughs to take images of things such as appliances, flooring, heating and air conditioning systems, and water heaters. The iPads display all the images in one report.

“This makes things easier for us,” he said. “And we’ve installed moisture meters and red-image cameras that help us to identify hot spots and cold spots, water intrusion, and to look behind drywall or under flooring.”

Exciting Times with Virtual Training

For training, Hayworth likes the Interplay Learning product because it immerses the maintenance tech trainee into the training through video and a virtual headset. 

“It can walk them through an electric meter test, for example,” Hayworth said. “This makes the experience more real compared to watching a video or reading a manual. Because they are actually able to do the work during the training, it gets them more excited about learning.”

Unit Inspections Made Easier

As more management companies transition to using single leasing teams and shared maintenance crews across multiple properties, task management and logistics become the key to efficient operations. Mobile-first task-management technology has become a necessity to ensure that associates have the tools they need to stay on task and effectively serve their communities.

SightPlan Work provides on-site teams with actionable insights that enable them to respond quickly and strategically, eliminate redundancies, and maximize time management. 

The Laramar Group uses SightPlan at its two individual properties (Jacksonville and Palm Harbor) and at its Local by Laramar Tampa – a portfolio of smaller properties. Its interactive communication capabilities — used not only among associates but between team members and residents — have been invaluable.

“To be able to create a service task, quickly assign it over to our techs, and immediately notify them of the assigned task has been game-changing,” said Stacy Valentine, vice president of innovation and technology at Laramar. “And in a world where we don’t always have the ability to easily connect face to face with residents, that bidirectional communication around their specific request is huge.”

Nimble Automation a Big Plus

By automating the inspections process, SightPlan Inspect ensures the immediate initiation of unit condition assessments upon move-out. By immediately generating an inspection task for maintenance teams and providing real-time reporting during inspections, the automated platform expedites the process and quickly enables operators to plan for capital improvement expenses and preventative maintenance. 

The inspection platform streamlines the due diligence process during acquisition, enabling teams to move through property assessments quickly and consistently, and remain nimble during the process. SightPlan Inspect has provided Cortland with an efficient, cost-effective means to close more deals.

“With SightPlan, you’re capturing the information in real time, so I can go in mid-inspection, and if I have concerns that need to be addressed with the seller, I can do that right then and there,” said Carlos Smith, Cortland director of pursuit and transitions. “Having that tool to quantify the data and turn out the results quickly has allowed us to pick up our pace with acquisitions. The real-time data also empowered us to move away from some deals because we’re quantifying all these issues as we go.”

Cortland uses the product across its entire portfolio, including in Florida.

Matt Easton, founder, Leasing University, said technology users should not forget about pen and paper. “For me, I find the best ‘gadget’ to be when techs write down what they are hearing from their residents — it reduces complaints by 81% and improves resident satisfaction by 241%.”