Preparing Investment Properties for Cooler Temperatures

As the weather cools down and the winter holidays approach, new risks emerge to your investor clients’ properties. Here are 10 things to discuss with your clients to help them prepare their properties to avoid costly losses.

Cold Pipes

Water damage from a burst pipe is one of the easier water losses to prevent; a few simple steps go a long way in helping avoid this type of headache. To keep the property dry, invests should insulate pipes near exterior walls. Tenants can help prevent a burst pipe during cold snaps by opening cabinet doors below the sink and keeping faucets on a slow drip to keep the water flowing.

For vacant properties, the water should be shut off at the street and the system drained. If they don’t and the heater is knocked out during a storm, they could end up with a watery mess to clean up! The cost of a copper theft can also be greatly amplified if the water is on when a thief removes parts of the plumbing system. Heat should be maintained to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit as the temperature inside the walls will be even colder. They may need to set the thermostat even higher for climates that experience extreme freezes.

Cooking Fires

With tenants spending time around the table with their families during the holiday season, more cooks in the kitchen means more fires. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas rank highest for cooking fires. How can your investors keep tenant chefs safe and save their investment from a costly fire?

Maintain working smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms cut fire deaths in half, reports the National Fire Protection Association. Connected alarms are particularly effective as when one alarm sounds, all alarms sound, alerting the occupant(s) no matter what part of the house they are currently in. (Also keep in mind that working and maintained smoke detectors are required for all properties in the REInsurePro Program. Download this Smoke Detector Maintenance Log template below can be given to your clients to help track that they are keeping smoke detectors operable in a timely manner.)

Fire extinguishers should also be placed throughout the home. These however, must be maintained so they are ready for use – simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions. BC or ABC extinguishers can be a good choice as they put out a variety of types of fires. Tenants may need a crash course on how to use them properly too.

Install a fire suppression device like StoveTop FireStop (stovetopfirestop.com). This product is an inexpensive solution to reduce the damage caused by cooking fires. It may even put out a fire before the cook has time to grab a lid or standard extinguisher. When activated, extinguishing powder is released from the device onto the stove, while the “pop” of the can opening alerts the distracted cook to return to the kitchen to turn off the burners.

Pro Tip: Cooking should not be allowed in the garage, close to the house or on decks, and Turkey Bombs (frozen turkeys put into hot grease) may be exciting but are extremely dangerous to those watching the show.

Higher Usage of Electricity or Natural Gas

The cost of heating a home in the colder months can tempt some to choose more dangerous methods of staying warm in their home. Using an oven or space heaters as an “alternative” heating source can result in a costly fire. How can investors keep tenants from making this dangerous substitution?

First and foremost, the heating system should be in good working order and the house should be properly insulated. Is it time for a furnace tune-up? Windows needing to be re-sealed? Doors needing to be adjusted so they don’t let a draft through? If they stay on top of preventive maintenance, tenants may be less likely to think of using the stove or oven to heat the house.

The lease should include language prohibiting the use of ovens as a heating source for the house and the dangers should be discussed with the tenants. The extended use of a gas oven can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, while keeping an electric oven on a high temperature for hours on end is both inefficient and dangerous.

If space heaters are allowed, they should still not be used as the primary heating source in the house. Any space heater in use should be newer and equipped with safety features such as auto-shut-off if knocked over. Space heaters should never be used with an extension cord but plugged directly into the outlet. Lastly, they should keep a 3-foot safety zone around the heater; never leave heaters unattended or running overnight.

Piled up Logs in the Fireplace

If the property contains a fireplace, make sure it’s safe to use each year! The fireplace and chimney should be professionally inspected before use each fall. Investors should install a spark-arresting screen or glass doors to prevent embers from catching rugs, drapes or furniture on fire. Tenants should also keep a radius of 3 feet around the fireplace clear of any items that can burn.

Lint Build-Up in the Dryer Lint Trap & Exhaust Vents

Colder weather means bulkier clothing to wash and dry, causing lint to build up more quickly on the lint screen and in the dryer exhaust vent. Though tenants should clean out the lint trap between each load of laundry, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to maintain the exhaust vent. These should be cleaned at least once a year but should definitely be on their checklist for routine inspections. Keeping the lint screen and exhaust vent clean will keep the dryer from overheating and burning up the tenant’s clothing and potentially, your client’s entire investment.

Smoke Breaks Inside the House

Whether smoking is allowed on the premises is up to each investor, but they should be aware that cooler weather can drive smokers indoors for their smoke break. Landlords should be sure to spell out their smoking policy clearly in the lease and enforce it through routine inspections.

For rehabs, the owner should have policies for smoking, as contractors may decide to smoke in “unfinished areas” thinking it won’t affect their final product. Cigarette smoke can easily saturate carpets and unfinished sheetrock. Sawdust is the perfect kindling for a fire and can go up in flames quickly. Smoking shouldn’t be allowed inside a rehab and the GC should be held accountable for keeping a clean and safe jobsite.

Visitors (Both Welcome and Unwelcome)

More visitors may be coming and going from the property around the holidays. Investors should include in the lease and remind tenants of the policies regarding guests:

  •  Where guests should park.
  •  Instructions for out-of-town guests’ length of stay and when they will need to notify the landlord about long-term guests.
  •  Confirmation of who is responsible for any damage a guest does to the property or any injuries a guest may sustain while the tenant is hosting them. (An important reason to require renters’ insurance!)
  •  Who is responsible for clearing walks and driveways during inclement weather. (Walkways and driveways should be free of trip hazards like uneven pavement and that guardrails are secure.)

For vacant properties, keeping out unwanted visitors (like thieves) will help prevent many types of disasters from a fire, to water damage, to spray paint on the walls. Boarding up or securing properties that aren’t being actively rehabbed or on the market for sale is a must. Beyond that, keeping the property tidy to onlookers (yard kept up, no junk mail cascading from the mailbox) will help deliver a message that someone may come to check on it at any minute. Investors can use neighbors as a second set of eyes when they aren’t around. Layering the security system with proper lighting, door and window reinforcements and an alarm are crucial too. The simple message: make the property look as lived-in as possible, check on it frequently and make it challenging for a would-be-thief to break in.

Slippery Sidewalks and Driveways

One of the most common liability claims we see are from slip-and-fall injuries. These can result in anything from a broken toe to paralysis. To help your clients avoid becoming the defendant in a lawsuit, urge them to:

  •  Repair any uneven pavement surrounding the house: sidewalks, pavers and driveways.
  •  Make sure all guardrails and handrails are in place and secure. Guards are generally required for ramps, stairs or landings above 30 inches, but someone can be injured quite severely when falling from a lesser height, so they should err on the side of caution, and always follow any local codes.
  •  Specify in the lease who is responsible for clearing walks in inclement weather.

Weather-Beaten Roofs and Siding

Fall thunderstorms, excess snow and ice dams can all spell big trouble for a foundation, cause water damage to the interior or even a full roof collapse. To fortify the exterior, property owners should:

  •  Replace missing shingles, repair nail pops and seal around roof vents.
  •  Fight ice dams by correctly insulating your attic: seal any leaks, install correctly-rated insulation and properly vent your roof.
  •  Remove excess snow before it can cause a roof collapse. Newer, pitched roofs are usually able to handle more snow than older roofs or those with minimal pitch. Wetter snow is also heavier; even a foot of snow may be too heavy of a load, so err on the side of caution.
  •  Seal up any cracks in the foundation, space around vents, gaps under doors or near windows, and holes for electrical, plumbing and other utility lines. This will help with heating efficiency as well as keep any pests from entering the property.
  •  Don’t forget the paint! Keeping up on this simple task can prevent you from having to spend money on additional repairs – like wood rot!

Gutters Full of Leaves

Leaves stacking up in the gutters can lead to drainage issues for the foundation and even water damage inside the house. A thorough gutter cleaning is necessary several times a year, but a cursory check can easily be performed during regular inspections.

The first step for investors in preventing any damage or injury at their property is educating themselves about potential hazards. The next step is to take action, and you as their agent can help!