By Laura Schlereth
A property is a complex thing to manage. So much of what a property needs depends on seasonal change, lifetime of materials, weather, etc. Because needs change on a regular basis, many property managers consider contracting a maintenance staff rather than hiring one full-time. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, and it takes a solid assessment of your property and its needs to decipher which option is best.
Here’s what you should consider when deciding between contracting a maintenance staff and hiring one full-time:
Janice Pynn, executive vice president of Simerra Property Management Inc. in Toronto, says contract work is most definitely the less expensive option.
"Employer/employee relationships are costly," she says. "There are a lot of costs associated with payroll, employer contributions, health tax, pension, unemployment, insurance, uniforms, benefits, overtime, replacement coverage, legal costs to prepare employee contracts, etc."
She says there’s also more risk involved with a full-time staff member if you decide to terminate them.
"An employee can sue an employer for wrongful dismissal whether they have a case or not," she says. "They may not be successful, but the cost to defend yourself will still be incurred."
Also, because a full-time staff usually has only general maintenance capabilities, specialty work would require costly training, Pynn adds. Then there’s also the costly risk of a novice not handling something properly the first time, which would then require additional work to correct any mistakes, she says.
Clayton Fitzsimmons, owner of Fitzsimmons Realty Services, based in Ottawa, says he trusts his full-time maintenance staff to do minor repairs and miscellaneous painting and patching. But when it comes to more skilled work of the trades, such as extensive remodeling, electrical or plumbing work, he contracts it out to certified professionals who are licensed and insured. Fitzsimmons doesn’t hire tradesmen full-time due to the size of his portfolio, he does not have enough maintenance to justify the overhead of having certain trades on staff full-time, and the work is not always consistent to keep them busy. For the same reason, he also contracts out seasonal work, such as landscaping in the summer and snow plowing in the winter.
Fitzsimmons says combining the two different types of staffing can be helpful in some situations. For example, when a substantial repair is needed in a kitchen or bathroom, he’ll have his full-time staff do any necessary cleaning or ripping out of materials to make the job easier for a contracted plumber to get to, which saves time on the more expensive contracted work.
Dennis Villeneuve, vice president and general manager of property management at Barclay Street Real Estate Ltd., in Calgary, Alta., says the larger the property is, the more likely that you will be able to use skilled tradesmen full-time. However, it takes close examination of your property demands and budget to decide what’s truly cost-effective.
Pynn says building occupants usually view their property management as a "seamless operation," and they don’t generally pay attention to who is full-time and who is contracted.
Villeneuve says most occupants aren’t as concerned with maintenance workers being contracted or full-time as they are with having a 24-hour staff, especially when it comes to security or highly inconvenient issues, such as a broken toilet. Knowing this possibility, it’s important to note which type of staff—contracted or full-time—can provide the 24-hour service. He adds that sometimes salaried staff can provide the property manager with more direct and immediate control over the quality and level of service the employee can offer.
When choosing which work to contract out and which to bring on full-time, Villeneuve says it’s not only important to be cognizant of your operating costs, but also to know exactly what you want from your staff. Once you’ve outlined what you need and what you can afford, you can staff your property as you see fit.