Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.
I went to change the air filter on the heater while visiting The Overlook recently.
Normally, there's an extra filter on hand to make this an easy chore, but I discovered I hadn't re-ordered filters the last time I'd used one. So I drove into town to buy one, but the size I needed was out of stock at both hardware stores in Idyllwild.
(Side note, I'm a big fan of Idyllwild's True Value, Forest Lumber. They pack a lot of merchandise into a small store, and the friendly staff are always very helpful.)
In the end I had to order a new filter online and have it delivered to our property manager for installation later that week.
Changing the air filter was a minor hassle this time. It was also a terrific reminder that I had fallen out of habit of doing something very important: using a checklist.
Here's how a checklist is (usually) a timesaver at The Overlook, and why you should be using them, too.
Using a PM Checklist
When my wife, Sally, and I first bought The Overlook in October 2016, we created a preventative maintenance (PM) checklist.
Our plan was to use the checklist when inspecting the cabin on our regular visits. It would help us remember what to inspect while identifying some maintenance items that had to be done on occasion. We've updated the checklist as we've discovered new requirements or added a new feature, like a game room.
We've found the checklist to be extremely useful.
There's been some minor maintenance to be done each time we've visited the cabin, which is usually once every six weeks. Glasses are missing, lightbulbs are burned out, guests leave personal items in drawers, furniture has been moved, you name it.
The PM checklist also contains a lot of helpful reminders, such as pumping the septic tank, trimming trees, and checking our propane consumption. We also use it to identify when to re-order supplies such as spare glasses, dishes, lightbulbs, and cleaning supplies.
Forming a Bad Habit
We've strayed away from using the checklist during the past few months. The excuse was busyness.
A day trip to the cabin in September was a whirlwind of chores. We returned in October, but storm knocked the power out and put a damper on our plans. Another trip the first weekend in December was nice, but there was also a long list of chores that needed to be done.
In hindsight, these were precisely the times when a checklist would have been handy. It would have helped me remember to order new air filters for our heater or inspect the piping under the spa deck (see photo). I allowed myself to get so busy focusing on whatever task was right in front of me that I neglected to follow our own procedure.
Fortunately, the only fallout was a little wasted time from not having replacement air filters on hand. I know it could have been worse, such as a frozen pipe!
We'll definitely be using our PM checklist on the next visit.
Build Your Own Operations Checklist
A checklist is great to have if there's something you want people to inspect or a list of chores you want people to do on a regular basis.
Retail shops use them for opening and closing the store.
Contact centers use them when evaluating phone calls.
A home repair technician uses them to inventory parts on the truck.
A mechanic uses them when inspecting your vehicle.
Restaurants use them for cleaning the kitchen.
There are probably multiple ways to build a PM checklist. Here's how we built ours.
Start with an initial walk-through.
Capture any items to add to your checklist.
For the first few times you use it, identify any needed adjustments.
Review and update the checklist periodically, at least once per year.
Another consideration is how people will access the checklist. This should be a function of who is using it, when they're using it, and where they're using it.
For example, you've probably seen an inspection checklist posted in a public restroom. This makes it very easy for the janitorial crew to identify what needs to be cleaned or inspected, and mark down the work that has been done.
We keep our PM checklist on a Google Doc, so it's easy for either of us to pull it up on an iPad and update it as we walk around the house.
A Final Reminder
Our experience taught us that it's easy to use busyness as an excuse to stop doing things the right way. In the long run, not using the checklist cost us more time than it saved.