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.
It's sometimes tempting to dismiss problems when you find an easy explanation.
A few months ago, I received a call from the water department. The water meter reading for The Overlook was unusually high. Even worse, it appeared the meter was running when an employee took the reading.
The news wasn't initially too concerning. I had gotten the same call after the last billing period, only to discover the culprit was an error reading the meter. So perhaps another mistake had happened.
I also wasn't too worried about the meter running. The meter reader had noticed lights were on at The Overlook, and I verified with our property manager that a cleaning crew was onsite prepping the cabin for our next guests.
It seemed like the problem had been solved, but there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. What if there really was an issue?
In business, we often rely on others to get things done. It's important to trust our employees, colleagues, vendors, and contractors to do what they say they will do. It's equally important to verify it gets done.
The Broken Coffee Table
One of the services our property manager provides is inspecting The Overlook before and after guests stay with us.
The pre-arrival inspection is to make sure the cabin has been properly cleaned and everything is in good working condition. The post-departure inspection is intended to look for any potential issues, such as this broken coffee table. The guests had somehow broken the face off of the drawer (how, I have no idea) and did not report it. They simply left the broken piece for someone to find.
This is a trust, but verify system.
Our property manager generally trusts the cabin is fully cleaned and in good condition, but a final inspection just before guests arrive verifies it truly is. Likewise, our property manager generally trusts that guests will share any issues or concerns, but an inspection can sometimes reveal an unreported problem.
A Slow Leak
Let’s go back to our water issue. The water department re-checked the meter reading, just like last month. This time it was correct. We had somehow used four times as much water this billing period as we normally do.
Two of our toilets had recently been repaired. When I got the call from the water department, I quickly contacted our property manager and asked her to check on the cabin. In particular, I asked her to check out the toilets. Trust, but verify.
It's fortunate she did. One of the toilets had a small leak in the tank that caused it to constantly run, but the leak was so small you could easily miss it. The problem was immediately fixed once it was identified.
Set Up a Verification System
Managers have become so afraid of the dreaded micromanagement that they go too far in the opposite direction. They delegate without any follow-up.
Verifying work isn't micromanagement, it's validation. You can praise people when work is done correctly while having the peace of mind that everything is okay. And when something goes wrong, you have the opportunity to give feedback and help your team make any necessary corrections.
We have an inspection checklist we use each time we visit The Overlook. The cabin is a two hour drive from my home, but I try to go at least once every six weeks. Most of the time, I’m simply verifying our property manager is doing a terrific job maintaining the cabin and my feedback is, “The cabin looks great!”
However, there’s always something to improve or repair, and it’s easy for one person to miss something.
That’s why our checklist covers quite the gamut, from checking for leaks, looking for burned out light bulbs, checking dishes and glasses for damage, and making sure the furniture is in good condition. There are also preventative maintenance items, such as changing the furnace filter and treating the septic tank.
I did an extra inspection of the plumbing system the next time I visited after the toilet leak. The toilet appeared to be in good working condition, but I discovered some other issues. Pipes can freeze during the cold mountain winters, and I found two places where exposed pipes were uninsulated.
This one was on me. I thought I had insulated all of the exposed piping, but I clearly missed a couple of places. The lesson here is trust, but verify is helpful even with your own work. Having a system in place, even a simple checklist, can help you do that.