This is the first installment in a multi-part series on how to improve residential rental property profitability while using free and inexpensive off-the-shelf tools. Specifically, part 1 is about creating a repair request form that tenants can fill out to expedite the property maintenance notification process.
As a landlord, you have basic obligations that you must satisfy under the law. Property maintenance is one of those obligations. Maintaining a habitable and safe environment is not only legally mandated, but it’s first and foremost when it comes to providing excellent customer service. What better way to not only provide a great experience for your tenants, but to also stay on top of property maintenance than to provide them with a repair request form.
How the residential rental property series will shape up:
Part 1: How to create a repair request form for your residential rental property
Part 2: Integrating the data with a spreadsheet for easier record keeping
Part 3: Setting up a proxy phone number to mask your personal phone
Part 4: How to create a FAQ to answer repetitive questions tenants have
Part 5: Using chat as the foundation of the landlord-tenant relationship
Part 6: Why going digital today gets you a better tenant tomorrow
Part 7: Introducing automation
Ok, let’s get started
If at any point something doesn’t make sense, please reach out and let me know. I appreciate feedback and would be happy to help you out.
Step 1: Create a new form
Upon opening Google Forms, you will see this screen. Click on the red plus icon at the bottom right of the screen to create a new form.
If you are not new to Google Forms, you should see the current list of forms that you have in place of the “No Forms Yet” section.
Step 2: Name the form
You will want to give this form a unique name. I like to use the address of the property that this form will serve. For example – 100 First Avenue. If by some miracle you have properties in other towns/cities with the exact same address, then feel free to add the town/city to the name.
To be clear, the name is meant to make logical sense for you. That way, if you own multiple properties and repeat this process, you will know exactly which property it pertains to.
Step 3: Create a title
As you can see, what you named the form in Step 2 is automatically duplicated for the title of the form. The title is what your tenant(s) will see. We want that to be Repair Request Form.
Why? Because we want it to be clear to the tenant that they are about to make a repair request.
Step 4: Adding a description
Now showing up is Repair Request Form. That’s good. Next, we want to add a brief description that lets the tenant know what to do.
I like to include instructions on how to handle a true emergency, along with a phone number to call. You should probably spell this out in the rental agreement at the beginning of tenancy, but it’s always good to be redundant for such things.
And lastly, include a thank you. I know it’s minor, but a little courtesy goes a long way. Remember, this is a customer service business.
Step 5: Ask for the tenant’s name
The very first question you should ask for is the tenant’s name. This is true for a few reasons.
- It’s a good soft opening
- You will want to know who to contact to resolve the issue (if necessary)
- And, it’s good for record keeping in case any disputes, legal or otherwise come up
Step 6: Require the name input field
In the lower right hand corner of the input box, you will see a “Required” toggle. Turn it on. This will force the user to answer this question.
Also, I like to use the description feature because I like to add context to the questions that I am asking. I leave it up to you on this one.
Note – We aren’t worried about “response validation” – Is it possible for them to give a false answer? Sure. Don’t sweat it, it doesn’t do anyone any good and you would most likely figure it out anyway.
Step 7: Add a new question
Great, you made it through the first question. That wasn’t too bad, right?
Anyway, on the right side of the form, you should see a set of options. Select the gray plus icon to add a new question. It’s similar to the red plus icon and serves a similar function.
Step 8: Ask for contact information
Beyond asking for the tenant’s name, you will want to ask them for their contact information. This is where using the description comes in handy.
I prefer to ask tenants to give me their preferred method of contact, either email or phone number. Getting back to the customer focus mentality, I want to make it as easy possible for the tenant to enable me to do my job: maintaining the property.
I feel that the more wide open the lines of communication, the more likely I am to avoid an issue that is going to cut into my profit. Nothing feels worse than a, “I was going to tell you, but I was busy and I forgot to” scenario two to three months down the road.
Step 9: What needs to be repaired?
Though you can’t always trust a tenant’s assessment of the issue, it’s still a good idea to take their statement. It’s on you to triage the scenario and assign a priority for getting it resolved.
Prompting the tenant with examples is a great way to get their mind wrapped around a possible issue. If it’s straightforward enough, you may be able to save yourself some time.
Step 10: Test your form
I know what you are thinking, “Three questions … that’s it?”
For now, yes. The purpose of this is to teach you how to create the form. Next, we will cover integrating it with a spreadsheet for record keeping.
Ok, you want to test the form. At the top of the page, you should notice an eye icon. Clicking it will open up the form. Check it out to see if the questions are in the proper order, or if there are any errors with spelling or the copy itself.
Step 11: Your form is ready
Review the form. Things to watch for:
- Correct question order
- Spelling/Grammar mistakes
- Proper phone numbers
Note – Even I made a mistake in the image below. Can you spot it? I didn’t require “How can we contact you?” Proofreading is necessary.
Step 12: Delivering the repair request form
Hit send at the top of the screen to see your options.
Once the pop-up box opens up, you will see that you have three options to choose from:
- Email the repair request form (envelope icon)
- Send out a link to it (link icon)
- Embed it in a website (code icon)
Step 13: Email the repair request form
Do you have a primary tenant that you contact for all issues? Do you want every tenant at the premises to have the ability to submit an issue? These are questions that you need to have answers to at this point. Let’s assume every tenant will receive the form. Here are the steps.
- Enter in each tenant’s email address in the “To” field.
- Write a message that makes it clear as to who this email is coming from (property owner, manager, super, etc.)
- Hit send when you are done and ready to send the email
Note – There is a checkbox for including the repair request form in the email. Feel free to select it if you want the tenants to see the form immediately.
Step 14: Using a link to the form
A few reasons why you would want to copy and paste the link include:
- Listing the link on your property management website
- Posting the link via Social messaging – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – maybe you have created a Facebook group for your tenants.
- Sending the link from an another email address, one that is not associated with your Gmail (Google) account.
As to the last point, say you own the domain 100FirstAvenue.com for your property and/or LLC. You might have a email@example.com email address that you want your tenant’s in communication with.
There are many reasons why you may want to the share the link to the form. Do what is best for your business.
Note – There are many reasons to purchase a domain name that reflects the property/business entity that tenants write checks to every month, the primary of which is to build trust. If I am one of your tenants at 100 First Avenue, and you email me from firstname.lastname@example.org, I can be pretty sure that the communication is authentic. Just something to keep in mind.
Step 14b: Shortening the URL
If you are going to send a link, you might want to consider shortening the URL (the link). It just makes things a bit cleaner. Also included is a keyboard shortcut on a Mac for copying the link.
Step 15: Embedding the form in a website
Let’s revisit the idea of owning a domain for your property management business. Instead of owning a specific domain per property, maybe you own a domain that represents multiple residential properties, something like www.AwesomeCondos.com.
Using the embed function, you could place the code into a landing page that corresponds specifically with the property you set the repair request form up for. That landing page could look like this:
When tenants arrive at that address, they are prompted with the form that is specific to that property. It’s all a matter of personal preference in how you set everything up. Feel free to experiment.
You will want to copy and paste the code, just like in Step 14.
Step 16: Receiving repair requests
You’ve completed the form and you’ve either sent it to your tenants, or, you’ve embedded it on a website of your choosing. What’s next? The important part, receiving the actual repair requests.
Select the “Responses” tab that is available at the top of the form, next to “Questions”. A list will build out as repair requests arrive. Congratulations, you have accomplished what you set out to do, which was:
- Make it easy for tenants to request a repair
- Keep a list of the times that they did so
Step 17: Setting up email notifications when requests arrive
Opening Google Forms 6-12x per day is not a valuable use of your time as an investor, owner, or property manager. Selecting the three dots icon on the right will open up a menu that gives you useful options. Select “Get email notifications for new responses” from the list.
Selecting this option will send responses to your Gmail account that you are creating the Google Form with. You may want to consider forwarding responses to your gmail address if it is not the primary email address that you use for your property management business.
Note – Feel free to download or print the responses at year end for auditing purposes. Reviewing it may provide some useful data and insight.
Step 18: Tracking data in a spreadsheet (Google Sheets)
We will be covering this in the next article, but I wanted to show you where the link was in case you want to skip ahead and try it out for yourself.
Words of wisdom
- If you’ve done your job correctly, no one should be using this repair request form for showstoppers – things like fire, gas, or even a lack of heat in the winter time. Set up a protocol for how emergencies are to be handled early in a new tenancy
- Tailor the questions to suit your business needs.
- Always keep your copy concise and approachable. Better customer service = better profits.
And lastly, thank you very much for your time.
Part 2: Integrating the data with a spreadsheet for easier record keeping, will be next up in the series.
If you have any questions or want feedback on your progress, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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Landlords, brush up on your real estate knowledge by reviewing these real estate terms and definitions.