Monday, November 21, 2011

Alpine Property Management, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

I had been managing my property in Indiana long distance with the help of friends.  I decided to let a professional property management company do it to handle the headaches for me, to more easily find a tenant for me, and to be my eyes and ears at the property.

I reviewed several property management companies in Indianapolis and it appeared that Alpine had the best flexibility.  There wasn't a bunch of paperwork they wanted me to sign.  Other places seemed to be treating it like I was an employee of them and the contracts were structured that way.  Alpine's representative talked of being a handshake sort of business.

It turned out that  my experience with them was a nightmare.  Below I will detail the issues I have had with them and why I would recommend tenants and property owners look for a property management other than Alpine Property Management, LLC of Indianapolis, Indiana to do business with.  Their negligence has cost me hours of time and thousands of dollars (damages to the house and lost income from not presenting me potential tenants for several months).

Inaccurate Information and Poor CommunicationIt has been very difficult to get in communication with the staff at Alpine.  They are often very slow to respond to emails (as much as a week or more) and phones are generally not answered or calls returned.


As I recall, the first issue I had with them was with giving me accurate information about what they could do for me and how much it would cost, and communicating with me.

I had a tenant that I had been evicted before hiring Alpine Property Management, LLC.  They left a bunch of their personal items in my property.  The former tenant contacted me and wanted to get their items.  I contacted Alpine and asked if they could have someone there to let them in the house and observe them as they got their items.  Alpine's representative told me they could definitely do that for me and it would cost me $25.  I think she said $25 per hour.

I called the former tenant and told them they needed to be there at a certain time and they had one hour to get it done.  I did not want to spend a bunch of money when they had been given notice to get everything out by a time that had since passed and they still owed me thousands of dollars in rent and damages.

After I had already spoken to the tenant an Alpine representative called me and said they couldn't get any of their contractors to do it alone, so it would be $50 per hour, since there would be two of them there.  I had already told the former tenant we could do it and then I find out it will cost me more than what I was told when I agreed with the tenant to allow it.  In order to not have an issue with the previous tenant and just to get it done with I told Alpine to go ahead, after making them push their contractors harder to get one of them to go alone.

After I hung up with them I realized I forgot to tell Alpine to limit the former tenant to one hour.  I tried to get the Alpine representative I was working with on the phone.  She was a different person than I had been communicating with previously, since one was in charge of writing checks and the other was in charge of scheduling repairs or something like that.  I could not get her on the phone and the time was quickly approaching for the tenant to be there.  I finally called the first Alpine representative I had been working with and she said there was nothing she could do.  She said the other lady handled that sort of thing.  She had no way to contact the contractors or the lady that could.

It turned out the Alpine representative I was supposed to be working with was at home and it was her day off and she had just set things in motion on her day off.  In working with Alpine, it felt like all of them were people that worked part time from home.

I finally got her on the phone when it was all over.  It ended up costing me $57.50.  At first I thought it was because it took longer than an hour, but it is strange for a contractor to get that granular on the billing.  I would've expected 15 minutes increments.  I found out later that Alpine add 15% to invoices and keeps that for themselves.  This was never disclosed to me when I went over costs of their services with Alpine before hiring them.  I don't know if 15% is standard in the property management business, but it seems like a little excessive to me.

Inaccurate Information on Marketing the Property
Twice Alpine typoed the advertisement for the house.  I hadn't noticed it, because I had hired them to take the work off of me.  I finally went and looked and saw it was the wrong zip code, which meant that anyone searching for a house in my house’s zip code would not find it.


The second error I found later was that they listed that the house had three bathrooms instead of two.  How mad would someone be, who had three baths as an absolute criteria, if they were shown a home with only two.  If they didn’t mind the wrong number of bathrooms, it would still give a bad impression of the person who owns the property and their property management company.  It could potentially leave them not trusting us.


When I hire a property management company to find me a tenant, I don't expect to have to proofread the advertisements they are distributing.



Unauthorized Work Being Done to My Property and Inattentiveness to Resolution
I had an invoice sent to me from Alpine that stated they had replaced the back door on the property. I had never authorized this, nor was I told there was an issue with the back door. When they fixed the door they also mowed the lawn. Alpine had already contracted another company to mow the lawn. That company charges $10 if they go by and the grass doesn't need mowed. So I was being charged for this contractor I hadn't authorized to mow the grass and again by the one I had, since it didn't need cut, but they went out to check anyway. If Alpine contracted someone else to mow the grass that one time, I expected that they would contact the other contractor that it didn't need it that time.


I told Alpine about the invoice and their representative asked me, "So you are not going to pay?" This was by email and I was stunned. No offer to make the situation right, just questioning if I was going to pay them or not. I called her and explained that I didn't feel I should have to pay for something I did not authorize. She said she didn't either, but didn't offer to do anything. Eventually she came around to that I didn't have to pay. I asked about the contractor and how this was going to effect my reputation with them, since I will need other work done on the house that I would authorize. She said they wouldn't know it was me, since Alpine schedules everything. They don't know my name, but they know the address and if I ask them to go to that same address. She said that they do enough business with the contractor that they will not hassle if Alpine stiffs them on the bill.


With that resolved I was still frustrated by the poor communication and service I was getting from Alpine. I expressed my concern to the Alpine representative and she told me that there are a lot of property management companies out there and if I didn't like the job they were doing, I was not bound to stay with them. Seriously? This is the answer that a representative of their company gives to clients? Especially when that representative is the VP of Operations.  She seemed uninterested in resolving the error that had happened by someone in Alpine's employ until I pressed the issue and then tells me I can take my business elsewhere if I don't like it.


It turns out I should've done just that. I was hesitant, since I had researched other property management companies and I wasn't sure it was going to be better somewhere else. It just seemed like it was going to be more hassle and paperwork and perhaps turning more control of my properties to them.


One of the reason's I needed a property management company was the market the property, so shifting back to doing it myself I thought was going to be a problem. Nonetheless, I started marketing the property in addition to what Alpine was doing. I listed on Craig's List and within a couple of weeks I got a hit. I turned the potential tenant's contact information over to Alpine. I had to chase Alpine every step of the way to get feedback on what the status of that potential tenant was.



Slowly and Inaccurately Reporting Problems with the Property

After a while of showing the house Alpine reported to me that there was a musty smell in the house. I had told them previously that there was a sump pump in the yard and we have had trouble with it getting unplugged or the GFI plug in the kitchen popping and shutting off the pump, since the sump pump is on the same circuit. I asked them to check the status of the pump. When the musty smell was reported Alpine asked if I would be willing to put in a dehumidifier in the basement. I told them no, since I had had no issues in the years that I had lived there and asked again for them to check the status of the pump.


I finally asked Alpine to send me the new key to the house since I had had them change the locks. They did and also gave me the code to the lock box. I gave the code to a friend of mine and had him go check out the smell. He said their was definitely a smell in the house. He said that someone had used the toilet and since the water service was shut off it just sat there.


First of all, the agent showing the house can't tell the difference between the smell of old urine and the smell of a musty basement? Certainly this would put off potential tenants looking at the house. I assume this inaction on Alpine part probably made it take longer to rent the house. As I said, the primary reasons I needed them was to be my eyes and ears to make sure their was nothing wrong with the house and to accurately tell me what the issue was if there was something wrong and additionally to market and show the property to get a new tenant in as soon as possible.



Damage Caused By Alpine's Poor Communication

My friend also found that the sump pump was indeed unplugged. Someone had removed the plug entirely. Because of this water was getting into the basement and causing mold problems. When Alpine found a tenant, they wanted the mold problems taken care of, which Alpine subsequently billed me for. When I told them that the damage was their fault the representative informed me that she and her boss had agreed that I needed to find another property management company. They then deducted the amount of the mold bill from the security deposit that they had been delaying sending to me.


Alpine had just signed a lease in Alpine's name with the new tenant a month previous. I would have dumped Alpine sooner had I known that I could have the tenant sign another lease in my name.


Making Tenants Uneasy and Making Me Look Bad

After over a week of trying to get Alpine to respond to me on what to do since the lease was in their name, I contacted the tenant and let them know that I was parting ways with Alpine.

The tenant expressed relief in hearing from me. He expressed that communicating with Alpine had been very difficult for him.

The tenant said that he had reported issues about the house and Alpine seemed to be ignoring them.

My tenant was wondering what they had gotten themselves into in renting from me because of the behavior of Alpine in not communicating with them.


Month After Month No Tenant Was Presented to Me For Approval
I went months without any tenants being brought to me by Alpine and no communication as to how the search was going.

As I stated earlier I finally took marketing the property into my own hands. I listed on Craig's List and a week or so later I got an inquiry via email. After having given Alpine the name of a potential renter from Craig's List and having to chase them for status updates on what was happening, I removed Alpine's phone number from the ad and had a friend of mine field the calls and do showings. After that I discovered a listing service on Facebook. I listed there and with a day I had a couple of inquiries on the property.

Conclusion
I could've scheduled work to be done on the house myself and would've had I known about Alpine's 15%. All I needed them to do was keep an eye on the place, let me know of issues, and find a tenant.

Even though they ended up signing a tenant right before I did, my search was a few weeks and theirs was months.

Alpine was completely incompetent at watching the place and communicating to me.

My recommendation if you are managing a property long distance is to skip the property management company and:
  • Utilize the internet and social networking to list the property.
  • Get a local friend to do the showings or offer a real estate agent a finder's fee. A real estate agent may be able to list the rental in the MLS.
  • Have the friend or real estate agent give you feedback on each showing.
  • Schedule maintenance work yourself and have a friend or real estate agent let the workers in the house and verify the work done.

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