Welcome to another Innovation Spotlight! Throughout this series, we hope to connect you to the latest trends, innovations, and some of the biggest thought-leaders in the property management industry.
Today, we're excited to share our conversation with James Alderson of MyWalkThru. He is the founder and creator of this app that replaces the inventory and condition form used by tenants to document the condition of your rental property after move-in. Our Senior Consultant Blais Case began working with James about seven years ago through a company called OnSight PROS, where he first became involved in property management.
Our conversation today focuses on how MyWalkThru is saving time and money for property managers while also giving tenants better peace of mind.
Blais: Welcome, James! Tell us a little about yourself.
James: I am a property manager in TX. When we create a property management business, we basically create a job for ourselves.
But, I did not want another job in addition to my work at OnSight PROS. Just to be clear, I want things off of my plate. I also don't want to be a bad property manager.
In TX, we have what's called the “inventory and condition form,” as you mentioned. We say to the tenants, "Mr. Tenant, we’ve done our move-in inspection. This is your opportunity to protect your security deposit." In my case, OnSight PROS does my move-in inspection for me. At the end of the lease, OnSight PROS is going to come in and do a move-out inspection.
If it truly is there when they moved in, (and we have all heard “It was like that when I moved in.” or “I left the home better than I found it.”), this is the tenant's opportunity to prove it.
Blais: James has an app called MyWalkThru. It replaces the "inventory and condition" form. It's a small document, but a crucial document.
I have gone through it on the make-ready side where you get a property, and they don’t hand you the inventory and condition form. Good luck doing your make-ready when you can’t decipher what was done before and after that tenant moved in and out.
His app solves a lot of problems:
- The guarantee that it went out.
- The guarantee that the tenant received it.
- The timestamps of when the tenant turned it back in or if they did not turn it back in.
- It will also alleviate your staff from having to chase down this little six-page form down.
Once it is out, it is on the tenant. When they complete it, it gets back to your staff. If they don't complete it, you are notified. I am going to let James talk about the app, what it does, and why he came up with it.
James: The app addresses a lot of the problems you have with the current paper form. By the way, we only receive about 30% to 40% of the inventory and condition forms back from tenants. They are excited about moving into a new place, etc. The form gets lost or thrown in a box and thrown into the trash. The tenant forgets about it.
Blais: My favorite one was getting it [the inventory and condition form] back three or four months later—after the tenant broke something.
James: Well, this only happens in TX, maybe only with my tenants, but the tenant does not tell the truth. True story, I had a tenant put on her inventory and condition form that there were stains on her carpet. I caught it and asked her to do me a favor. You put that there are stains on the living room carpet and that’s brand new carpet. Would you take a photo of that and send it to me? She responded saying that there were no stains on the carpet now, but there will be when I move out.
Tenants will play the game. I had another tenant tell me that he always puts “knife marks in the countertops” because he knows there’s going to be knife marks when he moves out.
So, I wanted to figure out a way to offset that in our business. The only way is with technology. The way technology is today, this app solves these problems, in my opinion. You [the property managers] set up the app. I could make this app available all over the world, but my heart is in property management. I want you as the property manager to be able to make money on this app. The reason I say that is because if I made this available to everyone, it would be a $19.95 product. What I have done in my business is I have increased my admin fee or my onboarding fee because this is a value you add to your business.
The app replaces the inventory and condition form and addresses all the problems I just told you about. When you set them up as a tenant in the particular property, a code goes out to the tenant. They can actually download the app from the Google Play store or the Apple app store. Either way, it works with both products.
They can't use it to start because they do not have the username and password. You as the property manager set them up as a tenant in a particular property and they're automatically sent the username and password. They will receive an email and a text with this information. The reason we did a text as well is that sometimes email goes into spam. They receive this information, and I give them three days [to complete it] in my business. I’ve seen as little as two days up to two weeks are given to complete this form. I think you can tear up a house in three days.
The tenant will receive an email and a text every day that you give them to complete the inventory and condition form reminding them (or nagging them, if you will) to complete this form. At the end of the third day or the timeframe, at midnight the report automatically submits back to the property manager—whether they have done a little bit, filled it out completely, or have not opened it—“We accept the property as documented.”
So when they say, “That was there when I moved in—" well, you didn't document it on your form. You didn't take a photo of it on your app. Or we hear, “I left it in better shape,” we now have proof documentation of the activity within the app.
When they get into the app, they only have three choices to mark, regardless if it is the living room floor, or the ceiling, or the paint. It's either N/A, No Issues, or if there is an issue the only other option they have is to take a photo of it. If they take a photo of something, they have to make a comment about it.
Blais: That is awesome. On the old form, the tenant would just write "chipped paint" or all that mumbo jumbo with no photos to back it up. Now you are staring at a six-page document with little lines to write on, trying to read what the tenant wrote. Now they have to take that photo of the chipped paint and write that it is chipped.
James: When the report comes back to the property manager, it comes back in a format that is very easy to follow. If you are using OnSight PROS, you can see that format is almost identical. This makes it really easy when you do the itemization for the security deposit return. All of these photos are date stamped. A tenant asked if they could upload photos that they have on their phone, and the answer is "no." They have to take the photo within the app. This prevents them from uploading photos they took months ago or of a different home.
The app requires them to take a photo of the water shut-off valve, of the A/C filter and notate the size, and the number of keys and remotes they received. All of that is a document that comes back to you as the property manager. It is in one single PDF report that you can move where you need to be.
Blais: I think it is a great creation. I can't tell you how many times we bash our heads against the wall because the inventory and condition form was just awful. Either the tenant completely fabricated it, or they didn't fill it out.
The worst form I've had was the property that we acquired where they didn't do a move-in or move-out inspection. All we had was the inventory and condition form. We had no way to know what was really damaged or not. You were better off spinning a wheel to determine what was true or not. You are starting off this relationship with this owner. It's your first time to do a make-ready, and you have to tell them “hey, I can’t tell you if that stain was there or not, or if the paint on the wall was banged up.” I have no way of proving it, and I have to have 100% undisputed evidence that it was the tenant's fault to charge them.
James: Right. And one of the things we have been asked is if this replaces my move-in the inspection? As a property manager, I have to say "no." I want to set that benchmark. I don't want the tenant to set that benchmark. Even though the responsibility is on the tenant to prove anything they find, I still do not want that documentation to replace my move-in inspection.
Blais: It is a crucial thing. The property manager has to have their own move-in and move-out inspection. If they don't have a way of doing it, then they should call you. You have another company that can handle that side of the business. We will have to get you back on to discuss OnSight PROS. Regardless, if they are vending it out or doing it in-house, you as a property manager should be conducting move-in and move-out inspections. MyWalkThru solves a lot of the time spent trying to collect [the inventory and condition form]. I remember trying to chase tenants down, setting auto emails, and everything you can try to think of to collect the inventory and condition form. We were even to the point where we would send out a document acknowledging that they received that form and they had three days from the day their lease started to complete it and return it. This helped us fight the fight of “you never gave it to me.”
James: You bring up a good point, going to court. Now with those disputes, I have good documentation. I am not having to go to court anymore and here’s why: "Here is what it looked like when you moved in, Mr. Tenant. And here is what it looked like when you moved out."
By the way, all the photos that the tenant takes in MyWalkThru come up as a summary at the top of the report. This way, all of the items that are okay are at the bottom. This way everything shows up as a summary at the top of the report. So, if I have to fight a dispute, I put together a summary of the photos that came in with the summary of my move-in photos. I include the summary of the photos of my move-out, along with the summary of photos from MyWalkThru and send them to the tenants.
I say, "Here is my documentation along with your documentation. What am I missing here? If I am missing something, please send me more. If I am missing something, I am certainly available to discuss more about the security deposit dispute."
Blais: You make a really good point. I remember the last few years as I was overseeing the maintenance team, our disputes started to drop because we took better documentation. The biggest help was photos. Photos say 1,000 words. Having a photo usually just ends the discussion. They can sit there all day long writing you a novel email, bashing you about everything you did wrong and how they found the home this way. And you can send them that one photo and you’ll never hear from then again.
James: Not to mention, the bad reviews on Yelp and Google.
Blais: Put those photos on there if you want to go that route. I will post those move-in and move-out photos for us to discuss if you don't want to remove this review. I know there are some property managers that do that. That's a bulldog approach. We are looking at rolling out MyWalkThru to our clients here at Rent Bridge. It is a phenomenal application that can save time. Part of our company is being automated and speeding up your process. You have found a way to remove a pain point. It may not seem like it, but when you sit down, and you look at the business as a whole, people spend a lot of time trying to collect that form or spend a lot of time in the make-ready process because they didn't get it.
James: You can go to our website mywalkthru.com to check us out. My phone number is on there if you want to discuss this further with me. My email is James@mywalkthru.com. You can contact us to find out more about how to get started.