or LinkedIn here http://uk.linkedin.com/in/tonysmiththathousingitguy
Like death, taxes and divorce, voids are pretty much a fact of life in housing. If I had £50 (or around €63 in southern Ireland) for everyone who has ever told me voids were 'black magic' or a 'nightmare', I would have a fair contribution to my self invested personal pension by now. But, why is it such a mystery and why does IT systems not sort it all out for us?
I have worked with many organisations over the years to review, set up, implement better use of ICT for void management, including recently improved void KPI reporting.
The issue is that a lot of the people flogging void systems out there are providing fragmented or needing to be configured solutions. So it's not an "Out of the box" type job. Still, let's look at it all from a John Seddon type perspective. what are we really looking to do?
Looking at what happens in reality, most tenants give 28 days (or similar period of) notice of vacating your property. Some abscond or they may be forced out by an executed NTQ however. The first point of call is generally a voids inspection. Most systems support this and very small organisations (200 properties or less), may even track this on a whiteboard in the office. If you manage 1,000 units or more and your voids/repairs team are using one, I would pop down to ask that team, why a system is not being used. Without a system, KPI reporting is problematic and time consuming, also prone to being detached from true elemental data.
Key dates are crucial. When notice was provided/abscond occurred, where pre-inspection picked up, void inspection completion, request of works, repair completion, available for letting date, match & offer date, tenancy start date. If you are using your internal workflow and tasking properly, tasking tray should rattle when (or just before) needed, in your users email inboxes.
Total void duration generates an asset charges void loss. IE a real loss of rental income. Systems that reduces this loss are always a good thing. Opportunities to carry out the void inspection as close to the resident giving notice can really assist here. In fact, many organisations I have worked with offer incentives, for residents to allow non disruptive void works in advance of leaving. £200 may be a great investment to halve void loss.
A decent use of asset management systems will detect those 'structural changes' that might have occurred throughout the tenancy. Now that might be a randomly fitted shower, a missing wall or a cannabis farm in the loft. Happily, regardless of what the Daily Mail suggests, the latter is pretty rare in social housing. Is your organisation practically capable of doing those kind of checks? A great idea I have seen some organisations utilise, is a short void video, maybe only 30 seconds or so, can show much about a property. A useful tool for easing Choice Based Letting & CHR take-ups, also for comparison when that tenant vacates. Hopefully, your tenants will have been informed on sign-up of what's permissible. IE curtain rails = good, removing supporting walls = bad, and that charges could be levied. Your asset management module may also track condition of white goods, meter readings etc.
This might now be an opportunity to complete any previously refused planned works, such as full rewire, kitchen, bathrooms etc. While this may extend the void period and necessitate recoding as a major void, it could increase desirability or rental income, if reclassified as a different type of let. Structured assessment of costs is an important element of this. It's possible that the void might be more valuable to us sold. Many RSLs set a threshold cost on voids and may consider sale if exceeded. Voids may well feed into any 'Living Will' planning. More details on that here - http://tonysmiththathousingitguy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/living-wills-in-box.html
If you are lucky enough to have an internal contractor team and 20% VAT savings are available, be sure to measure that properly against local or national contractors, for accurate benchmarking. Be sure to use appropriate scheduling and mobile software to correctly sequence void works, thus further giving the potential for best use of trade operatives and other resources. It always amazes me, that a number of DLO's are afraid to measure performance/costs accurately. That is very prone to a board challenge, without facts, it is extremely difficult to challenge. I have always found facts my friends, opinions are for down the pub. More on DLO Contractor software here - http://tonysmiththathousingitguy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/model-dlo-workers.html
Have you enough reporting to identify outlying voids. IE Ones taking more than 10 weeks. it's not enough just to report and document them. What are the reasons for these, is anyone responsible to turn these around faster or reduce numbers of these in the future?
After repair works are completed, how do you monitor what factors determine "Available for letting"? Can your system assist you in this task? If a new repair is logged after start of the new tenancy, related to works in the void, how easy is it to track those failures? E.G. faulty ventilation.
So, how well does your housing applications and systems assist and support your voids team in turning them around within your target KPI time and communicating status changes to others in the organisation? While in most HMS systems, set up of void monitoring takes far longer than writing the address and some dates on a whiteboard, it does promote visibility for the wider organisation. getting your voids team to think of the big picture, rather than in their silo, will generate better performance for all.
Who knows, maybe rather than voids being a problem area, you can learn to love your voids!
Read on to, the Twitter RSLs just doing 9-to-5... :
Siouxsie and the banshees - Live In A Void.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk 07854-655009
PS As usual, if there are subjects you might like me to tackle on this blog, please get in touch and let me know!
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