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Utilities are one of the biggest expenses for apartment communities. And with inflation pushing the price of utilities to record-highs, it’s even more important that you’re keeping these expenses to a minimum.
Luckily, the right utility management strategies will not only help you keep costs down, but present an opportunity to bring in added revenue. Before that can happen, you need to assess every aspect of your utility program. Because most companies usually have a few areas that need improvement. Here are the most common mistakes that result in apartment operators spending more than they should on utilities.
#1 Including utilities in the price of rent
The worst mistake you can make with utilities is including them in the price of rent. That’s because you aren’t recouping money to match your actual expenses. Plus, residents don’t receive any kind of utility bill, which does not give them any motivation to conserve.
Another problem with including utilities in the rent is that it’s difficult to raise rent and remain competitive with other apartment communities. With rents rising so steeply over the past year, apartment residents are more sensitive than ever to rent prices. A “utilities-included” model can scare away some prospective renters if other communities in the area charge for utilities and have lower rent.
#2 Charging a flat fee for utilities
Charging a flat fee is also a risky move since utility costs fluctuate. And lately, they only seem to be going up. Your fee has to be high enough that you aren’t losing money, but you also can’t overcharge either. In some states, overcharging for utilities is illegal.
#3 Neglecting inefficient features that waste energy and impact NOI
When your buildings are not energy efficient, it hurts your business in two ways. One is that you use more energy which ultimately means higher expenses (and lower NOI).
The other way is that it could detract renters. An ACEEE study found that not only were renters more likely to visit communities that advertised energy efficiency, they were also willing to spend a little more on rent. On average, renters would increase their budget by 1.8% for a one-unit increase in energy score (on a scale from 1 to 10). That generates $400 per unit in additional annual revenue for an average-priced rental unit.
#4 Overlooking important utility metrics
Monitoring data associated with utilities is one of the most effective ways to improve your overall utility program. But many multifamily companies don’t do this at all or to its fullest potential.
However, by not actively monitoring utility data, you are missing opportunities to reduce your expenses and improve revenue. Plus, many cities and states are enacting laws requiring multifamily buildings to annually assess and report their energy performance. Like it or not, reviewing utility data is more important than ever.
#5 Paying utility bills without auditing them
Many companies simply check the balance due amount before issuing a payment. That strategy can result in a mountain of unnecessary charges. According to studies done by Engie, one of the nation’s largest utility billing auditors, at least 17% of utility invoices contain an error. With all the invoices your firm receives, it’s likely many have errors that go unnoticed.
This is why utility billing audits are so important. With the help of utility expense management companies all of your utility bills are audited for errors and savings opportunities. When errors are spotted, the provider disputes the charges on your behalf until a resolution is achieved.
#6 Accumulating and paying late fees every month
Most utility invoices have a fairly short payment window. To further complicate things, sometimes your utility invoices don’t arrive at all, forcing your associates to track down what’s missing.
Because of these two scenarios, it’s easy to get dinged with late fees. That’s unfortunate, because they can really add up. Many utility companies assess fees that are equal to a 12-, 18-, 24-, or 36-percent annual interest rate. In other words, utility late fees are steep. And they add up in a major way. It’s vital to your NOI that utility invoices are always paid on time.
#7 Paying for renters’ utilities after they move in
Utility theft can cost property management companies thousands of dollars per year. Most of the time, this happens simply because renters forget to transfer utilities into their name. Whatever the reason, this miss can lead your company to pay thousands of dollars per year in charges that aren’t yours.
#8 Failing to monitor utility regulations for your states
Each state and municipality has different rules around handling utilities. So if you operate in different regions, it’s necessary to see what rules apply to each and every community in your portfolio.
The consequences for violating utility regulations can be costly. Most states levy fines on a per instance basis. So let’s say you’ve made a minor error in billing your entire 300-unit community. That’s 300 fines imposed – not 1!
#9 Overlooking the utility payment experience
How residents receive and pay for their utility charges is often an overlooked component of a utility management strategy. But if you aren’t taking into consideration how the process goes from a resident’s perspective, you could be damaging your bottom line.
In the short term, a poor payment experience can lead to late payments and frustrated residents, particularly if they need more clarity about their charges.
In the long run, a poor utility payment process could impact resident retention. When the payment process is inconvenient, or when residents don’t feel well-informed about what they owe, it impacts satisfaction since the situation is repeated month after month.
How to overcome utility management mistakes
If your company is making any of these mistakes, don’t worry. There are several easy strategies to get you back on track. Your best bet is to consult with a utility management provider that specializes in the multifamily industry. They can advise you on the most effective ways to tighten your expenses.