Zach Howell entered the maintenance industry like many: needing a job, with no multifamily experience, and no tools of his own. Now, several years later, Zach’s tool box is overflowing with on-site experience and a finite knowledge of what it really takes to keep a property’s largest asset running smoothly: practiced skill and a great attitude.
Back in the day, he and his wife, Becky were hired to manage and maintain a 231-unit complex, built over five phases, with every imaginable thing going wrong at any moment. Zach had always considered himself a fairly adept handyman…until this property proved him wrong. This trial-by-fire method of learning lasted twenty months before Zach could finally look around and say with confidence, that he had made a real difference and had managed and showcased this property’s best assets. He vowed to take this sense of pride and accomplishment to his next job.
It was at this next location that Zach began the process of being mentored by a true maintenance guru and came to understand the true meaning of “expert.” This guy could do ALL his own repairs! He didn’t have to hire other “professionals” because he was the expert others came to for advice. Under the tutelage of this master, Zach’s skill set began to expand and grow from simple repairs to complex diagnosis, maintenance operations, financial management and NOI manipulation. After three years of training, Zach was offered the worst property in a portfolio spanning three states. Most people would have seen this as a demotion, but not Zach. He looked at the disaster as an opportunity to prove what he could do and see if the techniques he’d learned could work anywhere, on any property. Within fourteen months, the property was number one in NOI for the entire company and Zach coined himself “Lord of the Lost Causes.”
Zach was soon ready for a new challenge and went to work overseeing the maintenance operations of a residential housing portfolio for a large development firm. This position opened up a whole new world to Zach; one of architects, engineers, contractors, political players, and financial institutions. Along his journey, he began to think about how he had been able to move up so quickly in the multifamily industry. He realized that it was the training and mentorship that he’d received from his maintenance master that had made all the difference. Zach wanted to pay it forward and began his new journey into training and education.
Zach believes that anyone can learn the proper techniques to be successful if they are given the right training and leadership:
“My passion is showing others tried and true techniques that I know work in the field, because I’ve used them myself. The diagnosis, repair and operational nuances of the multifamily industry are not hereditary or genetically passed on; they are learned and must be practiced. Most daily challenges are not intuitive and no matter how long your maintenance tech scratches their head, the solution will not likely come. But once they are taken through the challenges to the end result and have a mentor explain how and why things are done, then that technician will now have a whole new world open up to them.
“Multifamily is one of the few industries where training is left to chance. Many technicians are thrown onto properties with little to no experience and expected to perform at a high level. We try to recruit individuals who are part electrician, plumber, appliance repairman, HVAC tech, pool man, locksmith, painter, contractor, inventory tracker, customer service guru, fair housing specialist, time management expert, then expect to entice this individual with a 10.00-15.00 per hour position, offering no upward mobility, professional development, training or career path.
“Our industry is at a crossroads. We can no longer have these expectations. The days of hiring any random guy to knockout work orders and paint vacant units are behind us. We are handing these low-paid employees the keys to a multimillion dollar asset and giving them free reign over the largest part of the operating expense budget.
“I am a big believer that you should hire for attitude and train for skill. The problem is who will train these great positive self-starters how to perform maintenance duties properly? This is where AMI comes in.
“We have designed a series of training programs designed for maintenance technicians with any level of expertise, from beginners to advanced- who might just need a few brush-up techniques. We also have customized programs so you receive the training you need throughout your career.
Our instructors and faculty are here to answer any and all maintenance questions, so don’t forget to check out the “Ask Zack” section where your maintenance question might be chosen for our next webisode!”
Zach Howell holds a Psychology degree from Oregon State University. He is a nationally Certified Apartment Maintenance Technician and Uniform Physical Condition Standards inspector, carrying more than a decade of experience within the multifamily housing, development, and construction industries. Zach is LEED Certified and a valued advocate for the Apartment Maintenance trade, serving as Subject Matter Expert for the National Apartment Association, Training Director for the Apartment Maintenance Institute, and a Community Education Faculty Member at Portland Community College. In addition, he is a nationally certified trainer and consults regionally with MMHA, NAHMA, NMHC, IREM, RHA, and is the Chair of the NW Maintenance Coalition.