News & Research Listing

NAA Press Releases
NAA and NMHC Statement on Passage of COVID Relief Package

Arlington, VA | December 22, 2020 — National Apartment Association (NAA) President and CEO Bob Pinnegar and National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) President Doug Bibby issued the following statement on the passage of a roughly $900 billion  COVID relief package.

“NAA and NMHC congratulate Congressional leaders in both parties on the passage of a COVID relief package that will provide desperately needed support to millions of Americans who call an apartment home. We look forward to President Trump signing it into law.

“For the better part of a year, NAA and NMHC have been at the forefront of calling on policymakers to pass legislation which includes rental assistance as well as a number of other key priorities. While there remains much work to do in the coming weeks and months, this effort is clearly a step in the right direction and will come as welcome news for so many households facing financial distress. Importantly, this package includes:

  • $25 billion in dedicated rental assistance
  • $600 in direct stimulus checks
  • $300 per week in enhanced  unemployment benefits through March. Expiring unemployment programs for gig workers and long-term unemployed were also extended
  • $284billion for a second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan

“We are heartened that the legislation includes such critical resources that will allow those impacted by COVID and resulting economic distress to meet their financial obligations, including rent. Unfortunately, it also extends the current CDC eviction moratorium until January 31, 2021. Eviction moratoriums fail to address a renter’s underlying financial distress and do not address housing instability. The resources provided in this package, as well as future support that will need to be extended in 2021, are essential to addressing apartment residents’ financial challenges – not interminable moratoriums.

“NAA and NMHC will continue to work with policymakers on future legislation to ensure that residents and housing providers have the support necessary to allow for a sustainable and equitable recovery. As part of that recovery, targeted and limited liability protections for apartment firms will be a critical component of future COVID packages.”

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For more than 25 years, the National Apartment Association (NAA) and the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) have partnered on behalf of America's apartment industry. Drawing on the knowledge and policy expertise of staff in Washington, D.C., as well as the advocacy power of 155 NAA state and local affiliated associations, NAA and NMHC provide a single voice for developers, owners and operators of multifamily rental housing. One-third of all Americans rent their housing, and 40 million of them live in an apartment home. 

 

December 22, 2020
United States Capitol building dome against cloudy sky background with U.S. flag flying in front
Industry Insider, Apartment Innovations
A Modern Approach to Code Compliance

Code noncompliance can lead to a host of monetary and reputational consequences for owners and operators. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By Stephen Ursery

Apartment owners and operators often dread the many building inspections that take place at their communities. Making sure their properties are perpetually "inspection ready" can feel like a daunting undertaking.

But as panelists during NAA’s APTvirtual's session, “Cracking the Code: Are You Ready for the Building Inspector?” session pointed out, owners and operators must prioritize code compliance. Otherwise, they put themselves at risk of a variety of negative consequences.

"Property owners could face fines, fees, civil or criminal penalties," said Sam Gilboard, Manager of Public Policy at the National Apartment Association. "If we're talking about new construction, there are multiple phases that require sign-off from that jurisdiction to proceed forward. By not being compliant, you are going to see delays in that construction and that means less housing coming to market."

Jonathan Lane, Vice President of Maintenance and Engineering Services at Bozzuto, noted that non-compliance can have an impact on public perception of a property and its owner or operator.

"Sometimes these things are posted publicly," he said. "When you fail an inspection, some of that information can get out, and it could actually damage your reputation as an operator with residents and others in the community."

Non-compliance can present insurance issues as well, said Dave Denslow, Managing Director of Global Innovation Building Systems at Greystar. Property owners can be forced to cover expenses insurers won't, he said.

In addition, if the issue "is egregious enough that insurance is cancelled on you and you have to go get new insurance, you have to be truthful about why your insurance was cancelled and that's a whole other ordeal in itself," Denslow added.

A Modern Approach to Code Compliance Management

The main way to avoid code violations is to have an ongoing, proactive program to make sure your properties are in compliance.

According to Lane, Bozzuto team members perform quarterly inspections to ensure their communities are in compliance with codes. The company uses an automated online platform to manage and track the program, and it ties the results of the inspections into employee performance reviews.

Denslow said his company has a similar system in place and uses an automated online system to monitor for code changes. This efficiency allows "us to focus on bigger things like asset preservation, resident satisfaction and related items," he said.

Affiliates of the National Apartment Association can help owners and operators keep on top of code changes, Gilboard said.

"Our affiliates at the state and local level are really terrific resources for industry practitioners because it's those affiliates that are working at the ground level with local lawmakers who are going to be amending or adopting these codes, so they are really a good resource for the latest on codes and code development," he said.

The Pandemic Effect

The coronavirus has undoubtedly had an impact on the code-compliance inspections performed by jurisdictions, the panelists noted.

"We've seen throughout this pandemic that businesses have closed and shut down temporarily," Gilboard said. "Local government offices and the divisions that work within them are no exception, and you do see building officials who are not going into work or their departments are closed.

The result is a delay in local government inspections, although some jurisdictions are conducting some inspections remotely via video, Gilboard added.

The pandemic also has resulted in new regulations that operators must adhere to.

"Every different jurisdiction has a different shutdown and reopening plan,” Lane said. ‘Some have two or three phases; some have six or eight. We have to keep up with what requirements are in place for each one of those phases so that we are able to react, do things safely and meet the requirements that keep our residents and our employees safe."

In the end, the panelists argued, apartment companies should embrace rigorous, proactive compliance programs in part because they lead to necessary preventive maintenance and benefit asset value.

"I have found that compliance is really a byproduct of trying to do things right, of trying to do things the right way the first time," Lane said. "We really can't wait for an accident to try to be safe. We have to maintain safe and efficient operations at our properties to keep our residents happy and to have them renew their leases – that's what it all comes down to."

Stephen Ursery is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.

NAA’s Compliance Tool Awarded Patent

One performance management and compliance software noted in the “Cracking the Code” APTvirtual session was NAA’s very own Click & Comply, which was recently awarded a patent for its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to translate federal, state, city and municipal codes into proactive compliance tasks to ensure adherence to applicable laws, saving organizations from costly violations.

Given the sheer number of locations represented by the NAA membership, the use of machine learning that automates local code compliance and generates actionable items offers great benefit for end users relative to risk mitigation and code infractions.

Active machine learning typically requires millions of data samples to establish patterns for recognizing the kinds of information contained in documents such as legal statutes and codes. However, using the method described in the patent, the process is accelerated using expert knowledge and can return results to NAA Click and Comply in a much shorter timeframe.

December 7, 2020
Partner Perspectives
Technology to Meet Your Leasing Goals Amid A Crowded and Socially Distanced Market

How marketing technology helps property managers keep leasing on track and prospects feeling safe.

The digital marketplace has become more crowded as the search for multifamily housing continues to initially take place online, now even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today’s prospects peruse dozens of listings that vie for attention with photos and videos — sometimes including 3D floor plans, maps and descriptions — all of which showcase why they warrant and in-person look and, ultimately, a lease.

In fact, some marketing works so effectively that renters lease apartments, senior living facilities and student housing without ever setting foot on the premises.  

In the last nine months, many online marketing strategies have been ramped up because of the pandemic, making it all the harder to woo, lease and move-in residents.

Here’s how property managers can use RENTCafé Reach, advanced marketing software by Yardi, to attract prospects and meet leasing goals.

One-Stop-Shop Websites

Because prospects spend so much time on their own studying possibilities, today’s marketing tools must meet their high bar of expectations. RENTCafé Reach describes its marketing website offering as the equivalent of a virtual front door. It welcomes online prospects into your community for a digital preview.

Websites are packed with content optimized for search and critical information renters often seek such as location of vacancies, level of pet friendliness, price, enticing visuals and resident ratings. Having everything in one place improves prospects’ sentiments and builds brand authority, according to Yardi.

When Jamin Harkness, Executive Vice President of The Management Group (TMG), an Atlanta-based real estate asset management provider, looked for solutions once COVID-19 challenged the rental process, he was impressed with RENTCafé Reach.

To update his company’s marketing solutions, Harkness liked these options:

  • Links above floor plans for virtual tours. “That allowed us to remain ‘open’ for business, even when we had to shut down properties,” he says. “Prospects simply clicked on a link on our site and saw a leasing consultant offer a tour. It had a genuine feel, according to feedback we received.”
  • Add “real” photos of each apartment online. “People wonder what a kitchen really looks like, not the model, but the one they’ll move into,” Harkness says.
  • Integrate a smart speaker. Harkness says doing so enables renters to communicate with their office, pay rent, place work orders and more.

Safe, Flexible, Self-Guided Tours

Another feature of RENTCafé Reach that property managers and renters find useful — especially as COVID-19 numbers again increase — is the built in self-guided tours capability. Prospects can schedule their own self-guided tours directly from the property website. Harkness started using it last March as the pandemic bagan.

But even now that TMG’s properties are reopened, many prospects still prefer the self-guided option, according to a RENTCafé Reach study of 3,500 renters. They cited different reasons: 63% said they prefer to go at their own pace and 59% said they like the idea of practicing social distancing.

Here’s how it works: A prospect schedules a self-guided tour through a property’s RENTCafé website. After they complete ID verification, they receive a secure, one-time access code and then is able to tour the unit at their own pace. They might want more time to examine a kitchen or spend time sitting on model furniture to imagine themselves living there.

The approach also benefits property management. Tour hours can be extended without hiring additional staff and each tour triggers an automated confirmation and follow-up to track conversions.

Harkness tested the feature at four properties. “To our surprise, we allotted 30 minutes for tours, but people have been spending 45 minutes, and our closing ratios are 75 percent versus our standard 40 percent,” he said. “The comments have been so positive they almost seem scripted. We’ve heard things like, ‘I could really see myself living here!’”

December 1, 2020
finger pointing at the ipad screen
Partner Perspectives
Constant Performance Checks to Improve Operations

How KPIs help property managers strategize daily and cope with major disrupters.

You visit a doctor to check your vitals and compare them with what’s normal for your age, lifestyle and hereditary factors. If an illness or accident occurs, you make adjustments.

The holdings in your multifamily housing portfolio are similar. Yardi’s property management software lets owners and managers check how well revenue, leases, occupancy, delinquencies and collections fare over time, against future predictions and against competitors.

If a major disruption occurs, whether a natural disaster or pandemic, you look to see if numbers fluctuate and what changes you might make in response.  

Industry leaders, Shawn Cardner, Executive Vice President, Grubb Properties in Charlotte, N.C. and Joseph Anfuso, CFO of MG Properties Group in San Diego, recently shared how Yardi Asset IQ helps their companies operate under everyday and extraordinary circumstances. Following are their condensed, edited responses from NAA’s APTVirtual session, “Big Data, Benchmarking and Forecasting: A Tale of Two Studies,” with moderator Paul Yount, Yardi industry principal.

 

What advice would you give to someone considering a big data initiative?

SC: It’s important for senior executives and boots-on-the-ground folks to see early wins. That keeps momentum up, which helps those involved stay excited.

JA: For us, it’s about the planning and to start with the end in mind. Decide what you want to accomplish. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish. That might mean hiring a data analyst as a dedicated expert rather than palming it off onto someone who has a full-time job.

With so much data, how do you separate all the signals from the noise to find what’s meaningful?

SC: We listen to our internal folks. Are they doing something the old-fashioned way or how can we develop new initiatives around the KPIs they’re using? We want those who use the data to tell us how they can benefit from it.

JA: We try not to spend too much time with too much data to get away from analysis paralysis. We want everyone reading off the same information—whatever level they’re at—to get the biggest bang for our buck.

Us versus us or us versus them?

SC: It’s easy to get caught up in internal data and think you have a problem, but when you step out and look at the comps and dig into the weeds, you may be underperforming in your portfolio according to the information but maybe you’re outperforming peers in a given market.  

JA: Are you executing on that property and will it be different when you compare data to your portfolio and the market? What you’ve done should create value on a comparison basis. Sometimes, we find our expectation may be out of whack with what’s happening in the marketplace.

How do you leverage predictive and prescriptive analysis?

SC: Using algorithms and data points, we’ve been able to pick out patterns and trends and make predictions. If I’m at 92% and want to get to 96%, how much money do I actually have to spend in marketing? Seeing the data helps reinforce an argument—maybe, spend a bit more.

How have KPIs changed pre-COVID versus now?

SC: Our budget numbers are different from what we projected a year ago since nobody could have predicted COVID-19. What’s more useful is to have data on our competitors and peers. We want to know if we’re keeping up with the Joneses—concessions, rates or lease terms if this drags on.

JA: Delinquencies and collections have become of paramount importance. We compare from yesterday to last month and last year and everything in between. Using that data, we can know we might start out at a high delinquency rate at the beginning but over 30 days we know we can get it whittled down to a percentage and know what kind of cash we have to distribute to our investors.

 

December 1, 2020
Reviewing a financial reports
Industry Insider, Apartment Innovations, Operations Insights
Staff Safety Comes to the Forefront

Apartment companies think outside the box to protect staff from COVID-19.

By Bendix Anderson

Apartments companies across the U.S. have worked hard to keep residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But they have been just as focused on protecting employees—even as growing business activity brings their leasing professionals and maintenance teams into contact with residents or prospective residents.

“As the colder seasons approach and the pandemic continues, it will be critical that team members remain vigilant about safety practices,” says Mike Brewer, Chief Operating Officer of the RADCO Companies.

Many apartment companies are now sending staff members back to leasing offices that operated with skeleton crews during the height of the pandemic. Others are beginning to engage with residents in person and sending maintenance crews into apartments to address the backlog of problems that have piled up since the pandemic began.

“Most amenities and leasing offices were closed over the summer,” says Demi Sterling-Kinney, Vice President of Operations at Aspen Heights Partners. “We have since reopened many of these with policies in place that support social distancing.”

Leasing Offices Gradually Reopen

Numerous apartment communities closed their leasing offices to residents and potential residents in the first few months of the pandemic.

“Our existing technology gave us confidence that closing our leasing offices would not unduly interrupt business continuity,” says Brewer. A skeleton crew of property managers still showed up to work behind the closed doors of the leasing offices at RADCO’s communities, he says. They did the basic business of keeping the apartments safe and habitable, communicating with residents through phone, email and the internet.

“We remain closed to the public,” Brewer adds. “We have since returned to fully staffing our leasing offices with appropriate social distancing and personal protective equipment protocols in place.”

Apartment companies typically decide what their staff members can and cannot do by following the regulations set by local health officials to the letter. But some companies have gone beyond what local regulations demand to help keep their staff and residents safe.

“We began taking steps to ensure safe operation nationwide two weeks before the national emergency,” says Patrick Appleby, President of WinnResidential.

Experts now largely agree that COVID-19 often spreads through the air, especially indoors in spaces with weak ventilation where viral particles can hang in the air for as long as three hours. For safety in the pandemic, health experts recommend a tough standard of six to nine air changes per hour in rooms where people gather—at least twice the standard required by many building codes.

Apartment managers also have followed the level of infection increases in their areas. “Our local managers and their teams have followed infection rates closely as well to decide on a property-by-property basis if there were adjustments that needed to be made… in advance of and addition to local regulations,” says Elie Rieder, Founder and CEO of Castle Lanterra Properties.

Leasing Continues Despite COVID

These apartment companies have had to continue to lease new apartments—while keeping their employees safe—during the pandemic. They quickly learned how to conduct as much business as possible through the internet.

“Virtual or contactless leasing techniques will be an important option for everyone for the foreseeable future,” says Appleby. They include virtual tours and online applications. Many companies are also experimenting with self-guided tours.

Some companies had already planned to allow potential renters to lease an apartment largely online. The pandemic simply sped up their plans. “RADCO moved to 100 percent virtual or video conference-style leasing within days of pandemic-related closures,” says Brewer. The company hired its first digital leasing consultant two years ago, when the company first included virtual leasing tools in its technology innovation road map.

A virtual tour can be as simple as a video posted to an apartment community’s website. More complex virtual tours allow website visitors to explore a three-dimensional apartment model, similar to the three-dimensional environment of a computer game.

Apartment companies are also using “smart apartment” technologies like electronic door locks and online ID verification to let potential renters arrange a tour of an apartment through the community website and enter the apartment without ever seeing a leasing agent.

These technologies are likely to be important for apartment companies long after the pandemic is over. “Self-guided tours of apartments will become a more significant part of the sales process,” says Castle Lanterra’s Rieder.

Potential renters seem to have already gotten used to the new process. “Once our teams were past the initial learning curve, our same-store leasing and occupancy statistics began outpacing prior-year results,” says RADCO’s Brewer. “Consumer acceptance of virtual leasing signals that this is a trend that will continue.”

Virtual leasing tools will also give property managers more time to provide residents with new kinds of services. “In the near future, as technology takes more of the administrative burden away from frontline staff, we expect resident service menu to expand,” says RADCO’s Brewer.

Virtual leasing is also an important option for cautious potential renters. “There is a lingering reluctance for in-person leasing in the hard-hit markets, with a great deal of enthusiasm for virtual leasing techniques,” says Appleby. “Our priority through year-end is wooing reluctant consumers back into the leasing market.”

Maintenance Workers Take Extra Care

In the first months of the pandemic, many apartment companies sharply limited how often they would send maintenance teams into apartments to make repairs.

Spending a significant amount of time in someone’s home—long enough to fix a sink, for example—could be one of the riskiest things a person could do during a pandemic, if the resident happened to be infected with the coronavirus and the worker didn’t have access to the right protective gear.

“We limited in-unit work orders to emergencies only,” says Winn’s Appleby. More recently, Winn’s maintenance teams have been more productive—with the proper protective gear. “Our maintenance teams are at full strength, working hard to catch up on work orders and capital projects,” he says. “We have asked them to maintain the same vigilance about safety even as conditions have improved.”

These same issues have made it difficult to complete inspections. “RADCO had several properties in due diligence during the pandemic,” says Brewer. “That typically includes access to occupied units for inspection,” says Brewer. “Navigating the competing demands of buyers, sellers and residents requires open-minded collaboration.”

Some of the same technologies that have made contactless leasing possible—including simple video calls—were also helpful for some inspections during the height of the pandemic.

“The reliance on and performance of virtual tools has been incredible for inspections,” says Rieder of Castle Lanterra.

The Future of Work in Apartment Communities

Many apartment companies also shut down their corporate offices, sending workers home to work with their colleagues through email and video calls.

These companies have adopted new tools to help employees stay productive. “Our monthly virtual town halls have been exceptionally well-attended,” says Rieder. The company-wide intranet Castle Lanterra created in March, she adds, also continues to serve as an effective clearinghouse for the sharing of knowledge and techniques among employees.

Most of these companies expect to have staff eventually return to the office. “I am surprised by the growing expectation that companies will completely capitulate to a work-from-home model,” says RADCO’s Brewer. “I expect to see a new hybrid operations model, but not a full-blown forfeiture of the traditional in-office experience.”

In particular, Brewer looks forward to joining meetings in person. “The biggest lesson is that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing,” he says. “In-person meetings are 10 times more valuable in terms of moving the business forward.”

Bendix Anderson is a freelance writer.

November 30, 2020
Partner Perspectives
How Multifamily Apartment Management Benefits from Partnering with Lowe’s Pro MSH

In 2017, Lowe’s purchased a successful, growing multifamily MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) supply company, Houston-based Maintenance Supply Headquarters (MSH).

In March 2020, the two companies came together formally under the name, “Lowe’s Pro Maintenance Supply Headquarters.” Since then, Lowe’s Pro MSH has been expanding its service area: now to 28 markets with same-day delivery and many more with next-day delivery. With multiple branch locations opening in the Los Angeles area, San Diego, Chicago, Detroit, and with a network of 1,700 Lowe’s stores, apartment building owners and managers have a one-stop solution throughout the country.

But since the first day, the goal has remained the same: to service the ever-growing multifamily industry and work with management companies to become the primary MRO supplier to apartment communities, both locally and nationally.

To do so, inventory is key. The branch locations stock more than 10,000 MRO products in job-lot quantities, and the network of stores in every state provide access to an additional 30,000 products.

The inventory provides what owners and operators of any size apartment need to maintain operations for their community, from paint and sealants to HVAC, electrical and plumbing supplies, tools, lumber, landscaping items, and appliances and appliance parts. In addition, Lowe’s Pro MSH has a large stock of personal protective equipment (PPE)--masks, sprays and disinfectants, which stores and warehouses now carry due to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

“We want to create value when you shop with us, whether communities are owner managed or third party managed, we can create a program tailored to meet the needs of your team,” says Izzy Garza, Lowe’s Pro MSH Senior National Account Manager.

The Lowe’s Pro MSH sales organization is dedicated to the success of its customers. A National Account team is connected to each major market. Its focus is to develop partnerships with apartment management companies and their corporate team. The goal is to help build relationships so Lowe’s Pro MSH will become an approved, endorsed supplier to that company and reduce supply costs and provide spend options.  

While Lowe’s Pro MSH continues to build its presence nationally and on a corporate level, it knows that it takes boots on the ground at local and regional levels. For this reason, it has a team of Outside Sales Representatives or “OSR’s,” who visit and provide support to Property Managers and Maintenance Technicians, who oversee their apartment communities.

“We believe that working both ends, nationally and locally helps us build opportunity and improve relationships at the corporate and ground level,” Garza says.

Both the national and sales team members work together in many ways. For example, they might help locate resources to meet property maintenance concerns or suggest value-added solutions to improve ROI (return on investment). That might mean sourcing a specific energy-efficient light fixture or helping to plan interior renovations. They also tap into resources available through local, state and national apartment associations.  

Because apartment community needs vary widely, Lowe’s Pro MSH members listen carefully and remain flexible to change course. “Lowe’s Pro MSH partners by doing research, gathering data about costs and resources and working with owners to decide what’s best for them,” Garza says.

In normal circumstances, the focus might be deferred maintenance. But that might quickly change when a natural disaster or health crisis strikes as it did when COVID-19 started and Lowe’s Pro MSH zeroed in on locating PPE items.

“We’re proud to say that we found solutions and now they’re part of our everyday inventory,” Garza says, adding, “It’s just one more way the company keeps growing and providing resources to win over customers. We want to make sure they have a lasting positive impression as they partner with Lowe’s Pro MSH on all levels.”  

November 12, 2020
lowes workers in the warehouse
News, Industry Insider, Marketing Buzz
Hines Launches Property Management Firm

Willowick Residential will work in partnership with the firm’s rapidly growing multifamily portfolio of 63 projects across 38 U.S. cities.

Hines announced the launch of Willowick Residential, a multifamily property management firm. Willowick Residential will work in partnership with the firm’s rapidly growing multifamily portfolio of 63 projects across 38 U.S. cities, including luxury towers, urban mid-rises and traditional garden-style apartments.

Named after founder Gerald D. Hines’ first multifamily residential building in Houston’s River Oaks area, Willowick Residential builds on the firm’s legacy of excellence and attention to detail. In the early days of his firm, Hines managed The Willowick himself, believing that an owner had greater insight and desire to manage a building properly.

“Rooted in the expertise of our regional offices, our growing and successful multifamily division has expanded for-rent apartment development activity throughout the United States,” said Jeff Hines, president and CEO of Hines in a news release. “Willowick Residential seeks to deliver a superior level of resident service, above-industry retention rates, cost-effective building management and superior engineering and maintenance of the physical asset.”

Launched earlier this year, Willowick Residential is currently managing nine properties and counting throughout the United States. The venture’s competencies include acquisition services, advisory services, engineering and maintenance, team member recruiting and development, lease-up and transition services, marketing and communications, reputation management, market analysis and research, vendor compliance and information technology.

Hines has managed properties since its inception in 1957. With 35 team members so far with decades of experience, the venture’s competencies include unparalleled service, asset management, energy efficiency and the reduction of real estate investment risk. The Willowick Residential property teams are highly experienced, thoughtfully trained, and will bring Hines’ standards and experience to all properties to deliver superior service, cost-effective building management and above-industry retention.

October 12, 2020
apartment buildings
News, Marketing Buzz
Ready for Your Close-up? Crisis and Disaster Media Management

Rental housing operators can prepare to address the media during a crisis before it hits.

When a crisis strikes, companies often digress into a mad scramble of confusion about what to do, who to call and how to respond, especially to the media. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

According to the Ready for Your Close-up? Crisis and Disaster Media Management session at Apartmentalize,rental housing operators can prepare to address the media during a crisis before it hits. And it all starts with a plan.

“It’s important to have a plan in place in advance of any problems,” said Holyce Hornischer, vice president of marketing for CWS Apartment Homes.

The plan should outline roles, responsibilities and protocols to follow during a crisis and should be designed to minimize the impact on the brand and stakeholders, according to Hornischer. Part of the plan should be to identify a communications leader, a process for responding to the media and a means of monitoring traditional and social media.

But the plan is just a starting point. After the crisis occurs, it can be very difficult to stick to the plan without some basic guiding principles that will drive the organization during the crisis.

“When tragedies like this happens, it’s chaotic and disorganized,” Hornischer said about Hurricane Harvey and its impact on CWS. “Missions and values matter most and have the most opportunity to shine. Our very first step is to make sure we were acting in accordance to those.”

Acting in accordance with their mission and values meant that CWS offered displaced residents preferred pricing on vacant homes in the market and a relocation credit with no security deposit or administration fees. The company also froze all leasing for two weeks in the market to ensure displaced residents received the first opportunity to lease a vacant home.

Even after doing all of the right things, CWS received negative media attention based on false information because a member of a local media outlet left a message on a community phone line that was submerged in floodwaters. The local media outlet falsely reported that CWS evicted all residents from the community, when it actually released them from their lease obligations proactively so they could more easily search for a new home. CWS followed up by trying to help the displaced residents find new homes in the market.

Although CWS would have corrected the inaccurate information if it had received the message, the situation is a good reminder that in times of crises, rental housing operators often have a chance to control the narrative if they communicate effectively.

“When dealing with the media, when delivering a message, it’s incredibly important to shape the future of the story,” said Chad Cooley, Director of Strategic Business Solutions for Bozzuto Management Company. “You have an opportunity to control the narrative, and in the absence of your voice, a narrative will be created for you. It’s important to remember the three Cs to be clear, be concise and be consistent throughout. You have to remain focused, empathetic and deliver a message that is compassionate.”

That message also has to be accurate and true, which means you have to keep a fact sheet and check your facts before sharing with the media. Saying you don’t know but you’ll find out is better than speculating.

By telling the truth, sticking to your plan, communicating with empathy and adjusting as needed, rental housing operators can effectively manage the media in a crisis and mitigate brand damage when bad things happen.

“Have a plan in place but understand that things aren’t going to go according to that plan,” Hornischer said. “So adapt quickly. Communication is key. The more you communicate, the better the situation will be.” 

Peter Jakel is Vice President of Strategy for LinnellTaylor Marketing.

 

 

 

 

September 4, 2020
team meeting
News, Marketing Buzz, COVID-19
How to Market Apartments During a Pandemic

A main concern in residential real estate right now is not only how apartment community management groups will attract new residents during the current pandemic, but also how they can retain their current ones. Below are some insights on how to effectively market apartments during COVID-19, along with best practices for maintaining current renters.

Using Technology

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed apartment managers to prioritize the use of technology as a tool to draw prospective residents. It’s also helped them focus on how to best serve existing residents from afar. In both efforts, companies need to shift their marketing initiatives to create the safest and most effective way to communicate with residents, prospective residents and team members. For example, a large number of management groups (if not all) now appear to offer personalized, one-on-one virtual tours through Zoom and FaceTime, and also post videos of their apartment communities and apartment homes on their websites and on YouTube.

But technology can bring unforeseen challenges. Since the pandemic escalated so quickly, companies without all the technological processes in place had to ensure they wouldn’t fall behind. Each apartment community needed step-by-step instructions on each process; the onsite team had to rapidly learn and get comfortable with new operations like virtual tours; to ensure that prospective renters were able to see their preferred apartments and the community as a whole; and, last but not least, to answer all of their questions.

Communicating Effectively

Marketing to current and prospective residents has become important than ever. And with marketing, of course, comes communication.

In these unprecedented times, residents can feel anxious about the unknown, and it is our responsibility to answer their questions in a clear and concise manner. So you should always be available, answer questions promptly and continue to reach out to prospective residents in a timely manner. Since conditions have been changing rapidly, it’s important to update residents regularly about such policies as the closure of community amenities, changes in office hours and additional sanitization around the buildings. Make sure employees are in the know and delivering an appropriate and clear message across all of your communities. And ensure that your marketing materials reflect any new policies.

Retaining Current Residents

At first, the industry’s focus during the pandemic was on how to continue to lease; now it has shifted to how we can continue to engage with residents and create a strong sense of community. I have seen some great examples of apartment community managers going above and beyond to ensure that their residents are being acknowledged and feeling safe at home. It can be as simple as making masks available to residents, writing inspiring messages in chalk or encouraging them to join in socially distant community sing-alongs from their balconies.

One great tool for communicating with residents in recent years has been social media. But right now it’s actually one of the only ways to get your message across. Personalized Facebook groups for each community, for instance, not only ensure regular communication with residents, but also provide that close-knit community feel. In a sense, Facebook groups have turned into a modern resident newsletter. The platform can be used to share with residents such activities as tours of local museums and cooking classes; provide additional resources specific to your company  ; create a space where residents can share opinions and discuss issues with one another; and much more.

The Future of Apartment Marketing

Now fast-forward to when we get back to more normal times. Will traditional marketing return as well?

Since we’ve seen success with the use of technology in apartment community management, most of these marketing tools are probably here to stay. Even before the pandemic, the leasing process was already shifting to virtual reality. In the long run, virtual tours and videos should help streamline the leasing process. Now, when prospective residents come in for in-person appointments, we will have a better understanding of their expectations and what they’re searching for.

Companies that may not have this technology readily available can certainly go back to the basics, focusing on how to make an impact with simple gestures to engage prospective residents. Who needs technology if you can create a similar experience by walking them through photos and floor plans over the phone? Engaging with them from the start of the relationship is what matters most.

Either way, it seems more important than ever for us to realize that we play an essential role in creating community for our residents, and that our teams must continue to provide the ongoing support people need to feel safe in their homes.

Jillian Fikkert is the Director of Property Marketing at Morgan Properties.

August 12, 2020
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