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Investing in the onboarding and training process, as well as team-facing technology, may help to boost employee retention.
Lower unemployment rates, resulting from a booming labor market, have heightened the challenge of keeping onsite staff in apartment communities. The average multifamily community has a 32 percent employee turnover rate, according to the National Apartment Association (NAA).
This has made the task of hiring and keeping skilled employees appear to be a daunting task. But with the right tools, operators can set their employees—and communities—up to succeed.
An article by Multi-Housing News says it is critical for the onboarding process to be done correctly. Rather than throwing new employees into a task on day one, property managers should commit a couple of days to training for the task. Invest in associates by educating them about the industry and their specific responsibilities within the community, and teaching them how to use property management systems.
When discussing the need for onboarding, Joe Melton, Vice President of Marketing and Management Support Services for The Morgan Group, says, “If you’ve been 30 days without this position being filled, you can last two more days.”
It also helps to provide ongoing training for associates to continue developing in their role. This way, operators can also track their progress and understand why certain performance issues arise.
Integrating technology into employees’ roles improves efficiency and increases opportunities for success.
Using something like an iPad leasing app to get to know prospective residents creates an engaging experience and increases the likelihood of conversion.
Coworking is all the rage, but these other amenities and services can boost retention.
When it comes to designing amenity spaces, Greg West, President and Chief Executive Officer of ZOM Living, thinks apartment developers can lose focus on the basics.
“We get fixated on creating a list of 20 amenities,” he said at the Bisnow Multifamily Annual Conference (BMAC) East in Washington D.C. “We need to focus on five or six things that we do well. Then the residents will have a better experience.”
While developers and designers may have different opinions on what those five or six things are, there are some hot amenities that are showing up frequently in new development. First and foremost are coworking spaces.
“It is easier to work from home than it used to be,” says Allina Boohoff, Managing Director, Head of Asset Management’s Multifamily Sector at J.P. Morgan Asset Management—Global Real Assets. “That’s why we’re seeing an increase in coworking space.”
Boohoff isn’t alone in seeing the coworking trend. “People are working from home and have flexible hours, but they still want to be social,” says Dan McCauley, Principal of Martin Architectural Group.
Connecting to outdoor areas can promote wellness, which might explain why amenity spaces that merge indoor and outdoor are also popular. McCauley says placing these areas on the first floor with the lobby and other amenities can make them appear larger. “Perception-wise, you can reduce space by 10 to 15 percent, and no one will know,” he says.
Pets, as always, are a big amenity draw. “People are getting married later and later,” says West. “These pets are surrogates until they get married.”
Overall, West thinks developers and renovators need to focus on the basics. Others agree. While coworking, pets and indoor-outdoor spaces are popular features, past popular amenities—such as golf simulators and virtual reality rooms—have disappeared.
“The amenities race has plateaued, and residents are more interested in convenience and the services that we provide,” says Joe Muffler, Managing Director of Development for Mill Creek Residential, Mid-Atlantic, who think renters prioritize the rent, location and apartment home mix.
In the hunt for amenities that work, apartment owners and operators shouldn’t forget about old-fashioned customer service. With its Modera brand, Mill Creek Residential creates “a resident philosophy and promise,” Muffler says.
That extends to the digital space. “From a web presence, it’s all about convenience,” Muffler says.
Conveniences are also changing apartment design in some cases. For instance, McCauley says some apartments are continuing to shrink and evolving with technology. “With [the popularity of] food delivery services, people don’t need the large kitchen space,” he says.
But it would be a mistake to design all apartments based on that trend. While millennials may need less space because of Uber Eats and Grubhub, empty nesters have different tastes. “If people are stepping down from existing homes, they want a larger kitchen,” McCauley says.
However, developers also need to be careful. Sometimes they can design a building for one cohort, and another will show up. “You are doing yourself a disservice if you build strictly for either boomers or millennials,” Muffler says.
Margette Hepfner shares her experience at the country’s second-largest apartment management company and the story behind the company’s growth.
Margette Hepfner came to Lincoln Property Company in 2013, in the newly created position of Vice President of Client Services, after spending 13 years on the supplier side of the apartment industry at Apartment Guide (RentPath), where she developed the firm’s national platform and ran its national sales team.
Since Hepfner started at Lincoln, the Dallas-based company’s management business has grown by almost 60,000 apartments. Hepfner has played a role in that expansion effort, identifying opportunities for Lincoln’s third-party management business and strengthening existing relationships with institutional and high-net-worth clients. Her success led to her promotion to Chief Operating Officer of Lincoln’s residential management division, a position she assumed in September of this year.
We spoke with Hepfner about the experience of transitioning from supplier to apartment operator and her goals as a COO.
Was attaining this type of position your goal when you came to Lincoln?
Hepfner: When I thought about making the change from what I was doing—sales on the supplier side—to Lincoln, shifting to apartment management, but still in sales, I thought that about 50 percent [of the job] would be in my comfort zone and 50 percent would be out of my comfort zone. I knew multifamily and I knew the people on the team at Lincoln [an Apartment Guide client], which was helpful. [But] I didn’t know much about the overall development and underwriting process of multifamily.
I honestly came into it with eyes wide open, looking at Lincoln and its structure and culture, and how I would fit best with the team, because it was a new role at that point. The job definitely started to evolve by just spending time and working with our team, working with Scott [Wilder, President of Lincoln Property Co.] and seeing opportunities as we grew.
Along with that growth and adding new team members across the country, I’ve had the opportunity to start helping Scott more with operations, marketing, training and all of our disciplines. And [the COO role] just seemed to be a natural fit, with a need for us to have more oversight for operations and how the departments worked together. Scott and I started working toward that and added to the new business development team.
So, I wouldn’t say [the COO role] was necessarily a goal. I will say that when I joined Lincoln, I had every intention of this, Lincoln Property Company, being the last stop in my career; I had every intention of being here and growing.
Regarding the 50 percent you needed to learn, what’s your process for getting yourself up to speed and understanding the development part of the industry?
Hepfner: I did a lot of listening, observing, and asking questions. I spent my first 90 days shadowing our team members across the country. I went through all of our training, worked onsite, leased apartments, shadowed managers and maintenance techs, turned units and punched out units. I shadowed our regional property managers, our vice presidents and our development partners across the country. I spent time in all of our markets and with lots of different clients. I had the opportunity to observe all of the things we do.
Lincoln really gave me the opportunity to learn before having to jump in with both feet, which was extremely fortunate for me. Then, after watching how we did things, from a sales and client perspective, I could suggest how we might need to make some changes. Instead of coming in and just making all of the changes I thought should be made, I watched the team, learned with them and became part of the team instead of taking a bull-in-a-china-shop approach.
What were the challenges coming into apartment operations from the supplier side?
Hepfner: [The challenges were made easier because] Lincoln had been my client. I wasn’t coming in completely cold trying to learn a company and a culture plus clients and a new position. Lincoln has a great, very family-like, culture, and that made it a lot easier. With me coming in and taking a new position, no one was fighting against me. Everyone’s attitude was, “We know we needed the position, we’re happy you’re here, and we’re going to figure it out together.” That’s a culture you can’t replicate.
What are some of your goals stepping into the COO role?
Being mostly a fee management company, especially the size of Lincoln, there’s a pretty fine balance between having a corporate infrastructure that gives the team across the country a full toolbox of the things they might need while also giving them the autonomy to adapt to whatever it is they need.
Instead of setting parameters where there’s a lot of red tapes that the team in the field has to go through to execute and do what’s right for their property, their client, and their team, they’re given all of the tools they need to make those decisions [themselves].
As we grow, we need to continue to ensure we have solid policies, procedures and processes in place while still making sure we’re allowing our onsite teams to make decisions. As we grow to 200,000 units and beyond this year, we want to keep the culture consistent and our goals moving us all in the right direction. We’re a big ship and we need to maintain the ability to be agile, allowing our teams to maneuver quickly.
Apartment operators are looking for ways to bring residents together and save money with their remodels.
When you’re planning a renovation, it’s important to remember what’s important.
“Repositions can become a cap-ex grab bag if you aren’t careful,” Travis Oden, Vice President of Asset Management at Camden, said at NAA’s Maximize Conference, Sept. 23–24, in Atlanta. “Anything that doesn’t get done in cap-ex can try to be rolled into the renovation. [So] you need to focus the renovation on what the resident will pay extra for.”
Part of knowing what people will pay for is knowing who will live in the community. “We’re spending time on the front end understanding the property and demographics,” says Ryan Kirby, a Vice President at Village Green. “A lot of people do an amenity because they see someone else do it.
Ultimately, it has to be an extension of a marketing plan. People need to click through, see it and want to live there.”
At Kettler, vinyl wood flooring and stainless steel appliances earn the highest return for the company. “We have a pretty good idea of what gets the best bang for the buck,” says Greg Slang, Vice President of Asset Management at the firm.
Even with “known-quantity” amenities, some stand out for the benefits they offer on both the expense and revenue sides. That’s why flooring is a renovation favorite for Kettler. “People love vinyl wood flooring, and [its] costs have become much better,” Slang says. “You can get [rent] premiums with vinyl flooring, and it has a longer life span than carpet.”
Coworking Spaces Still Popular
As part of its common-area amenities packages, Camden is removing desks and replacing them with more-casual lounges where residents can work. The company also provides multifunction printers.
“We’re rethinking some of our amenity spaces,” Oden says. “We’re taking business centers out left and right.”
Cristina Istrate, Senior Analyst, Asset Management, at FCP, agrees it’s important to take a new approach to areas where residents can work comfortably. “We’re focusing on creating coworking spaces as part of the community amenities, as well as providing access to coffee,” she says.
FCP is also adding electric-car charging stations in some of its communities. “More and more residents will have electric cars [in the future],” Istrate says.
Peggy Panzer, Vice President of Business Development at Laramar Group, says her company has been successful building amenity areas where people can entertain and socialize with each other. “We’ve taken out tennis courts and basketball courts and created parks and community cooking and grilling areas,” she says. “We’ve also seen children’s parks with climbing structures made from repurposed tree trunks and a discovery areas complete with hidden ‘dinosaur bones’ built in,” she says.
Similarly, Village Green has found success with pet washing stations, dog parks, outdoor parks and movable furniture.
“It’s about adding things to the community that create a lifestyle that people can see themselves living and is consistent with who they are,” Kirby says.
Slang thinks of amenities more broadly than just a fitness center or pet washing stations. “You need to know your amenities’ value,” he says. “How are you pricing the floor [that an apartment is on], the type of floor plan and the view? Look at the rent roll and see what amenities you can price.”
The first few days of a new job can be among the most exciting and terrifying moments in a career. The potential seems limitless but learning lots of new systems and skill sets can be daunting. Getting the onboarding process right in these early days can set the foundation for team member loyalty and success.
According to a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management report using statistics compiled by onboarding software company Click Board, 69 percent of employees who experience a great onboarding process are more likely to stay with a company for three years. Additionally, organizations that use an established onboarding program see a 50 percent increase in new-hire productivity.
These results highlight why it is especially critical for the residential property management companies to master onboarding. A successful and dynamic onboarding period can set up your team for great success or lots of headaches. Multifamily property management companies can’t just stop after a 30-day or 90-day onboarding period. Consistent engagement is crucial to ensure that new skills are cultivated and nurtured over time. Those skills then grow, leading team members to reach new heights and take on expanded responsibilities.
Further, a successful onboarding process should be applicable to all team members, regardless of their role. Yes, some managers will need additional training, but the foundation should be the same for all.
These goals may seem like lofty aspirations or unrealistic in today’s hectic work environment, especially on-site at apartment communities. Acing the onboarding process and continued engagement will take time, resources, and commitment, but it’s attainable and the results are worth the effort.
In fact, mastering the onboarding process can be achieved by following what I refer to as the ACE strategy: Accountability, Consistency and Engagement.
Accountability is the first component of the ACE strategy because it’s crucial to everything else. Welcoming new team members offers the perfect opportunity to establish a strong and positive relationship. To be certain, it’s the ideal time to gain trust and clearly communicate expectations. It’s important that expectations are set for new team members, their managers, and training staff to ensure accountability for everyone. Trust is built when that accountability runs in multiple directions.
Setting those expectations should happen even before a new employee’s first day. At HHHunt Apartment Living, a member of the onboarding team contacts a new team member before they officially join the company to welcome them and share information about what they can expect. Communicating early helps build that vital trust and ease concerns a new employee might have.
That accountability is further reinforced by consistent follow up at the 30-day and 90-day milestones. Honesty during these check-ins with a new team member is paramount. For example, members of the onboarding or training team should share feedback from the new employee with his or her manager, which can help prompt the manager to intervene early if any concerns arise. These check-in conversations don’t have to be lengthy and are typically conducted via phone calls.
Finally, accountability also should mean learning from others. A new assistant community manager recently noted the following during a review period: “The training offered by HHHunt is hands-on and sets you up for success within the company immediately. You receive the opportunity to travel to other communities and meet with other co-workers.” This ability to interact and share lessons across properties resonates strongly during the onboarding and training process. It’s yet another way that residential property management teams can hold themselves accountable to helping each other, and the entire company, grow.
Components of the ACE strategy build on one another. That’s why consistency is a factor in ensuring accountability and vice versa. Consistency also is key in terms of the structure and content of an onboarding program. All employees, regardless of position or whether they’re on an office or service team, should receive the same foundational training.
This consistent approach offers many benefits, two of which are notable. First, developing the same foundational onboarding is more efficient than trying to tailor the process to each new employee. It’s also easier to ensure company standards are uniform throughout an apartment portfolio. Second, consistent onboarding allows a residential property management company to better maintain a unified customer experience. With more than 20 apartment communities across four states, we believe that a potential resident in one community should have a similar positive experience to any other community, whether its five miles or 500 miles away.
A common foundation to onboarding should include the same topics and delivery of training. For example, a mix of in-person training sessions and virtual learning will provide a variety of learning formats to meet new employee needs. Core onboarding classes should include Fair Housing, workplace diversity, and workplace harassment. New Team Member Orientation is offered to all new team members within their first 30 days and covers specific company and operations information but more importantly, introduces the company culture. Additionally, we’ve seen success with adding core classes that focus on customer experiences. All team members participate in these customer experience classes because all employees represent the company and are likely to interact with residents.
The best onboarding programs build on these foundational classes with additional training customized to specific roles. For example, leasing consultants will need leasing best practices and must learn how to manage on-site software. Likewise, service technicians will receive specialized maintenance and safety training. Finally, managers must complete more intensive training related to financial management, leadership, and emotional intelligence.
Thus, consistency exists on two levels. The foundational onboarding classes are intended for all new employees and in-person classes purposefully include a mix of leasing and service team members. Then, specialized training is the same for specific team members and positions.
For onboarding and training to be successful, ongoing engagement must be part of the strategy. Engagement can take many forms, but HHHunt has found two that are most impactful on new and recent employees.
First, residential property management companies should invest in continuing education opportunities for all team members. That education must continue past the 90-day milestone. HHHunt established HHHunt University to provide a wide array of educational and training programs for employees. Participation in these ongoing programs occurs on company time and most classes are open to any employees. Accessibility is another consideration, which is why virtual learning tools can be a powerful supplement to instructor-led training.
This commitment to support the growth potential of team members and allow open enrollment has boosted engagement among employees. Interestingly, classes on emotional intelligence are among the most popular and a prerequisite for certain management-level positions. So, not only can a residential property management team enhance engagement, it can get an early indicator of team members who are invested in their career long-term.
Perhaps the most important practice regarding engagement is that it doesn’t just refer to new employees. Managers who oversee new employees must be directly involved and engaged in the training process. It’s imperative for buy-in from managers to ensure that training lessons are followed and take hold. Collaboration with a new employee’s manager also connects back to the program’s accountability.
A service manager, who was recently promoted from service tech and joined HHHunt less than a year ago, shared his perspective that engagement is crucial to success because the company strives to put employees in the best possible position to grow. He writes, “A big part of that success comes from the bond and relationship they create with you from day one. I was very pleased with how quickly I became acclimated to my new working environment and that was greatly due to how everyone embraces you.”
To encourage manager engagement, ensure that they’ve participated in any new or updated training programs, so they understand new approaches and best practices. Additionally, trainers should contact managers at the 30-day and 90-day marks to check-in about the new employee and remind them to reinforce skills learned during the onboarding. Finally, weekly on-site meetings at the community level always include a training message and tip. Plus, the training team provides updates at the end of each month so that employees understand what should have been covered during the month.
This final tip highlights the interconnected nature of the ACE strategy: accountability, consistency and engagement are built on and support one another. Implementing a robust onboarding process and ongoing team member engagement takes the proper investment of time and resources. As residential property management teams will discover, that investment will produce more dedicated, productive, and loyal teams that deliver improved customer service and results.
Jennifer Moran is Director of Training and Management Development for HHHunt Apartment Living, which develops and manages multifamily communities. She oversees the company’s onboarding and training for all team members and manages HHHunt Apartment Living’s learning management system. She can be contacted via email.
Great maintenance technicians often move into management, but many times they’re unprepared for the changes the shift entails.
“Great technicians see an issue, diagnose it and go fix it,” said Ed Shaffer, CAMT, Director of Maintenance Operations at HHHunt, at the Apartmentalize session “Critical Leadership Skills from Maintenance Leaders” in June.
Skills that are essential for a maintenance manager differ from those required for a maintenance tech. “Great leaders have the skills to get their teams to trust and respect them,” Shaffer says.
Among the skills maintenance leaders need are the ability to teach, manage personnel, budget and, perhaps above all: Communicate.
“There’s an important communication aspect with team management,” says panelist Fred Kicsak, Vice President of Maintenance and Service for Blue Ridge Property Management. “You’re helping define a purpose for the people you lead and giving them a vision. Leaders have to develop a plan and motivate and inspire their team to execute it.”
Shaffer says it’s important for maintenance leaders to understand that everyone has their own way of communicating. Leaders need to adjust to that while letting their staff make mistakes. “You can’t tell them how to get there [solve problems],” he says. “You have to help them find their way.”
Maintenance leaders also need to let their team members learn. “As leaders, we need to allow people to make mistakes and encourage them to be open about it,” says Andy Meador, CAMT, Vice President and Director, Capital Projects, at McDowell Properties. “Don’t take mistakes personally. Learn from them and move on.”
Maintenance leaders who don’t learn how to delegate will find their career advancement stymied. “I’ve seen service leaders fail because they didn’t know how to delegate,” Shaffer says.
Even if a maintenance supervisor demonstrates strong management, communication and training skills and their community is performing at a high level, it can still be hard to get noticed. That’s when you need to look outside of your own organization.
“If your check engine light isn’t coming on and you’re still not getting noticed [for good performance], get involved in your local apartment association,” Meador says. “Show your company that you don’t just care about your community; show them you care about the industry.” There are other benefits, too, with volunteering.
While he agrees that industry service is important for development, Shaffer thinks recognition will come with a strong performance and whether service managers find a way to make their boss’s job easier. “If your property is running smoothly and there are no complaints, you’ll be noticed,” he says. Conversely, when things aren’t going smoothly, conflict arises—sometimes between office and maintenance staff. “Most conflict onsite is from lack of communication,” Shaffer says.
That’s not to say all conflict is bad, though. “Conflict is healthy,” Meador says. “It’s a matter of how you handle it.”
Learn more about NAAEI’s CAMT+L (Leadership) micro-credential. Available online.
The typical pre-leasing process might look a little bit like this:
- Operations, marketing and development come up with a plan.
- Construction challenges delay the groundbreaking and grand opening.
- Everybody forgets about the plan.
- Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, someone learns the community is ready to open in a month.
- Development yells at construction, operations yells at development and marketing goes into a full-on panic.
Ah, the glamorous job of marketing a brand-new Class A apartment community. Fortunately, the typical doesn’t have to be the mad scramble that it seems to be, as long as someone maintains a basic structure to every new lease-up that leaves room for a little last-minute creativity. The Idiot’s Guide to Pre-Construction Marketing panel at Apartmentalize 2019 made that easy by providing that structure.
That structure includes three main phases: Pre-development, pre-leasing and lease-up.
During the pre-development phase, marketers must focus on market research, branding, renderings and marketing technology.
“You have to be really cohesive with your branding on the inside of your development and your brand identity,” says Samantha Posin-Trammell, Senior Marketing Manager of National Marketing for Greystar. “Be sure to connect your branding agency with your interior design agency.”
A big part of branding today is considering the prospect-facing technology that will be implemented into the development and affect the leasing processes.
“You have to have interactive technology in the leasing office,” says Allison Pulaski, Director of Marketing for Engrain. “I would argue that you also need this even with a small budget, especially with self-touring coming up in our industry.”
With branding figured out in advance of the start of construction, much of the strategic marketing work is completed, leaving marketers to work on pre-leasing. In the pre-leasing phase, marketers should be developing a marketing plan, creating awareness with digital channels like social media and garnering innovative spaces for a pre-leasing office.
“We’ve set up shop in we-work spaces and collaborative workspaces,” Posin-Trammell says. “And we’ve seen it work well. You just have to make sure it’s in alignment with your target audience." Posin-Trammell also mentioned that Greystar has used airstreams and art galleries as spaces for leasing offices.
That audience should be targeted even more directly on digital marketing channels such as social media during the pre-leasing phase. By garnering an engaged audience at this stage, marketers can get a jump start on the lease-up process. To do this well, marketers have to create high-value content designed to drive engagement rather than views.
When pre-leasing, Christina Singleton, Managing Partner, Show My Property TV, says the social media and video posts should be consistent and educate new followers about what it’s like to live at this location and what is nearby.
“Consistent video content is not only educational, it’s captivating; and most likely, your competitor down the road is not doing it,” says Singleton. “Small videos on construction updates, the local area and small businesses nearby are effective.”
By completing the pre-development and pre-leasing phases thoroughly, marketers can avoid the stress when a new development that was delayed suddenly actually becomes ready to execute its lease-up. Most of the marketing work will already be done.
All that’s really left is to set goals, push send on the move-in emails and put together an exciting grand opening. Hopefully, you’re already well on your way to meeting your lease-up goals thanks to preleasing.
And the mad scramble that is the lease-up is more like an agenda item during a regularly scheduled marketing team meeting.
Lindsey Bernhardt is an account manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.
Camden has been trending toward having no weight limit for pets at most of its suburban communities for a few years, particularly in high-density markets.
“Our experience with larger breeds is that behaviorally they pose no significant issues (besides the obvious) and we provide convenient pet waste stations,” Tom Sloan, Senior Vice President, Operations, Camden. “In many (most) cases, a 70-pound Labrador is a terrific apartment dweller.”
Previously, Camden set its weight limit at 60 pounds. Sloan says just less than half of Camden’s residents pay pet rent, that most of those are dog owners and no residents have complained about oversized pets at Camden communities.
“We have experienced a marginal increase in dogs since introducing the policy,” Sloan says. “We track specific customer comments on social media and through resident move-out surveys and we have not experienced negative sentiment based on the size of dogs.”
This weight-limit policy is mentioned on the communities’ websites. Sloan says he’s seen an increasing number of competitors follow a similar approach to pet policy.
Camden charges $300 to $500 in up-front fees for pets and pet rent of $25 to $50 per pet monthly through the lease term. Instituting this policy did not result in a resident fee increase.
Sloan says Camden will continue to monitor the policy through customer sentiment, occupancy percentages and income.
When short-term guests stream into your apartments, both residents and staff feel their presence. Here’s how to overcome the problems commonly associated with temporary renters.
When AMLI Residential decided to experiment with renting apartments to short-term rental operators, onsite disruption was the company’s first concern. To limit potential issues, it was careful about choosing partners.
“We put them through a vetting process,” says Maria Banks, President and CEO of AMLI Management Co. “We chose partners who professionally manage the units, meaning they perform background checks and install noise monitors. We believe they’ll be responsive to our needs should something come up.”
By conducting thorough research, apartment firms attempt to limit the onsite issues typically associated with short-term operators, but that doesn’t mean issues won’t still occur. Whether it’s existing customers becoming concerned about transient guests entering the building or short-term residents converging on the concierge desk to ask for help settling in, there often are hiccups with these new occupants.
Sometimes, the solutions—such as adding more signage for short-term guests—confuses long-term residents, who might wonder whether their building is morphing into a hotel. Still, simple things such as good communication and proper, specific signage can limit conflicts, keep things running smooth and even turn those short-term guests into long-term customers.
“Our goal is to provide [short-term rental operator] Lyric’s guests with the same level of customer service we’d extend to our residents and their guests,” says Tarah Tankersley, Director of Multifamily Operations for Hines. “As a result, Lyric guests have requested to tour the community, and this has actually led to them making lease referrals.”
The challenges for onsite personnel when serving short-term guests often begin when the guests enter the community. Not knowing where to go or what to do first, they usually end up at the concierge desk.
AMLI found that the largest source of confusion among short-term visitors arose when they received their keys and tried to find their way around. Sometimes, onsite personnel were asked to assist them.
“We needed to look at how we could better streamline or improve building access,” Banks says. “People were kind of getting hung up in finding their way, so we found a better way to use signage. But other than those issues, it’s been a positive for us.”
After these kinks are worked out, Banks doesn’t necessarily see short-term rentals as a disruption to AMLI’s leasing staff.
“We’re working with our partners to help guests have a better front-end experience getting into our building and minimizing the disruption to our staff during check-in,” Banks says. “[Short-term rentals] are not taking a drastic amount of time away from our onsite teams. I’d expect some level of management interface in helping manage the partner and/or their guests.”
With its stated goal of delivering great customer service to all its guests, Hines embraces helping its short-term visitors.
“The Lyric team provides management with a daily roster, which includes check-ins for the day and the total number of documented guests on the reservation,” Tankersley says. “The concierge staff is responsible for validating the guest names on the reservation. If approved, the guest is then escorted to the apartment home. Instructions for check-in are provided by Lyric in advance.”
Some apartment owners question whether short-term rentals will require more staffing.
“One client is considering adding an admin person to our staff who can help manage the flow of people coming through and help be the liaison between the short-term-stay operator and [us], which could be really helpful,” says Khushbu Sikaria, Vice President, Innovation and Product Development, Bozzuto Management Co. “This is at a community where short-stay rentals haven’t been implemented, but they’re in the advanced stages of negotiation.”
Many short-term-stay operators have staff onsite to manage guest questions and handle apartment unit upkeep, assuming they control enough apartments to make the numbers work.
“We do the regular maintenance on the unit that we might be doing on a periodic basis anyway, but, other than that, they handle all the cleaning on the particular units they rent,” says AMLI’s Banks.
The Guild, like some other short-term providers, keeps staffers onsite to help usher guests through their stay while also doing services like monitoring cleanliness and pool usage.
“We have a significant onsite and local presence,” says Chris Herndon, Co-Founder of The Guild. “It’s good to know [when] something’s going wrong, but it’s even better to be able to do something about it.”
This onsite presence from short-term providers has been effective in limiting associated onsite management issues. Both Banks and Lisa Newton, Senior Vice President of Multifamily Operations at Hines, say they haven’t encountered short-term guests causing problems in common areas.
“We’re not experiencing issues any different than we would with a regular resident,” Newton says. “If anything, I’d say the percentage of issues from Lyric guests is less than from our residents.”
Herndon says there’s even potential for short-term operators and management firms to share resources such as housekeeping. Short-term operator Locale is thinking along similar lines.
“When we approach the 30-unit mark at a property, we prefer to place a Locale concierge in the lobby, to support both our guests and the building’s residents,” says Nitesh Gandhi, Locale’s Founder. “It’s a benefit for property managers because we’re bolstering the building’s amenities, and, at that scale, having an in-person presence helps ensure a smooth onsite operation.”
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Potential crossover between the management’s personnel and the short-term operator’s might pose a problem, however, if the apartment firm wants to ensure that its brand is distinct from that of the short-term company’s.
For instance, a big selling point for many short-term operators is the services and benefits they can offer existing residents in an apartment building. The Guild, for example, cleans its own apartments and can also provide those services for residents.
“Cleaning is a big thing because we’re already there cleaning our rooms, so we can clean at a very affordable price [for the apartment company],” Herndon says.
Some apartment operators are happy to have their residents take advantage of these onsite services, but that sentiment isn’t universal.
“One thing we’ve asked our providers to not do is sell additional services to our residents,” Banks says. “We don’t want them to engage our residents in trying to upsell cleaning services or dog walking or whatever. If there’s some communication that needs to be sent out in relation to whatever, that’s coming from us.”
Banks is even careful with her onsite events, though AMLI has allowed parties at three communities with a large concentration of short-term residents to answer any questions its customers might have and help them understand what’s happening regarding guests in their building.
“We co-brand some events—we co-branded the introduction of The Guild, for instance—at those properties, but I’m very careful about the perception,” Banks says. “I don’t want people thinking short-term rentals are 50, 70 or 80 percent of a building, because it’s not even close to that. So, I’ve been very cautious about how we brand, what signage we allow and that sort of thing.”
Signage presents another instance in which brand confusion can occur, forcing apartment managers to walk a tightrope of sorts. Signs can be helpful to short-term guests who may get lost and not know where to go, but too many signs for The Guild, Lyric or any other short-term provider can lead regular residents to wonder whether they’re living in a hotel.
“We limit how much [short-term operators can] brand, because we don’t want to feel we’re mainly a Guild building,” Banks says.
Communication Throughout the Chain
While onsite glitches with signage and the occasional confused short-term resident can be managed easily enough, the real key to a successful relationship with temporary occupants is communication.
“A key for success in this model is absolute collaboration and open communication between the apartment manager and short-term rental operator,” Bozzuto’s Sikaria says.
It’s also important to share information within an apartment firm. That’s a lesson Kristen Pope, a Camden District Manager, learned early on.
“We hadn’t relayed the info about our relationship with Lyric to our Camden Contact Center in the beginning and had a snafu early on, but everything since then has been great,” Pope says. “Communication with all parties is key, from our contact center, marketing, onsite team and with the assigned rep from the provider.”
Pope also recommends having regular meetings with the short-term operator. “We have a standing biweekly call with Lyric to get updates and communicate any issues, and they send daily emails detailing number of check-ins, guest info, length of stay,” she says.
When problems do arise, Pope says onsite teams need the contact information for the short-term operator’s local manager. “We’ve had a great partnership so far—relatively few issues with their guests—which is notably different than Airbnb leases that we have had to send violation notices to,” she says.
Compared with long-term residents, communication with the short-term provider is easy. When existing residents see unknown people entering a building, however, it can prompt concern. Without proactive communication to residents about short-term rentals, issues can quickly become public on review sites.
“Early on, we had a review or two posted saying that one of our buildings was an Airbnb building,” Banks says. “They didn’t mention that most of the units are still residential units. [But] I haven’t seen that type of thing bubble
When Lyric first came into a building managed by Bozzuto, Sikaria says residents expressed concern about a “hotel” being in their community. “To counteract that [misperception], our management team spoke with the residents,” Sikaria says.
To keep such concerns from appearing in the future, AMLI focuses on proactive communication and helping manage misperceptions about short-term rentals. “We’ve had resident meetings and residents have had questions, but, overall, we feel the partnerships have been positive, and we continue to work with our [operators] at these buildings,” Banks says.
Offering a sweetener for residents can also help sell them on their new short-term neighbors. Lyric, for example, hosted several open-house events for Bozzuto. In the process, it supported Bozzuto’s onsite team.
“It allowed the residents to learn about [Lyric’s] service, and it gave them direct contact to the short-term-stay operator,” Sikaria says. “It also gave the residents and their friends and family a discount. In the end, [Lyric] just repositioned themselves from a disruption to an amenity.”
Apartment communities have the nonstop, continual mission to keep residents pleased with their living experience. While much effort is dedicated to that pursuit, there is another group that must be made happy — your investors.
The quest to keep residents happy generally consists of keeping their homes in perfect operating condition, the amenity spaces active, the community clean and communication flowing. Satisfying investors is a bit more abstract, and apartment operators should always consider the bottom line.
Investors aren’t often — and shouldn’t need to be — involved with the minutia of a community’s day-to-day operations, but they are often involved in the large-scale initiatives you’ve implemented and their financial impact. With that in mind, consider these three approaches to maintain a strong relationship with investors:
Use the data they value most
Big data is among the most coveted commodities in the apartment world. The challenge is converting various data subsets into actionable processes. Investors prefer data-driven initiatives over those simply based on experience or feel, so it’s a win if you can utilize analytics to help improve the bottom line. For instance, drill down on a community’s phone call data to measure the relationship between a prospect’s time spent on the phone and their likelihood to lease. If you discover a correlation, train your onsite team to pique and maintain the prospect’s interest while on the phone. This results in a longer call, thereby increasing the chances of them signing a lease.
Demonstrate ways to increase cost savings
We know swimming pools are seldom used in winter. Consider the idea of only heating the pool during warmer, heavy-use months. It cuts costs and carries the bonus of serving a green initiative. That’s just one example of how to cut unnecessary costs and improve an investor’s ROI. Another idea: Adopt a smart-apartment feature that dims the lights in corridors and other common areas when no one is present. Small efficiencies add up and investors appreciate the proactive approach.
Use common-sense tactics and problem-solving initiatives
Let’s talk about package management. The increasing popularity of e-commerce has left our leasing offices overflowing with resident packages, making our sales team focus more on resident package requests than nurturing leads and current residents. Adopting a package locker system is a strong solution to the growing package-delivery problem. Start-up costs can be paid up front or can be built into the contract and paid over a multiple-year basis. Either way, the property will realize savings because of increased operational efficiencies and residents will be happier because of a streamlined experience. Residents will be more likely to renew, and your onsite associates can go back to more crucial tasks, such as securing and retaining renters.
Unlike residents, investors aren’t a group that has an everyday presence at your community. But they’ve dedicated time and resources to your community because they believe in the potential to create an exceptional living space and grow their bottom line. Earning their trust by demonstrating these characteristics will make a strong foundation for any investor relationship.