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Communication Is Key in Lease-Ups

A person working in front of a laptop with pen and paper

Lease-ups on new apartment construction is a very different challenge than filling units at established multifamily housing communities. There are more parties involved, more people must be kept informed, and that communication loop can get a bit fractured at time.  And, of course, leasing and marketing members have to basically sell a "work in progress" to prospective residents while keeping those who have already moved in happy and content. 

One person with extensive experience in this regard is Kimberly Hurd, Senior Director of Residential Services at Indianapolis-based Milhaus Management. She recently sat down with Marketing Buzz to discuss lease-up strategies and the importance of communication throughout the entire process. What follows is our chat: 

NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

KIMBERLY HURD: I am the Senior Director of Residential Services, and I oversee the daily operations for our Property Management division. I've been in this industry about 17 years. I began my career as a leasing consultant years ago, and I've held every position in between working my way up to management. I have a passion for training and development in this industry! I have been at Milhaus since August of 2013 and was brought on board to launch their management division. Currently, our portfolio consists of urban in-fill, new construction luxary projects so I am very familiar with the lease-up process.

NAA: How does a lease-up differ from leasing at an established community?

KH: Lease-ups require a great amount of collaboration across departments. In an established community,  collaboration typically occurs within property management. The maintenance team and the property manager need to stay in communication with the onsite leasing team. In a lease-up, collaboration occurs between construction, development, and property management. There are so many moving pieces, and there there are so many people involved that one of the biggest differences if the need for constant communication between these groups. In a stabilized community, you would rarely need to meet with development, and construction.  Effective collaboration is first and foremost.

NAA: What is another big differentiator?

KH: Certainly the amount of communication required just in general. Not only are we frequently and even daily, at some points, in communication with development and construction team members, we also have an obligation to our residents. We have to keep them informed of when amenities are coming on line or when construction might be working on something that's particularly dusty or noisy. We need to let them know of any inconveniences that are going to occur. We have a responsibility to communicate that both to residents as well as prospects. It is ongoing construction most of the time on lease-ups. Sometimes, we have a head's up on interruptions, and we can get the word out to residents. But sometimes unexpected things happen, but we still have to effectively and immediately get the word out to our residents whether it's via email or text messaging or other electronic avenues.

NAA: Technology is just a beautiful thing in that regard, yes?

KH: Absolutely. But it's both a blessing and a curse, because residents can also let us know instantly how they feel about those interruptions and unexpected things that happen.

NAA: What would you say is the biggest challenge to lease-ups today?

KH: It's really the need to communicate. You not only have to be communicating laterally with others on your team, but collaboratively with other departments, and then keeping in touch with the residents. It's challenging to stay on top of all that. Construction is also a top challenge on a lease-up. You have dirt and debris and machinery and noise. It is common to have subcontractors on the site as well as rent-paying residents. With those two groups, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everyone playing nice and to keep residents where they're supposed to be and to keep construction where they are supposed to be.

NAA: What is the top challenge from a staffing standpoint?

KH: Keeping your team motivated. Lease-ups are a challenge. They are aggressive leasing goals we have to meet. It is critical to the overall success of the project that you keep your team focused on the customer, happy and healthy while dealing with any construction delays or unexpected occurrences. 

NAA: Can you discuss some team-building and motivation strategies that you and the company have been able to employ that have helped manage those challenges?

KH: From a team-building standpoint, we try to have frequent team meetings. We do five-minute meetings in the mornings just to make sure we are all on the same page. But then we also try to devote one-on-one time to the team individually on a monthly basis, just to give them the opportunity to be heard, to voice any concerns, etc. We also really encourage staff to take breaks. With a lease-up, your day can get away from you. We want to make sure that people are taking their full lunch break and getting away from the office to maintain that healthy balance. 

NAA: Do you have an interesting anecdote about how one of your team-building strategies paid off?

KH: We had a period of rain here in Indianapolis that I thought would never end. It was a very frustrating situation because construction slowed down in certain areas which could have put us behind schedule. And honestly, continuous rain itself can be very depressing. So, I purchased Nerf guns for my team and everyone took a piece of paper so they could write anything on it that was frustrating them, making them the mad, etc. We taped them around the office and we all opened fire! Rain was the No. 1 frustration, by the way, and we were able to work through some of that tension. Within minutes, everyone was laughing and we were able to get back to work with a renewed sense of energy.

NAA: How do you manage expectations between ownership, staff, and so forth?

KH: Whether it's good news or bad news, you over-communicate. That is absolutely the key. If we have bad news to deliver, we do that as quickly as possible, and we offer what the solutions are. Nobody wants to hear about a problem without an answer to it. We make sure to effectively communicate any status changes. What we don't want is for the owners or team members to get different or opposing answers from the various departments working on a project. We have a weekly update meeting with our owners, and I lead that. We provide updates on topics including the leasing week, possible technoogy concerns, feedback we've received from residents as well as prospects and marketing initiatives. 

NAA: Do you have an example of a lease-up you've personally been involved with where things went particularly well, and can you share why and how?

KH: Artistry is a 500-unit project, when all phases are complete, consisting of three buildings, 88,000-square-feet of commercial space seeking LEED certification. It was projected to be a 15-month lease-up. That means that at the end of 15 months, we needed to be stabilized. We were six months into it, and we're 90 percent leased. I particularly successful! I attribute that to several factors. Milhaus Management, LLC was created to do things different than anyone else is doing. We are completely focused on our customer and their experience. The response to that has been phenomenal. In addition to that, the apartments themselves are unmatched in our market. In a time when some owners are trying to be more cost-effective with finishes, Milhaus is known for attention to details and custom work. Our interior finishes include custom light fixtures, custom door handles, German bathroom faucets, granite or stainless steel countertops, sealed concrete floors and a 42-inch cabinetry. An amenity package including a bocce ball court, putting green, infinity pool, aqua lounge, outdoor kitchen, two-story wellness studio, vegetable garden and an art gallery featuring local Indianna artists - well that's just the icing on the cake! We have taken the details to a level that, in this market, just doesn't exist. Milhaus does things differently. 

By Teddy Durgin