The Poaching Wars Heat Up
As competition stiffens for onsite staff, some apartment sellers are using every tactic they can to keep their people.
When an apartment owner buys a community or a new management firm comes in, there is usually a clear, unspoken expectation: The incoming firm will speak with the existing staff and offer them the opportunity to stay onboard. While the staff can stay or go, the buyer gets to make a pitch.
But the fierce struggle to retain talent in the country’s hottest markets is pushing some of the industry’s largest firms to change the rules of engagement.
“Some companies will not let you interview their onsite folks,” says Melissa L. Smith, Chief Administrative Officer for Fogelman Management Group. “They view onsite staff as their associate, not an associate who works at that property. So, now these associates stay with the company and accept their next assignment. It is a changing trend.”
The movement is especially apparent with community managers who specialize in lease-ups. Successfully managing a lease-up is a prized skill and developers try to keep those superstars at any cost.
“These top-notch managers have every option in the world to run some of the best assets in the country,” says Wood Residential Services, Executive Vice President of Operations Steve Hallsey. “It is very competitive to keep them.”
Eric Bolton, CEO of MAA says his firm has faced situations in more competitive markets where developers have other projects going on and they are “pretty aggressive” in their efforts to keep their managers. But the competition really extends to every onsite employee.
“With developers who are building these properties, there is a strong drive to get that staff to leave that community and go to another lease-up, but it really depends on how big and prolific that developer is,” Bolton says. “Do they have other projects underway that need that onsite person to move with them?”
Even though Fogelman does not block interviews of its onsite staff, it would like to move its teams to other communities when it sells an asset or loses a contract.
“We have loyal associates and we always make the offer, ‘Hey, if you want to stay with us, we will find you a spot for you at another one of our properties,” Smith says. “But it is a very different approach to say, ‘You will stay with us and let me tell you what your next assignment is.’ ”
Wood is making it a priority to retain and reassign its onsite staff when it loses an asset because “it is so difficult to recruit and find great talent,” according to Hallsey.
Wood entices these onsite staffers through benefits and bonuses. “Every time we have an opportunity for them to move, it is like we are giving them a new sign-up bonus,” Hallsey says. “It keeps them aligned with us and focused on us. That way, they don’t listen to the story when the buyer comes in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to stay for a couple of dollars extra.’ It gives them an incentive to stay with me.”