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The Secret to Overcoming Bad Turns

By Les Shaver

Construction problems don't have to sabotage a community's reputation. Some tips on how to save the day.

When construction issues delayed the opening of Aspire Tucson, a Dinerstein Co. student housing community at the University of Arizona, the management team knew the only way to move forward was with strong communication.

The Aspire was so far behind schedule that Dinerstein brought in its employees from around the country to get it ready for opening and move-in. "Anyone who came in to help was added to our Slack channel to ensure anyone working on the site was in the loop with construction and move-in updates," Jacob Kosior, Dinerstein National Director of Student Development, said at NAA's CampusConnex conference this February in New Orleans.

The delays caused the community some hits on social media, which weighed on staff morale. "When the onsite student staff saw bad feedback, we needed to keep their spirits up," Kosior said.

In addition, communication with students and parents was vitally important. It helped to let them vent over the phone, but the Dinerstein corporate office also sent out emails that were vetted at multiple levels. "We were trying to get off the phone and to direct communication to email to ensure all residents and parents were receiving the same information at the same time," Kosior said. "We sent out construction information at the same time each day."

Getting Outside Help

Meanwhile, at Haven49 in Charlotte, N.C., Peak Campus delayed its scheduled August opening until November and December because of construction issues. "We knew early on that we weren't going to deliver on time," said Senior Director of Sales Ashly Poyer. "We ultimately recovered well, but it wasn't pretty."

Like Dinerstein, Peak Campus recovered through using an excellent communication strategy. The company brought in an outside public relations firm to guide it through outreach with students and parents. First, Peak created an email address specifically for property move-in issues, which fast-tracked resident questions to corporate, regional and onsite staff. At the same time, the company sent out a weekly email with status updates.

After setting up communication channels, Peak gave residents two options: They could either stay in their lease or opt out. If they stayed, residents would receive alternative housing at a hotel and could earn rewards. "You earned more the longer you stayed with us," Poyer said.

Peak also offered its residents shuttles to the host hotels, Poyer said. "We tried to choose hotels close to campus."

Students eventually arrived at Haven 49 in November and December. Poyer is especially proud that the team stayed at the community despite the delayed opening. But even after the students moved in, the team's work wasn't quite done. It had to resuscitate the community's rating on Google.

"Before the delay we were in the high 4's," Poyer said. "It was a slow process to earn our way back up."

Poyer said Peak Campus was also focused on maintenance and inspections to avoid any mechanical issues. "We didn't want the students to flash back to the delays," said Poyer.

The Big Dry-out

Sometimes, it's not always a construction delay that stymies an opening. At San Miguel Management's Quarters on Campus in Austin, Texas, water damage caused by a clogged sink soaked 24 apartments less than two weeks before students arrived. Again, communication was key.

"Our team provided daily communication," said Jennifer N. Messina, San Miguel's Vice President of Marketing. "Our portfolio supervisor walked the apartments daily and called residents and gave them a status on move in. That showed that it is important to be onsite, making sure you're seeing [the apartments] for yourself." 

Eventually, the construction teams finished up and management handed keys to students as they were scheduled to move in.

"We made sure to reach out to the residents before they picked up the keys," Messina said. "It is important to meet them in the apartments so that you can point out things."