If there is a single, absolute truth about residential property management (RPM), it would be that the only certainty is change. Many factors influence change in our industry—some within our control and some as a response to outside influences.
As technology has advanced, we enjoy greater options for both resident convenience and increased day-to-day operational efficiency, such as online leasing and renewals, rent payments and work order requests. During the pandemic, we implemented virtual leasing and self-guided tours to continue operations and serve our customers while our offices could not offer in-person services.
Today’s customer journey is vastly different from any time before. It is theoretically possible for today’s residents to lease a home, move in, live in our communities, and then move out without ever having any real personal interaction with onsite teams.
Before online options, we spent a significant amount of time on the phone and in-person with our residents. In the leasing and move-in process, we talked to them on the phone and toured with them around the community. When they moved in, we sat with them during the lease signing, and escorted them to their new home to complete their move-in inspection together.
Whether it was picking up a package, paying rent at the leasing office or using the amenities, we would chat with them about what was going on in their lives.
These various touchpoints of interaction throughout a residency were opportunities for us to get to know our residents and for them to get to know us, too. When we lose these opportunities, we lose the ability to connect and build relationships, essential in residential property management.
RPM training programs focus heavily on customer service and the aspects of relationship-building. But it is not just about getting a lease and meeting our occupancy goals. The relationships that we have with our customers affect so many more aspects of what we do.
I remember when I was an onsite property manager, I knew just about all my residents. I could address them by name when I saw them. When there were concerns, my residents came to me, or I went to them, and we worked together to problem-solve and find win-win solutions.
I believe it is because of this relationship that I very rarely had negative online reviews. I have a theory that when a resident posts a negative review online, it is because they do not have a personal connection with someone on the onsite team. More often than not, they are upset with “the management” and not a particular person.
I liken the job of property manager to that of a ship captain. The captain is responsible for the ship’s safe and efficient operation—including its seaworthiness, safety and security, cargo operations, navigation, crew management and legal compliance—and the persons and cargo on board.
Carrying out this level of responsibility and juggling the many components takes synergy and communication that neither a captain nor a property manager can accomplish 100% virtually.
Virtual and self-guided tours will not disappear as we start to open our leasing offices back up. Nor will continued innovation that enables greater efficiency and customer service.
But we also cannot lose sight of the importance of personal connection as we continue to leverage technology. One is not a replacement for the other. As we continue to innovate, through training and change management, we must ensure we incorporate the fundamentals of success into new tools and strategies.
Jean Heier, CAM, CAPS, is Regional Manager for Security Properties Residential.