As competition heats up for onsite staff, some apartment sellers are using every tactic in the book to try to retain their people.
When an apartment owner buys a community or a new third-party firm comes in to manage the property, there usually is a clear, unspoken expectation: The incoming firm will speak with the existing staff and offer them the opportunity to stay onboard.
While it’s the staff member’s choice to stay or go, the buyer does get to make a pitch to keep them.
But the fierce struggle to retain talent in the country’s hottest markets is pushing some of the industry’s largest firms to change these 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.”
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 opportunity in the world to run some of the best real estate assets in the country,” says Wood Residential Services, Executive Vice President of Operations Steve Hallsey. “The battle to keep them is very competitive.”
Eric Bolton, CEO of MAA says his firm has faced situations in more competitive markets where developers have other projects going online and they are “pretty aggressive” in their efforts to keep their best managers.
But the competition really extends to every onsite employee.
“With developers who are building these properties, there is a strong effort to have that staff leave that community for 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?”
Though Fogelman does not block interviews of its onsite staff, it prefers to move its teams to other communities after an asset is sold or if the contract is not renewed.
“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 I will tell you what your next assignment is.’ ”
Wood says retaining and reassigning its onsite staff when it loses an asset is a priority because “it is so difficult to recruit and find great talent,” according to Hallsey, and it 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 instead gives them an incentive to stay with me.”