2017 NAA Excels Community of the Year shows how doing good can make a difference and earn a nice return.
Veritas Equity Management always wants to move quickly once it buys an apartment community.
“We go in and fix everything up-front,” says John Boriack, President of Veritas. “We don’t like a lot of ongoing maintenance issues down the road.”
The Houston-based company put that strategy into practice at Windfern Pointe, a 200-unit, garden-style community in Houston. It earned the 2017 NAA Community of the Year Excellence Award for its efforts. Prior to Veritas buying the community in 2012, Windfern Pointe was owned by a non-profit organization with financial issues, leaving large amounts of deferred maintenance onsite.
“When Veritas took over, the community was performing fine, however it was not being given the love that it needed,” says Jackie Aguirre, current Vice President of Operations for Veritas and the Manager at Windfern at the time it was purchased by Veritas.
Fixing the deferred maintenance was not the only challenge at Windfern Pointe. Onsite services were an under-the-radar need. The community housed a loyal base of working-class residents and counted many children among them. Boriack saw an opportunity to develop services for these families that would help them in their day-to-day lives. In the process, he achieved financial success and fostered a true feeling of the community at Windfern Pointe.
Veritas made its mark at Windfern Pointe—built in 1979—by spending $400,000 on upgrades during the first six months. It added an $80,000 playground and pavilion, additional landscaping, 116 new HVAC units, a paint job, a new leasing office, a remodeled kids club room, a re-plastered pool with new decking and more.
But the investments did not end after the first six months. “We sit with investors every year and discuss capital expenditures,” Boriack says.
In those conversations, investors signed off on many additional big-ticket items. Overall, Vertitas’ upgrades at Windfern, which included fencing around the soccer fields, boiler replacements, concrete repairs, expanded parking spaces and a new roof, have now reached $700,000.
Many of these improvements saved money. “We replaced all of the old incandescent and halogen lighting with fluorescent lighting,” Boriack says. “That cut our lighting bill by a lot. We also did a water conservation project to cut water usage and make the air-conditioning system more efficient.”
Physical improvements were not the only upgrades Boriack made. Veritas has helped five Windfern Pointe team members earn professional certifications, such as NAA Education Institute’s NALP, CAMT, CAM and CAPS designations. Boriack trains the onsite staff to complete higher-level management tasks, such as rehab management, accounting, investor reporting and community management. “I hired the right people, invested in them and gave them the tools they needed to succeed,” Boriack says.
Those team members also have the right attitude. “We have a strong team,” says Grace Ortiz, the Community Manager at Windfern Pointe. “The team here is awesome.”
Many apartment owners spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate and update their communities, but they do not win national awards. What sets the owners and staff at Windfern Pointe apart is their desire to help the many children and families that reside at the community. “When John came in, he really supported the kids program,” Aguirre says.
The most prominent amenity of the community is its successful after-school kids club.
“When John took over the community, that room [that now houses the kids club] had a fitness center with a mirror and a few windows,” Aguirre says. “There was a kids club in a vacant, one-bedroom apartment off to the corner. It was not in a good spot and not many kids attended classes there.”
Veritas took out the fitness center and added tables, chairs, bookshelves, posters, educational mats and televisions to transform the space into a kids club. Proving that doing good can also help the bottom line, the unit that once held the kids club could be rented out.
By partnering with Urban Outreach Ministries, the Veritas team provides a safe and nurturing activity for children after they arrive home from school. A full-time kids club manager, who is also a resident at the community, ensures that the children receive help with homework, are given a nutritious snacks and engage in supervised play time with peers.
“This provides a nurturing environment,” Boriack says. “After the bus drops the kids off and before the parents get home from work, there is a two- to three-hour interval where they do not want kids sitting home alone by themselves and watching television.”
During the summer, the program has extended hours with vacation Bible school, soccer camps and more. Additionally, lunch and a snack are provided to every child in the apartment community. Children from the local community also have access to summer lunch due to a partnership with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
The Veritas team also encourages the residents to give back to the community by facilitating an annual food drive for the Houston Food Bank, an annual school supplies drive and visits to their elderly neighbors.
“The neighboring community is an elderly care nursing home,” Boriack says. “The staff and the [children in] kids club will go there three or four times a year. The residents of the nursing home are always smiling when they know the kids are coming. It is just priceless.”
Bottom Line Boost
When Veritas bought Windfern in 2012, the community was fetching rents of $0.75 to $0.80 per square foot and monthly collections were approximately $120,000. Now, rents per square foot have risen to $1.06 and monthly collections jumped 62 percent to $193,743 per month. Occupancy sits between 96 percent and 100 percent.
“When you only have a small number of units that turn [over] every month, that allows us to be very detailed-oriented, take our time and fix things the right way,” Boriack says.
Veritas only spends approximately $500 or $600 a month on advertising at Windfern. Many of its other apartment communities budget $3,000 to $6,000 to reach potential residents.
Windfern has increased 147 percent in value. In 2016, the cash flow from the community generated a 34 percent return on original investment to the ownership.
“Our investors could not be happier,” Boriack says.
Judging from the occupancy, the residents could not be happier either. “People choose to stay at Windfern Pointe because of [the] programs, benefits and incredible team and staff there,” Boriack says.