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Greystar Summit Helps Staff Navigate the Twists of Turn Season

Jennifer RodenJennifer Roden has been with Greystar Student Living for 17 years. She started in the business as a leasing consultant and worked her way up through the ranks, gaining experience in such areas as training and operations. Texas-based Greystar, the national student housing arm of Greystar Real Estate Partners, currently manages more than 13,000 student housing beds across the country. In 2012, the company promoted Roden from Senior Regional Property Manager to her current position as Director of Student Living.

She recently sat down with Campus Connections to discuss Greystar’s annual TURN summit, which has evolved over the years to become one of the firm’s most mission-critical training programs. What follows is our chat:

NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: Greystar’s annual TURN Summit has proven to be quite successful. Could you tell our readers what it is, and what kind of staff training it provides?

JR: Certainly. In the student environment every year in August, we have approximately 70 percent of our students move out and we have brand new students move in. To prepare for that – the cleaning, the painting, basically turning each entire unit – every year, typically in April, we come together and talk about our best practices and our lessons learned from the year prior. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we like to think that we have mastered the turn process. At our TURN Summit, we want the key people who operate this big turn process to take chunks of that process and turn it into training.  So, we’ll have the managers of the most successful vendor contracts or the managers who had the most successful completion of their final account statements essentially teach those particular subjects. We have to start getting ready for the turn process several months in advance. So, typically, March-April is when we have all of our community managers and our service supervisors come in from across the country. We all meet in our training room, and we talk about best practices – about things like lock changes, making keys, and when do you start that process.  . . . We have a property in Texas that has 1,044 beds. Just think about 70 percent of those students moving out and 70 percent moving back in during that short time period in August. You really have to manage that process tightly and know what the steps are. You could easily lose a couple of days. But you just can’t mess up that move-in date for students. They start school right after, so we don’t have room for error.

NAA: You have to have checks and balances, yes?

JR: With this turn summit, there is every check and balance you could possibly imagine.  We have a turn calendar – six months, four months, two months, down to 30 days. Then, we say, “OK, you’re at your 30-day calendar.” At that point, you are talking about what you are doing on a daily basis. When you are at your five-month calendar, you’re talking about what you are doing weekly. We identify our turn vendors early on. Typically, the markets that we are in, these vendors are also doing this process. And now that so many other ownerships are wanting to get into the student housing business, those vendors book up early. As a result, we’re negotiating those contracts early on. So, the calendars count down to when turn begins, typically on July 31 when everybody moves out and we have about a two-week time period to get everybody back in. Each year at the TURN Summit, we have some first-year managers and service supervisors and some very seasoned maintenance people. When they leave the TURN Summit, they leave with a wealth of knowledge and almost a complete plan in place that just needs to be finalized and fine-tuned on a weekly and monthly basis until July 31.

NAA: For those who come to their first summit, I imagine it can be a bit overwhelming.  How do you help get those “newbies” through the process the first time?

JR: The nice thing is when this TURN Summit trigger is pulled, it initiates those training processes with our new associates, as well. The managers and service supervisors leave here knowing that we are now monthly going to talk about turn. We’re going to start preparing our on-site associates. Our community assistants literally walk the units, they assess for damages, and document for damages. We create a final account statement that prints out a summary of the damages. We take pictures of the damages. Before July 31, there are periodic trainings happening that are Web-based, some are on-site, and there are turn meetings that are already pre-scheduled to get everyone on the same page and on pace so that no one is shocked when it is July 31 and they see 800 people moving out at one time.

NAA: What is the advantage of paying students to help with turns?

JR: I’ve used temporary services before. But you may not get the same person back every day. I’ve found throughout my career that using our residents as our turn help, they are very eager. They raise their hands and say, “I’m staying here, and I want to help out through your turn!” They are temporary employees with us, but they go through our background screening and we feel less of a risk having them with us. In addition, they speak the same lingo as our residents and our prospects who come in that will be leasing with us. So, everybody is on the same page and it works out really well.

NAA: Are they any initiatives at Greystar that you have been personally involved with that you are particularly proud of?

JR: This year, one thing that the Greystar team really fine-tuned is our turn service agreement with our vendors. Every critical aspect that we felt needed to be covered was added to the turn agreement, from completion time requirements to maximum vendor fees per unit. For example, whether there is a hole, patch, or nothing, we implemented a flat rate per unit - whether partially occupied or full - and that is all we would be charged for X amount of units. Now, we won't find ourselves in those predicaments where we budget $40,000 for paint but spending $55,000. The fact that it is written in black and white is good for both parties. We've always had a contract in place. The contract needed to be fine-tuned with specified vendor requirements and management's responsibilities for prompt payment where parts may have been missing in the past or additional, more specific language was needed. With Turn Expense Control being a huge part of the turn process and critical to client satisfaction, we are found of the final product.

NAA: How do you see student housing and, in particular, turn season evolving in the coming years?

JR: In regards to the turn process evolving, I foresee turn becoming a complete online mobile process for the onsite teams, especially with the number of tech-savvy students out there these days. As a matter of fact, I see all facets of student housing growing in this direction with online leasing and renewals, online payments, etc. 

By Teddy Durgin
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