As technologies and markets evolve, and renter expectations shift, property management teams must keep the needs and priorities of asset owners in mind. Are those priorities shifting as well? What new benchmarks or performance indicators do owners care about today?
Jeff Olshan, SVP-Asset Management at Passco Companies, asserts that benchmarks may not be changing as much as people think. “Technology changes, but it’s just the tool we use to achieve the results we want,” he said. “Owners are looking for performance. The bottom line is the bottom line, and that isn’t going to change.”
While the basic goals may be holding steady, asset owners rely heavily on property management teams to suggest innovative ways to meet occupancy and revenue projections, and to keep in step with what residents expect. Changing demands may range from the way a leasing office is set up (looking more like a hotel lobby than a typical office space) to the amenities a community offers (shared workspace, pet-friendly features, recycling, and health-and-wellness options).
And, of course, it includes technology, both within the leasing office, and inside the apartment units.
“I’ve been resistant to some virtual leasing functions,” admitted Lisa Newton, VP-Asset Management at Hines. “If I have a choice to talk to someone in person, I’ll take that every time. But I love chatbots because of the instant interaction. It’s effective and I think it’s something we have to embrace.”
“We’re starting to see home automation that can save us money, like sensors that will shut off water to avoid damage,” said Olshan. “If it costs you four dollars and you can charge your resident $10, that’s a no-brainer. Bring on the data, bring on the tech, and show me the money.”
However, most asset managers are not looking to technology to replace or reduce staffing costs. In fact, as residents come to expect more services and concierge-based amenities, and as apartment units become more automated, payroll costs may increase as properties struggle to recruit and retain teams with advanced skill sets.
“Customer service remains the bedrock of our business,” said Olshan. “Passco holds properties for seven to 10 years. I’d prefer the same team the whole time. It may kill payroll, but it creates a community. In today’s job market, if you have good people, you need to pay them to keep them.”
Instead, owners expect tech to enhance and facilitate the services their on-site teams can provide, helping them be more efficient and focus more on residents and new ideas rather than getting bogged down in day-to-day tasks. Centralized leasing and call center services can play a big role in creating more effective interactions with residents and prospective renters without impacting quality.
“I remember during a new lease-up one of our first shopping reports came in showing “Brandon” had 100% and I thought, ‘Brandon doesn’t work at my property!’” laughed Newton. “Turns out it was the call center. That’s how well they were doing. He checked all the boxes and had all the information readily available.”
As for advice to property managers: Be proactive. Be bold. And don’t bring up problems without suggesting a solution. Be aware that owner priorities may vary; a long-term holder will have a different approach than someone with new development or value-add business models. Be aware of what younger renters are looking for and use that to project future needs.
“Stay nimble and assess as you go,” advised Newton. “Our job is to figure out what’s good for the resident, but also what’s good for the management team.”