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6 Things We Learned at NAA Apartmentalize 2018

NAA Apartmentalize 2018 is a wrap! If you’re like the team at PayLease, you learned a lot, caught up with friends old and new, and had a ton of fun. There was so much going on that we wanted to share a few of the nuggets we took away from the discussions and sessions that you might have missed. We had some fresh takeaways plus opportunities to revisit tried and true strategies and tactics. We hope these thoughts help spark a little creativity and excitement for you and your team – enjoy!

Property Managers Can Have a Powerful Impact During Your Residents’ Major Life Events

Moving is one of life’s most stressful events. In some instances a move may be precipitated by another big transition such as a marriage or job change. Property managers and staff have a unique opportunity to help ease some of life’s biggest transitions. Focusing on the move-in and out process to make it as easy and joyful as possible is a great chance to set your property apart and make a positive difference in someone’s life.

If you haven’t done so recently, you may want to evaluate your end-to-end move-in process. How quickly do you respond to prospective resident requests? Is it easy for them to access and understand their options, pricing, availability and next steps? Once they’ve decided to move in to your property, how do they pay their application fee and deposit? What useful amenities, resources or information do you provide to assist? What are ways in which you can go above and beyond the bare necessities to set a different tone and differentiate your property? For example, based on what you know about the resident can you recommend a great dog park or neighborhood coffee spot that would be of interest? A great move-in experience increases the chances of renewal, so ensure your process is impeccable and go above and beyond where you can.

The same goes with the process of lease renewals and move-outs. How do you notify a resident and help them understand their renewal options? What incentives do you provide and when? Do you only reach out when the lease is up, or are you setting the stage for a successful renewal a couple of months ahead of time? If someone has chosen to move, can you be a resource for them during that transition? This will help you garner a great referral and fan for years to come.

Improve Staff Satisfaction As a Pathway to Greater Resident Delight

Keeping your employees happy is not just the right thing to do financially to reduce turnover, but it’s a great path to increasing resident satisfaction. Engage and empower your front line employees – from the maintenance staff to the front desk staff to anyone answering the phone and beyond. Your employees are the first impression to your property and if they are happy with their jobs and happy with your company they will likely reflect that satisfaction on your brand in the service they provide.

You no doubt have measures in place to impact employee satisfaction such as fair pay, good benefits, and perhaps even bonuses, profit sharing or other perks. Beyond these fundamental measures, having a strong and positive company culture is one important and fun way to increase employee satisfaction. Company culture goes beyond amusing perks to create a sense of ownership, camaraderie and pride that exudes from employees in every interaction they have with your prospects and residents.

We take a lot of care in creating and maintaining a positive culture at PayLease. This is reflected in our customer interactions and is no doubt part of the reason we have been honored with the Stevie Award for Customer Service and Call Center Teams of the Year 3 times. To get ideas on creating and improving your culture, check out our blog “Why Company Culture is Important in the Property Management Industry.”

Embrace Metrics, Analytics, Excel Spreadsheets and Other Technology

Finance and numbers aren’t just for investors anymore. Metrics are key, whether you’re:

  • An investor trying to estimate the rate of return you can expect when evaluating new properties
  • An owner, calculating the increase in property value you can expect from each $1 recouped from billing your residents for utilities
  • An operations manager, analyzing your utility expenditures across properties to understand usage and trends and make informed conservation decisions
  • A regional manager, tracking leads and response times to improve conversions
  • A marketing manager, figuring out the ROI on your advertising campaign so you can spend your precious dollars wisely

We could go on, but suffice it to say that business intelligence and analytics tools play an important role in managing properties effectively. Events like NAA are a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the latest technologies available to improve your operations. And at the basic level, as someone mentioned in a great session we attended, your office staff should have a proficiency in Excel. A few hundred dollars spent on an Excel course for a new hire would be money well spent.

Know When to Pull in a Partner with Specific Expertise (I’m Looking at You Utility Billing!)

No matter how long you’ve been in the property management industry or how many classes you take, there are just some areas that are too specialized and require a distinct set of expertise for you to go it alone. One area that jumped out to us at NAA was resident utility billing. The multiple layers of regulations and the changing nature of the industry are not to be messed with. Regulations include Federal, State, County, City, Utility Type and more. Last we checked, property managers already have a job and staying on top of constantly changing regulations is not one of them.

Billing residents for utilities can have a hugely positive impact on your NOI and bottom line. As we learned in one of the financial sessions the value of $1 saved is tenfold back to your property. But this is not an area to venture without support. The compliance requirements are a serious matter. When undergoing resident utility billing, be sure to work with a reputable, reliable organization that offers deep expertise in this area combined with personalized service customized for your unique situation. We are grateful at PayLease to have Michael Foote, a compliance expert in the realm of resident utility billing, on our team. Learn more about how Michael is helping PayLease clients here.

Empathy and Emotional Connection Are Paramount

One key reminder that stood out to us at NAA was the importance and value of keeping our shared humanity in mind. This is a bit utopian, but it came up in numerous sessions. There’s a reason the puppies at the exhibit floor were so popular. We connected with them emotionally. How can your brand connect with your prospective and existing residents emotionally? How can you create a living experience that exudes personal connection and creates a sense of loyalty? (Hint: Your company culture contributes here too.)

From the smallest daily interactions (i.e. saying hello, calling someone by name and asking about their day with a smile on your face) to the larger, more formal interactions (i.e. the way your communications are worded, or the approach you take when someone does not abide by a property policy) taking a moment to think about what you are saying, how you’re saying it, and what the person on the other end might be dealing with is a smart idea.

Stop. Collaborate. Listen. And Try Things Outside the Box.

To paraphrase the eloquent Vanilla Ice, listening and collaboration make everything better. We were fortunate enough to attend the NAA Game Changer session presented by Robyn Benincasa, who spoke on the essential elements of performance and the value of teamwork and offered numerous examples of “we thinking” that saved the day. We won’t spoil the fun for you – you can read more about Robyn on her website – but here were a few of our takeaways on teamwork and innovation:

  • Look inside: There are great ideas all across your organization – from your on site staff to your residents. Encourage sharing and gather feedback to uncover new ideas that lift your property to the next level. Whether that’s through community and team meetings, formal feedback processes or informal feedback loops (coffee chats anyone?) innovation nuggets can be hiding anywhere and rear their head at any time.
  • Look outside: In addition to mining your staff and residents, look at your competitors and outside the property industry for fresh new ideas. We attended another great session titled “Question Everything! Multifamily Disruptors Needed”  that used organizations like the Girl Scouts, Wendy’s and TD Bank as examples for out of the box thinking. They used innovative social media tactics, emotional connections and disruptive strategies to improve customer engagement and grow revenue. Where will you find your next idea?
  • Create a Testing Culture: Once you have new ideas it’s only possible to implement them in an environment that promotes testing, risk taking, collaboration and teamwork. From the top down, encourage and be open to trying new things. Some will stick. Some won’t. But you will never know until you try.
  • And finally, sometimes you will need to carry someone on your back. Sometimes you’re the one being carried. They are both okay and part of being a team member.

We look forward to seeing you next year at Apartmentalize in Denver!

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