Up and coming with multifamily in the next year
Are hosted resident events out? [5:20]
- At OPTECH 2022, on a panel a large PMC said they were no longer doing resident events because the effort and cost don't make it worth it. People weren’t showing up in good numbers to make it worth it.
- One aspect to think about - resident events can provide imagery, videos, etc, that kind of support the culture of the community. Each property should make this value judgment themselves.
What’s a new “amenity” that will gain traction in 2023? [8:55]
- Laundry service, Tumble. Allows renters to turn laundry into a gig where you're able to do laundry for others while you're living in your home. Maybe you're a remote worker; you can do laundry for other people in the building.
Are there components of onsite operations where we may start to see centralization in 2023 (beyond leasing and marketing)? [12:20]
- Maintenance is one area. Especially in more urban markets where one owner has multiple properties in a 15-mile radius.
- Maintenance teams that specialize - fix things, or do apartment turns, or speciality landscaping. These people are a team of techs that serve a larger portfolio, not just one property, as a way to maximize the maintenance team.
- One company that is operationalizing this is Lessen.
What about ‘big’ data and data management solutions - hot topic for 2023? [15:00]
- It's a popular topic. Valuable, and timely right now.
- For AI: It’s in very early stages. Property management companies are trying to learn what they can get from it and how they can use it, and what providers and platforms that are best giving them what they need.
- Non-AI related: Need to look at the full ESG requirements. One requirement relates to percentage of waste that goes to landfills. One company doing innovative solution for this is CheckSammy.
- Key is to get recommendations and feedback from peers on what is and isn’t working.
What tech is gaining traction? And any new ones you find particularly interesting? [25:38]
- Virtual Leasing Assistants, i.e. bots on your website, and programming them and training them to go through the process with your prospects
- Helps make your teams more efficient.
- Need buy-in from your team to use these tools properly.
- Put a sticky note on ChatGPT and the implications for the industry. For example, you could potentially save your onsite staff time in crafting things like emails that you might send to your residents, or policies that you might want to set.
Outstanding question for industry is what happens when the tech, e.g. AI assistant, goes wrong? [27:40]
- What if something goes wrong in terms of bad information, or an outcome that you didn't want, or hope, or think was going to happen? Who's to blame?
- Is it the tech, the person inputting the information (i.e. staff), or the person acting on the strategy?
- Expect this debate to be ongoing over the next few years on debate that the industry is going to be having in the next couple of years on how to resolve things when something unfortunate happens.
Paul Bergeron is a commercial real estate reporter who has covered the apartment industry for 20 years. He is former Editor in Chief of National Apartment Association's UNITS magazine and currently writes for GlobeSt.com.
Webinar: Using Data to Drive Resident Engagement & Retention
In this on-demand webinar, learn what key resident data points and behaviors you should monitor and strategies for staying ahead of resident demands and boosting reputation.
Welcome home multifamily pros, to the Resident Experience Podcast, Episode 24, where we're talking with Paul Bergeron, thought leader and commercial real estate reporter at GlobeSt.
Today, we're chatting about multifamily in 2023. What will be in, what's out, and what might surprise you? What's in store for FinTech in multifamily? Are there exciting new property management technologies on the horizon? And what about big data? Well today, we answer these questions and more. I'm Yolanda Muchnik, your podcast host, and I'm excited to chat with Paul Bergeron, thought leader and commercial real estate reporter at GlobeSt. GlobeSt is a premier online publication that delivers trusted and relevant real estate news and insights, effectively providing a 360° view of the industry. Today, we're digging in to what to expect as we enter 2023.
Well Paul, welcome to the show.
Glad to be here. Happy Holidays.
Yeah, Happy Holidays to you as well. It's really great to have you on. I know you have extensive experience in the industry as a reporter and a thought leader, but for our listeners who may not have read one of your articles yet, can you provide a quick background on yourself, your work and what you're currently doing at GlobeSt?
Sure. So I have been a real estate reporter for about 20 years. I spent most of my time at the National Apartment Association. We produced a magazine and newsletters there. The magazine was called Units. I was the Editor-in-Chief. So I really got a great background in what's going on in the apartment industry for really a generation now. I'm no longer doing that magazine, but I am a reporter full-time at GlobeSt, which is a commercial real estate website. And there, I write about apartments, but then I also write about all forms of commercial real estate. I also have a little bit of background writing for SHRM, which is the HR management organization. And the most recent conference I went to, believe it or not, was on healthcare. So I don't think we're talking healthcare today, but it was kind of broad topics there.
Awesome. Well, we have so much to cover today, and I am excited to dive in. But we've asked each of our guests this question this year, and I want to hear your take on it too. So in your words, how would you define two terms; the first being resident experience, and the second, resident experience management?
Resident experience is really... begins when they're a prospect. If I'm looking for an apartment in San Diego, I'm beginning my journey, as they like to call it. So the resident experience is what am I finding online, what information, images, videos, whatever it is, is available to me to do my research? And then once I decide that I want to take a tour of a property, how am I received, how does the tour go, how is the onsite staff in welcoming me, and selling to me about the value of their apartment? That's pretty much the resident experience. And then once you move in, do they pay attention to you? Do they take care of you? Do they reach out to you? Do they answer your questions? Those are all important things from the on-site side, I think we all know that.
As far as resident experience management, again, you need to have experienced onsite staff that knows how to handle situations, good things, bad things, whatever it happens to be. And to be honest with you, the last couple things I've heard in the apartment industry was that staffing's been a challenge. Technology is helping, but is not the answer. But a lot of the people who are working on staff right now providing for this resident experience, they may have joined the company during the pandemic. They might not have as much experience with face-to-face, one-on-one conversations. So they're in a little bit of a learning curve too. Now, if you go to an experienced property with experienced staff, I'm thinking that's where you're going to get the better management of the resident journey.
Great points. Thank you for sharing. So you were recently on Mike Brewer's podcast, Multifamily Collective. And on that episode, you touched on a panel that you had attended at OPTECH, where someone at a prominent property management company mentioned that they're no longer doing resident events, because the cost and the effort of doing them just didn't feel worth it. I'm wondering if other property management companies are heading in a similar direction. Where do you stand on resident events and what are you hearing? And outside of live events, have you heard of any other avenues that operators might be moving towards right now in order to activate their residents and help them build connections?
So you're right, that was a panel at OPTECH back in early November. The person on stage was a woman from Camden Property, and we know Camden because they're usually trailblazers when it comes to management strategy that they decide they want to do. They don't always follow with everyone else. The conversation turned to resident experience, and someone said, well we... the woman up there said... from Camden said, "We don't do anymore resident events," and everyone in the room kind of gasped, it was kind of funny, wondering why. It wasn't anything tricky; she just basically told me afterwards that, what you just said, the effort and cost don't make it worth it, because people don't tend to show up in good numbers to make it worth it.
So interesting, since that time there have been a lot of comments that have been made about that post and other conversations around that topic. And people have good points, and they know their residents best, and they know their staff best. So if you're doing resident events that are successful, by all means you should continue to do them. I've also seen in the last couple years, there's been a lot of push for social media, and these resident events can provide imagery, videos, testimonies, whatever you want to call it, that kind of support the culture of the community. So there's value in it that way too.
It was an interesting conversation and debate. Camden's going to stick by with what they want to do, 'cause it works for them. But other people, go for whatever makes you more comfortable. I don't live in an apartment community, I've not been to an apartment community event, maybe I should do that. So I don't know exactly how valuable they are, and how willing and interested people are in meeting each other. Resident events can really be anything, because forever and ever, we've heard about... on the leasing office offering breakfast-to-go in the morning, or people have a reason to walk through the leasing office for any reason. And that encourages engagement with the onsite staff, because then you can have a relationship of any kind, a quick and friendly one, or a long term one if you're one of their customers. So it gives an opportunity to open dialogue in case there's anything that's concerning, anything that's new. I mean, it's just kind of human nature.
Right. Well, I would classify resident events under this broader amenity umbrella. And so continuing on this amenities theme, from your industry discussions, have you been hearing anything about what's next in terms of amenities at communities across the country?
What's next? I don't know... I've got one idea for you, but really amenities... there's pretty much the common list, I would think, right? The fitness center, maybe people go, maybe they don't, clubhouse access, rooftop access, things like that. For a while there, a lot of people were talking about, for lack of a better word, valet trash, valet trash pickup at your door. Communities who have put together packages of amenities, and charge a certain rate that may be part of the rent. And it might be, well, geez, you just put your trash on the front step, and we take it away for you. Again, it comes down to the type of community and the rent level that people are paying or willing to pay.
As far as new amenities go, I happen to write a little thing... and by the way, if people are listening and want to engage with me, or read some of the content that I write, my LinkedIn page is called Thought Leadership Today. And there, I don't post all of the content that I write, but I usually post the stories that I think are most interesting or different. I'm really writing all day, every week, so I don't want to overburden people. But some of these things that we've talked about and will talk about are on that page. So feel free to visit me on LinkedIn.
But one thing I wrote about recently for GlobeSt is a laundry service, and it's called Tumble, as in the tumble cycle of a dryer. And if you're a renter, you can actually turn that into almost a gig... business for yourself, where you're able to do laundry for others while you're living in your home. Maybe you're a remote worker; you can do laundry for other people in the building. I know it sounds kind of creepy, but really, there's so many people out there that do not like to do laundry, and you can usually tell when you walk in their house, right? I'm not one of those people. I'm one of the kind of people that likes to do laundry, so I feel like this is something that would attract me.
But really, having a washer and dryer in the unit is always a number one amenity on any of the lists when people talk about what they want. So this is a provider, Tumble, that is national, and they're just kind of getting started, but they're based in San Francisco. You might want to look up their website if you're an operator, and see if there's any kind of partnership there.
That's so interesting. I lived in New York City for 10 years, and then decided to move to Boston. I didn't have a washer or dryer in my apartment the whole time I lived in New York City. But when I moved to Boston, I really felt like I was living large by having a washer and dryer in my apartment. It makes such a big difference. What an interesting new amenity.
Yeah, and we'll definitely make sure that our listeners have a link out to your LinkedIn page, so they can follow you, and be clued in all the thought leadership that you feature.
Okay, so switching gears now to operations in a topic that you touched on earlier in our conversation. Staff strain and turnover has been a really hot topic this year, and I'm pretty sure in the coming year, it will continue to have a lot of focus. So one way to relieve stress from onsite staff is maybe centralizing some activities at the corporate office level, and we've seen this with some marketing and leasing aspects this year. In your view, are there any other components of onsite operations where we may start to see centralization next year?
Yes. Again, I did a story, and I'm really thinking that I'm remembering this correctly, but the name of the company was lessen, L-E-S-S-E-N. And what they did is they helped facilitate maintenance at the centralized level. So you're going to have a maintenance team of people who, say they fix things, say they do apartment turns, say whatever specialty, landscaping. Whatever it happens to be, that falls under the maintenance umbrella, these people might be a team of maintenance techs that can serve a larger portfolio, not just one property. But if you're talking about an urban setting where an owner has multiple communities within, I don't know, 5, 10, 15-minute mile radius or something, that's a way to maximize the maintenance team.
What I thought was really interesting about that, was those people, whatever their specialty is in the maintenance realm, they focus on that. They don't focus on doing things like job performance, or administration work, or filling out forms, or things like that, that a lot of people, if you're a maintenance person and you love what you do, the administrative jobs are kind of, "Eh," right? So you might hire one person just to do all the administrative stuff, and hire a team that serves the role of the other maintenance tasks, which again, sounds logical and reasonable if you're in a market where you have a little bit of density.
Yeah, definitely makes sense. Are there any pitfalls that you've seen property management companies fall into as they begin centralization activities?
I haven't heard any pitfalls. I know centralized leasing activities has been the topic du jour for the last six months at these conferences, and there seems to be a lot of value in doing it. Like we said with maintenance, it has to be in the right kind of market, with the right size communities and things like that. A webinar the other day, if anyone out there knows Lisa Trosien, who's a good friend of mine, who's a very good apartment industry consultant, she was talking about Equity Residential, and how... what she'll do is she'll shop apartment communities. She'll pretend like she's a renter, and just kind of see how things go, and analyze it, or talk about it. And she reached out to a property and equity, and I don't remember which market it was, and not only did they give her the warm welcome, but they said, "Oh, by the way, we have two other properties within six miles of here," or around the block, or whatever it is. Some markets are incredible that way. "Why don't you come visit those as well?"
So that's giving the resident experience and the resident journey more options. It's just smart. It's just smart. It keeps you under their portfolio umbrella. I used to work in Arlington, Virginia. If people know where that is, it's about three miles outside of the DC border. And where we were, there were probably 15 apartment communities within five or six blocks of where my office was. It was amazing, and they kept building more. And you know some of them were owned by the same operators, so it's just a perfect fit. I mean, maybe they don't have the exact unit that this person wants, or the right price, or the right floor plan, or whatever. Give yourself a chance to show your rest of your portfolio to these prospects.
Absolutely. I agree, makes total sense. Well, one area I don't hear discussed much in our industry is big data. And we actually had Donald Davidoff, the co-founder and CEO of Real Estate Business Analytics on a past show of ours, and he talked a lot about the importance of data, and how property managers can leverage it. So now with the SEC looking to implement more environmental sustainability and governance reporting requirements in the coming year, are you seeing data become a hotter topic of conversation amongst property management companies?
I have known Donald probably my whole career. I love him. He's really sharp and he always has good things to say when I reach out to him about just about any topic, and I am familiar with his platform there. He's done a lot of things and this is what he's got his hands on right now. Data's always been important, and I think people continue to try to figure out how to best leverage it, as you said, and there's lots of different ways to do that. And it's popular, and valuable, and timely right now even for more reasons besides the ESG angle.
But since you asked about ESG, there's a couple of companies that I know of. One of them is... excuse me, called CheckSammy. It's really one word, where they capitalize both first letters, but CheckSammy, like pay the check, and then Sammy like S-A-M-M-Y. And what they do is they're a waste hauling company. Okay, great, we've got plenty of waste hauling companies. But when you're shooting to achieve your ESG goals, one of them is percentage of waste that goes to landfills, I guess the word is diversion, this company does a really good job of tracking, and documenting, and taking images every time they pick up waste from your property. So that way, you, as the apartment community, whoever it is that's tasked with coming up with all this data related to ESG goals, they kind of tie it up in a nice little bow for you when it comes to your waste diversion. So that would be one example of data.
The rest of the whole data mix right now falls under artificial intelligence, and platforms that leverage that. And I'd say really, we really started hearing about that, about maybe three or four years ago. But recently, when you go to a trade show, or you talk to some vendors, or suppliers, I guess they're called, they all have AI somewhere in their description, or in their signage, or whatever. So really, people are trying to get on board with that. And I think the industry is really early in this stage. They're trying to learn what they can get from it and how they can use it, and what providers and platforms that are best giving them what they need. I could go on and on about the companies that are out there, but yeah, it's happening and it's not going to slow down.
Yeah, so just expanding on where you just left off there in your answer, what do you think property managers should be considering when they evaluate their options in this area?
What do you think property managers should be considering when they evaluate their options if they're looking to explore solutions in this area?
Well, if I was an operator, I would probably lean on my network of peers. I would be networking at conferences, attending webinars, participating in conversations online, whatever you can do to hear it from, as they say, the horse's mouth. Because the vendors are all going to tell you one thing, and we got to hope that they're going to be able to deliver on it. But you really want to talk to your... people in similar positions as yours, similar company sizes, similar goals of what you're trying to achieve with this. That's how I would approach it.
Got it. So I've seen rent payments capture a growing focus within the FinTech space recently. In particular, I'm thinking of recent innovations like security deposit alternatives, flexible payments, rental rewards programs, credit reporting, so forth. With inflation and other economic pressures facing renters right now, as well as property management companies, what role do you think FinTech will play in our industry in the coming year?
FinTech is right up there too. It seems to be everywhere, and lots of people are creating better ways and making things easier, or less expensive for collecting rent or things like that. Again, you just need to have your antenna up and explore what's out there. Having done this for 20 years, I remember one of the first stories I wrote was a story about how much of a pain in the butt it was to collect a bunch of paper checks on rent day, and spend a whole day processing them, going to the bank, all that kind of thing. Well, those days are certainly over for, I would like to think, maybe 90% of the industry. So getting your residents comfortable with online payments, or digital payments, or things like that, sure, that's the way the rest of people... well, I shouldn't say the rest of, but many people, many consumers live in a online banking world, so you've got to give them what they're comfortable with and what they're used to.
Yeah, and during the pandemic, we at Zego, we saw a lot of property managers switching to an incurred model, meaning that they paid the rent processing fees for the renters when they paid online, for example. And then after the pandemic slowed down, many of them switched back. I'm curious, do you think we'll see a reversal here once again with increased renter pressure?
I guess the question would be, what was driving those decisions to go one way or the other? And maybe the pandemic was a time where the industry was a little on their back foot a little bit, and nervous about occupancy and things like that. So I guess it kind of goes with the state of the industry right now. I mean, rents are starting to come down a little bit now all of a sudden, after an insane amount of growth. So just how competitive are communities with each other and with residents, who carries more of the leverage in the negotiation on what and where they're going to pay for rent? So if you have an opportunity to pitch them as saying that you can pay online without fees, that's just one more thing on your menu of reasons why somebody would want to sign that lease.
And if you're a renter, as they always say, the most important thing the renter can do is read the lease. I can't believe how many times I talk to people in our industry, and gave that as the number one advice to renters. But you move in, you see a really cool building, all you're thinking about is where am I going to get my boxes? Where am I going to get my pickup truck to bring all this stuff in? But you really have to read the lease. You have to see what fees might be in there, and what aren't there, and how much they are, and take that into consideration. And if you're a good salesperson, a good leasing agent, you can describe that to people in an attractive way.
Yeah, and just one more on this topic, maybe a little bit more outside of the box kind of question, but I have started hearing some rumblings about this idea of maybe some larger property management companies essentially becoming their own payments companies. And I'm curious, have you heard anything around this? What are your thoughts on this topic?
My thought is it sounds like a pretty good story. Maybe we should talk later. I haven't heard that specifically. I've not heard it come up on panels or conferences. But now that you've brought it up, I will start paying attention and maybe ask that question at the next conference I go to. I'm not sure, Yolanda, how much you get out to the conferences, either as an exhibitor, an attendee, but it goes in spurts. Back in the fall, there were so many conferences, and they were so great to hear what was on people's mind, and were kind of in that whole period with the holidays. I think things are going to get going again around March to really get out there and get that feeling of what's going on in the industry. I'm really excited about it.
Awesome. Keep me posted on what you hear.
Yeah. Maybe I need to come to San Diego.
Yes. In terms of technology trends more broadly, AI is obviously an area of innovation that will continue into 2023. And you touched on this a little bit earlier, but how, if at all, do you see it gaining traction in our industry? And in addition, are there any new technologies out there that you've seen and find really interesting for residential real estate?
Wow, what a great question. I'll start with the AI. So also at OPTECH, in November in Vegas, that the National Multifamily Housing Council hosted, it was part of just about every session, as you can imagine. And there was one in particular that I went to, where there was a woman from Morgan Properties, which is based in the Philadelphia area, and she was talking about adopting AI, using it through Virtual Leasing Assistants, which also people call bots on your website, and programming them and training them to go through the process with your prospects, which is sort of a step in technology to make your onsite team work more efficiently if you're having trouble with staffing. And she said that the important thing is to convince... as managers, as supervisors is to convince the staff that this technology is, or will work, because there's skepticism, of course. There's skepticism with anything new, especially technology related. So getting the buy-in from your team to use these tools properly can be beneficial, but it can also really kind of sink your ship if they're not having faith in what they're seeing in how they use the AI.
The other really interesting part of that panel, there were three people on the panel, they were talking about... so you're using AI to drive your processes. What if something goes wrong in terms of bad information, or an outcome that you didn't want, or hope, or think was going to happen? There's a debate going on as to, well, who's to blame? So the three players would be, do you blame the technology? Do you blame the person who inputted the information into the technology, in other words, the staff person? Or do you blame the person who is acting on the strategy that you got? So you've got this circle of three parties, not necessarily pointing fingers, but it's just an interesting debate that the industry is going to be having in the next couple of years on how to resolve things like this when something unfortunate happens. The other technology that emerged last week, it's called ChatGPT. And honestly, I'm not sure what GPT stands for. You're nodding your head, you've heard this?
I've heard about it.
Yeah. So I'm working on something on that right now, and I'm thinking it might be done on Monday. I don't know, we'll see how the weekend goes. I reached out to a bunch of really smart people, and asked them how this technology could be used. And what it is, is this AI-based, and I don't even know if I'm describing it properly, but you can take a whole bunch of content, you can take a brochure, you can take a volume of chapters of something, a hand... whatever, and they will take that content, and they can transform it into a communication that the computer writes itself. And it only takes a matter of seconds, which you can only imagine how much time that will save your onsite staff in crafting things like emails that you might send to your residents, or policies that you might want to set.
So yeah, this is last week. So we're so, so early in all of this, but it's just really exciting. It's something to kind of put on a sticky note somewhere and keep track of. And check back on my website maybe by the end of the week and I will have published something on this.
Oh, for sure, I will. All right Paul, so our final question's also an easy one, but I love to ask it because we know great people know other great people. So do you have a recommendation for a future guest on our show?
Well, the usual suspects are Lisa Trosien, who I mentioned before, and Kate Good, and I'm not sure if you know Kate. They're both apartment All Stars, and Kate happens to be an owner and developer of apartment buildings, and Lisa's kind of a marketing guru. So they always draw a crowd, and I've seen them present forever and ever, and I've always enjoyed what they've shared, because they've got their finger on the pulse of just about everything.
Another person that I have great respect for, and who seems to know what's going on in the bigger picture, is a guy named Dom Beveridge, and he runs a website called 20for20, which is kind of a weird name, but I like it because it's easy to remember. He and Donald Davidoff wrote a report back in 2020, called 20 for 20, or something like that, and it was about management trends in the year 2020. Well guess what? We're now in 2023, so Dom's kind of done his own thing now, and I guarantee you he will tell you something you don't know, and something that's coming down the pike if you talk to him or visit his website.
Oh wow, thank you. Thank you. Yeah, for sure, we will reach out to them all. Great recommendations, thank you so much. Well, this was such a great conversation, Paul. I so, so enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing how your predictions come true, come to fruition in 2023. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today, and I'm really excited for our listeners to enjoy this episode.
Yeah, it's been my pleasure. And I really hope people will reach out to me on LinkedIn if they have ideas, or want to share comments about anything.