Doing right by your residents with Mike Brewer
Are you consistently rolling out new features to residents and creating events but resident satisfaction is low? Is what you are doing actually adding to the resident experience? Or are you pushing feature fatigue while nickel and diming residents over each service? Listen in to our discussion with Mike Brewer, founder of The Multifamily Collective and Chief Operating Officer at RADCO, as we talk about doing right by your residents and what that actually means.
What are some  initiatives for RADCO? [02:15]
- Refresh compensation models and learning and development piece
- Centralizing and automating a lot of the rote and routine work that we do, especially as it relates to the onsite team members. The purpose is to give time back to the onsite team members to really have more fruitful discussions or time spent with residents.
What top-level KPIs do you measure? [04:50]
- Year-over-year income growth or revenue growth versus budget - this is a real indication of good skill and good production onsite.
- [RADCO] is driven by a team-member-first philosophy so measure team member experience through a platform.
- Measure resident/customer satisfaction through a similar touchpoint survey as team members. Look at: NPS, move-in experience, prospect survey, and move-out surveys.
What have you found that makes the move-in experience continually excellent? [09:33]
- Feedback from surveys - specifically the comment section for the more nuanced piece that helps you to key in specifics of the experience.
What is the Multifamily Collective? [11:16]
- Started as a written blog in 2006 on the multifamily business - with over 2,000 articles!
- Then in 2013, started to do video as it became massively popular.
- Now the Multifamily Collective is at about 1,115 episodes.
How do you think about the resident experience? [16:00]
- Look at the resident journey across a continuum, or a map, and then think about each one of those touchpoints, whether it be a big deal and/or a little less of a big deal.
- Then we think about how can we interject ourselves, be it from a relationship standpoint and/or a technology standpoint to really enhance that resident's experience over that continuum.
How do you think about the trade-off between optimizing these touchpoints vs. scale and consistency? [18:00]
- Some things you know will not be 100% all of the time so need to look at the non-negotiables.
- The non-negotiables, you just train, train, train, train, and you talk about them ad nauseam - just hit them relentlessly.
Predictions or insights around resident needs, interests, requests across your communities and a post-COVID world? [20:49]
- The overarching theme is that WFH is not going away which impacts multiple things.
- Design of future communities will be around flex space
- More people are consistently in the community which pulls into question our business and staffing models, and our work efficiency models.
- Team members are going to be overwhelmed, or even more overwhelmed. Therefore we need to figure out a business model or new workflows that are assisted by technology.
Mike Brewer is passionate about people, technology, and real estate. Mike’s investment in technological advances and education improves the team member experience and elevates customer engagement. He joined RADCO Residential in 2016 and oversees all operations.
Mike has received numerous industry honors, including seven “Property Management Company of the Year” awards under his leadership. He is a frequent contributor to industry-related publications. His vlog, The Multifamily Collective, reaches industry professionals across the globe who tune in daily for Mike’s reflections on everything from consumer trends to employee relations, professional growth, and beyond. An avid reader and lifelong learner, Mike has been “out to put a dent in the multifamily universe” for more than 25 years.
Nick Latz: Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike Brewer: Thanks. Thank you for having me, Nick.
Nick Latz: Excited to have you here. As we kick this off, we'll kick this off in a familiar way. Tell us a little bit, Mike, about your background and your current role at RADCO.
Mike Brewer: Certainly. Well, I think like many, I fell into this industry a long time ago, probably more years than I care to admit at this point, but nearly 30 years ago by way of the single-family home sales business. I went to work for RE/MAX, which I think is a brand name in real estate sales, and I quickly learned that I like the feast and famine of that particular job, so I got a job as a leasing consultant and fell in love with the business.
Fast forward to today, I'm the chief operating officer at The RADCO Companies based in Atlanta, Georgia. At peak, we were about 83 properties, just shy of 30,000 units, mostly in the Southeast, although we did operate in Denver and Oklahoma and Texas and Indianapolis, but we've taken advantages of late of this hot market and sold into that, so we are significantly smaller than we were at the peak of 83 properties and nearly 30,000 units.
Nick Latz: Fantastic. Leasing consultant, the COO, and probably if I can imagine, a few stops and lessons learned in-between, so that's great. The COO role that you've got is a big role. Can you tell us a little bit about what you're responsible for and what your big initiatives are at RADCO?
Mike Brewer: Certainly. As the chief operating officer, we actually have two entities. We have The RADCO Companies and then we have RADCO Residential. I sit in the executive position overseeing The RADCO Companies, that would be the investment arm of our organization, and then also the RADCO Residential, which is the operating arm of our business. At the time, when we were buying lots of value-add multifamily, we built a property management company roughly at the same time we were buying all the properties so that we could operate those internally as opposed to farming them out to third-party property management companies.
As it relates to the big initiative that we're working on presently, we believe that it is a right moment in time to re-look at and refresh our compensation models, so that is a big initiative that we are working on right now. The other is our learning and development piece of the organization. I think that we've always been a learning-and-development-driven organization, but I think COVID certainly taught us a lot of lessons, and I think it is time for a refresh and a reboot of that.
Then the other big initiative that we are working on currently is centralizing and automating a lot of the rote and routine work that we do, especially as it relates to the onsite team members, be it centralized leasing or centralized assistant manager responsibilities, but it really is the rote and routine work that we're trying to centralize and/or automate, the underlying thesis being that we can give a lot of time back to our onsite team members to really have what I'd consider more fruitful discussions or time spent with our residents. I think our residents have been robbed at a lot of intimate time with our onsite team members because they are consistently and constantly wrapped up in rote and routine work, so those are the big three for us in '21 and '22.
Nick Latz: That's great. It seems like maybe one common theme across those three is the onsite team member experience, right, in terms of compensation, in terms of training, development, career pathing, and then automating the routine stuff so that you can spend more time on what a lot of onsite team members got into the business for, and really enjoy, right, which is the interactions with the residents.
Mike Brewer: Oh, I 100% agree with that, Nick. I think so often we give or push down a lot of work onto our onsite team members and it really does take away from what they, to your point about getting into the business, that interaction. They love people, they got into the business because they love people, and then we quickly put them to work with all kinds of things that don't necessarily relate to those relationships.
Nick Latz: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep. You mentioned at the peak, RADCO, 83 properties. It's a big portfolio to manage. Our listeners love to think about the metrics or KPIs to manage these portfolios and to manage these properties. How do you guys think about some of the metrics and the KPIs that you're looking at a daily basis, a weekly basis across your properties?
Mike Brewer: We operate on a pay-for-performance model. That is delineated between income, expense control, team member experience, resident experience, and then I think we leave a little bit in there for just, not a "contingency," but the word is escaping me at the moment, but just leave a little bit for whatever we might assign to it.
I think on the financial side, because we are a for-profit business, we are obviously measuring our year-over-year income. I like to look at year-over-year income growth or revenue growth versus budget because I think that is a real indication of good skill and good production onsite. I think cost control is obviously something that's very important. Especially in the world today, costs can get blown out of control pretty rapidly, so we like to pay attention to cost control ongoing.
Then our team member experience, we really are an organization that is driven by a team-member-first philosophy. We believe that our organization exists to serve the people that serve it, and if we do a really good job of that, then by extension, our consumer wins, our business partners win, and obviously, our investors win, so we measure that team member experience through a platform where we do touch surveys, and then we do anniversary surveys, and other touchpoints along the team member experience continuum, and we really listen to that feedback and try to incorporate that into our offering.
Then, obviously, on the customer side, if we didn't have customers, the business doesn't really work without residents and customers, and so I think it's really important to listen to our customers along the way through same touchpoint surveys. Then by default, we think our business partners and our investors win if we're paying attention to those KPIs. Certainly, we have some sub-KPIs, but I think those are the big rocks, if you will.
Nick Latz: Fantastic. That's a great list. On the resident side, you said you do the touchpoint surveys. Are you attempting to measure overall resident satisfaction, or do you say, "Hey, there's certain touchpoints that we know matter a lot, and we think if we get those right, we're generally going to have satisfied residents"?
Mike Brewer: Yeah. I think yes, yes, and yes. NPS, Net Promoter Score, I think, is something that we've measured by way of the platform that we use to do our resident survey. I certainly think move-in experience is important, potentially the most important. We have prospect surveys that we take measure of. Certainly, leading up to the time of renewal is an important touchpoint to understand. I definitely believe in an alumni program of the resident experience, if you will, measuring one's move-out experience because in my head, if that goes well, and you come back into the apartment space at some point, if we've handled the full transaction through to the end and we stay in touch with you, then you're likely going to come back to us if your experience is a good one.
Nick Latz: Yep, that makes sense, and I've certainly heard that sentiment on the move-in experience from other customers and people we talk to, right, that the residents first, call it two weeks, will often dictate two-thirds of their impression of their community and their living environment, so getting that in that move-in experience right and really investing upfront can be critical.
Mike Brewer: I believe that to be true. I mean, I've heard it said by a number of different people in our industry, it's first impression, right? If you haven't done the first impression, or you haven't nailed the first impression, then to your point, people are just going to have this bad taste in their mouth ongoing. Even if you recover from that, it's imbued in their mind that they didn't have a seamless or flawless move-in, and it's just really going to set the tone for every other interaction that they have with you.
Nick Latz: Yep. On that move-in experience, Mike, what have you guys found? Have you found that it's a certain process? It's a certain way of doing it? It's a certain set of resources that you provide to your residents? What have you guys found to continually improve that experience over time?
Mike Brewer: Yeah, well, to improve of the experience over time, I think taking that feedback from our surveys, especially the narrative, the narrative has been the most important piece, meaning the comments section, so to speak, in the tool itself, because it's one thing to click a radio button, right, whether it be a scale of one to five, or you've listed all the feedback mechanisms and you just pick a button, that's one thing, and it's certainly important information, but the comments, or the ability for the consumer to actually put the comments in, gives us that more specific, or that more nuanced piece of the experience that we can work on.
Just by way of example, this is the nuts and bolts of our industry, we get narrative from time to time where our breezeways are not swept or dust is collecting on the top of a fire extinguisher box or on the top of my porch light, or there's a cobweb forming in the light itself. That kind of very specific narrative allows us to go back and do very specific actions oriented to that so that we can increase or enhance that resident's experience. Even though that sounds very simple and it sounds like it should be a part of a rote and routine practice for us, from time to time, we don't hit the mark, and those comments are super important to us.
Nick Latz: Got it. We've hit a little bit on your day job, right, which is COO of RADCO, but I'm curious to hear a little bit more about your blog and a little bit about the community that you've built within Multifamily Collective. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Mike Brewer: Oh, sure. This started out back in 2006 or 2007. It started out as a written blog back when "blog" sounded like somebody clearing their throat. No one really knew what it meant. I started writing articles, really under the premise that I wasn't necessarily a great writer, spelling and grammar and things of that nature, so it was my intentional exercise in trying to become a better writer, so I posted some 2,000 articles, plus or minus on-
Nick Latz: Wow.
Mike Brewer: ... on the multifamily business, specifically, but across all topics, from marketing to leadership, et cetera, et cetera. Then around 2013, 2014, I saw that video was really becoming a mass thing, or it was being massly adopted, and I thought, "Wow, I really need to get behind camera. I need to get comfortable with that because at some point, this is going to be a real thing that you need to have a skillset for."
I'm painfully shy. I'm a big-time introvert, if you can't tell by all the books back here. I started in 2013 or '14 recording videos. I literally had my son who, was like six or seven at the time, he was behind the camera and he was giving me some tips and tricks because he was raised digitally, but yeah, we started doing videos. I think we're somewhere around 1,115 episodes of The Multifamily Collective now. It used to be called The Apartment Hacker, and when "hacker" took on a negative connotation, I decided it'd probably be good to change the name
Nick Latz: Well, that's fantastic. I love that. You mentioned your objective at the beginning was just to write and improve your writing skills around a topic that you enjoyed. How has that objective changed over the years, right? You put a lot of content out there, as content takes time. What do you get out of it?
Mike Brewer: I think aside from the skillset, which I'm still working on to this day, I don't pretend for a second that I'm really fantastic at any of it, but I'm a learner by nature, and always want to get better, I think what I've seen evolve over a long bit of time in the early innings of producing that content, there was a lot more engagement. I think there was a lot less distraction and people were more intentional about engaging, either through the blog comments section, and/or if you posted your blog out on Twitter, then there was a conversation that started happening on Twitter. I met a lot of wonderful people in our industry, Mike Whaling, Mark Cheline, Lisa Trosien, some other just stalwarts in our multifamily space. But what I've seen of all over time is that there are a lot less engagements. To me, that's really a function of so many platforms, and really, I guess, drinking from a fire hose and not really having the time to engage like we used to, so I miss that part of it, but that's probably the thing I've seen changed the most over time.
Nick Latz: Sure. It was just such a proliferation of content and intention out there. But I love the notion of continuous improvement and learning and perfecting your craft. I'm sure you couldn't even begin to quantify or count the learnings, the insights you've gotten over the years just for publishing and getting feedback and learning through that.
Mike Brewer: Yeah. To speak to your point, there's no way I could. I think the thing I'm most grateful for is the relationships that I've been introduced to and what I take away from those interactions when they do happen.
Nick Latz: Yep. Yep, yep, yep. Shifting gears on you, Mike, one of the things that we focus on at Zego, which you and I were talking a little bit about last week, is we focus on the resident experience and helping operators improve resident satisfaction or retention by focusing on that resident experience. What we find is every time I have one of these conversations, a resident experience means different things to different companies and different people, and so I'd love to hear how you think about that collectively and overall at RADCO.
Mike Brewer: The way I like to think about it, I actually borrowed from, I think his name is Brian, I can't remember his last name, but he was one of the co-founders of Airbnb. He described this process of creating the consumer experience at Airbnb and he likened it to, "How do you score an eight or a nine or a 10 at Airbnb in terms of experience?" and he described all these various levels, the endcap being like a 13 or a 14, and that would be like a consumer showing up in an airplane and we greet them with a marching band from the high school and we put them in a limousine and we carry them off to the house, and so obviously, can't do that, so backing off from there.
That's a long way of saying that we look at the resident journey across a continuum, or a map, if you will, and then we think about each one of those touchpoints, whether it be a big deal and/or a little less of a big deal, and then we think about how can we interject ourselves, be it from a relationship standpoint and/or a technology standpoint to really enhance that resident's experience over that continuum, if you will. Then we go out into the marketplace and we find the right team members and back that with the right training to make sure that they show up and provide good service. Then we also look at technologies that can insert into those particular places, but we always look at it through the lens of, "We want that experience to be the best that it possibly can be and the most seamless that it can possibly be."
Nick Latz: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. Across a big portfolio, and yours was 83 properties not too long ago, how do you think about that trade-off between optimizing these touchpoints, as you mentioned, versus scale and consistency across portfolio. How do you think about those two trade-offs?
Mike Brewer: Sure. That's a fantastic question, and I'm not sure I have the exact answer for it, except to say this: I think that there are things that you fundamentally know about running a property that are just not going to hit it 100% of the time, not every day of the week, not 100% of the time. But there are other things that are non-negotiables, right, so when you show up and you open the store, making sure that the glass is clean on the front window, right, or any other windows in the building, making sure that the office smells good, and has a great presentation, all those things that might view in one's line as it relates to a buying decision and/or an experience as a consumer.
Those non-negotiables, you just train, train, train, train, and you talk about them ad nauseam to the point that right when you start getting sick of hearing yourself say those things over and over, only then have you started to communicate how important those non-negotiables are in your organization. You just hit them relentlessly. In the trade-offs, you just understand that if you have a 500-unit community and there are 65 buildings that make up those units, on any given in day, there is a percentage or are a percentage of those buildings that are just going to need a breezeway cleaned or swept or a light fixture and you hope that your consumer is graceful in letting you know that and allowing you to deal with it in a timely manner.
Nick Latz: Yep, sure. That makes sense. You mentioned that you guys do surveys and you track satisfaction, or you track touchpoints and experiences of the resident across the resident journey. Do you guys track resident retention, I'm curious, across your different properties?
Mike Brewer: Definitely. By way of renewal ratios and retention ratios, we do, certainly keeping in mind seasonality, basic supply and demand. Certainly, today we have a lot more demand than we have product to actually fulfill that demand, but we definitely track that, for sure.
Nick Latz: Yep. Fantastic. Wanted to ask you, Mike, there's been a lot of talk, obviously, over the last 18 months, over the last two years around the pandemic and how that has changed both resident behavior and staff behavior. As we navigate out of that, right, and as we think about, hey, a post-COVID world or return to normal, what are your predictions or insights around resident needs, interests, requests across your communities and a post-COVID world?
Mike Brewer: Yeah. I think there are a million questions and a million different answers to those million questions as it relates to this. I think that if I were to pick some overarching themes, and these are certainly not my novel thoughts, they're the ones I've listened to and I agree with, the idea of work from home is not going away. I think that that fact is going to create a scenario where the design of future communities is going to take into mind flex space, whether it be inter-unit or in the common area/amenity spaces, you have this flex about it, such that a resident can work from home, but also get out into the community and interact and engage and certainly make friends.
I think it's also going to create a dynamic for onsite team members in the sense that if you have a 300-unit building or community, and let's say there's 500 people that live in those 300 units, traditionally, let's say the lion's share those people leave for the day, and they don't come home until the end of the day, but today the lion's share, those people might be in the community.
Nick Latz: They're there, yeah.
Mike Brewer: Right, and so the volume of exchange in that equation is ramped up now, so I think it's going to pull into question our business models and our staffing models and our work efficiency models in that just on a pure raw basis, you're going to be dealing with more transactions on a daily basis, right? To the extent that you can automate some of that stuff, or you can insert technologies so that the FAQs or things like that are done behind the scenes versus interaction, you're going to get ahead of the game, because if you don't do that, you're going to overwhelm team members. Team members are going to be overwhelmed. They're already overwhelmed, but we run the risk of really overwhelming them if we don't figure out any business model or new workflows that are assisted by technology, I think.
Nick Latz: Yeah, absolutely. We talk a lot about at Zego resident retention, recognizing that resident retention, resident experience, and staff experience and staff retention are really two sides of the same coin, right? One certainly impacts the other and we see this at properties all the time across our customers and others that we talk about, right, which is there's a correlation between employee retention, employee longevity, employee satisfaction, and how residents feel that they're treated across their communities, and so I think that's great that you guys are really focusing on the staff side and making sure our staff members are set up for success because these are hard jobs.
Mike Brewer: Oh, yes. They are hard jobs, and I think sometimes they are underappreciated in the sense that people like me, we sit outside or we sit offsite, right, and we go to a property, maybe we see a property, especially if you're 83 properties, you see a property once a year or maybe twice a year if you're lucky. You don't have that true insight of a day-in-the-life of a property manager or assistant manager or a leasing consultant. You just don't. It's very hard. It's stressful. I only have that insight because I grew up in the industry by being a leasing consultant, assistant manager and property manager, et cetera, et cetera, so it's a stressful job, definitely.
Nick Latz: Absolutely. Well, final question for you here, Mike. On this podcast, we focus on resident experience, resident insights. Within that vein, any guest that you would suggest, maybe some folks that you've interacted with in Multifamily Community or elsewhere in the industry that you think would be good guess for us on this podcast?
Mike Brewer: Oh, yeah. I just interviewed somebody for Multifamily Collective, Barbara Savona. Fantastic. She's with Sprout Marketing down in San Antonio. She is just a gem. I always default to Lisa Trosien. She has just been a mentor and a coach for me for a very long bit of time. She's a consultant to the industry. Wonderful. Tony Sousa, who's also in San Antonio, I believe he's a regional manager for Embrey. He is just a mile-a-minute and wonderful and fantastic insights, not only from a leadership perspective, but certainly a resident and a team member experience perspective. I think that's what's tip of tongue for me.
Nick Latz: Fantastic. Those are three great ones. Well, Mike, appreciate your time. This was a great discussion. We'll make sure that our listeners will have access to some of The Multifamily Collective articles and insights that you put out there so often on our episodes page. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today.