As we make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are so many things to consider in order to successfully maintain business in the multifamily industry. This is especially true as we move towards phasing in reopening of our apartment communities.
The Accountability Loop
A great starting place to get into the right mindset is the Accountability Loop, as discussed in the book “Making Yourself Indispensable” by Mark Samuel. The Accountability Loop suggests that when we encounter a situation, our intentions can either go towards the productive place of personal accountability or the non-productive path of the victim loop.
You’ve probably already made modifications to your operations to reduce the number of leasing staff in the office and limit in-person interactions with residents, as well as enabling your team to work from home. You have also had to determine how to transition business from the physical to the digital threshold by defining what “virtual tour” means for your company. Perhaps that means professional tour videos created at the corporate level or “homemade” tour videos made on-site, Facetime appointments, self-guided tours, or guided virtual tours online.
If you have not already done so, you’ll want to leverage your website to extract all it has to offer.
- Announce virtual tours prominently on the site and adjust the terminology in the appointment scheduling so that it nudges visitors toward virtual appointments.
- Enhance your amenities page with additional photos.
- Consider adding photos of current vacant apartments and include those on the live availability page.
- Create video tours for each floorplan, load them to YouTube, and then attach those tour links to the floorplan site.
Believe it or not, most of these features have always been available with the major software platforms and just were not being utilized! Don’t forget to consider whether your posts and pages are mobile-friendly as many prospects will view on phones first. Also, make sure to have presence on social media – even TikTok!
Implementing Daily Activity Reporting (DAR) can be very helpful in managing day to day business operations. It promotes:
- Accountability for leasing agents and assistants
- Transparency for leadership
- Ownership of daily activities
- Structure for first time Work from Home (WFH) employees.
DAR also allows agents to communicate tasks and statuses such as delinquencies, renewals, etc.
When it comes to communication with residents, keep it simple. Provide information in clear, concise bullet points and be sure to reach out at least weekly. Try using empathy questions for residents such as ‘How are you holding up with everything?’, ‘What can I do to make your situation better?’ or ‘What has been the hardest part?’ Sometimes the ability to talk, connect and vent is just what your residents may be craving.
Another point needing your attention is pricing. What strategies can you use to help residents through this difficult time while maintaining reasonable business? Some workable options include new lease pricing freezes or various renewal offers such as the ability to extend at same rate or with a modest increase or the option to extend month-to-month leasing. Be mindful of the opportunity to save yourself from a Notice to Vacate! Keep calling to ask what you can do to change their mind.
Related to pricing is collections. What are workable strategies for this during the COVID-19 pandemic? Some communities are offering deferred rent over time, waivers of late fees, or flexible payment arrangements. There are NAA Addendums available which may be helpful. Another tip is to brainstorm with your team to come up with scripted responses for how to address deferred rent discussions with residents.
Another important area needing modifications during COVID-19 is maintenance. Some communities are allowing emergency work orders only while others are continuing with business as usual with enhanced protections before entering an occupied apartment, such as a 3-question survey asking if any occupants have traveled in the past two weeks, if anyone has a fever, and if anyone has been taking care of someone who is sick. Either way you will want to take steps to ensure the safety of your maintenance team. Maintain weekly inventory on PPE (mainly gloves and masks) for your team and consider ordering two months of supplies at a time to avoid running out. You can also give thought to incentives such as increased hourly pay, a one-time bonus or added sick leave for the essential employees that make up your maintenance team.
Operations and Communication
Adjustments also need to be made at the corporate office level. Work to create the alignment of departments and properties through weekly calls and reporting with property managers and each department head. This will work to unify goals and create better understanding of each job role. Encourage team members to check in daily with supervisors to communicate daily activities to help effectively plan for managing prospect traffic.
Team meetings are important for goal alignment and continuity. It is helpful if you can send a meeting agenda in advance and allow time for each person to share how things are going and discuss ideas. Take a moment for recognition of accomplishments during each meeting; unexpected praise and acknowledgement, even for little things, can go a long way towards boosting morale.
Here are some additional options to consider.
- A COVID-19 Employee Check-In survey by Swift Bunny. This is a free survey to help gauge employee sentiment during this difficult time.
- Join with other people within your company and outside it to create a pool of resources to help everyone.
- Reach out to other local managers or even vendors. We’re all in this together!
When it comes to executive level reporting, anticipate questions and practice self-accountability for your position.
- Proactively report collections, evictions, expenses, etc. to team management on a weekly basis or more often as requested.
- When you have a problem or issue that needs to be discussed, try to come prepared with possible solutions instead of just presenting the problem alone.
Phased Reopening Plans
As we move towards reopening our apartment communities, work on creating phased reopening plans. Anchor your plan to Federal or state guidance (i.e. the White House/CDC Reopening America Plan). Create specific criteria for the leasing office/team, maintenance team, and residents. Be prepared to develop physical adaptations/adjustments at the property level to foster safety for everyone and create documentation of the progress as you go. Check out these 4 phased strategies for reopening your apartment communities post- COVID-19.
1. General Phased Reopening. After a 14-day downward trajectory of reported illnesses/new diagnoses, follow a multi-phase approach. This will give you time to transition from one mode of operations to the next in a calm and orderly fashion and will allow you to plan ahead. Remember the importance of facilitating regular communication with your team at all levels to get feedback and answer questions as they come up. Secure all the essential supplies to enact the physical adaptations in your community. Order signage for common areas, entrances, bathrooms, desks, amenities, etc. Post large “We’re Open” signs once you’re ready to have physical visits again. Have and maintain a steady supply of hand sanitizer, gloves, wipes and soap. You may even think about investing in a sanitizing misting system to efficiently sanitize indoor areas.
2. Phased Reopening for Guests. Before opening the office for visitors, prepare by installing acrylic shields at desks and ordering and displaying distance marker signage and floor decals. Post and enforce a rule for maximum occupancy in the office to limit the number of people present at any one time. Provide visual reminders of 6-foot distancing guidelines. Encourage scheduling tours rather than walk-ins and limit the number of people on each tour. When possible, consider self-guided tours. You may even consider asking the prospect to sign a waiver before an in-person tour.
3. Phased Reopening for Onsite Teams. Create and maintain a COVID-19 Daily Log. This is a daily log for all team members to check temperatures and log how each person feels each day, as well as for sanitizing efforts reporting. Don’t forget to order thermometers! One person should be responsible each day for the log. This also gives you an opportunity for contact tracing should any team member become ill. The contract tracing will consider a history of all work orders for any test-positive team members. Rearrange the office to ensure spacing of team members 6 feet apart and enforce daily sanitizing procedures with high-touch areas being sanitized more than once a day.
4. Phased Reopening for Residents. A phased reopening plan for residents could include COVID-19 waivers to be signed before the use of amenities, as well as a sign-off sheet for residents to confirm they are not ill before use. The resident plan should also define package pickup procedures, encourage use of an online portal for service requests and rent payments, and adopt digital lease/renewal signing (if not already in use). It is vital to communicate with residents about the details of the reopening phases for maximum success.
Executive Vice President, Partner
The Management Group, LLC
Jamin currently works at The Management Group LLC, a southeast-based multifamily development and management company. He is an Apartment All Stars speaker and has led national and local seminars on topics ranging from operations to technology and marketing. Recently he has started a weekly Multifamily Leadership Huddle with industry leaders (C-suite) with an average attendance of 120 per week. He is an active mentor, educator and fundraiser with Junior Diabetes Research Foundation.
Edge2Learn is an eLearning company whose focus is the Property Management Industry and specializes in property management training and multifamily education. With over 30 years of experience and a commitment to increase industry excellence, we are passionate about engaging learners to maximize benefits for both companies and employees. Aligned with a well-respected industry leader, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions, the Edge2Learn platform provides a turnkey solution for clearly identified needs and opportunities. We prepare learners to deliver a superior customer experience and also reduce corporate liability risks and overall employee turnover.