by Paul Willis
As the pandemic persists, it has become readily apparent that housing providers don’t have the luxury of playing the waiting game until things return to normal. Business as usual isn’t coming anytime soon, which has forced industry leaders to adjust on the fly and modify longstanding processes.
Those able to deftly pivot through this very fluid situation have experienced the most success in keeping their organizations thriving through challenging times. Regulations are changing on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis. In addition to the ability to pivot quickly, operators are finding that navigating through a pandemic requires a new level of patience, creativity and even more communication than ever before.
PetScreening National Sales Manager Brian Birdy recently discussed the topic with housing providers from the multifamily, student housing and single-family sectors, which yielded a wide range of perspectives of how industry leaders have acclimated to the turbulent times.
“I think one of the things we learned right off the bat is to adopt the tech tools that are available to you,” said Scott Orphan, senior vice president of Asset Living, a student-housing provider. “For instance, for Zoom webinars we use Microsoft Teams, and we regularly utilize different ways to meet and communicate with people. This was brought to the forefront when you realize that we can no longer visit assets and the potential to travel is gone.”
Many of the modified approaches necessitated by the pandemic have the potential to be incorporated into regular industry practices moving forward. For example, Orphan noted that touchless move-ins and move-outs—seldom considered in the past—represent a customer-focused approach and are more efficient for onsite teams.
“What the pandemic has shown me is that there are a lot of tools out there,” Orphan said. “It has forced us into using them and to explore different avenues. It makes you get out of your comfort zone and quickly use tools that are going to help people communicate and operate better.”
Another shift within the rental-housing sector has been the increased propensity to share information. Formerly a close-to-the-vest industry with regard to information, operators and supplier partners alike are becoming more open to collaborate and integrate. The idea is that individual platforms will be stronger when working together.
As part of this effort, many industry leaders are aiming to educate themselves on successful tactics utilized by their peers, whether from a tech or a procedural standpoint.
“I’ve been reading everything—seriously everything—that I can find,” said Carrie Briggs, vice president of marketing and revenue management for FPI Management. “Anything from NAA and our industry leaders, the California Apartment Association, other apartment associations, the government explaining the CARES Act to social channels such as LinkedIn leadership and Facebook multifamily groups. It’s not just seeing what’s happening from an industry perspective, but also being part of the conversation.”
Briggs notes that one peripheral positive gleaned from the current situation is the increased propensity of residents to utilize online payments. FPI Management has also observed a huge spike in activity on its social channels and the number of residents that have opted to receive text message alerts.
While forward-thinking industry leaders always make a pronounced effort to avoid complacency, the pandemic creates a previously unseen set of circumstances. In many instances, housing providers are learning through trial and error and will continue to do so. And agility is the key to success in this environment, whether it’s modifying onsite practices or keeping team members connected.
“We have had a Zoom room open every single day, all day, for all of our team members,” said Michael Krause, partner of single-family operator Atrium Management. “We have international team members in Mexico and onsite team members at our multifamily sites, and to keep that culture together, it stays open from 7 a.m. to midnight.”
With routine times nowhere in the immediate future, industry leaders have been forced to adjust, readjust and thoroughly reevaluate previous practices. But the perseverance is paying off, as the industry continues to move forward through tumultuous times.