by Sergio Chidichimo
Traditional models often work well, but only to a point. Once the parameters change, those traditional methods can become obsolete in a hurry. The apartment industry has become a textbook example of that notion, as morphing resident preferences are causing operators to reevaluate many of their tried and true methods that once defined the sector.
The largest shift the industry is experiencing is that residents’ expectations are elevating. Since the pandemic, they have gained a larger appreciation for remaining within their own neighborhood and have an increased desire to stay home—whether or not they work from home. With that, they also want the ability to socialize within their community. As such, residents are craving a resort-style living experience as opposed to that of a traditional apartment community.
In the past, a resident might arrive home from work, walk their dog, go back in the elevator and stay inside for the night. On a macro level, people are much more social now. Sure, pandemic-related effects can partly account for why many have gained a greater appreciation for outdoor spaces. But as a large-scale trend, residents are more aware of the amenities not only at the community, but those that surround it. They want to know what is accessible within walking distance, including entertainment options, restaurants and remote-work spaces.
In short, modern residents have a desire for a more robust customer experience. Here are a few of the ways the industry can move on from traditional practices to better meet their needs.
Modify staffing models
Prior to the pandemic, a maintenance technician would often enter a vacant home, make the necessary repairs, leave a note and move on. They would have little interaction with residents, other than the occasional retiree or the previously small batch of work-from-homers. But these interactions were few and far between, as a tech might encounter an at-home resident 10% of the time.
In current times, techs encounter an occupied home approximately 80% of the time, which is requiring operators to further train these associates on the customer-service side of things. Techs must not only be competent at making repairs, but also adept at social interactions and conflict resolution. That includes effectively communicating any additional resident thoughts or complaints to the necessary parties so they get addressed.
Essentially, residents also want the resort-style experience when a tech visits the home. That has entirely changed the landscape of maintenance and facilities with regard to staffing and the type of associate sought by properties.
Modern residents also visit the leasing office more often, which forces the industry to reevaluate the traditional roles of office personnel. The industry must explore ways to curb frequent office visits and make it primarily available for prospects and visitors. One way is to hire a resident engagement manager, a service person dedicated to resolving concerns before an office visit is needed. Someone in this role fields complaints and praises on the front end, regularly peruses common-area spaces and follows the progress of work orders to make sure they are completed.
Reevaluate hiring practices
The ideas above have changed hiring practices. In the past, landing a maintenance job or leasing associate position was purely based upon competency. Now, soft skills and emotional intelligence also factor in. Property teams now need to know how well a potential new associate can handle a wide range of conversations.
Some in multifamily—and in other industries—are using behavioral assessment tools like Predictive Index, Clifton Strengths or MBTI to measure a matrix of personalities and determine the best fit for various roles. The best of these tools are simple for the user to complete and can filter down a massive pool of applicants to those who fit the desired parameters. With onsite roles so crucial, more and more companies are using these indexes to assist with their hiring in an attempt to hire the right associate on the first try.
Bolster existing amenities and repurpose lackluster spaces
Operators are dedicating a healthy amount of capital toward improving existing amenities to resort-style status. One example is the addition of a kid-specific area to onsite fitness centers. These include books, games and other attractions, but perhaps most importantly, they are also located where parents have visibility of their children while they’re working out. Round-the-clock availability at fitness centers is also becoming more important so residents aren’t bound to office hours or have to acquire a separate membership.
The ability to repurpose spaces—such as converting an old laundry room into a Zoom room with micro workspaces and state-of-the-art acoustics—is another way to appeal to the modern resident. When lackluster spaces can be converted to anything that caters to the remote worker, it’s a win. Sometimes these spaces can be monetized, as companies are often willing to reserve three or four workspaces for the year if they have a handful of employees in a certain building.
The potential to repurpose space is becoming a key factor, nearly as important as local market trends. Some operators are starting to include it into their acquisition matrix when seeking new communities.
Explore flexible leasing
The typical renter is evolving into something of a digital nomad who doesn’t want to be tied to a 12-month lease. The industry will have to adapt in coming years and strike the balance between the volatility of a quick home-share stay and the constraints of a yearlong lease.
In the next one to four years, the industry must evolve on the flexible lease front, even if it’s only a certain percentage of homes within a community. It’s a high-level conversation that’s complicated and will have to happen at the national association level. What’s certain is that flexible leasing will happen—whether or not multifamily gets a piece of the pie. Residents are already subleasing space, but as of now apartment communities cannot monetize it. The industry must address it.
As resident preferences continue to evolve, the apartment world must keep pace. That means moving on from traditional models, even if they were effective in the past.
Categories: Ops/Marketing, Property Management, Resident Retention
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