by Paul Willis
When one considers how technology is deployed in the multifamily industry, it often pertains to streamlining nuances of the leasing journey. Tech is also utilized to automate repetitive tasks, such as sending timely reminders to prospects and prepopulating forms for which information is already available.
But tech can also help alleviate broader industry macro issues, such as the recent uptick of turnover among both maintenance and leasing associates. Tech-fueled concepts like centralization help operators be more efficient while making positions more attractive to their associates, shared Lucas Haldeman, SmartRent CEO, and Terry Danner, executive vice president of sales for SmartRent during the company’s SmartRent Smart Sips discussion at OPTECH 2022, moderated by SmartRent COO Demetrios Barnes.
Traditionally, maintenance careers in multifamily are relatively siloed, in which the end goal is to become a maintenance supervisor, with less obvious opportunity after that. Because of that narrow career path, there is a lot of turnover, and high-skilled technicians often leave to start their own companies.
“What’s exciting about maintenance is that with centralization, you can really have some great career paths moving forward,” said Danner. “The industry is faced with a changing demographic as millennials have grown up and many are not really interested in these traditional positions anymore. So, the introduction of tech to modernize the role and supply them with the tools that they need could change the dynamics.”
Comprehensive self-guided touring technology and maintenance workflow platforms empower centralized leasing and maintenance teams to work more strategically and efficiently, reducing redundancies and maintaining response times. Properties equipped with connected smart home hardware enable centralized teams to monitor a wide range of property systems and troubleshoot remotely, saving valuable time and better preserving multiple assets at a time.
“We’ve all known for years that there’s been a high turnover in maintenance and that’s been exacerbated in recent times,” Danner said. “Centralization offers a better career path for maintenance professionals.”
Things have been traditionally similar on the leasing side, where a leasing associate is often considered an entry-level job and turnover is high. But proptech can help this position become more attractive by eliminating much of the secretarial-type duties and enabling associates to concentrate on building more of a professional, concierge-type skill set.
Rather than processing checks, the industry’s new vision includes leasing associates who cultivate the resident experience while also being greatly involved in the decision-making process. The model also includes the ability to operate a scale with fewer total associates at each property as the industry aims to move away from the “one team member per 100 residents” model.
“As technology transforms our industry, we’re seeing leasing professional become more of an actual career – one where we can pay them a lot more than they are currently making,” said Haldeman. “And I like the term I’ve been hearing a lot, where it’s moving away from being a leasing agent and instead a property concierge—someone who can really take time to connect with the residents. That’s an exciting trend that is being pushed by technology.”
Panelists urged operators to prominently consider the learning curve when moving to a centralization model and that proper training is key.
“With site teams in particular, it’s critical to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Danner said. “Everybody needs to be on the same page before you move forward. The other piece is to involve every department in the decision.”
To that end, Haldeman recommends first taking the upfront measures of evaluating current processes, systems and business practices and firmly diagnosing the issue operators are aiming to solve.
“Integration is something that’s easy to say and hard to actually deliver,” Haldeman added. “It is always scary to push technology onto the site team. And that’s why I think technology has to be the last thing we put in place.”