by Kimberly Cameron
Budget season. It’s that joyous time of year when multifamily owners and operators break out in cold sweats, start obsessing over spreadsheets and settle in for some sleepless nights.
This year, budget planning could have been particularly painful. Thanks to the pandemic, property managers have seen revenues decline while simultaneously incurring unanticipated expenses. Generally speaking, 2020 has done a number on most companies’ financials.
Fortunately, 2021 doesn’t have to repeat the performance of its predecessor. By turning the lessons learned in 2020 into budget line items for 2021, apartment communities have the opportunity to streamline operations and pinch a few pennies in the process.
Erasing the Red
The economic conditions created by the COVID-19 health crisis in 2020 forced management companies to accommodate residents and families facing lost or reduced wages. The widespread inability of renters to make monthly rent payments was a significant setback to the bottom line, and it was compounded by the necessity to implement enhanced cleaning and sanitization services, deploy virtual platforms for tours and leasing, and equip associates with the resources required to work remotely.
Those same budget costs won’t be surprises in 2021. While we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, the industry has found ways to push through it. Fortunately, many of the tech innovations that multifamily has turned to during the health crisis have established operating efficiencies that begin to offset any decrease in rental income and the expense of new services.
That isn’t to say that everything has zeroed out at this point. Companies still need to comb through each line item of their budgets to identify costs that continue to climb, and develop a response that gets them out of the red.
Back in the Black
So, aside from cleaning and sanitization, what new service costs emerged in 2020 that need to be accounted for moving forward?
With the surge in people working and schooling from home, most apartment communities have experienced a significant uptick in printing expenses. Residents’ printing needs haven’t changed, they just don’t have access to workplace or school resources so they’re turning to the equipment available onsite at their communities.
Property staff are inundated with resident printing requests, whether it’s a single-page resume, children’s homework sheets, or an 80,000-word Ph.D. dissertation. Properties that provide a business center printer/copier/scanner are going through paper, ink and toner faster than hand sanitizer. And at retail prices, those printing supplies add up quickly.
Of course, the increased volume of print jobs comes with a corresponding level of wear and tear. Printers break down, and per-incident repair costs are steep.
Property managers can’t risk a hit to already tenuous resident satisfaction levels by discontinuing a service that has become one of their most popular amenities, so they have to find a way to manage the expense.
Fortunately – like virtual and self-guided tour platforms — printing technology has evolved rapidly, and third-party services have emerged to meet the needs of the multifamily space. By supplying the printer/copier/scanner equipment, automatically ordering and maintaining paper, ink and toner levels, and providing technical support and service seven days a week, multifamily printing amenity companies have created yet another efficiency to help guide operators through the pandemic and beyond.
Customized contracts allow site managers to scale services to fit their specific needs and establish printing as a marketable amenity, rather than another red line on a budget spreadsheet.
The ability to pinpoint and address growing expenses is vital to surviving this unique budget season. Operators that introduce innovative solutions to not only streamline operations but bolster their bottom line, will find themselves in an enviable position moving forward.