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Postmortem; The Apartment Developers' Dilemma

Regardless of our role within an organization, we will be asked throughout our careers to participate in, lead or evaluate various corporate initiatives. After all, most of what a company really ‘is’ is a series of interrelated initiatives.  These could range from the acts of sales, operations, marketing, and acquisitions to finding efficiencies, fixing problems launching new products, etc. Generally we would like to succeed in whatever initiatives we are involved. And hopefully we have positioned ourselves for success through our understanding and expertise, our dedication and will to succeed, and our preparation and focus. Additionally we may have benefited from multiple books, papers and degrees which exist to provide us tools or help train us to succeed at whatever task we undertake. But invariably, there will be times when success is not an option or when we fail after seemingly doing all of the ‘right’ things. In those cases what do we do?   Our next step should be to perform a postmortem. Think of the postmortem as a forensic analysis of the results of the initiative. Admittedly, the specifics of every project are going to be different. But if we were to approach each postmortem as its own totally unique situation, then it would virtually be impossible to be efficient in our analysis. Over time, we also need the ability to connect the information that we gain to make better future decisions. This is the exact same process that our minds go through as the act of learning. The probl......
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Do Mystery Shops Need to Just Go Away? (part 1 in a 2 part series)

I've had clients asking me  this very question for years. Are shops really valuable to a company? Is there a better way? Let me give you some reasons why  mystery shops just might not be the answer you're looking for at your company. For the sake of this discussion, we're limiting this to phone and in-person shops. 1. Shoppers have bad days. Just like Leasing Professionals, shoppers have 'off' days, too. And this is reflected in the shopping report  that describes the Leasing Professionals' behavior. I once worked for a company who so strongly believed in this that they made sure their employees were shopped TWICE on the same day. That way, if one shop was horrible and one was good, they could throw the bad shop out (chalking it up to a bad day for the shopper).  2. Shoppers have to remember how you behaved on the tour. Having been shopped numerous times in my career, I can tell you that sometimes shoppers get their facts confused. I have had shopping reports that accused me of failing to show all of the amenities on the property to the shopper - and they listed the ones I left out. The  problem? The property didn't HAVE the amenities I supposedly overlooked.  3. Perception is skewed. How I view something can be completely different than how you view the very same thing. While I may think a Leasing Professional is fabulous, you might think that person needs some work. The same holds true......
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Who Stole My "Community?"; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

No matter what our role is within the multi-family industry, there is always one word which is used more than any other; “community.” Some of us own communities, some of us develop communities, some of us design communities and others of us lease or operate them. And chances are that many of us live in an apartment, condominium or townhome community as well. So then why is it that there is so little ‘community’ in our communities? When it comes down to this failure’s root cause, it can really only be one of two choices; a.       Either the management team does not expend their energies in a manner that creates a welcoming and vibrant atmosphere that encourages interaction, or b.      The developer did not guide the design in a manner that supports congregation. Now because I am an owner and developer by trade and not a manager, my expertise is limited when it comes to the nuance of property management. I am positive that I undervalue the challenges of those on the front lines. But where I do have some insights is on the development side of the industry. I have mentioned in multiple other essays that the developer has become effectively a highly functioning project manager. We have lost our intellectual curiosity about how folks ‘actually’ live. We have lessened our study of the ways that neighborhoods, communities and cities are formed, only to concentrate on sharpening our excel acumen and expand our address book of consultants. Instead, we generally......
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A Resident's Expectations

By Steven Van Zile, Total Management, New York, NY Within the past 24 hours, here are the maintenance issues I’ve experienced at the property where I reside: the maintenance person, loyal to this building for 33 years, responds to a clogged toilet by advising us to pour bleach down the toilet. Concurrently, the intercom buzzer is stuck and won’t shut off. And, of course, the elevator renovation that started out as a one week project actually turned into a three week project, providing 6th floor tenants the opportunity to save money by cancelling their gym memberships. It’s always seemed simple to me; as residents, we pay rent, maintenance fees, or mortgage payments and the property management staff provide services for the resident. Building and trust owners hire those property managers based on their abilities to keep churn rates low, vacancy at zero, and tenants happy all at or below a budget designed to re-invest in the property. So what happens when we tenants aren’t happy? Well, in today’s age of instant knowledge and access, a lot of renters turn to rating sites like Yelp or apartmentratings.com to spitefully pen scathing reviews in an attempt warn others. These sites might be seen as a threat, but if you’re really good at your job, more transparency can only help you, and reviews will actually help your business grow. Let’s get back to the problems at hand. In the three examples I highlighted earlier, the correct response would have been to snake the toilet, send......
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Weighing in - why accepting credit cards for rental payments might not be a good idea.

Accepting credit cardsAccepting credit cards for rental payments has been a hotly contested item in the office since Twitter published its first tweet. I'd like to get your opinion on it - not because I want to win some office bet (1/2 day off!) but because I still think this is a sticking point for some companies. Let's clear the air, check the evidence and try to figure out what we should do. Pay a convenience fee for being convenienced. Quick math. If you collected $10 million dollars a month in rents and that was all paid by credit card at 2.5% per transaction that would be $250,000 a month you'd flush down the toilet. It isn't practical for our bottom lines to write these kinds of numbers off. (Shoot if it was, I'd process the transactions using some crayons and a phone and keep the $250,000 myself). Only way you can overcome these lopsided mathematics is to charge a convenience fee. The trouble is the laws regarding the fees are pretty convoluted and require a...
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Do Short-Term Rentals Make Sense for Property Managers?

Short-term rentalsA guest post by Ashley Halligan, Analyst, Property Management Software Guide Short-term rentals, of all natures, have become a hot commodity – and a controversial one at that. Short-term rentals can include vacation rentals and temporary housing, often sought by vacationers, business travelers, or people who have recently relocated while seeking long-term living arrangements. Either way, it’s become an ongoing topic of debate and an attractive investment opportunity for property owners and managers. In comparison to traditional rentals, short-term rentals can charge significantly higher rates given their nightly and weekly availabilities. Some property owners have earned as much as 25% of their mortgage in a single night. And during special events or peak rental periods in a given area, potential rental rates can be very attractive to property owners. Because of the income short-term rentals can procure, the opportunity for profit potential may be exponential – but there are several considerations that should be kept in mind. First and foremost, it’s essential to keep the added costs of maintaining a short-term rental in mind. These rentals can be subject to Hotel Occupancy Taxes in certain cities, while other cities require specific licensures and inspections not required of traditional, long-term rentals. Penalties for not abiding by short-term rental laws in your city may result in hefty fines. There can also be increased insurance costs. Additionally, the cost of regular upkeep and maintenance, including utilities, should be calculated. In order to continually attract tenants, your property must be kept in prime condition, both functionally and cosmetically. F......
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Team Building III (the final chapter); The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

In this, the third and final installment of the Team Building series, we are going to hone in on the key skills to identify and quantify when hiring a young developer. As we recall, in the first chapter we discussed the three key indicators of success; The Get-It Factor, Communication Skills and a History of Success. In the second chapter, we introduced our ‘toolbox’ and explored the difference between hard-skills and soft-skills (i.e. the tools). As we previously mentioned, between hard and soft tools, the soft ones are more critical because they are more difficult to develop. This fact doesn’t make them more important in the long run- but a young developer with a strong soft-skills base will generally be much easier to train successfully than one who relies heavily on the hard ones. The irony is that our profession most heavily respects hard-skills.   So what are the key soft-tools to hone for a developer’s toolbox?   Clearly we all possess multiple soft-skills with varying degrees of proficiency. Within the limits of an interview process, it is impossible to identify them all. That is why there are a few which are both critical and identifiable. The top three of these are:   Comportment. The way that an individual behaves and carries them self is indicative of a number of other key qualities. Do they speak clearly and concisely?  Do they maintain eye contact? Are they well groomed? Does their appearance indicate an attention to detail? Are they deferential, or aggressive,......
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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

Let me begin by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. For those of you who regularly read my scribbles, you are used to some pretty meaty topics. In light of the Holidays, this one will be a bit frothier. In each blog that I write there are certain themes which remain pretty consistent. One of my favorites is that real estate development is about the coolest industry on the planet. After all, our job is to make the world a better, more usable, more beautiful place.   Often my intended audience is the real estate developer (my hope is of course that there is some part of my subject matter which translates to my non-developer audience- or at least helps you better understand those temperamental developers who constantly tell you ‘We can’t afford that.’). Today, I would like to remind us all of something that is very easily glossed over as we perform our day-to-day tasks.   No matter what our role in the industry, we have a hand in something very precious. Through our daily work (whether it is building, developing, leasing, managing or maintaining) we have a definite and real effect on people’s lives. We provide the backdrop in which our residents and neighbors work, play, rest, are made safe, fall in and out of love, have babies, spend their final years, argue and make-up, worship and congregate and pursue their individual goals. And while we don’t necessarily know which combination of these that they are ex......
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Fun Ideas for the Holidays at Your Apartment Community

With the holiday spirit all around, this is a great time of year to get your residents together and show them your appreciation.  Here are a couple fun ideas that you can do around your apartment community:   1.       Resident gifts:  A small gift for your residents is an easy way to say thank you for living in your community and the holidays are a great time to surprise them.  Order T-shirts or sustainable bags with your branding on them for each resident.  Print some festive notes to say Happy Holidays and put them in your resident mailboxes.  Each resident can use the note to redeem their gift from the leasing office.  This would also be a great time to have them update their contact information with you.  Your residents will love their new swag and your branding will be all over the city. 2.       A hot drink on a cold day:  The weather is getting colder (in Chicago at least) and everyone likes a nice warm drink on a bitter day.  Set up a table at the front gate or leasing office to hand out free coffee or hot chocolate for a day.  Make sure to promote the event, so residents don’t make their own cup that morning.  Everyone will start their day off right, thanks to you! 3.       Host a white elephant:  It can be hard to meet your neighbors, especially if you live in a large community.  Host a ‘Meet Your Neighbors White Elephant’ in your community room. ......
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5 key mistakes you should avoid while working your guest cards

Etch a SketchNo matter how you create one, be in on an iPad, a website, a piece of paper, or your Etch A Sketch, the guest card is the fundamental way to understand a prospect's needs and get them to move-in. As we enter the slow season and rush to find ways to drive more leads, I wanted to stop a minute and look at our current prospect cards and see if we were doing everything we could to convert. Here are some of the things I found: Not responding to prospects fast enough. According to the Harvard Business review survey from March 2011 - "Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer." It's easy to see the logic behind this argument right? Your quick response is received by the prospect when they are still in front of their devices! It's so hard for us to follow up immediately though; an agent is giving a tour, making phone calls, baking cookies, doing the daily grind. If prospects expect an immediate response and our people are busy, it's easy to see why our email lead conversions as an industry are dismal. Are our industry averages low because we haven't found a way to respond fast enough? Prime example of this slow response......
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