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Motivating Your Property Managment Staff

MotivationIt’s likely that one of your company’s biggest assets doesn’t actually appear on a balance sheet or in a property portfolio. To see this invaluable asset, look no further than your employees. In a business that inherently involves dealing with people and making quick, educated decisions, a well-versed employee is an invaluable asset. With this in mind, there are many measures you can—and should—take to do everything in your power to keep good staff onboard for the long haul. 1. Stay on top of market salaries. Carefully research the going salary for comparable positions in your region and make sure you are at least matching it. While everyone wants to keep their overhead as low as possible, trying to get “bargain” employees will rarely work to your benefit in the long run. You’ll either end up losing employees to companies that are willing to pay higher wages or end up with an inferior staff. Consider that according to Entrepreneur.com the average cost of losing an employee is 38 percent of the departing employee’s annual wage and it’s readily apparent that it’s financially savvy to make sure good employees remain on staff. 2. Be diligent about goal-setting and annual reviews. Goal-setting and annual reviews may elicit a few groans from your staff, but don’t be swayed—they’re essential. Goals offer a clear-cut method of tracking employee progress and ensuring that both you and your employees have a good idea of where growth has been achieved and, alternatively, where training may be necessary. Additionally,......
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Two customer service stories.

I have recently had two completely opposite customer service experiences that have given me a new understanding of the importance of good service skills.  We'll start with the negative experience. I recently moved into a new apartment and set up our internet connection through AT&T's high-speed DSL. Everything about this experience has been a disaster. Our date of service turned out to be one day later than our welcome letter stated. We were unable to connect to the network for the first several days after having properly installed the modem. The tech guy who was supposed to arrive to fix the issue never arrived, and we only got a phone call at five minutes to five pm that day telling us that they had "fixed" the problem. (If you're guessing that they hadn't, you'd be right.) The next service appointment we attempted to schedule never called us back, but apparently showed up on Tuesday anyway and left a calling card. By that point, we had a solid DSL connection, but from time to time it would randomly lose internet, requiring us to power-down the modem, then restart it, then log back in - only about a five-minute process, but given that it involved getting to the underside of the modem to copy the access code, it quickly became exasperating. I finally called last night to cancel our service because I did not want to expend more energy on something that should be simple. The good experience, on the other hand, completely overrode......
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"We hope you'll understand...even though we know you won't."

 I'm sure that there are worse things that can happen on a property.  Fire.  Flood.  Occupancy rating of 55%.  No doubt.  These are probably way more scary than having to close your pool in the summer.  But personally, I'd say it ranks right up there with the stress toll it takes on your staff and the obliteration of your renewal numbers.  In the summer, your leasing staff is hopefully completely slammed with new tours and potential residents.  They can deal with the current resident issues as they come in, but usually the main focus for these folks is on new leasing.  A busy, excited pool filled with happy residents is one of their most powerful sales aides on a hot day, but if you're like a lot of communities in Washington state right now, you might have just a pretty pool sitting behind your cabana, devoid of people and the appearance of community.  Instead, we have many leasing consultants who are taking more calls and walk in complaints each day than they normally would in a two week span."When is the pool going to open?""How come you guys never get the pool opened on time?""Do you know how HOT it is out there?" And for the less confrontational, there's always ApartmentRatings.com.  And we take the Word of Mouth bullet right in the shoulder for something that we have little to no control over.People are having trouble getting their pools up to the new codes set forth by the Brady Law.  The blame......
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Resident Retention: Forever Yours... Faithfully

SouthwestThe NAA Education Conference was a whirlwind day trip for me. I was only able to fly in on Friday morning and fly out that evening. It was a great experience! I got to match many names with faces and have a some great conversations. There were very positive comments flying around about how impactful the conference had been for the attendees as well as the exhibitors. As you can imagine, knowing that I only had 1 day to dive into the conference, I had to put tremendous faith in the airlines. There was no room for delays or flight cancellations. Knowing that I could not allow for any margin of travel error, I chose to fly Southwest. They are known for their great track record for on time departures, and when it comes to Las Vegas in particular there are no other airlines that can even come close in the reliability rankings. I don’t care for the “cattle call” although they have improved that process somewhat. I am a bit tired of the “no frills” peanuts. But I can count on them, and they did not fail me on this trip. There was a twist however. I arrived safely home on Friday night, and in the morning I found an email waiting for me from Southwest. With all the emails – both personal and junk mail – I receive on a daily basis, this actually did stand out. There was nothing more to the message. Just this thank you, with......
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Dealing with Tenant Complaints

Angry TenantWhether you’re dealing with a tenant who files complaints rarely or frequently, due diligence is always essential. Tracking and addressing tenant complaints in a timely manner is important not only for keeping your tenants safe and happy, but also for protecting yourself and your property in the long run. 1.    Encourage tenants to come to you. As with maintenance, tenants should be encouraged to come to you with any complaints they may have as quickly as possible. Sure, there might be some tenants that overuse this privilege, but the vast majority will not. Provide a number they can call at all hours—and be sure the number’s voicemail includes an emergency number callers can utilize during off-hours. 2.    Create (and use) an official tenant complaint form. Although it may seem unnecessary at times, tracking each and every tenant complaint is important. These forms will provide a record of the situation and what you did to mend it and also, in some cases, provide yet another way for you to record repairs and upgrades that have been completed in each unit. On this form you’ll want to include the date of the complaint, the tenant’s name and unit, and the nature of the complaint. You’ll also want to record resolution action items, the date the issue was resolved, and how it was resolved. Since we just talked about eviction last week, this seems like a good time to point out that, in some states, tenants may be justified in non-payment of rent if......
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Tour Zappos with 30 Lines

Zappos, Powered by Service

For those of you not familiar with Zappos, it is an online retailer of shoes, clothing, handbags, and accessories. Zappos also is well known for its company culture of providing extreme customer service. Here's just one example of the Zappos company culture in action, as told by someone who has never even purchased anything from the site.

Zappos, Powered by ServiceZappos is led by CEO Tony Hsieh (you can find him on Twitter at @Zappos). As part of the NAA Education Conference this week, Tony is participating on what should be an outstanding panel to discuss the latest trends in social media. (The panel was organized and will be moderated by a good friend, Eric Wu from RentWiki.) I'm excited to see Tony (and Eric) in action during Saturday’s panel, and I would encourage anyone who is attending the conference to sit in on this discussion.

I'm also excited to pass along that Zappos will be offering a tour of their headquarters to anyone who's interested before the conference kicks off. We'll be touring the Zappos facilities on Wednesday, June 24th at 10am local time in Vegas. Shuttle service will be provided, and  the tour should take just over an hour. If you’re interested in joining us, email me at mike[at]30lines.com, send a tweet to @30lines or call 386.795.8000. I'd love for you to join us to see firsthand how Zappos wows its customers with service.

See you in Vegas!

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Tenant Eviction Tips

GavelFor obvious reasons, most landlords dread evicting tenants. But for as stressful as evictions can be, there are a number of things you can do to increase your chances of a positive outcome. Following are some tips to keep in mind should you find yourself in a position where evicting a tenant becomes necessary. 1.    Have Sufficient ReasonFirst and foremost, it’s absolutely imperative to ensure that the law recognizes your reasons for eviction as valid (be sure to check your specific state and local laws before beginning any eviction). Despite the fact that it’s your property, tenants have rights too and any deviation from what is required by law may ultimately result in a lot of legal grief. Generally, valid reasons for eviction include continuous lack of payment (eviction does not usually result from a single month’s missed rent), the end of a lease term, or a broken lease clause. 2.    Know Your Eviction Time Lines Although you may be tempted, it’s never okay to move a tenant’s belongings out of his apartment without serving the eviction through proper channels, all of which require a certain time frame that will be dictated by state or local law. Also, make sure that the grace period included in your rental agreement (the time the tenant is given to pay you in full) has passed. But once you’ve carefully ensured that you are following the proper procedures, do make sure that you stick to the time lines imposed on the tenant in question. Mike......
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Resident Retention: Boys (or Girls) of Summer

  Summer is here, and we’re all waiting to see what levels of turnover will occur. Our typical summer experience, especially where our maintenance teams are concerned, is an increase in turnovers and the increased focus on getting newly vacated apartments ready for potential new move-ins. The result?  Existing residents may have to wait a little longer to have a service request issue resolved. It might take a little longer to hear back on the status of an ordered part or a scheduled vendor. But wait! Doesn’t it seem strange that we would prioritize empty apartments above our rent-paying customers? It’s almost as frustrating as standing in the check-out line, money in hand, to buy the perfect prom dress, but the clerk is busy dressing the mannequin in the store window and can’t be bothered. Something’s wrong with this picture! We see the cycle. We know the cycle. There are times of the year that typically bring an increase in turnover, and times of the year that typically experience less turnover.  Knowing this, what if we did something radical – something that turns what has been the norm in our industry for years and years on its ear? What if we reduced or retired our monthly resident events (that may draw a handful of attendees) and shifted those dollars to that time of year when we know turnover is traditionally heaviest? What if we shifted those dollars to hire temporary, part-time maintenance help to ensure our existing residents were never aff......
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A Vendor's Perspective on Resident Retention.

It's interesting that in a down economy, there are so many low-cost opportunities to "wow" residents.  I'm noticing that residents are responding especially well to community-building "interactive" amenities much more so than the usua

l "physical" amenities like pools, fitness centers, and business centers.   It's really shown me the value of more community-building types of amenities as a cornerstone of resident retention and leasing strategy.
In talking to property managers, they all share the same complaint in these economic times.  Old tenants are moving out, and new tenants are not moving in as quickly as they used to.  How are their management companies responding?  Many are slashing marketing budgets and lowering rents.  I don't see this strategy as working well for them, however.  It's a bit of a Catch-22: they need visibility, but they can't afford to buy it.  We're seeing that our most successful customers are actually increasing their budgets for small-ticket items that pay off in big ways, and they are still charging among the highest rents in their territories.

I think the a big reason so many communities keep lowering their rents in a recession is that they get into a bidding war, because they aren't making themselves stand out.   Many offer the same types of "physical" amenities like gyms, business centers, and pools, so that they become relatively indistinguishable and compete mainly on location and price.  But in fact, residents tell us time and again that they are more likely to sign or renew their lease

s, regardless of location or price, when they feel emotionally connected to their communities by getting to know neighbors with similar values and interests.  What they want more than anything is to meet other residents more often, and in the right way!  You might call this a demand for "interactive" amenities, rather than "physical" amenities.  We also notice that some physical amenities, such as clubroom areas, kitchens, or certain outdoor spaces, go largely unused, just waiting for managers to turn that dead space into a profit-generating "interactive" amenity.  The great thing is, creating these sorts of amenities is extremely quick and easy to implement.  Best of all, it's incredibly inexpensive, since communities already have a multifunctional space, and they already have the residents!  All managers need is to pull them together with the right activities and a little creativity.

We always tell our customers to think of their clubhouse as the neighborh

ood's town center or social hub.  Imagine residents filling those empty areas socializing in small groups each week, really getting to know each other, and making friends in the neighborhood.  Those beautiful clubhouse areas are specifically designed for group gatherings!   By organizing such gatherings, managers finally put those spaces to good use and tap into their biggest marketing asset of all - the residents themselves, waiting to meet each other around interest-based activities.  We've seen many types of community-building activities flourish, including:

  • Volunteer Groups - organize a group of neighbors to participate in a charity walk, or create a bake sale fundraiser.  Get the staff involved!
  • Book Clubs - get residents together to read and discuss bestsellers.
  • Gourmet Cooking Classes - bring together residents with a hands-on, live cooking show with a professional chef.  This is an ultra-p opular, high-class amenity at little cost.
  • Wine Lectures - have a vivacious wine expert bring together your residents for a trendy, upscale "happy hour."  It's like a night out at a wine bar with friends, but on-site!
  • Group Fitness Classes - bring in professional fitness instructors to host after-work pilates or yoga classes once a week.
  • Intramural Sports Teams - organize a community softball team to participate in local intramural leagues.  This increases pride in the community.
  • Mom-and-tot Play Groups - Buy some inexpensive toys and games for the kids, and host a morning coffee-and-muffin indoor play gathering in your clubhouse.  Moms can relax on sofas and chairs while kids play in a safe space.  Or, organize a bring-your-own lunch outdoor playgroup in a grassy area or playground.

These are just some of the things that we've seen work at our customers' communities over the years.  But especially now, they are really hot!  And we're getting strong feedback that the monthly cooking class and wine lecture program is their number one most successful amenity.  They even use this event as a marketing tool in their "For Rent" magazine ads, on their property tours, and even announce it when new residents are "on hold" when calling in.

Anyway, today I just wanted to talk a bit about this idea of interactive amenities helping communities create a real in-group mentality and a lot of b

uzz among their residents, since it requires a bit of a different mindset.  Next time, I will touch upon some of the challenges we face in dealing with different property management styles, and maybe some of you will be able to offer some insight on that.

I look forward to meeting more of you in the weeks and months to come.

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Serving Up Basic Human Kindness with Survey Monkey

In a recent panel conversation we were asked ‘what’s new in Customer Relationship Management (CRM)?’  A big question. It seems that many companies are embracing ‘what’s old is new again’ or back-to-the-basics that had slipped in customer service. Now is the ideal time to reinforce what Disney calls Basic Human Kindness. Costs little to nothing, and the benefits in resident attraction, appreciation and renewals are huge.  A little kindness really does go along way.  While serving up Basic Human Kindness (BHK) isn’t new, incorporating it into daily activities often is.  As one client recently told me, they are now interacting with residents more as a result of these trying times.  More resident interactions, more responsiveness, more TLC…it’s all good!  And actually, how do you know what’s important to your prospective residents and resident satisfaction unless you ask? It’s easier to start or improve upon your BHK quotient once you know a starting point. This includes understanding what’s working (so that you can do more of it) and what’s not working (so you and your team can improve).   Start by taking a look at your resident ‘touch point’ opportunities. These are the times you purposefully interact with your prospects and residents. Some companies already have these point identified and organized with specific processes. If you do, congratulations! If not, it’s really easy to start building your touch-points with Survey Monkey. You can join and try if for free…if you find it beneficial it’s as low as $19.95/month.   It’s now easy to ask......
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