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Will We Be Heroes; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

For anyone who has followed The Developer’s Dilemma series over these past months, I expect that a primary theme has been revealed; that our glorious profession is in tatters due to apathy and abdication. We have hired the wrong people and then not trained them properly. We have become a simple proxy to Wall Street and Connecticut insurance executives. Etc. The key perspective in this is that ‘we have done this to ourselves’ through greed and laziness. And now we all sit here waiting for things to get better. Hopefully a secondary theme has emerged as well; that this is completely fixable. We should all see that this economy, while terrible for many of us at an individual level, is from a macro-perspective, actually a wonderful and necessary reset button. And I don’t just mean a great opportunity for capital to acquire at fire-sale prices, shitty properties that likely never should have been built. Like the Great Fire of Chicago or Sherman’s March through Atlanta, the Crash of 2008 razed our entire profession and gave us a blank, albeit scorched canvas. Development is going to necessarily rise from the ashes again in the near future. And it will be up to us to decide whether it’s as that same old crow or as a glorious new phoenix. So what did we do during these three years of purgatory? Did we learn that our firm structures and training programs were insufficient? Did we learn that we had forgotten the breadth of our......
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The Trust Factor

Do you trust your residents

Do you trust your residents?

Do you trust your residents

Do they trust you? 

Trust is something that you have to constantly work on and prove worthy of. Trust is also something that can be broken in an instant.

Trust is important and vital to relationship building and nurturing.  How to do that? Show up when you say you will. Provide the level of service that you promised at lease signing. Speak with respect and empathy in every situation.  Acknowledge your residents daily and without fail. 

Residents matter to your bottom line and their opinions matter too. Social media is beginning to become what we used to call word of mouth.  Now, whatever you do or say could be posted on YouTube in a matter of seconds with someone who has a smart phone.

Never underestimate the power of your “word”. You have seen it on film, where the actor states, “I give you my word”. It’s timeless, and timely, and has never gone out of style, giving your word, evokes trust especially if you keep your word.

Never settle, give your word, keep your word, create high trust, and watch your success skyrocket.

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The Mentorship Model; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

Over the past few months we have discussed some of the underlying problems within the wonderful profession of real estate development. We have also bantered about individual solutions to prepare ourselves (as the next generation) which have ranged from education to understanding the key success traits for our own self-improvement. Hopefully these have been fairly logical. But, if so, then why hasn’t it just naturally happened? Sadly, ‘obvious’ and ‘easy’ don’t always go hand-in-hand. I would suggest that self-improvement is one of the most difficult things to achieve- especially on our own. Often we are just not equipped to step back and look at ourselves objectively. And, even if we are, we don’t necessarily have the tools to affect the changes that we need. And when it comes to creating a good developer- it really takes a village. It would be nice if we could learn everything that we need to know from our superiors or the more experienced folks within our firms, but unfortunately, my generation and the one before me has left our profession in shambles. The built world is an uglier, less urbanistically successful place for many of our incursions into it. The reason for this is that (statistically speaking) you likely work for a spreadsheet monkey who was never taught or didn’t embrace the romance of what we do. He can’t teach you because he doesn’t know himself. If you want to be great, you will need to actively seek out the folks who can develop in......
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Three E-Mail & Social Media Marketing Tips

I finally did it. I culled the herd. I unsubscribed to most of my email lists.

Why? Some were pushy, some were irrelevant, and one actually offended me. I haven’t seen multifamily marketing make these mistakes, but keep them in mind as you plan your campaigns.

Don’t post too much. Whatever your platform, be respectful. I quit Ann Taylor’s list because I didn’t need to hear about a weekend sale 4 times in 5 days.

Keep it relevant. I live near Philadelphia. So why did Groupon send me deals in Birmingham and Chicago? Remember the nature of your products, too. Last year I purchased custom window treatments from Smith & Noble. While I’m very pleased with the results, I don’t plan to purchase new ones for at least a decade.

Don’t offend me. Humor is a valuable tool, but listen to yourself. I dropped off Philadelphia Magazine’s e-mail list because a blogger used crass and insulting stereotypes for residents of my area. It was meant to be funny, and some readers thought so. But if it was too mean-spirited for my inbox, how many others felt the same way?

Want to keep your email and social media connections growing? Keep your content compelling, but know your audience. Respect them. A few carefully chosen, well-timed words are your most powerful marketing tool.

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Time Travel; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

I’ll bet that each of us has said, at one time or other, ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now.’ If you haven’t yet, you will. And I can promise that if I had a Way Back Machine, I would do more than catch a David Bowie show on the Ziggy Stardust Tour; I would give myself some great advice. Sadly, the best that we can do now is to submit our wisdom and musings to cyberspace. I would tell my younger self that, as a developer, you are a CEO. And as such, you need to develop a CEOs toolbox. But what does that mean? Within our individual toolboxes are both hard and soft (as you may have guessed) tools. A hard tool would be the ability to run a proforma, whereas a soft tool would be speaking ability (or presentation skills). The difference between the two is that you acquire hard tools and develop the soft ones. I’ve found that the real differentiators in one’s life and career, come down almost solely to the soft skills (As an aside, in the near future, we will discuss how one of the primary failures of the real estate development industry is that it has shifted to hiring for and developing hard skills in its young folks rather than the ones that actually determine success). So if soft tools are the key to growing our CEO toolbox, then logically not all tools are created equal. What are the top......
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The ROI of an MBA; The Apartment Developers Dilemma

Our conversation following my most recent blog, To MBA or Not To MBA went down some very interesting paths (although for some reason, the comments on ULI did not aggregate on MFI); so much so that I believe that it might be useful to further flesh-out some of the thoughts. The most remarkable to me, was the concept of ‘the ROI of the MBA.’ It has been asserted that the only way in business to evaluate a decision or an investment is based on its ROI. As my view of real estate development and the developers’ role in society is more holistic, my natural reaction is to reject the relevance of this singular point of view. In fact, anyone who has read my blogs probably already knows that I would argue that the sole pursuit of ROI maximization is destroying our urban fabric because it leads to a myopic view of the world. Suburban sprawl for instance is ROI maximization run amuck. I would suggest that we have a higher responsibility as creators and visionaries than can be calculated on a spreadsheet. After all what is the ROI of donating time or money to philanthropic organizations? Or being kind to others? Or traveling the world? Or reading voraciously? Each of these inputs informs our decisions as individuals and professionals, but none have predetermined effect on our salary or future promote.  There are a few other challenges with the ROI metric as related to the viability of the MBA: The MBA is......
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Fourth Annual Top 10 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates List

Today, I’m excited to announce the release of our annual Top 10 Best Cities for Recent College Grads list with Hartford-New Haven claiming the #1 spot!    Faced with a sluggish economy, many college graduates who collected their diplomas in the spring are still looking for jobs and a place to live as summer comes to a close.  As competition for jobs soars, along with the cost of rent, there is hope for many of these newly minted graduates who know which cities afford them the best opportunity to jump-start their professional lives.  To help give these post grads a leg up, Apartments.com and CareerRookie.com—the collegiate job website from CareerBuilder.com—have revealed their 4th annual best cities list to paint a realistic landscape of the current job market and cost of living in the most popular cities for young adults.   The Top 10 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates list was based on the ranking of top U.S. cities with the highest concentration of young adults, inventory of jobs requiring less than one year of experience along with the average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment.    Read the press release now.   The Apartments.com and CareerRookie.com 4th Annual Top 10 Best Cities for New Grads list. Top 10 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates Average Rent for a One Bedroom Apartment 1.     Hartford-New Haven $1,047 2.     Cleveland $695 3.     Boston $1,625 4.     Denver $994 5.     Minneapolis $941 6.     San Francisco $1,560 7.     Washington D.C. $1,679 8.     Philadelphia $1,068 9.    ......
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To MBA, or not to MBA; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

So I have been inundated over the past couple months with real estate friends and mentees who have asked the same question ‘Should I go back and get my MBA?’ I’m not sure if it’s the economy (I will admit that, as a developer, the world can be quite boring when there are no cranes in the air), or perhaps it is just that they feel that it will open doors in the future. With the last few folks who asked these questions I had one of three answers; Definitely, Maybe and Probably Not. The reason for this is that an MBAs actual value to you is wholly dependent upon the career path that you intend to take. The thing to understand about a University is that it is a business. And as a business, it is in the business of creating a product- the MBA. For it to efficiently create that product for 20 – 100 students, year after year, the parameters of what are taught must be standardized to the point that they can be consistently replicated (i.e. dumbed down). What our MBA factories programs are really well equipped to do is turn middling managers into upper-middle managers- and of course allow us to use the phrase ‘B-School.’ They will NEVER teach you to be a leader…which is a key component to being a good developer. So back to how I answer my friends when the question is asked: Ehhhhh- Maybe? For developers who intend to stay developers, you......
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An inconvenient truth about consumer reviews

I know consumer reviews are scary.  Trust me.  Having worked in public relations my whole life, user-generated content that can disparage a brand I’ve been working years to uphold, has kept me tossing and turning more than one night.  Something you used to have control over is not totally in your hands anymore: your public image (e.g. branding, advertising, marketing collateral, and even to some degree, the press being generated about your company).  Sure, people could complain about your property, but that was typically somewhat contained.  Today, anyone can publicize their praise or contempt for your brand by going online.  What’s worse than consumers finding it?  Consumers looking for it, especially renters.  In fact, 58% of renters, who are also active on social media, told us at Apartments.com they search for additional apartment information and recommendations online when looking for a new place to live.   My name is Tammy Kotula, and I’m addicted to review websites I have to admit that over the past two years, I’ve also become obsessed with reading reviews.  Whether it’s choosing a new restaurant to go to in Wicker Park, booking a hotel or purchasing a book on Amazon, I find myself consulting consumer reviews with nearly every purchase I make.  (Check out Chris Brown’s post on the zero moment of truth). In turn, I’ve also become less bashful about interacting with brands I LIKE on social media and leaving negative reviews for the places where I have received subpar service.  Let me just add......
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How Much Money Is Your Multifamily Complex Losing? - Part 2

Utility Billing Audit SpreadsheetA Simple Way To Conduct A Utility Billing Audit Here's how to conduct a quick and simple audit: Know the rules of the game. Collect relevant billing data. Build a spreadsheet and graph the data. 1.  Know The Rules Of The Game Before starting an audit, familiarize yourself with the state and local rules that govern how you can bill residents for utilities.  These rules can be found at your state's PUC or at a local National Apartment Association (NAA) Affiliate;  a searchable directory is located here:  http://www.naahq.org/about/join/Pages/AffiliateDirectory.aspx. In Colorado, assuming there's a proper lease in place, owners can charge 100% of the master-meter bill back to residents.  In Texas, however, owners must deduct a portion of the master-meter bill for common areas and other non-resident utility costs such as those for parking lot lighting, pools, hallway heating and air conditioning, etc.  Texas also has specific rules on how much of a service fee can be charged. Understand that the onus is on the owner to ensure that resident bills are calculated correctly, regardless of whether you outsource to a third party billing provider or manage the process yourself. 2.  Collect Relevant Billing Data Gather the following: Master-meter billing data for at least the last 12 months Amounts billed to residents for the same period. A comparison of this data will help you gauge how your utility billing program is performing. 3.  Build A Spreadsheet And Graph The Data A spreadsheet makes it easier to graph the billing data so that......
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