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Come Together and Can

NPR  recently reported that Jarden Home Brands, which owns the popular Ball line of canning products, says it has already seen a 30 percent increase in sales of jars and lids this year, and the bulk of the harvest season is still months away.  Canning is making a comeback, as Gen X, Y and the Boomers look for ways to save money, eat healthy and make use of all the bulk food available from locally grown community gardens and farmer’s markets.  Trouble is, unlike their parents and grandparents, who relied on the technique to get them through the great depression and two world wars, many don’t know how to can. Canning incorrectly can lead to big trouble in the form of botulism.  This is a perfect opportunity to rethink the seldom-used “Gourmet Kitchen” in your clubhouse and turn it into, (a least for a day) a “Food Preservation Center”.Try offering a canning class in conjunction with the current harvest available at your local farmer’s market.  Let’s say, in this case, it is strawberries.  You can purchase enough strawberries for everyone in the class to receive one or two jars of jam while they learn the process.  To find an individual skilled at canning that is willing to teach the technique, look to seniors in your community, area senior center or local college extension.What an outstanding way for a variety of generations to come together, learn a useful new skill, show your appreciation for planet earth and provide variety in your resident......
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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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"Pool" Your Resources

As temperatures rise, so do easy chances for resident retention!  Summer is a great time for connecting with your residents and one of our greatest warm season assets is, of course, our pool.  However, there is more to using your aqua resources than a single large gesture of the large summer pool party.  You can utilize this great tool throughout the summer with implementation of just a few small gestures that can result in some great improvements in resident retention by making even deeper and more frequent connections.  Here are 5 ideas to get you started on "Pooling" your resources:Summertime lemonade and cookie poolside breaks- Do you have 20 minutes to spare in the afternoon to gain a little resident retention?  All it takes is a bowl full of fun cookies (I recommend animal crackers since they're inexpensive, low fat, low sugar, not to mention both adult and child friendly) and a snap top pitcher of lemonade with some disposable cups. Medium sized Dixie cups would work well, since they give good portion control and come in a lot of cute festive prints for a reasonable price. Head down to your pool during the busiest times of the day for about 10-15 minutes to pass out lemonade and cookies and have a quick chat with your residents. Total time spent: Maximum of 40 minutes a day.  Money spent: around $50 a month if you do this twice a day 3 times a week. Leases renewed:  The possibilities are endless.Courtesy Towels- Many......
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Property Landscaping Low-Down

Chances are landscaping falls pretty low down on most property managers’ list of things to do. And for good reason. Maintaining intricate landscaping is not only time-consuming, but it also tacks yet another expense onto your budget. Despite these very good reasons for not moving landscaping to number one on your priority list, there are also some great reasons why all property managers should consider putting forth the effort when it comes to landscaping. Property Value Even if selling your property seems like a far-off (or even inconceivable) idea, bolstering its aesthetic appeal increases value. And every good business professional wants to make sure that that her assets command the best market value possible. Planting trees is a particularly sure-fire way to increase the value of your property—and they’re relatively low-maintenance to boot. According to About.com’s forestry page, “Trees can increase the property value of your home by 15 percent or more.”Appeal to Renters It is currently a renter’s market in many areas of the country. Now more than ever, it’s the time to make sure that your property stands out from the rest. While it’s true that the chances of a potential tenant renting from you solely based on your property’s lush foliage are slim, someone choosing between otherwise relatively equal units will likely go for the one with visual appeal. Well-maintained landscaping sends renters the message that you care for your property and want to keep it looking as good as possible.Cut Energy Costs That’s right, landscaping can actually......
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Unlawful Detainer

Unlawful Detainer by Attorney Tamara Cross Many community owners and managers have been through the unlawful detainer process. Not all of them, however, have encountered just how different and difficult one unlawful detainer action can be from another with regards to time frames, discovery and even trial. If you are lucky, your encounter with an unlawful detainer action took approximately three to four weeks and ended nicely in a default judgment without the need to go to court. This article will walk you through the non-default unlawful detainer action and address some of the options that resident/tenants have to delay the process and to make the unlawful detainer action a long, expensive experience. In discussing the difficult unlawful detainer trial, this article will address the delay tactics taken by residents and their attorneys, the defenses raised to complicate the issues, and finally, suggestions on how best to avoid these delays.  Summary proceeding The unlawful detainer trial was intended to be a “summary eviction proceeding,” which means it was intended to be a quick and limited proceeding in comparison to the general civil litigation matters. For example, in a general civil lawsuit, the defendant has 30 days to answer the complaint, but only five days to answer in an unlawful detainer action. Also, the trial in a general civil lawsuit may take over a year to be heard, where the unlawful detainer trial is required to be set within 20 days of the tenant’s answering. The issues in an unlawful detainer action......
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To Sublet or Not To Sublet

Lease AgreementFor some landlords, summertime means subletting time. And as we all know, subletting can be a tricky nut to crack. Part of being a good landlord is knowing how to carefully weigh your options and choose the scenario that has the best chance of working to your benefit in the long run. Such decisions often have to be made on a case-by-case basis, accounting for the specific tenant and situation in question. Subletting is a perfect example of precisely this sort of scenario. First and foremost, make sure that all of your rental leases contain a sublet clause requiring your tenants to obtain permission before subletting their apartments. It is imperative that you are always aware of any subletting scenarios that may arise. Subletting most generally occurs in cases where a tenant needs to vacate his unit before the lease is up. As always, be sure to check your state laws, but most states require that both you and the tenant in question make an attempt to find a replacement tenant for the unit. This will require you to market the property as you normally would when seeking a new tenant. If you are unsuccessful and the unit goes to sublet for the remainder of the lease term, the original tenant is responsible for any differences in rent and “reasonable” costs incurred in your attempts to re-rent the apartment (this includes disparities in monthly rent between the original and subletting tenant, advertising costs, etc.). In most cases (but not all—again, be......
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Top 5 Ways to Increase Rent Value in a Down Market

Top 5 Ways to Increase Rent Value in a Down MarketMany of us in the property management field are seeing our "For Rent" signs up longer than owners would prefer. In today's economy, we face not only the challenge to fill vacancies, but the challenge to increase and maintain rent values. To continue to watch your revenue increase we suggest the following tips. 1. Increase curbside appeal:It's easy to make a few minor adjustments and improve the exterior of a rental. Replace dead or dying landscape and fill pot holes in the parking lot or car port. Make sure the outside lighting is up and running, no one likes a dark rental.These things are cheap and easy and can change an outside impression of a home quickly. 2. Install energy efficient utilities:Aside from the appeal of "Green living," using energy efficient utilities such as lights can actually save you money. If you pay for your building's water use low-flow shower heads, these types of showers actually save about 75 dollars a year. 3. Superior tenant service:The better a tenant feels about a property, the happier they are going to be. We suggest making it easy for your tenants to pay rent online and submit maintenance requests through a 24 hour system that ensures their requests are received. Today's tenants want fast and efficient service, nothing is quicker than an online request and response. 4. Analyze market rent value:To ensure you are getting the fair market value for your units, take a......
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Resident Retention: And I want, And I need, And I love... Cellulars

cell phoneThe Pew Research Center just came out with a new study. You may have read about in the paper over the weekend. It takes a look at the trends of what we (Americans) consider luxuries versus necessities. Some of the more interesting findings, from a property management and owner perspective, is that there are some things that are falling from that "necessity" list. Air conditioning, for example, fell 16 points on the necessity scale compared to it's 2006 rating. The microwave fell 21 points. High speed internet, however, increased by 2 points, and the cell phone remained steady with 50% of Americans considering it a necessity. Given our swift and drastic shift toward all things online, it is imperative we keep up with these preferences - especially when we see that it's not a matter of "Nice to have" (aka "Luxury") but of "Need to have" (aka "Necessity"). Please realize that a cell phone is no longer just a phone. All cell phones can send and receive emails via the text message function. Many cell phones have web browsers where residents (and prospects) can view web sites, check their bank account balances, shop for shoes, and conduct all manner of business with you. The question is, are you ready? Based on our resident survey results, email has become far and away the preferred method of communication with the leasing office. In 2007, 30% of residents preferred this communication method. In 2008, this number jumped to 59%! Resident preferences are changing quickly......
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