In the last three years, the role of a multifamily property manager has changed significantly. Residents’ needs and expectations have altered, costs have spiraled and there is a growing labor shortage.
There’s a body of evidence that suggests that all this pressure is having a negative impact on property managers’ lives. On one Facebook group with almost 20,000 members who offer first-hand accounts of what it’s like to be a property manager, one member said “I developed PTSD from dealing with residents,” while another would “recommend a therapist at least once a month, if not twice” to manage mental health.
Pre-pandemic, staff turnover in the property management sector was 32.7%, much higher than the national average of 18%. "The pandemic arguably made the role of the property manager even tougher," said Christy Metz, Vice President of Strategic Accounts at fintech company TheGuarantors, who has been a property manager herself. Now people are facing a turbulent economy and some residents are passing on their anxieties to the people managing their homes.
One member said “I developed PTSD from dealing with residents.”
“On top of things going wrong in a property on a regular basis, workers are dealing with the unfortunate degradation of human behavior,” she said. “Increasingly, people feel entitled to have what they want, when they want it as if it’s an app — but providing a home is a lot more complicated. It’s incredibly hard for people on the front lines.”
So what can a property owner do to ease the burden placed on property managers? There are in the labor force today compared to before the pandemic, which means that employers are having to do more to attract staff. If a team member isn’t happy, what’s to stop them looking for a new role?
If a property owner or operator gets staff engagement right, however, they will have access to what all businesses in the industry are seeking — a body of talented, dedicated staff who are committed to delivering a high-quality resident experience, something that is especially key in a turbulent economic climate, Metz said.
To achieve this, owners need to start asking themselves what steps they can take to improve staff satisfaction. Across the industry owners and operators have started to create strategies and tools to help them achieve this goal while effectively navigating the challenging economic environment.
Technology to improve the resident —and staff — experience.
from MRI found that dealing with abusive and aggressive residents is the most difficult aspect of a property manager’s job. The next most selected aspect was managing their own mental health, including being unable to switch off after hours.
Jarrod Whitaker, senior vice president, residential, of multifamily operator RXR Residential Services said that a lot of resident frustrations result from their adaptation to technology that delivers quick or immediate service.
“The advance in technology and the on-demand economy means the timeframe that residents expect to receive a response is much shorter than say ten years ago,” he said. “They’re looking for the same level of service in real estate as they might get from Uber or Just Eat. This puts a huge pressure on property managers if they’re managing a community of 200 apartments.”
Increasingly, multifamily operators are indeed turning to technology to help improve the resident experience, using apps to give them the ability to book amenities such as parking spaces or log maintenance requests instantly. This takes some of the pressure off property managers, who will no longer be bombarded with requests since many will come in through an app. It will also give residents a greater sense of control and instant satisfaction when they are able to carry out tasks or report a problem without having to head to the property management desk or office.
from MRI found that dealing with abusive and aggressive residents is the most difficult aspect of a property manager’s job.
"By using technology to improve the resident experience, the working lives of staff will be more enjoyable," Metz said. "As a result, a multifamily operator will not only reduce vacancies and boost their bottom line, but minimize the number of aggressive resident complaints staff face each day."
“By investing in technology, multifamily businesses need to understand there will be a knock on effect,” Metz said. “Technology can make residents happier, therefore staff happier, and that all works to protect revenue.”
Using the latest tools to help property managers be more efficient.
The next two challenges that property managers highlighted during MRI’s survey were “proper staffing levels” and “managing workload”. "This suggests that currently, property managers are not being given the tools they need to do their work as efficiently as possible," Metz said.
“On top of the lack of staff, there is too much work being piled onto people in entry level positions, who are only just coming into property management as a career,” she said. “They’re being overloaded with scattered work. How technology is used is really important, because it can not only alleviate staffing issues, reducing man hours needed, but helps channel workflows.”
"Increasingly, technology is available to automate many aspects of a property manager’s role," Metz said. "Tools can be used to keep an inventory of maintenance supplies or, on the renewal side, alert a resident that a lease is due to renew soon and reasons why they should stay. "
Whitaker said that as well as creating its own proprietary app for residents to use using an in-house team of software engineers and data scientists, RXR Residential Services is partnering with technology providers to improve processes.
“Technology partners can help improve the resident experience and lives of property managers, if they are the right partners,” he said. “TheGuarantors, for example, makes integration simple because their implementation process is touch free. They provide unique marketing materials directly to consumers, which takes away operational activity from property managers and allows staff to focus on leasing and resident happiness.”
"When selecting which solutions to give to staff, a factor to keep in mind is how willing a technology provider will be to work with the team," Metz said. "As much as a solution needs to provide a return on investment, it also needs to provide a smooth experience for users."
“Customer service needs to be top of mind when engaging a supplier because the whole point is your teams need support,” she said. “When they can’t get support, they will become frustrated and that can be another reason they might leave.”
Improve efficiency through centralization.
In a decentralized workflow, all staff working on any aspect of a particular multifamily block are located at that property, from the leasing team to maintenance. This means each building has separate teams. A centralized workflow means staff will be located in a location central to the organization, rather than at each specific property, which can generate efficiencies.
A report from the National Apartment Association quoted operators saying that technology-enabled centralization is enabling people to have greater flexibility to focus on growing their careers. "Increasingly, multifamily operators are seeing the benefits of moving to this type of centralized workflow," Metz said.
“When considering how to become more efficient, one of the first things an operator can look at is staffing and centralization,” Metz said. “A lot of REITs have already started to deploy centralized workflows, finding flexible supplier partners that can adapt to both a centralized and decentralized workflow.”
In a Realpage webinar that gathered viewpoints on the biggest challenges facing the multifamily sector in 2023, Jennifer Staciokas, President of Western Wealth Communities at multifamily business Western Wealth Capital, said that the challenge keeping her up at night is the labor shortage. Along with assessing pay and benefits to attract more staff, her company is looking at what it can do to improve efficiency.
“The buzz in the industry is around centralization,” she said in the webinar. “In our organization we’re calling it ‘enhanced services’. We’re not trying to eliminate positions, we’re trying to put together and provide additional support for those key functions we think better reside in other places than in the properties themselves. So our focus has been on the admin side first...next phase will tackle leasing and maintenance.”
Metz said that creating a digital centralized workflow offers opportunities to use more technology. Artificial intelligence could be used to screen applications and once an appointment is booked, arrange a virtual tour. Handling certain job roles remotely through technology frees up property management staff to focus on other aspects of running a multifamily property and gives them more flexibility in regards to where they work.
Give staff effective training.
In RealPage’s webinar, Travis Oden, Senior Vice President of Operations at multifamily business Camden Property Trust, said that property owners need to equip staff with the skills they need to do more with less in a tough economy.
“We’ve got a lot of new team members who have not experienced a recessionary environment in our business and our industry, so that’s what we’re focused on,” he said. “How do team members adjust to that when our residents may be feeling more of a pinch themselves? As a result, we’re focused on getting back to the basics, focusing on onboarding, and training new folks to get up to speed."
"One strategy that RXR Residential Services is using to increase its focus on customer service is to employ people from a hospitality background," Whitaker said. By doing so, the business aims to drive up resident happiness.
Training also needs to be a consideration when introducing new technology to drive efficiencies, Metz said. "If a new tool is being rolled out across 10,000 units, that can mean a lot of people need to be trained in using it. While technology can improve the lives of property managers, if it’s not introduced properly they will quickly become disengaged."
“There are a lot of moving parts to deploying a new system, which can either put people off or hold them back from embracing it,” she said. “You have to create policies and handbooks and reinforce learning so it becomes seamless.”
No matter how hard it might be to implement a new technology solution, which can take months or years for larger businesses, it has to be done, Metz said.
“Nothing is more important than protecting your revenue and in so many cases, technology can help do that,” she said. “Using the right tools will not only boost the bottom line but have the essential result of increasing staff happiness.”