PIVOTING: AN ORAL HISTORY

ARTICLES ,

Firsthand accounts from industry leaders on how rental housing met the ever-changing challenges of a global pandemic, and what to expect for the future of property management

The apartment industry is known for its spontaneous handling of unique situations spawned from interacting with myriad personalities while meeting the needs of rental housing residents. However, 2020 delivered events outside of even their extensive playbook and will be remembered as a year with extreme challenges requiring quick, life-changing responses.

Companies were expected to meet their budgeted goals in addition to adhering to the ever-changing laws and guidelines for pandemic safety issued by federal, state, county and/or local authorities. Overnight, both residents and employees could face personal and family health issues or work issues from closed schools and child-care facilities. Unsurprising, members of this specialized field repeatedly rose to the challenge, keeping residents and employees safe, spirits up and essential needs met.

Executives from companies ranging from large and small, owned and fee-managed and firms that work on a national, regional or local level were queried about their experiences of how they pivoted to meet the changing priorities of 2020.

Cindy Clare, CPM
Bell Partners

Cindy Clare, CPM, is Chief Operating Officer for Bell Partners, overseeing the operations of more than 65,000 apartments across the nation. Clare, who has more than 35 years of industry experience, is responsible for all property operations, as well as marketing and human resources. Clare is also a member of both the Executive Committee and Investment Committee. In 2011, she was named as one of The Washington Business Journal’s “Women Who Mean Business.” In 2015, she was honored as one of the “10 Most Influential Women in Real Estate” by Multifamily Executive. She was also honored with the Apartment and Office Building Association’s (AOBA) Sidney Glassman award for her exemplary work and contributions in education, training, management, administration and legislation. Clare has served as President of AOBA, President of The Institute of Real Estate Management’s (IREM) Northern Virginia Chapter, as well as Regional Vice President for IREM’s Region III. She is currently a national faculty member at IREM and serves on the Virginia Tech RPM Advisory Board. She also served as 2017 Chair of the National Apartment Association.

During the pandemic, we had to focus on policies that allowed us to continue to run our properties but also mitigate the risk to our site teams. We started with staggered shifts and protocols about social distancing, masks and limiting interaction with prospects and residents. Office doors were locked, and our teams only interacted via phone or virtually. As we reopened, we continued to require social distancing, as well as masks. In addition, we instituted cleaning protocols throughout the communities.

Bell Partners is fortunate as a large company to be able to cover open positions with staff from neighboring communities as well as having floating team members that can cover open positions. We continue to focus on filling positions with our recruiting team through a variety of sources including working with colleges, trade schools and other programs like Urban Alliance and Shelters to Shutters to build a pool of candidates to fill open positions. We have increased our intern programs in 2021 to support the above-mentioned groups and build a pool of talent for Bell.

Early in the pandemic, we changed all our policies to minimize risk for our associates and our prospects and residents. We instituted virtual leasing, self-guided tours, expanded our electronic payment options and communicated with our residents via email, phone and text. We also implemented additional cleaning protocols for our communities as well as protocols for entering an occupied apartment. As we reopened, interactions with prospects and residents required social distancing and masks had to be worn. Currently, we have asked our associates, prospects and residents to wear masks if they are not vaccinated (on the honor system).

The most critical situations for us were how to continue to run our properties and minimize the risk to our associates. As described above, we spent a great deal of time developing protocols to ensure that we could do this. In addition, we rolled out a lot of new technology quickly to help continue to run our business and help our prospects and residents.

Bell Partners was piloting a lot of programs and we had to quickly pivot to a complete rollout of programs to help our teams. We learned that we could move more quickly and adjust, as needed. It reconfirmed that we have a fantastic team that worked well through crisis and continued to outperform.

Adding artificial intelligence (AI) lead management brought the greatest lift to leasing, and as a result, to our revenue. Expenses were reduced for several reasons, most a result of the pandemic (lower turnover, less activity expense). However, I believe that expenses will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

We had a lot of innovative ideas to address new situations faced, but I was most impressed with how our teams cared for each other and their residents. This included starting book exchanges, shopping for groceries for an elderly resident, starting a job board and too many other things to list here.

I think that virtual leasing, self-guided tours, and AI tools will continue to be part of our leasing process moving forward. This will not eliminate in-person interaction, but we will need to meet our customers where they want to be met.

Steve Lamberti, CPM
Highmark Residential Team

Steve Lamberti has 40 years of proven experience in the real estate industry with both public REITs and private companies. As President, he is responsible for establishing and operating Highmark Residential's platform encompassing asset strategy, property and portfolio acquisition review and due diligence, and maximizing property value. He has executed over $15 billion in real estate transactions during his career. Lamberti holds the Certified Property Manager designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management and served on the NAA Legislative Committee, Investment Subcommittee and is on the National Multifamily Housing Council's Board of Directors.

While Lamberti responded to our questions regarding 2020, they are based on input from all of Highmark Residential’s team members. “They are the heroes; they are the ones that make our company great, and all recognition should go to them,” he said. “At Highmark Residential, it is all about teamwork.”

The most significant change in 2020 for Highmark, and many other of our peers and the industry, came down to adjusting to the pandemic and the chaotic environment of working from an isolated location or from home. Our teams, both property and corporate, were working remotely and on varied rotating schedules. This rotation created fewer physical staff in the office at any given time over a period of weeks and for months at all our locations.

First and foremost, safety was our mantra. The most critical new situation Highmark faced in 2020 was how to keep our associates and customers safe during the pandemic while still being able to conduct day-to-day business. Our goals of providing housing, quality service and meeting financial obligations did not change. How we changed and adapted to achieving those goals was a calculated, systematic approach to a new adaptability culture.

We had to quickly develop and systematically provide virtual training and support so people in many different roles could adapt. Onsite teams had to implement touring, interact with senior management and with residents virtually. It was a significant challenge and tough for all associates; especially for our Community Directors—converting to a virtual platform for meetings, leasing and touring while at the same time guiding and training their maintenance teams to safely work in-person. It was a crazy limbo. When it was necessary to go in an apartment, we coordinated with the resident to go in another room or leave for a while to maintain proper safety guidelines. Many in our industry struggled with package deliveries. We installed package lockers near the mail centers, somewhat like Amazon does near convenience stores. However, with the office closed, some suppliers started delivering to the homes.

2020 was manageable with our outstanding associates because we were able to move quickly and accommodate work from home and varied alternating schedules. But the division of labor looked different in 2020, that is for sure. Now, more than halfway through 2021, we are struggling with labor shortages in all aspects of positions at the property level. We are competing with all service industries and unemployment perks nationally, which is consistent with our peer group and other service industries as hotels and restaurants.

Changing up in-person interaction between onsite associates, residents and prospects was a key part of our 2020 focus and success strategies. We had to alter our engagement with residents and other personnel by social distancing and limiting capacity in office spaces. Masks and social distancing were required for all appointments in-person for resident and prospect meetings. Amenity areas were closed. We then shifted our focus to enhancing resident services and conveniences. In a very communicative, people-driven industry, we had to change our policies and procedures so that our associates could be safe and still succeed without physically interacting with residents, prospects and our suppliers.

Without the ability to gather residents for events, how our onsite associates adapted to provide a quality resident experience was spectacular. Our associates stepped up in a big way and developed creative ways to engage and encourage residents from a distance. Their mindset of service and community was paramount as voluminous great examples of this ingenuity and innovation were apparent. We had some communities do virtual bingo via Zoom and virtual scavenger hunts via Facebook. Other had grab-and-go food and drinks with food trucks. Another community paired with local catering companies that also needed business to provide food door-to-door to residents. And then there were the little things, like the onsite staff at one community writing inspirational messages with chalk on the sidewalks throughout the property just to hopefully brighten someone’s day.

Our success was driven by outstanding associates with an empowered culture to achieve. We maintained strong occupancy with limited availability as residents were not moving as frequently, so we were able to push rent growth in various markets. In one of our key markets, Charlotte, N.C., we saw 5.4% combined rent growth between new leases and renewals. Secondly, there was a high demand of renters moving to the markets in which we manage properties. Charlotte is one example, as are places like Florida and Texas, where population inflow has increased significantly. If there’s low supply due to high occupancy and high demand due to an influx of new renters, we can—and we did—see strong revenue increases, as our peers did as well.

The greatest impact to decreased expenses was the reduction in units turned as residents stayed put in a high percentage of our portfolio. The lack of wear and tear on amenities and the physical plant of the properties was also a measurable factor to the reduction of operating expenses.

A lot of the changes Highmark and the industry implemented during 2020 will become static and part of our playbook moving forward. One that gained a lot of traction was the flexibility to conduct tours via several different virtual and technical methods. We started doing mobile tours, agent-guided 3-D tours and self-guided tours and those have great potential moving forward. Resident-wise, we will probably continue to offer more payment options, deposit alternatives, flexible payment plans and rent assistance resources. I think virtual events and food trucks will also continue to grow in popularity. And then, of course, things like occasionally working from home and virtual meetings will also very likely find a permanent place in our company now and the industry going forward.

Michael D. Holmes
Easlan Management

Michael D. Holmes co-founded Easlan Management Company in 1987 and has served as President since 1994. He has more than 45 years in the real estate and multifamily industries. Easlan Management Co. operates a number of multifamily properties across the Southeast U.S. Holmes is a licensed broker in North Carolina and Georgia, and a Broker-in-Charge in South Carolina. After serving on the NAA Board of Directors for nine years, Holmes was elected to the Executive Committee in 2016, served as NAA Chairman of the Board in 2020, and is currently the Immediate Past Chair.

In the property management industry, we work where people live, so we can’t just stop working—not even for a pandemic. At Easlan Management, our mission statement states that we “…focus and deliver exceptional value and satisfaction to our clients, our residents, and our associates, building a foundation of trust with all.” We knew that our mission was still the same but had to figure out how to effectively execute in the middle of these challenges.

Like all other properties, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to do our jobs effectively while being socially distanced, and how to maintain a sense of community when everyone was isolated. At the same time, our entire industry was trying to figure out the same problems—how to keep everyone safe, how to communicate at all levels, how to keep our properties operating profitably and how to incorporate a plan to accomplish all of those tasks.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, we, like many other companies, floundered a little trying to create a playbook that did not already exist, without a lot of certainty about what protocols to adopt as part of property /office operations. NAA stepped into the gap and quickly began assisting with guidance, and simultaneously, regional groupings of management companies, industry suppliers and apartment association leadership began to organize weekly calls, each opening their “playbook” to share ideas, best practices and materials. I can say the Easlan Management Company benefitted greatly from the generosity of these groups.

We were fortunate in that many of our teams had little to no staffing issues, in that we had no associates leave during the pandemic and did not have to lay off any staff. However, the virus took a toll in other ways — employees had exposures, there were child care coverage issues and virtual schooling and some were just scared. Not only did the workload increase due to trying to keep the sense of community and provide the same phenomenal customer service, but many teams also had to do this while being short-staffed and learning how to communicate as a team when you may not be in physical proximity with each other for weeks. Our corporate management team did a superb job of managing the manpower shortages that this created, often taking on additional onsite responsibilities when necessary.

Still, hiring has changed, and one area we have noticed this in was in the maintenance field. In 2020, it became exceedingly difficult to obtain new talent in this segment, with many wanting to stay where they were in difficult and uncertain times. It also seems like fewer new people are wanting to get into the industry, which could create larger challenges down the road.

One of our most significant commitments in 2020 was the health and safety of our residents and team members, which became a considerable challenge during the course of the year as we tried to keep up with the constantly changing guidance from the CDC, federal government and local governments. With properties across several states, multiple municipalities and with constantly changing information, ensuring that our teams were aware of the changes and implementing them was difficult because the guidance we received from outside of our company was often confusing. That, coupled with the difficulty in finding appropriate PPE and sanitizing materials early on, was challenging, but we were able to move forward to develop necessary safety protocols to keep our residents and team members safe while still providing exceptional customer service to our residents and owners.

Still, I think isolation and communication were the most critical situations we faced. For a time, live, face-to-face communication was not possible—with residents or with team members. We had to learn a new way of communicating through virtual meetings, virtual resident events, virtual everything. The challenge is that some associates, residents and prospects are not accustomed to virtual interactions. With having a variety of properties throughout three states, you realize quickly that not everyone is tech-savvy; we like to think that everyone has a computer, internet or a smartphone; however, that is not true. Not everyone is on social media or even has an email address, so the ability to remain flexible and innovative was the most crucial aspect of day-to-day life.

Fortunately, some in our industry recognized the psychological/emotional harm our teams were facing—particularly with our onsite teams. Being made aware of this gave birth to Apartment Onsite Teams Day to set aside a day to recognize our onsite first responders. This was a great success, but also served as a reminder of the support needed by our teams during times of isolation.

With COVID-19 putting handcuffs on so much of our operations, we could not forget that we had a business to run, and people still needed apartment homes to lease. With restricted access to leasing centers, we had to double down on the newest industry technology to help us. Virtual tours and self-guided tours worked to help us convert traffic to leases. With these tools, and a slowdown in turnover, we were able to maintain high occupancy levels and keep revenues and occupancies in line with budgets.

However, we also had properties that focused their efforts on building community. Realizing that their residents needed positive things to look forward to, some continued with socially distanced resident events and were able to keep the residents engaged. Not only did residents appreciate this, but there is evidence that it contributed to renewals.

While the closing of amenity spaces—and the relatable expenses of electricity, water/sewer, paper/toner for printers, coffee supplies, contract cleaning and refreshments had an impact on decreasing expenses — the reality is that there really wasn’t a significant reduction overall. On some of our properties, we were able to eliminate contract services that could be achieved with the in-house team, and benefitted from lower turnover, but often these were met with other increases—a rise in legal fees, bad debts and COVID-related expenses, as examples.

My favorite idea made by an associate to address a new situation regarded maintenance issues and was genius. In a situation where a resident was quarantined or did not feel comfortable having someone enter their apartment, we offered the option to have a maintenance team member video chat with them about fixing the issue. Not only did the problem get resolved, but now the resident knows how to do it in the future. Additionally, we began to use different technologies and tools—like the sanitizing fogger—which was far more effective than wiping items down individually, and a major time-saver in the long run.

While the pandemic may be easing, the reality is that it has still left its mark, and there are changes that we will maintain as part of our processes and protocols. In addition to increased cleaning and sanitizing (especially of fitness centers and community areas), we have other things that we have implemented. On the resident side, I see virtual tours staying for the long run; we still have people ask for this because it helps with leasing from different states—especially for corporate partners! 

Alexandra S. Jackiw, CPM, C3P, CAPS
Hayes Gibson Property Services, LLC

Alexandra ‘Alex’Jackiw is the Chief Operating Officer for Hayes Gibson Property Services, LLC (HGPS), managing and overseeing all corporate and property operations. Prior to HGPS, Jackiw worked at an executive leadership level for several privately held regional companies as well as large publicly traded investment management firms. Her experience includes all aspects of property and asset management, marketing, training, consulting, troubled property turnarounds, receiverships and new business development. Active in professional organizations, Jackiw served as NAA Chair of the Board in 2013 and President of the NAA Education Institute in 2008/2009. She is Past Chair of the Residential Property Management Advisory Board at Virginia Tech and the Past President of the Ball State University Residential Property Management Advisory Board and has served as an adjunct professor in both programs. Jackiw is a respected industry speaker and has presented programs to industry trade groups throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is a licensed real estate broker and holds both the Certified Property Manager® (CPM) and Certified Apartment Portfolio Supervisor (CAPS) credentials. She received the NAAEI Apartment Career and Education (ACE) Award in 2011 in recognition of her commitment to training industry professionals. In 2012, Real Estate Forum Magazine named Jackiw a “Woman of Influence in Real Estate” and in 2013, the Institute of Real Estate Management named her as one of the “Women Changing the Face of Property Management.” She was honored in 2015 as a “Woman of Influence” by the Indianapolis Business Journal, and she was inducted into the National Apartment Association Hall of Fame in 2018.

There were a multitude of challenges in 2020. Certainly, the biggest changes for all staff were determining what protocols and procedures needed to be put in place to keep employees safe. We provided detailed information and instructions about safety protocols and limited access to offices. In addition, “hybrid” staffing patterns were established so that only one person at a time was physically in the office and sanitation and cleaning processes were enhanced.

Hayes Gibson took the initiative to provide masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to all employees so that they didn’t need to spend time searching for supplies that in some cases were out of stock or on back order. We were able to bulk purchase those items early on before supplies got scarce.

We kept abreast of all changes to rules and regulations by state and municipality and communicated those regularly to our people in the field. Typical protocols were followed for social distancing and appropriate preventive measures. In addition, we provided resources for social services, mental health assistance and employee assistance.

Our corporate office moved to a new space in December 2020. In spite of the disruption it caused while still in a pandemic, I determined that we needed to move out of the “cubicle farm,” open-space environment we had been working in and create a blended office space. Several people were identified that could permanently work remotely, and all others were assigned to separate offices with doors and windows so that social distancing was no longer an issue. A couple of “shared offices” were also included to accommodate remote workers who needed to be in the office on certain days.

We added more PTO days for employees—floating holidays that employees could take at their discretion and more robust mental health services have been added to our health insurance plan.

All the events of 2020—both the pandemic and the racial justice movement—served as an accelerant for our company to focus on doing things differently.

We tried to centralize as much support as possible to take the pressure off our site teams. Technology helped bridge the gap when in-person interactions were not possible. When offices were closed during the height of the pandemic, office phones were forwarded to a central number or to managers’ cell phones.

While offices were closed, we used the down time to create training opportunities and training videos. We did a significant amount of training via Zoom for both field personnel and corporate staff on topics that were of interest to them. Our Director of Compliance did ongoing training on a whole range of topics related to affordable housing and regulatory requirements, and I personally did some training with our accounting staff.

Sharing staff among sites to cover talent/labor shortages became the norm instead of the exception. We also had staggered shifts to accommodate employees with family responsibilities—e.g., home schooling, taking care of young children who could no longer attend day care, or supporting elderly parents. In some instances, employees brought their children to work so that they had access to internet to complete school assignments.

Hayes Gibson identified processes that could be automated and embraced the technology that was available. Although it was painful, we completely revamped our accounting processes. We also continually re-evaluated existing processes and looked for ways to eliminate redundancies and streamline operations.

It was critical to cross-train as many employees as possible to provide backup for essential operations, and we identified specific functions that should be outsourced because they could be handled more efficiently and expeditiously by third parties.

In mid-2020, we formed a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion working group that is being led by a third-party consultant. That group meets monthly and has made recommendations that have been added to our employee handbook. They also recently sent out a survey to all employees to gain more perspective on employee issues/concerns/ideas about DEI.

The changes were positive for us. We continued to stay aggressive on developing new business. Although 2020 was not as strong a year as 2019 from the standpoint of bringing in new clients and new properties, we had a significant increase in unit count and management fee revenue. In some instances, clients were most impressed with our COVID-related protocols and how we were addressing the challenges of managing properties amid a pandemic.

Automation of back-office processes and systems netted the biggest decrease in expenses overall. Expenses decreased year-over-year by about 15% and provided us with more capacity to take on additional business. Travel policies and frequency of site visits were re-evaluated to determine how best to move forward once pandemic restrictions were lifted.

While all of our employees made contributions with their creativity and innovative ideas, two of my favorites are:

Early on during the pandemic it was almost impossible to locate hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial cleaning supplies. Our Director of Maintenance was able to contact several distilleries in Indiana and Kentucky that were converting their facilities from distilling “alcohol spirits” to producing sanitizer. He arranged to pick up the sanitizer in large gallon containers that he then was able to distribute to our properties by driving to various central locations and dropping off the supplies.

A list was created of activities specifically for senior residents that staff could use. Seniors and disabled residents were the most vulnerable to mental health issues from isolation and we worked hard to create opportunities for interaction when families were unable to visit during quarantine.

There are changes that we made that I see being part of our standard procedures moving forward. In March 2020, I realized we needed to get out as much information as possible to our field personnel and corporate employees. I initiated “Ask Alex” conference calls every Tuesday and Friday morning at 11 a.m. All employees throughout the company were invited to call in. After I provided updates and announcements, each department head (property management, accounting, maintenance, IT and compliance) provided updates for their specific area. We then opened the call to questions and comments. Notes from all discussion points on the calls were published via email and distributed so that anyone who missed the call still had access to the information that was covered. The calls were a great way for everyone to stay connected and feel supported. Eventually, by the fall of 2020, we reduced the calls to once per week—every Tuesday at 11 a.m. They have become a touchstone for all employees and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The intent is to continue the calls each week and we have not missed a single week without having the call.

In addition, a focus on automation and leveraging technology will continue as we look for ways to streamline and become more efficient. Conversations continue about other ways in which we can outsource certain functions that are best performed by third parties.

Shelley Watson
The Morgan Group

Shelley Watson serves as the Executive Vice President of Operations for the Morgan Group (MORGAN) and is responsible for property management, accounting and human resources for the company. Morgan is a vertically integrated, third-generation family business that invests in multifamily housing through development and acquisitions in high growth U.S. markets. In its history, MORGAN has built or acquired over $3 billion of multifamily assets, consisting of over 20,000 units. Currently, MORGAN’s owned and managed portfolio consists of more than 12,000 units across Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. MORGAN has been headquartered in Houston since 1959 and currently has regional offices in Denver and Miami. In 2019, MORGAN was ranked as the number one medium-sized company to work for by the Houston Chronicle. MORGAN has fostered valuable relationships and strategic partnerships throughout its 60-year history and attributes much of its success to its family values and entrepreneurial, team-oriented culture. Morgan was also recognized as NAA Top Places to Work in 2020, which was an amazing accomplishment based on the challenging past year.

Watson, who has more than 25 years of industry experience, joined Morgan in January 2014 as the Senior Vice President of National Property Management. She was the recipient of the Bill Morgan Award in 2017, chairs the Leadership Committee and is a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Watson is experienced in conventional, value-add renovations, senior housing, repositions and new construction lease-ups with direct supervision of over 40 lease-ups in Texas. Watson also serves as Vice President at Large for the Houston Apartment Association and has also served as an HAA Board Member since 2017. She is also a Delegate for the Texas Apartment Association and is a member of CREW Houston.

It is no surprise that our onsite teams are resilient, resourceful and adaptable, but these traits were highlighted even more last year. Even though our company had virtual tour options in place, we did not fully realize how far ahead of the curve we were until 2020. Our team quickly pivoted to virtual touring because they already had the tools on hand.

Covering talent/labor shortages is still a challenge in 2021. Nearly all our team members are cross-trained, are player coaches and wear many hats. It was an “all-hands-on-deck” situation in 2020. During the shutdown, we did combine leasing/management offices of two properties to adequately staff and reduce exposure risk. This practice led us to keep in place the operational efficiencies we realized into 2021.

Once our residents were living, working and shopping (online) 24/7 at our properties, we quickly realized we needed to make changes. Learning to keep that personal touch over the phone, via Zoom or Teams, emails, texts and behind a mask was a challenge. In the past, our communities were high touch with residents, including robust social activities. When we discontinued in-person resident events, During the shutdown, we did combine leasing/management offices of two properties to adequately staff and reduce exposure risk. This practice led us to keep in place the operational efficiencies we realized into 2021.

Once our residents were living, working and shopping (online) 24/7 at our properties, we quickly realized we needed to make changes. Learning to keep that personal touch over the phone, via Zoom or Teams, emails, texts and behind a mask was a challenge. In the past, our communities were high touch with residents, including robust social activities. When we discontinued in-person resident events, we recognized that we did not want to lose the relationship with residents and worked hard to maintain them.

In perspective, we learned that we are more resilient than we think we are. With strong bonds and relationships in the workplace, our onsite and corporate teams did not miss a beat. It is all about the people—they are the assets, and the buildings are the real estate. Again, not something new, this past year only reconfirmed this.

It is critical to also make sure our team members have a balance. In 2020, it was almost all work and not much work/life balance for our onsite teams. Focusing on stress management and mental health awareness is so important and is now incorporated in our routine education. Our teams were in crisis management for nine months and that takes a toll on your mind, body and spirit.

One of the win-win changes The Morgan Group made was in implementing a liability insurance program that not only creates auto compliance, it also generates an ancillary income stream. In addition, it cut the hassle of our onsite teams having to collect, verify and manage the renters insurance process.

Decreases in expenses came from savings in resident events and reduced hospitality items. However, we found that our trash expenses dramatically increased. While residents were at home shopping, eating and working, they created a lot more trash and recyclable items.

Creativity and innovation were mainstays at The Morgan Group as we searched for ways to assist residents and maintain safety policies. Early on, our maintenance teams created “how to” videos that were shared with residents—easy things that a resident can do themselves that were not an emergency, e.g., resetting a breaker, changing an air filter, unclogging a garbage disposal, etc. Another team member suggested we implement a self-serve wireless printer solution in our clubrooms and conference rooms.

Moving forward, self-guided and virtual tour options are here to stay. It is important to note that this type of technology must be managed by a person with strong customer service skills. Chat options and the self-service printer programs are also now part of the normal course of business. For new developments, we are planning more workspaces in the amenity areas, as well as making sure there is easy access for residents to receive food and grocery deliveries.

Hindsight is 20/20

With 2020 in the rearview mirror and knowledge forged from the trials it presented, the lessons learned will be brought forward with a renewed clarity as to what is important. Property management companies—both large and small, owned and fee-managed, local, regional and national—have proved that safety, revenue, maintenance, training, communications and the building of community bonds can be accomplished with review, brainstorming, planning and effort. Clearly the common thread that runs through all responses is the strong respect for their teams, their dedication, their innovation and their resourcefulness.

At the core of every achievement mentioned above is a group of professionals from property level on up working together who stepped up to overcome the roadblocks of limited in-person interaction, a reduced workforce due to impacts of quarantines and sickness and changing communication methods combined with increased communication needs, just to name a few. Teams onsite, in the corporate office, supporting infrastructure, all working together made all the difference. They recognized their roles as essential, faced the ensuing frustration, weariness and worry with grace and determination, all the while inspiring their coworkers and their residents of better times to come.

To this multitude of unsung heroes, we salute you. Well done.

Kenneth J. Bohan, CPC, CTS, is the winner of the NAA 2020 National Suppliers Council Achievement Award, an NAA delegate for the Houston Apartment Association and President of The Liberty Group, an executive search and national temporary services firm. He can be reached at 713 961-7666 or KenB@thelibertygroup.com.