In the effort to drive NOI, operators are turning to technology
Over the past year, the multi-family industry has turned to technology to overcome the unique obstacles posed by COVID-19. Many owners and managers intended to gradually switch to some of these efficiency-enhancing solutions, but virtually overnight they found themselves having to pivot when nationwide closures were put in place. in March.
Before COVID-19, many believed they were making great strides in finding new and better ways to exploit their properties. So they weren’t afraid to dive head first when it came to changing the way they ran their offices, organized tours, or communicated with their teams and residents. We’ve reached out to several real estate executives to find out how they’ve tailored their operations during the pandemic and how they’re using technology to drive net operating income (NOI). Here are the main takeaways from our conversations:
An accelerated roadmap to technology adoption
Throughout 2020 we have witnessed the property management industry digital transformation. While mobile technologies were once considered “nice to have”, they are now “must have” for doing business. Dru Armstrong, President of Grace Hill believes this transition is something property managers need to accept and embrace:
“It is important for property managers to recognize that the industry has reached a new normal thanks to COVID-19. A new standard means that your underlying business operations must change, including your policies and what you train people on. The challenges facing our industry this year have pushed many fences towards technology and generally accelerated people’s roadmaps to technology adoption.
However, even though the industry has quickly adopted the technology, many are still holding back. Andy Turner, PCAM and owner of Space management, has been offering mobile services for years, but what may be common to his business is rare for others: “It’s simple things, but I’m amazed at how many businesses still don’t offer these services. We have been providing these services for over 10 years through our software providers. It dramatically streamlines the whole process and provides a better customer experience. “
Tony Cook, COO of Bay Property Management Group, believes that having the right software has enabled them to be more efficient and productive despite moving to a remote working environment, “[our software] allows us to be efficient in all areas, even after having had to focus more on working from home. We were set up to be able to do this pre-pandemic, so it was just a matter of getting with our IT team to help us make it happen.
Among the mobile tools on which property management companies have relied the most in 2020, virtual projections and AI rental assistants have come to the fore. Cindy Clare, COO of Bell Partners, says that during the pandemic, his company learned a lot about artificial intelligence-based technology and how best to deliver virtual tours, among other adaptations:
“When deciding when to add technology, sometimes we’re all so busy that we think we can’t add one more thing to ask our teams to adopt. Well, sometimes we have to add one more thing because it ultimately makes us better and makes it easier for our teams to work on site. We had dipped our toes into this pre-COVID-19, but the pandemic immediately forced us to start using this innovation to a much higher degree.
A complete platform allows countless savings
Software that combines property management functionality with financial tools on the same platform can save businesses a lot of time and money. For example, JD Chase, COO of The Apartment Company, found greater efficiency since implementing the full AppFolio platform, “What we save in time and resources is invaluable. By freeing up time for our staff to connect with the humanity of our residents during these times, our software solution enables us to improve our customer service. And improving in that way is a major goal for our business right now – it’s our vision of what we’re trying to go for.
In addition to time and cost savings and improved customer service, a single solution can also increase operational efficiency. Tom Wood, owner and CEO of JA timber management, says his team’s ability to work from home, combined with the features of AppFolio, has dramatically improved their operational efficiency:
“By adopting online payment capabilities, we have saved our finance and accounting departments significant time. We ask our customers to keep their envelopes and postage stamps. And we now spend a lot less time opening mail – and processing overall – because the majority (55%) of our customers pay online. And that number is increasing.
He also estimates that the time spent on payments by the company’s accountants has been cut in half. “Another time saver is that we no longer have to manage 70 different check books (one for each of our 70 clients). We only use one and can approve bill payments online. Payments to our clients take less time, so they receive their funds faster. “
Jordan Levine, co-founder of Pelican Property Management – which has nearly 6,000 doors in a range of property types – has also been able to optimize its accounting operations through an automated accounts payable system and plans to continue using it after the pandemic:
“Our accounting department has been working practically since mid-March and hasn’t missed a beat. Invoices are paid quickly and on time. Nothing about it is done using a physical process. Over time, we have refined our process and improved it. Every time we go back to the office, we’ll keep all of these systems because it’s about managing the workflow. When your team is not assembled, it becomes very difficult. “
Levine says working during “budget season” is one of the most horrible experiences for most property managers, “But our new budgeting features are fantastic. It is no longer necessary to need Excel to distribute different percentages in the budget file. We can now do this right in the system: view our old budgets, import our old budgets, and then just update them. I can now do my budget in about 5 minutes. You don’t need a background in finance to budget. It sounds intimidating, but it isn’t.
Improved efficiency through technology-driven processes
Choosing the right technology also helps operators move away from traditional and inefficient practices and streamline processes. Tom Wood says the inspection process at JA Wood Management is now more efficient as a member of the rental staff is no longer required to conduct the on-site inspection:
“Before, the leasing agent had to browse the property, take notes, take pictures and download everything to his computer when he returned to the office. The whole process can now be done on the app and by any member of the team. For example, a service technician might call their phone (or FaceTime) with the rental team member, who can explain what needs to be done. And since everything is on the app, there is no time to download everything. “
The benefits of maintenance extend to other common tasks, such as moving. For example, Stacy Holden, Senior Manager and Industry Director at AppFolio, notes:
“As a resident moves out, a clock starts ticking and various people are in charge of what to do. For example, maybe the maintenance technician has three different tasks to perform. The rental agent has two different tasks, and they have a set amount of time to do them. The platform follows the progress and if these tasks are not performed, the supervisor is notified. “
Carina Lyons, Vice President of Real estate management concept, also benefits when it comes to maintenance: “The software streamlines the entire work order process – from the time residents submit their orders to how quickly our technical team can get out and do the job. We can rely on AppFolio instead of having to ask a service technician to retrieve hard copies of work orders. Now, technicians just log into the system, do the job, and then tell us when it’s done. We can then follow up with residents to make sure they have received excellent service.
In terms of maintenance, Technology can boost efficiency and empower residents to use themselves, allowing teams to focus on what matters. Jennifer Fischer, Director of Operations at Skyline Property Management, says that having an online portal for residents has reduced stress levels for its residents and staff:
“We are able to provide better customer service to our residents because they can access their community portal at any time. This means that they can return home after working late, for example, and have the flexibility to make any requests that in the past might have required them to speak to a staff member. By making a request online, one of our technicians can be at their apartment within half an hour, instead of the resident having to wait until 8:00 am to call our office and schedule a repair visit.
Employees prefer automated processes
Property management executives need to be strategic in how they present their technology investments to their team members.
Too often, with technology, one can have the feeling that it will reduce personnel costs or even the workforce of a company. “I didn’t see it was true. By equipping our teams with technology, it allows them to operate more efficiently, “says Cindy Clare of Bell Partners.” If technology can improve the customer experience for us, then ultimately the overall performance of the business. establishment is improving. “
Dru Armstrong of Grace Hill adds that real-time tools that measure resident satisfaction, residents’ intention to renew themselves, and address online reputation management continue to be most helpful: “By being able to pivot as circumstances change, we can take some of the load off the team by automating processes and giving them the ability to alleviate the immediate challenges they face. “
COVID-19 has created many obstacles during property management operations. However, property management companies that have embraced technology-driven solutions have been able to boost operational efficiency and boost NOI, even in times of uncertainty. By putting technology to work and leveraging automation and virtual tools, you can deliver a better customer experience, maximize performance, and uncover new opportunities.