Senior Vice President, Investment Management at AppFolio, which provides cloud-based property management software solutions.
Despite challenges brought on by Covid-19, many property management teams rapidly adopted technology to help ease the burden of shifting to an entirely remote working model. In today’s world, for successful property management teams, maintenance requests still get resolved, prospect queries still get answered, unit showings still occur and communication with residents is still frequent.
In considering the dramatic shift to remote realities and a complete readjustment of property management processes to account for that, it is clear the pre-pandemic property management team operated entirely differently from the post-pandemic team. While both teams have (or had) the same goals, the question is, which team is ultimately more effective? The pandemic will not be a forever threat, and social distancing mandates will subside once it is safe — will it make sense for property management teams to return to pre-pandemic processes or operations? Or are “new” ways of operating here to stay?
To answer this, it is important to consider several, core differences between the two teams.
Communication With Residents
Let’s face it: There probably is no form of communication that is quite as effective as in-person. At first glance, it might appear that remote property management teams are at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to communicating with residents because of social distancing. However, is that really the case?
While pre-pandemic teams certainly had in-person interactions during the leasing, maintenance, inspection and, sometimes, rent collection processes, most communications with residents tended to be either through mail or email. If everything was running smoothly within a building or apartment community, it is plausible that property management communication with residents may not necessarily have been very frequent either.
Post-pandemic teams needed to have much more frequent communications with residents, especially when it came to informing residents of Covid-19 policies or answering residents’ questions on safety, maintenance or rent collection in the wake of the pandemic. In order to account for a ramp-up in communications, smart property management teams leveraged technologies like email or bulk text messaging that allowed them to reach a broader set of residents at more convenient touch points.
Pandemic or not, frequent and seamless communication is a cornerstone in an excellent renter experience. Moving forward, property management teams should look for ways to stay top of mind for renters by proving them with helpful information and increased visibility into their building community and the decision-making affecting them. It builds trust and increases property management value in residents’ eyes, strengthening retention.
Navigating The Leasing Process
In-person unit showings and signing lease agreements manually is just a standard part of the leasing process that pre-pandemic property management teams operated. In fact, it is difficult to imagine the leasing process being anything but in-person — people generally will not agree to an apartment unless they’ve seen it first. It appears this is a clear win for the pre-pandemic property management teams. Or is it?
Well, it depends on how you define the word “seen.” The pivot to remote settings saw post-pandemic teams adopting virtual showings, 3D tours and mobile lease agreements, meaning prospects could tour apartments and sign leases from the comfort and convenience of their homes and without risking social contact.
Once the pandemic is over, the level of convenience the virtual touring and mobile lease agreements provides is unlikely to be thrown away all together. People move all the time, but they do not necessarily have the time to physically go apartment hunting or have the bandwidth to tour units in a region or city far from where they currently live. To ease the apartment hunt, property management teams should look to provide prospects with as many options as possible to get their search done quickly and conveniently.
Evaluating Business Performance
There is a certain level of quality in-person interaction lends to business workflows, no doubt. Pre-pandemic property management teams sat together in an office, and if there was a conflict or issue that needed to be resolved, the whole team was in the same space and could weigh in on it together. Files, paperwork, property maintenance history, inspection reports and leasing forms were also readily available in the office to grab when needed.
Post-pandemic teams had that environment taken away from them. In its place, smart teams leveraged digital tools to not only store important property management information and take certain processes, like leasing and rent collection, online, but also to gain increased visibility into property performance and day-to-day operations. By digitizing a business, suddenly information and data about performance, growth and efficiency is available to visualize and act upon, something pre-pandemic teams would not have by using manual processes — processes that may have worked very well for them prior to the pandemic.
Remote work may have forced some property management teams to rapidly digitize their business and processes, but the level of insights it yielded for teams is something I don’t believe they’ll ever want to operate without, remote or not, moving forward. Property management teams should consider the risk of failing to step into the digital age: Operating blindly when competitors are leveraging data-backed insights will never be a fair game. Digitize now to stay relevant.
Post-pandemic teams have the advantage — and by a long shot. Disrupting the status quo often leads to new innovations. While the pandemic presented some clear challenges for property management teams, many of those teams adapted and continue to be resilient. The way in which they have adapted has, somewhat fortuitously, paved the way for more of a focus on digitalization and the many impacts it has on property management teams and renters alike. There will be an end, eventually, to the pandemic era, but what will continue is a renewed approach to the way property management teams function and consider the future of their industry. The future beyond Covid-19 has no place for the pre-pandemic team of the past.
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