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‘There’s A Human Element People Want’: How Multifamily Managers Are Blending Technology And Personalization

Property managers are looking to technology to bring in new residents, but the key to keeping tenants happy is a human connection, speakers at a recent Bisnow webinar said.

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology that many property managers said was already in motion. 

Programs that facilitate self-guided tours were kicked into high gear when coronavirus-related restrictions prevented leasing agents in many places from doing in-person tours. Contactless and secure ways to get people into the building and to verify the identities of those touring themselves around the units became vital tools. 

“[These were] definitely things we were looking at already that got fast-tracked due to the COVID situation,” The Bainbridge Cos. Property Management President Dana Caudell said.

Property managers have seen their jobs get upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Caudell, along with Sares Regis Regional Vice President Darrin Ketter, Greystar Managing Director of Real Estate Heather Moore, Starcity CEO Jon Dishotsky, ADT Multifamily Director of Multifamily IoT and Smart Home Edson D’Souza, and Luxer One Vice President of Sales and Marketing Nicholas Sanderson spoke at Bisnow’s National Multifamily Leasing and Property Management webinar.

Implementation of similar technologies that facilitate contact-free building entry and experience once inside are also rapidly gaining popularity in the office and hotel sectors. But, getting new residents is one thing, but as many urban dwellers migrate further from city centers and the offices they no longer have to commute to every day, keeping existing residents is another challenge. 

In Manhattan, this exodus has led to average rents falling 6.4% from March to June, according to data compiled by MNS Real Estate, although the average rent at that low point was still a healthy $3,907 for a one-bedroom on average. In San Francisco, which also saw residents leave for less expensive areas, the average price for a studio was down 31% percent in September, compared to the same time last year, ABC7 reported. 

Resident retention was something on which many speakers were laser-focused. Having events virtually and checking in with residents was a priority, especially considering all the new hoops residents were being asked to jump through: dealing with shuttered amenities or reduced access to them, needing to wear masks in some cases and fewer or no employees in on-site offices, Moore said. 

Several speakers agreed that personal check-ins with residents went a long way toward sending the message that managers and residents are working together to get through this difficult time. “There’s a human element people want from a service perspective,” Caudell said.

Amenities have long been one of the big draws for many multifamily buildings, but with gyms shuttered and pools off-limits, those draws are gone

“We asked our residents to make a lot of changes,” Greystar Managing Director of Real Estate Heather Moore said. 

One amenity that hasn’t been shut down is package receiving. Though online shopping has been steadily on the rise for years, the pandemic and the incredible growth in online shopping that has come with it has created a huge demand for mailroom solutions to the deluge of packages that have appeared in residential buildings. 

Luxer One, a package management and locker company, has over 4,000 installations in multifamily, retail, offices and universities. In those locations, there has been a 100% increase in volume year-over-year, Luxer One Vice President of Sales and Marketing Nicholas Sanderson said. 

“COVID definitely heightened the expectation that we could accommodate all the packages that are coming in,” Caudell said. 

Some managers said that they were piloting or considering various types of cleaning robots to help keep up with new, more extensive hygiene protocols. But Greystar’s Moore noted that resident services sometimes means having a staffer physically present, demonstrating that someone cares enough to take the time to do that intensive cleaning. 

“None of our apartments are cheap,” Moore said. “That service level that we deliver goes with that.”