Real Estate Has A Communication Problem. Let's Talk About It
When it comes to the relationship between property managers and tenants, there is room for improvement.
Mark Smukler and Alex Ohebshalom have each experienced this problem firsthand. A renter in New York City since 2008, Smukler grew tired of dealing with hard-to-reach property managers, lost checks and incomplete maintenance requests.
“I would sign a lease, move into a new place, and start to notice all the problems that I’d missed while scouting the place,” Smukler said. “Calling management to fix the issues was always a difficult process that, in most cases, ended with me dealing with the problem until I moved out at the end of the lease. I never felt like I got what I paid for.”
Ohebshalom was also feeling the pressure, but as a property manager. He lacked the tools to meet tenant expectations.
“Tenants would often call the office furious because a maintenance request hadn’t been taken care of,” Ohebshalom said. “I would always apologize and explain that I had no idea about the issue. I realized that we had serious communication and transparency issues. We were falling behind the times.”
The communication gap between property managers and tenants has grown worse over time and led to poor rental experiences. Most property management companies still require paper checks and application materials, and they expect tenants to call them with utility requests and other issues.
Today’s renters have different expectations. Zillow reported last year that 55% of millennial renters want to submit rental applications online and more than one-third want to pay rent electronically. Renters have also expressed a preference for communicating maintenance requests and other issues via an online portal as opposed to phone calls, texts or emails.
This disconnect has led to stressful tenant-landlord relationships, factoring into decreased retention rates. According to Zillow Rentals, 68% of renters leave their apartments because of bad customer service. This turnover can be costly for both tenants and property managers.
Smukler and Ohebshalom turned their frustrations toward solving this problem when the pair founded Bixby, an app that aims to make it easy for property managers to provide better experiences for tenants and residents.
“The goal is to provide owners and managers with an easy-to-use platform that solves key pain points in the tenant and resident relations component of property management,” Smukler said to Real Estate Tech News. “Better service means streamlining communication, facilitating faster repairs, collecting online payments and providing tenants with value-added features like discounts to local businesses, a calendar of nearby events and the ability to control smart-home devices from a single platform.”
Among Bixby’s most-used features is the message board, which allows property managers to broadcast messages to an entire building, a select group of apartments or an individual. Keeping tenants in the know is an easy way to earn their trust and build a lasting relationship, Ohebshalom said.
Another popular feature for Bixby is its maintenance portal, which property managers use to receive, organize and dispatch repair requests. Property managers can schedule repairs, send status updates and more efficiently manage a network of vendors and employees. Bixby features a payment function similar to Venmo, which lets tenants submit rental payments using a credit or debit card, or through a direct bank-to-bank transaction.
Management technology concepts are new to the real estate industry, but many of them have become commonplace in other sectors. Task management software and workflow apps have grown popular as offices and workplaces strive for productivity and efficiency. Platforms like Slack drive team communication and apps like Evernote and Basecamp enable teams to manage tasks effectively. This type of software is now revolutionizing real estate by creating a single portal for all property management activities.
Bixby enters the market as businesses and consumers are warming up to the concept of tenant-oriented technology. Digital platforms including Zillow, Redfin and Compass have reinvented the real estate buying, renting and selling process by combining advisory services with a user-friendly search experience. That improved user experience has now entered the property management space.
As real estate technology continues to improve, so will tenant and manager experiences.
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