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Apr. 2, 2013

Peak Season

By Keat Foong, Executive Editor

Summer is not just an important season for apartment managers. It can be critical. This time of the year, including spring, typically exhibits the most tenant activity. It could be a peak rental season when maximum rents are charged. It can also present a small window of opportunity to engage in outdoor repairs. Owners should not underestimate the need to come to the season prepared. For conscientious property managers, this preparation can start as early as the fall season of the year before.

“Whatever it means to you, summer is going to be an up tempo period, and you want to go into summer prepared so that you are not late to the dance,” says Joe Greenblatt, CPM, president and CEO of Sunrise Management, and 2013 president-elect of the Institute of Real Estate Management.

A fact of the apartment business is that renters tend to change residences in the spring and summer seasons. “Families looking to move do so around the school year, at a time when the days are longer. It’s easier to effect the move, and there is no density of holidays that you get in the cold months,” says Greenblatt. Moreover, some apartment properties, for example ones on California beaches, tend to charge the highest rents during the peak rental season in the summer. Landlords, anticipating higher rents, may also tend to time their lease expirations to the summer.

These realities make the period a heavy turnover, traffic and leasing period for many apartment properties. That means apartment companies need to plan for the season by ensuring their marketing plans are “up to snuff,” and by effectively deploying those marketing plans, says Greenblatt. All the needed supporting resources—staffing, training, and technical materials—should be available. If a lot of leases expire during the summer, property managers need to ensure staffing is adequate to process the paperwork, or meet with residents regarding lease renewals. Advertisements need to be already designed.

Looking your best

Property managers typically prepare the landscaping, pools and exterior common areas for the spring and summer. The heavier traffic of the season gives all the more reason for property managers to “want to make sure their properties are looking the best they can be,” notes Lori E. Burger, CPM, senior vice president, marketing and business development, of Eugene Burger Management Corp. Bulbs for the seasonal flowers are planted, the lawns renovated or re-seeded, and the trees trimmed. “Generally, as soon as the spring hits, you want to be on top of it. You do not want to be the last to put in the spring rotation colors,” says Burger.

In spring and early summer, Cagan Management Group Inc. will assess which plants made it through the winter and which did not, says Michael Daniels, CPM, COO of Cagan Management. “There will always be some plants that lay dormant in the winter and did not come back. You have to keep enough of them lush.” Trees are also another big item—and arborists need to be consulted regarding the increasing threat of tree diseases, says Daniels. Trees are precious, he points out. “If you lose a tree, you cannot plant another that is 20 years old.” Cindy Claire, CPM, president of Kettler Management, says her company commonly starts planting for the new season in March or April.

There is another important reason to prime the outdoor amenities for the summer. Property managers want to see that the swimming pools—as well as tennis courts, volleyball courts, playground equipment, outdoor grills and other offerings—are ready to be enjoyed the very moment warm weather arrives. “You do not want to stall an outdoor amenity from opening because of the need for repair,” says Burger. “You want to open the pool on the first day of the swimming season and not find out that ‘oops, the pumps are out.’” Burger notes that property managers will have a good idea about whether there are any improvements or repairs that may be needed for the amenities when they are closing the property in the previous fall. They will then have the fall and winter seasons to line up the contractors. Some jobs, such as repairing the pool pumps, can be conducted in the winter. Other jobs, like resurfacing the pool, need to be performed the following spring before the pool opens.

After outdoors amenities, another major area of preparation in advance of summer may be capital improvements. In many states, the warmer months really are the best or only time to embark on exterior repairs, renovations or improvements. Property managers may want to take advantage of winter to send out bids for jobs that are planned—whether they are to fix the roofing, siding or the parking lot—so that the contracts can be deployed without further delay once April comes, says Burger.

Among properties in the Midwest, the summer months are the time to undertake outdoor maintenance, especially work that is needed on the building envelope; for example, on the roof, masonry and windows, according to Daniels. The roofs obtain their periodic coating; the siding gets a new layer of paint; or window trims may be repaired for leakage. Not to be forgotten are repairs to the parking lot.

Start planning on capital improvements early, property managers advise. Often, the budget for maintenance work that is needed for the property is made far in advance during the budgeting months of September, October and November of the year before. Although the bigger capital improvement jobs on the budget are often complied with, smaller repair items have a tendency to be forgotten even if they have been budgeted for, cautions Daniels. In the winter, therefore, Daniels will ask his property managers to prepare a summary sheet of the outdoor capital improvement work that will need to be executed when the weather warms up.

“You may budget every three years to reseal the parking lot. If you make a decision when the time comes not to do it, that is fine, but not if you did not perform the work because you were too lazy to check that it was needed to be done,” says Daniels.

Last but not least, the switch-over of the HVAC systems is another major area of consideration when prepping for the warm season. It is also advisable to start early in checking on the HVAC systems so that if there are any issues, the system can be corrected in time for the hot months, cautions Clare. Kettler’s property managers begin going over the checklist as early as March, says Clare. “We make sure the equipment is ready to go,” she adds. The company looks up the cooling towers, or performs switch-overs from the boilers to the chillers. And it inspects cooling units in individual apartments to make sure that they are working and there is no clogging, and to change the filters if necessary.

And don’t forget planning for community events in the summer. That is “another dimension of summer preparations,” remarks Greenblatt. The pace of operations could increase in the summer, “from leasing, to turnover, to maintenance, to community events,” says Greenblatt. The anticipation consists in “recognizing the increase in tempo and preparing for it.”

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