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Mar. 30, 2011

Prime Leasing Season Is around the Corner

By Erika Schnitzer, Managing Editor

Post Properties' Peachtree Hills in Atlanta

With the peak of the leasing season fast approaching, first impressions are more crucial than perhaps at any other point in the year. And with grey skies and snow banks quickly (one can hope!) becoming a thing of the past, property owners and operators must take certain steps in order to prepare their apartment communities for the spring season.

Curb appeal is often the first thought in preparing a community for increased traffic throughout the spring and summer months; however, ensuring your current residents are satisfied is just as crucial during these seasons.

“Make sure the amenities are usable and in top-notch shape so they can be enjoyed by [current] residents,” advises Jim Davis, vice president of property services at Atlanta-based Post Properties Inc., which manages 19,863 units throughout the Southeast, Texas and Washington, D.C.

With this in mind, determine how exterior amenities survived the harsh winter months. “The pool areas, the outdoor parks, the pet parks—how did those things survive the weather? Are there things you need to do to enhance that going into your heavier traffic months, not just from a new client perspective but from the people that live there?” asks Toni Reeves, senior managing director of the Central North office of Charleston, S.C.-based Greystar, whose management portfolio includes 153,819 units.

Meanwhile, the real key to any seasonal preparation is preventative maintenance. Greystar, for example, follows a monthly preventative maintenance program, which includes checking life-safety issues, such as faulty stair rails and steps.

Preventative maintenance

Preventative maintenance is particularly crucial for mechanical equipment that can be extremely costly to repair if not properly maintained. For HVAC systems, for example, cleaning coils and changing filters is critical to making the equipment last longer.

Post begins preparing its communities in the fall by reviewing an amenity checklist (see sidebar) and identifying potential problems, as well as determining whether any major purchases need to be made, explains Davis.

Maintenance technicians also begin preparing properties by ensuring that the landscape is groomed for the spring, a process that often begins as early as October, Davis adds. While seemingly early, “[it’s] something you need to do or else you’ll look overgrown when the spring flush occurs,” he points out.

With regard to plumbing, proper care needs to be taken to ensure pipes don’t freeze and that there aren’t broken pipes that can lead to leaks—not to mention major maintenance headaches.

Roofing can be visually inspected to determine whether tiles or shingles are missing or loose (depending on the type of roof you have in place), adds Lisa Croushorn, regional manager and director of operations at Chicago-based Providence Management Company LLC. This visual inspection, she adds, is particularly key in areas like Florida, where the rainy season starts in June and continues for the next three months. (Also in the South, she adds, termites are prevalent, so prevention—“inspect, inspect, inspect,” she says—is critical.)

Gutters and downspouts need to be inspected, and managers should ensure that water is kept away from the buildings to avoid foundation leaks.

At the same time, pools should be kept clean throughout the winter, with water levels properly adjusted to preserve generators and motors, says Greystar’s Reeves.

Keeping an eye on water quality and the surface of the pool are also key, adds Davis, because “you don’t want to shut down your pool and drain your pool and have to surface it when it can be in use. You need to identify anything to do with filters, pumps and plumbing issues; you really need to run through your pool before you want to open it.”

Meanwhile, while it’s important to keep your pool clean and properly maintained, Reeves notes that it’s equally as critical to ensure compliance from an inspection standpoint and ensure there are no life-safety issues.

Guarantee signage is up-to-date and compliant with local guidelines, Reeves suggests. “Are the hours correct? Does it say ‘no diving’ if it’s a non-diving pool? And in the evening, is it lit? Are the lights below the surface working?”

In addition, management should ensure there is proper safety equipment on-site and in good repair. Reeves also advises walking the pool to ensure there aren’t any trip hazards.

As far as barbecues, Davis says that Post has a weekly, monthly and annual maintenance program that may extend the life of the grills. Three times a week, the company cleans every grill, burns off excess grease and wipes down lids. Monthly, facilities will scrape the inside of the grills, removing buildup and doing a deeper cleaning that involves pulling the insides out. Annually, Post breaks down its grills and replaces any broken or worn out parts.

And as far as any green maintenance tips, Davis advises pruning shrubs away from condensing units, using recycled mulch or soil in landscaping and ensuring there aren’t any leaks in irrigation systems, hoses or spray nozzles.

Cosmetic improvements

Immediately before the prime leasing season begins, Reeves notes that many owners will start to invest capital dollars into exterior improvements. “You see a lot of owners wanting to get capital improvements, especially if they are cosmetic improvements, completed before that heavy leasing season kicks off, so the property reflects the best.”

Many companies, such as Providence Management Co., paint their communities year-round to keep them looking fresh and clean, says Croushorn.

Additional cosmetic work includes purchasing new pool furniture, ensuring signage is clean and fresh, and resurfacing or restriping parking lots—as well as filling in any potholes. “Your exterior paint is one of your best marketing tools,” notes Reeves. “It’s costly, but if you’re in a dreary month, the cleaner and crisper your property looks, the better it shows, even if you can’t get any flowers in front of the office.”

As far as outdoor seating areas, cleaning is obviously key, but Davis also points out an advantage to doing an inspection of these areas in the fall: “Most of the manufacturers of outdoor furniture run their best bargains and their best deals in the off-months, so if you can make those purchases in February-March, before the season starts, you get a much better deal than trying to buy the furniture in the peak season.”

Landscaping is, of course, part of this improvement, and seasonally changing out flowers can keep things looking fresh, points out Croushorn.

Also crucial is identifying any bare or dead areas, adds Reeves. “There’s not a lot you can do about Mother Nature, but there are some things, just from a cleanliness or worn-out perspective, that you can address that can offset being covered in three inches of snow.”

The best thing any manager can do, though, advises Reeves, is to walk your property, looking at it from a client’s perspective. “Get out there,” she says, “and walk it like you live there.”

To comment on this story, email Erika Schnitzer at eschnitzer@multi-housingnews.com.

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