As a job that thrives on human interaction and connectedness, being a property manager mid-pandemic is not easy. Nobody had to deal with this type of problem until now and despite all uncertainties, life and work must go on. Property managers have to work efficiently in times of quarantine and social distancing, but how can they navigate these trying times and ensure safety and protection for both the staff and residents?
Trion Properties, specializing in value-add investment in western markets, has a management portfolio of roughly 1,000 units. Managing Partner Max Sharkansky nails down the six most important things to consider for a successful property management strategy during this health crisis.
Considering all stakeholders
When preparing for a crisis, property managers should consider two perspectives: the operational perspective and the investor’s. If we look at the situation from the landlord’s position, Sharkansky says, having safe levels of leverage already in place, such as interest-only debt versus principal-plus-interest debt, will help preserve capital when cash flow levels are likely to fluctuate.
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“From an operational perspective, property managers should pay close attention to the credit quality of the residents signing leases,” Sharkansky said. “This is always important, but especially so if the economy is in a downturn. Making sure residents have ample income to pay the rent—whether it’s $1,200 per month or $4,000 per month—is an important corner not to cut.”
Staff & resident safety
As a property manager, the safety of the staff, as well as that of residents should always come first. For someone whose job depends on human interaction, practicing social distancing can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily, technology offers many effective ways to help property managers replace in-person responses with virtual ones, for example.
“We utilize apps like Carson—a virtual doorman—and Stockwell, which is like a convenience store in a centrally located vending machine. These tools safely provide products and services to residents so they can observe social distancing and stay home. We have had these systems in place for some time, and they have helped us to be prepared during this crisis,” Sharkansky explained.
The company’s staff is working from home as well as on site and are required to come into the office just two days a week, but when they do, they don’t need to share the space with anyone else. In addition, common-area amenities such as pools and gyms are now closed throughout Trion’s communities in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Communicating with residents is more important than ever. Here too, technology plays a big part as face-to-face gatherings are forbidden. Phones, email and social apps are most commonly used for communication between residents, property managers and other staff.
“Text messaging was the most popular means of communication between residents and staff at many of our properties, even before the current situation, so we’ve adapted seamlessly in this regard,” Sharkansky said. “Within the company, we communicate through these methods, and we connect with our property-level staff through Zoom, as needed.”
What not to miss
Empathy and flexibility are two of the essential human qualities that a good property manager shouldn’t miss today. The approach of all issues should be made on a case-by-case basis, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“Don’t forget about the human aspect to all of this. There has been a lot of job loss and death in certain areas. It’s important not to always go by the traditional rule book—many of the rules will have to be rewritten,” Sharkansky added.
Everybody is going through difficult times right now. Industry professionals, residents, medical staff are all scared. This is why it’s important to find motivation and maintain it throughout this crisis. One source of strength for property managers might be the fact that the multifamily sector continues to be robust, as the need for housing will continue despite the coronavirus. This is one aspect that should help with creating a positive professional outlook. Financial rewards are another.
“Right now, property managers are busy with all the responsibilities they had pre-COVID-19, in addition to the demands of the pandemic. For our team, this workload continues to keep them motivated, along with occupancy bonuses,” Sharkansky said.
Small successes, like providing groceries for someone in a higher risk category, also boost morale.
Resuming “normal” life
Right now, it’s tough to predict when everyone will be able to get back to the life they were used to. For property managers, numerous inquiries and requests might arise during these times. This is another side of things where it helps to remain open and think outside the box. Also, previously established processes are great to fall back on.
“Operations should run smoothly and fall back into place if property managers follow the previously established systems and procedures, which should create less work for these managers once the economy gets going again,” Sharkansky concluded.