Back to Basics: Giving Your Community a Personal Touch

Wendy Dorchester, Pegasus Residential’s vice president of operations, explains how investing in the latest technology may not be enough to make your property shine.

Wendy Dorchester, Vice President of Operations, Pegasus Residential. Image courtesy of Pegasus Residential

In today’s multifamily environment, community managers face an evolving landscape, with significant technological advances and tenant demographic shifts in recent years. Resident retention can no longer be seen as an annual event, nor can a basic tour or a handful of amenities do enough to lease up a property.

Pegasus Residential Vice President of Operations Wendy Dorchester spoke with Multi-Housing News about how a firm can stay a few moves ahead. While technology has an increasingly important role to play, building a strong, solid on-site team remains the mainstay of effective property management.

What is the most important component in successfully marketing a community to prospective renters?

Dorchester: I don’t think there is a single most important component—marketing is complicated today. It’s no longer about placing an ad or putting up a listing on an ILS and waiting for the traffic to come to us.

To start with, we strive to have excellent web and social media presences to draw prospective renters to our communities. Blanketing the market and submarket online and with personal community outreach have been keys to our success.

Your pictures online have to be amazing, and your property websites have to flow smoothly and be easy to navigate. Stickiness on our listings and our property website is important. Turning eyeballs into leases online is born from this stickiness. Online leasing has to be easy. Another component is online reviews and reputation, which will make or break a community and single-handedly increase traffic and occupancy.

READ ALSO: Converting Online Reviews Into Onsite Action

A community’s curb appeal is critical, too, as a prospective resident’s first impression of a community upon visiting has a huge impact. And once prospects arrive at a community, your associates have to show them that living at the community is truly a unique experience. Leasing apps empower associates to deliver that experience by making it easy for prospects to engage with them during the community tour. In the end, your team members make all the difference, and it’s about who you have on your front line. Rapport building and a sales process that makes prospects feel like they’re creating a relationship built on trust are essential.

What can a property manager do to achieve better tenant retention at a community?

Dorchester: It’s about having the right on-site team in place. And it’s about the cleanliness of your community, how well you communicate with residents, how well you respond to service/maintenance requests and having the right technology in place to support your teams and residents.

The team you have in place and how they interact on a daily basis with each resident are what make a property successful. Your team has to be responsive and provide quick answers to residents. They have to follow up after service requests and should reach out to residents on birthdays and special occasions. They should hold regular resident events. A property has to feel like a village, a family to really keep residents longer than average.  

Also, cleanliness at a community is so important. I don’t think it’s generally talked about when discussing the renter experience, but clean hallways, breezeways and common areas are very important. A dirty property will make a resident move.

Communicating well with renters is a fundamental component of resident satisfaction. Mobile apps … that send instant messages to residents about everything from package delivery to resident events to emergencies can be highly valuable tools.

How have recent technological advances impacted Pegasus’ management strategies?

Dorchester: Self-guided prospect tours, smart home solutions, pet DNA testing, pet-behavior screening, prospect ID verification, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and chat bots are just some of the technologies we’re focused on.

We also have embraced an iPad-based leasing app … that greatly enhances the leasing experience for both our associates and our prospects. The app allows our associates to collect information from prospects while touring with them or sitting in a comfortable common area instead of sitting in front of a desktop computer in the leasing office. The app also gives associates immediate, real-time access to pricing and floor plan information and other community information, eliminating the need for an associate to perhaps have to go back to their desk after a tour is finished to find the information needed to answer a prospect’s question.

Considering the high number of luxury communities under construction across the country, how can a property manager set one property apart from the crowd?

Dorchester: Concierge service and attention to detail play a big part. Doing something different on a tour—such as offering cocktails or mocktails and snacks—can set you apart from others. It’s about making the sales process a memorable one before, during and after the lease is signed. Make it fun. Each property has a personality. Don’t be afraid to show it! The days of stuffiness, starchy collars and pearls are over. Mobile technology … is vital to this class of community as well.

What are some of the most critical factors to consider before making a value-add acquisition?

Dorchester: The first thing to consider: Is this a long-term hold or a short-term flip leaving some meat on the bone for the next buyer? Among the other factors we evaluate are cost of the renovation per unit, how long it will take to get an ROI on that investment and how much rent uptick the owner can get for the renovation. How many renovations can be done each month and what percentage of the property will be renovated? Will full or partial renovations yield a better ROI?

Another factor that is important is the preventative maintenance needs of the community—what has been done, and what has been deferred? This can add a lot of cost to the project after purchase. Due diligence and uncovering potential hidden costs prior to the purchase are essential.

Which amenities offer investors the best return on investment in 2019?

Dorchester: Some of the (more) popular amenities that we’re seeing include large Wi-Fi lounges/coffee bars and other social spaces where residents can be “alone together,” concierge services, anything pet-related and rentable workspaces. We’re also seeing a lot of demand for free or low-cost amenities such as personal trainers, yoga classes, meditation sessions, group fitness classes and cooking classes. The list goes on and on. Above all, though, it’s so important to invest in associates who can showcase these amenities to prospects and residents and explain them with ease.

What market dynamics differentiate the Texas Triangle metros, and how does this impact multifamily management strategies?

Dorchester: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin are booming with healthy job markets, rent growth and obvious demand. They are so diverse that there is literally something for everyone. The amount of product that comes in would probably flatline other markets, but in these particular Texas markets there is always demand for new product with job growth stemming from corporate relocations and nearby universities and military bases.

The amount of competition means we have to stand out from our competitors. We all have the vanilla box. How do we sell it differently? In the end, it’s all about the people and the technology you invest in. The front line has to be truly sales-driven and available to serve the customer. In other words: Answer the dang phone, people!

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