Communication Is King as Renters Face Financial Strain

A new survey of 25,000 apartment residents by Kingsley Associates and suggests that soliciting feedback is a good practice for property managers.

Chart courtesy of Grace Hill

Safety and communication have emerged as key concerns for multifamily residents as property managers grapple with coronavirus and its economic aftermath, according to new survey data released by Kingsley Associates and

The sentiment survey of nearly 15,000 U.S. renters, which follows up on a similar study last month, found that 30 percent of residents said they would ask landlords to defer their rent as of mid-May, compared to 40 percent in the last round. This suggests that confidence is gradually returning as the pace of layoffs slows, more business reopen across the country and federal stimulus payments kick in.

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On the other hand, of the 68 percent of residents who received stimulus assistance, only 38 percent said it helped them feel more financially secure, compared to 49 percent who said it made no difference. Forty-eight percent of residents expected they would be somewhat or significantly less secure financially in three to six months than they were before the pandemic hit.

“The bad news is, you continue to see economic impact,” noted Dru Armstrong, CEO of Kinsley’s parent firm Grace Hill to Multi-Housing News. “What does it look like when the stimulus effect runs out if it doesn’t get extended?”

Meeting expectations

The financial uncertainty points to challenges ahead for the multifamily industry as the apartment search season begins. Community managers that can meet resident expectations in terms of communication, training, maintenance and sanitization have an edge amid the volatility.

Image courtesy of Greg Isaacson

According to the survey, property management firms that solicited feedback from residents had more than twice as many residents they were likely to promote their community to others—37 percent compared to 17 percent. Among residents that were satisfied with management communication during the pandemic, 41 percent indicated they were likely to recommend the property.

Sanitizer stations throughout the property topped the list of measures that residents most wanted to see, at 64 percent, followed by the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for maintenance requests (45 percent) and enforced social distancing (40 percent).

“For property management companies that are being proactive in terms of how they communicate with their residents, asking for feedback, making sure their policies are clear to their teams and to the residents and that they’re training people on it, you can see meaningfully higher levels of satisfaction,” said Armstrong.

Only connect

Successful strategies used by some firms include publishing all of their policies and procedures on a public portal or community website and making social media platforms like hOp available to residents. Carroll Org. decided to have its on-site teams take the rent roll and call 20 percent of residents each day of the week to provide reassurance during the pandemic, Armstrong noted.

Intriguingly, the survey found that virtual tours are more acceptable than ever, with 40 percent of respondents saying they would agree to rent an apartment without an in-person tour. This compares to 29 percent in the April report and just 14 percent in a study by Kingsley and NMHC in the fall of 2019.

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