How Property Managers Can Stay on Top of the Crisis

Ardmore Residential's Lisa Russell talks about policies and procedures for navigating the pandemic.

Lisa Russell, Chief Operating Officer, Ardmore Residential. Image courtesy of Ardmore Residential

Property managers have become significant players in tackling the pandemic. They have not only been tasked with keeping their communities healthy but have also been faced with the challenge of continuing business with minimal disruptions. As the global health crisis continues to unfold, property managers need to stay alert and implement effective solutions.

Lisa Russell, chief operating officer at Ardmore Residential—a company that develops, acquires and manages properties in the Southeast—unveils some of the practices that helped her stay on top of the crisis and discusses how the pandemic might alter property management in the long term.

READ ALSO: Property Management FAQ During COVID-19

To what extent has the coronavirus outbreak affected your portfolio and operations?

Russell: We had a unique opportunity to sell four of our properties in June 2020. Our North Carolina sites have not been negatively affected by COVID-19. We adapted quickly to the changes and created a new opportunity to update and adjust our policies and procedures. We closed the leasing offices in March and opened back up in April, by appointment only.

How do these impacts vary across markets?

Russell: Each market stayed strong for us. We have collected more rent and leased more apartments in 2020 than in 2019 year-to-date.

Tell us about one great challenge you’ve faced during these unprecedented times. How did you overcome it?

Russell: The most significant challenge we face is how we continue to operate and serve our residents while keeping our employees and residents healthy. In March 2020, we created a new world of converting to 100 percent virtual leasing, while maintaining a healthy environment for our teams. Our policies and procedures were adjusted, and the teams were trained within a few weeks. Two years ago, we started training our teams to lease apartments without showing units, and that mindset paid off for us in 2020.

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What potential longer-term effects of the coronavirus outbreak are you most concerned about, and how are you adapting your strategies to minimize risks?

Russell: The economic impact of the coronavirus will be the most disruptive to our industry. With so many residents on unemployment or experiencing job losses, the apartment industry will see higher eviction numbers, rental rates will drop and there will be more concessions. We will need to create new ways to sell, without using traditional methods.

Ensuring our residents’ and employees’ health is our top priority. We made sure each office was set up with sneeze guards, cleaning stations, doorbells and masks; required new protocols for work orders; and closed all amenities. By keeping our teams healthy, we had fewer interruptions to our customer service. The economy will take time to recover and our teams are ready to do whatever it takes to keep their communities thriving.

With the pandemic, the use of technology has become even more prevalent. What type of technologies are popular with property managers today?

Russell: FaceTime, Zoom, Google Duo and self-service technology such as amenity and tour schedulers got us through the lockdown and helped keep everyone connected.

What are some of the technologies you are currently using? Is there anything new you have implemented to tackle the effects of the pandemic?

Russell: We are improving our technology with more virtual selling options. We can schedule a meeting with someone face-to-face on a Zoom call and walk them through an apartment from anywhere in the world. This gives the prospect a real feeling of our community, when they can meet a staff member. They tour online, apply online and we approve them online. The move-in process takes only a matter of minutes instead of an hour. They can search for an apartment from the comfort of their couch, instead of driving from property to property all over a new city.

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Contactless leasing will continue to grow for our industry and change how we interact with our prospects. We use text, email and phone to communicate, and we can customize the experience for each person to fit their needs. Our artificial intelligence technology can answer questions, even at 3 a.m.

What advice would you give to property managers dealing with the health crisis?

Russell: It is only a crisis if you make it one. Property management professionals are trained to adapt to change and grow as we go. Stick to the basics. Train your people to think quickly on their feet and not to be afraid of change. Be open to new ideas.

What can you tell us about August rent collections across Ardmore Residential’s portfolio? How did you address any issues related to rent payment?

Russell: Converting 90 percent of our residents to pay rent online was another big challenge that we overcame. We have been able to maintain our collections number in the upper 90-percent range. We waived credit card fees for months to encourage online payment usage. We also offered concessions to our residents—$50 to $150—if they paid their rent early for April and May 2020. Uncertain times were met with unusual solutions. It paid off for us as our residents renewed with a high 70-percent retention rate.

READ ALSO: Leaning on Tech Amid Coronavirus Turbulence

How will the COVID-19 crisis alter the housing market in the long term?

Russell: COVID-19 in March 2020 altered 50 years of property management policies and procedures overnight. We had to think and act differently to make changes in a matter of a few weeks. Virtual leasing is here to stay, and will continue to improve. We anticipate that we will see a higher movement of people moving as the economy shifts and an increase of evictions/skips over the next year due to higher unemployment. As leaders, we must prepare our teams for the economic recovery road ahead. Our current on-site employees have only worked in this industry during an upcycle trend over the past 10 years. Training will be a crucial recovery tool for us in 2021.

How do you see the future of the housing market in the Southeast?

Russell: Strong. I believe this market will recover faster than most, as we have healthy cities and good leadership. We will see more people from other states transfer to the area. In the past few years, housing has been very transitory and people moved more often. I think the coronavirus has made each of us evaluate and redefine a new meaning of home.

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