Dallas–Lydia Bishop has been promoted to senior vice president of the Florida region with Riverstone Residential Group, one of the largest privately owned, third-party multifamily apartment management companies in the United States. With her more than 20 years of property management experience, Bishop shares with MHN some of the current strategies Riverstone is implementing as well as what she sees happening in the Florida submarket.
MHN: What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
Bishop: My role is to support and grow the Florida region. There are three critical parts of our business that I’m focused on—our clients, our residents and, of course, our associates. To me, success begins and ends in supporting our local property management team, because those are the people out there every day providing the customer service to our residents. But I also want to reach out to our existing and our new clients to strengthen those relationships. I want to understand from their perspective what we can do to improve in Florida and understand more fully our successes. We’ve had a great year in 2010. In the third quarter alone, Riverstone was awarded 40 management contracts nationally, seven of which originated here in Florida. So we have momentum, and I want to see that momentum grow in 2011 and beyond.
MHN: Do you expect more growth, more acquisitions, in 2011?
Bishop: Our sole focus is third-party management, so we don’t really own or acquire the communities. … We’re always looking to partner with new clients or assist our current clients with new or existing markets. We want to build long-term relationships, and we’re really in a unique position to do that. We’re a national company with great resources, but the people who work with us live and work in the markets that they serve. So our clients are getting the best management services with great experts in each market. We’re seeing money from institutional clients and pension funds coming back into the market. Although there’s been a bit of a development lag from financing difficulties that some of the developers have experienced, we do expect business to pick up in 2011.
MHN: What kind of trends do you see happening, specifically in the Florida market of multifamily?
Bishop: I think some of the interesting trends that we’re seeing are lifestyle related, or even green initiatives. Three of our Florida communities are smoke free. That was something new that we first launched in 2008 and 2009, and honestly we were concerned that they might affect our ability to lease up the communities or maintain occupancy, and instead they’ve been great successes. We’ve had great financial performance on them as well as the feedback and reputation that we’ve been able to generate from marketing a healthier lifestyle. We’re seeing green initiatives—whether it’s energy-efficient appliances or windows or recycling programs—gaining traction. I think you’re going to see a lot of the development—in Florida or across the country—focusing on some of these key initiatives, whether it’s lifestyle or green items, that can help create a niche for those communities.
MHN: What are you seeing in terms of occupancy rates for Riverstone’s portfolio in Florida at the moment?
Bishop: First of all, we are cautiously optimistic that we’ve passed the worst of the condo concession or conversion/reversion era that we’ve gone through. We’re seeing occupancies strengthen. We’re seeing concessions lessen. Our south Florida region is producing the most promising results. They were the first to go through the condo craze, and they were the first to emerge out of that for us. That trend is slowly moving northward throughout Florida. In 2011 we expect to show net rent growth as the concessions lessen, and the occupancies we’re budgeting to average between 93 and 95 percent in most of our submarkets. So it’s definitely improving.
MHN: What kind of strategies are you taking—other than the lifestyle and green initiatives that you mentioned—in terms of getting people in those buildings?
Bishop: We try to be proactive in our approach. We’re looking to identify occupancy issues before they can erode a community’s performance. One of the things that we do within Riverstone is called a “market watch list program.” It’s a focused marketing or troubleshooting program for communities; when their available-to-rent percentages reach 10 percent or higher, they would be part of this program. It starts with a complete marketing assessment and advertising analysis, and then it moves from there into coaching the on-site team on how to assess, improve, execute, increase their marketing results. It’s a collaboration that exists between our marketing experts, our regional managers and our on-site teams, with all of those groups working together to improve the occupancy for the community to generate optimum returns for our clients.