Feature: Common Area Renovations 101

Between 2005 and 2009, AIMCO undertook renovations at 220 of its properties, which comprised of 78,000 units.

BEFORE (Malibu Canyon’s clubhouse--AIMCO Property)

AFTER (Malibu Canyon’s clubhouse--AIMCO Property)

By Anuradha Kher, Online News Editor

New York–Between 2005 and 2009, AIMCO (Apartment Investment and Management Company) undertook renovations at 220 of its properties, which comprised of 78,000 units. Some of the properties got a new clubhouse, some

others got a new swimming pool, yet others got new lobbies or hallways. But the common thread running through this $1.3 billion renewal project was the fact that AIMCO made sure the planning was impeccable and the

vision was clearly communicated to the residents in those communities. Renovating common areas or exteriors can pose big challenges for owners and managers of apartment communities, but simply following those two thumb rules can go a long way in ensuring a relatively smooth transition.

Renovations 101

“The process on paper boils down simply to planning, planning and planning,” Dan Matula, senior vice president of development at AIMCO, tells MHN. “An owner should have every detail planned, should be ready to go and cannot afford to miss a beat. At the same time, it’s important to be 100 percent flexible because every property is different and if you run into obstacles, you need to move quickly.”

The next most important is communicating to residents, explains Matula. “The leasing staff must know about the scope and vision of the renovation project. They should know exactly how the property is going to look once the renovations are complete so they can communicate that to the residents. The residents should be given advance notice and a time frame, and an idea as to how their daily lives will be affected.”

BEFORE (3400 Ave of the Arts’ main pool--AIMCO Property)

AFTER (3400 Ave of the Arts’ main pool--AIMCO Property)

Julie Smith, president of the Bozzuto Group, echoes Matula’s thoughts. “The most important thing is planning and understanding how long the project will take to be completed. Next is to understand what the disruptions will be and to determine what you are going to do during that period,” says Smith.

A renter is different from condo/co-op owners in the sense that they are living on the owning company’s property and paying them for it, so if they are going to be disrupted for 6-8 months, that’s not going to be a happy situation.

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid embarking on a renovation project in common areas during the peak rental season. “An owner or manager should be careful not to underestimate how long and how disruptive a renovation project can be, and how much it will cost, adds Smith.

According to Stephanie Brock, central division president at Riverstone Residential, the most important thing to do is to display the vision with photographs etc., have a timeline for the project and keep the lines of communication open. “The manager should have constant updates on the project, explaining what the interim options are. The attitude can’t be that the residents just have to live with it,” says Brock.

Brock says a manager/owner should examine what happens if work is going on a Saturday, study the leasing activity and lifecycle of the community to figure out the best time to undertake the renovation project.

Matula says AIMCO executives really try to put themselves in the residents’ shoes. “We know remodeling is painful. There is not renovation work on weekends, they have to finish up by four or five in the evening, and they don’t start work before eight am,” he says.

How to Deal With Complaints?

If someone lives in an apartment community where drilling is about to make them deaf, they can’t access areas because they have been blocked due to ongoing work and no one is listening to them, chances are they’ll want the management company’s head for it. Even if the manager follows all the best practices, as the renovation projects kicks off, there will always be residents who are unhappy about the situation. Dealing with complaints in such situations is inevitable.

Matula says that AIMCO has a full property staff that listens and takes complaints to heart. “We try to see what the problem is and do something to make the sigtuation better,” he says. According to Brock, empathy towards resident complaints is crucial. “Your attitude cannot be that they just have to deal with it,” Brock adds.

Compensation for Residents’ Inconvenience

If they follow the best practices, managers and owners will ensure that renovation work does not go on after 5 pm and while most people work during the day, there are some who work nights and sleep during the day. In such cases, good managers will offer to relocate the resident to a quieter section of the community.

“Ultimately, the manager might have to make some compensation for those who are inconvenienced significantly. For example, we will provide a hotel room, or if it’s a long-term project, offer to relocate to another section of the property,” says Brock.

Julie Smith, president of Bozzuto Management, says, “There are alternative tasks, ways to screen the work, additional things you can do to acknowledge that you have disrupted the residents. You can have more residents’ events, coffee and bagels in the mornings etc. to let the residents know that you are doing something to make the whole experience pleasant for them.”

Simply acknowledging that the process is disruptive, apologizing and checking in with residents can help. Another thing some managers and owners do is let residents off the lease early.