MHN Interview with Laura Khouri: Maintaining Balance Between Rents and Occupancy Is Key Challenge with Property Management
- Jul 14, 2010
Irvine, Calif.–Laura Khouri recently took over as president of Western National Property Management, the property management arm of Western National Group. She succeeds Thomas K. Shelton who was the president for about 18 months.
As president, Khouri will lead a team of over 700 real estate professionals that currently manages more than 22,750 residential units within 155 communities located throughout California, Arizona and Utah. These multifamily communities include both third-party clients, as well as assets owned by Western National Group.
Khouri joined Western National Group in 1985 and prior to assuming the position of president, she was president of Western National Group’s Multifamily Ancillary Group (MAG).
MHN: Why did Thomas K. Shelton leave in just 18 months?
Khouri: Whenever you go to a new company, you have to mesh in with the culture. He also came from the Phoenix area, which is a completely different market. In the end, he did not feel it was a good fit for him. There is a lot of bureaucratic red tape in our company and by that I mean we do things the right way but the corporate wheel moves very slowly.
MHN: What goals have you established for the property management group?
Khouri: The first thing I did was to meet with corporate team members. We have area managers who are responsible for 10-12 communities; above that there are regional VPs, who have 4 area managers under them, and then the regional VP reports to VP of operations. So I scheduled meeting with all area managers.
There’s a lot of pressure these days. I believe in leading from a care and compassion perspective as opposed to fear and intimidation.
My number one job was instilling the credo back into our company. Respect for team, care and compassion and people are the most important aspect.
The second goal is to grow the business. Once you get people to be happy about their jobs, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.
MHN: How is the SoCal market performing?
Khouri: SoCal is a tough market and so is Phoenix. Watching rents drop and NOI decrease is tough and a hard sell to owners who may not understand, but I think we are now turning the corner. Rents are on an uptick—we measure them on a monthly basis. The economy is better and that’s the reason for this but in November we rolled out a new shop program for leasing staff. The program taught them how to immediately connect with residents when they walk in and to make them feel welcome. Standing up and saying—how are you—may seem simple, but a lot of people simply don’t do that.
MHN: How us the WNP portfolio performing?
Khouri: Rents have stopped sliding and have maintained. We have been able to increase rents or at least renew leases. The occupancy right now is 96 percent which we are happy with for now but the goal is to reduce concessions.
MHN: What are the biggest challenges in property management you see today?
Khouri: Maintaining the balance between increasing rents and keeping occupancy up and creating a home for the resident. It’s all tied into one.
MHN: How do you keep onsite staff motivated?
Khouri: We have an 800 care line that all residents can call if they are having issues so I know exactly what the issues are. It is also a good indicator as to which associate is on board and who is not. You can beat them over the head or bring them in and ask them what they need, which works better than forcing rules and regulations. Engaging them is important and some people don’t want to be engaged so ultimately they leave.
MHN: What can you say about demand for multifamily housing today and going forward?
Khouri: The mortgage industry is upside down and there isn’t much supply in the market. This is good for us but not so good for builders. But because the addition of new supply is not there, demand is high for next five years.
MHN: Has WNP got new clients in the past year?
Khouri: Yes, we got 631 more units from a current client and a 500 -unit new property. We have two communities in Phoenix property and we are constantly knocking on doors. We are also opening a 320-unit building in South Jordan, Utah. We are definitely expanding.