MHN Names 2015 Executives of the Year

Steven and Randy Fifield, of the Fifield Companies, were named this year's Executives of the Year at the annual MHN Excellence Awards.
The Fifields accept their award from Yardi's Jeff Adler.

The Fifields accept their award from Yardi’s Jeff Adler.

New York—You may think the secret to success is money, recognition or luck, but Steven and Randy Fifield, MHN’s 2015 Executives of the Year, shared that their success started with peanut butter and jelly. At the annual Multi-Housing News Excellence Awards on October 14th at Club 101 in Manhattan, the Fifields engaged in a panel discussion with Yardi Matrix Vice President Jeff Adler, and shared some advice, insights and anecdotes from their long careers in real estate as Chairs of the Fifield Companies.

While discussing the ins and outs of experiential marketing, Randy said that in order to make apartment living attractive to busy professionals with money to spend, she’d serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to people who work in the area and would stop in on their lunch break. “What they do is they work in the CBD (central business district) and then they come home to let the dog out because we have beautiful parks around the neighborhood, and they’d eat peanut butter and jelly because they could talk on the phone and nothing would drip on them and they’d let the dog out, have this great life and then walk back to work,” she said.

Obviously the road to success is not literally paved with peanut butter and jelly, but serving homemade sandwiches is just one anecdote that personifies the Fifields’ knack for giving renters what they want before they even know exactly what that is. It’s not an easy feat, especially in a market where the renters themselves are evolving almost as quickly as their demands are. “The median age has been moving up; 95 percent of the renters are college graduates. The median income in virtually all these transit-oriented urban projects has been over $100,000. It’s a totally different market, this urban in-fill market. You’re getting well-paid, hard-working, well-educated people. They call it renters by choice, as opposed to renters by necessity,” noted Steven.

“Apartments today are smaller, living spaces are smaller, but those amenities and those services are greater,” observed Randy. Steven said those services include exercise instructors, dog care services and other amenities, which he says are comparable to a “five-star hotel.”

While living like you’re on a resort may seem decadent, the Fifields realize that, for most of their residents, renting by choice is a way for them to splurge on things they wouldn’t necessarily have if they were paying a mortgage and keeping up with their own home. “We have 60-year-old partners in law firms who are renting units with half-a-million-dollar-a-year incomes,” said Steven. “It’s a diverse group, and the ages are spread. It’s [ages] 26-33 and each year that’s gone by, [the renters’ average age has] moved up another year. I think a lot of people are choosing not to own, or getting out of houses and not even buying condos.”

The Fifields understand that their high-income, career-oriented renters want more out of their living arrangements, and they use this information to inform their strategy in other asset classes as well. “You see that the hotel, residential and office businesses are all starting to overlap, and it’s all related to this experiential approach,” said Steven, noting that office lobbies that were once sparse and utilitarian now resemble hotel lobbies, with more attention to seating options and Wi-Fi capabilities. “People will schedule meetings and they’ll actually meet in the lobbies instead of in their offices,” he added.

While the cubicle setup is the norm in most offices, Randy contends that many employees don’t work optimally in this environment, citing noise and limited conference room space as obstacles to efficient performance. In Fifield office buildings, there is a modified approach to this layout, with a mix of communal and individual work space. “If you want those communal opportunities, they’re available to you as you choose them,” she said. “This office environment also becomes an extension of your home, and the comfort level and the quality of your work is better, because you’re relaxed. You can work, live and play inside your office space, and we cultivate that same experience in our office buildings.”

Find out all of the 2015 MHN Excellence Awards winners here.