NALP of Year Winner Feldman Says, ‘Leasing Is about People, not Property’

Thomas Feldman is the proud recipient of the 2008 National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) of the Year title. He received this prestigious award from the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) at the 2008 Paragon Awards ceremony held in Orlando, Fla. Feldman leases apartments at 100 Memorial Drive, a 261-unit building in Cambridge, Mass. Rents at this 12-story high rise range from about $1,440 for a studio to $2,965 for a three-bedroom apartment.Since August 2003, Feldman has been a member of The Dolben Company Inc., a fourth-generation business headquartered in Woburn, Mass. Feldman earned Employee of the Year honors at The Dolben Company in 2007. Dolben provides property management, development management, marketing, and brokerage services to clients and residents throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic region. The firm operates over 10,000 apartments. MHN Contributing Editor Rachel Block recently spoke with Feldman about his recent success and the property management strategies he takes to work with him every day. MHN: What are your biggest leasing challenges?Feldman: The biggest challenge in leasing is to keep the prospective residents excited and personally connected to their future apartment home while continuing to inspire yourself as a professional. It’s easy to fall into the routine of daily touring but that does your prospective residents and yourself a disservice. Prospects are well prepared with a lot of information from the Internet before they arrive so you need to go beyond the apartment and community specifications and really make the experience more than just a live “virtual tour.”  MHN: What steps have you taken to deal with those challenges?Feldman: Ask questions and really listen to what the prospective residents are saying about themselves. After all, leasing is about people, not property. I always try to paint a picture of what my prospect’s new life will look and feel like based on what they’ve told me. I really believe that interactive connection makes the difference. By the end of the tour, I want my prospective resident to feel excited, not sold. MHN: How do property management practices need to change to keep up?Feldman: Property management is full of necessary routines (daily, weekly, monthly and annually) that must be adhered to for effective property management. Yet, while the basic architecture of management has remained consistent, technology and people’s lives are moving faster and faster. Ten years ago, plenty of people didn’t have an email address. I’m looking forward to the industry continuing to embrace technology for better customer service and satisfaction. Imagine rent payments, rent receipts, work orders and a real-time chat between residents and management, all from an iPhone. Can it really be that far away?  MHN: How are your communities coping with the fast-rising prices of heating oil and gas?Feldman: Our community is located one block from local trains, buses and amenities as well as being within a half mile of the city of Boston, so our residents typically don’t have to endure long commutes to meet their needs. However, our community is constantly updating its facilities to meet the current fuel price challenge. We are in the process of installing exterior temperature sensors to precisely assist the community’s heating system and maximize our use of fuel. MHN: What features and/or amenities are prospective residents most interested in?Feldman: My community has an extraordinary view of the Boston skyline and Charles River, so clearly they want the view straight away. But beyond the gorgeous view, they also really like knowing that we are a full-service community and can be there for them day or evening if necessary. Prospective residents don’t want to feel as though they are forgotten once they receive their keys. I always remind them that the management office may close at the end of the day, but our eyes and ears are always open to them. (And a concierge is on duty 24 hours a day.)MHN: What advice would you share with other property managers or leasing agents? Any tips?Feldman: Have fun! I enjoy a sense of camaraderie with my co-workers and when you’re smiling in the office, I really feel that translates to your prospective and current residents. Anyone who works in the industry knows the crunch of the necessary responsibilities we share and the stress that can come with managing them. Bring your patience. Bring your sense of humor and enjoy!MHN: How do you keep your property managers motivated and energized?Feldman: My property manager, assistant property manager and I all try to stay aware of each other through out the day. We really try to not let the physical barriers of an office or the job titles prevent us from helping each other if one of us seems overwhelmed with a task. Just having that support when you need it can keep us energized! Sometimes having too many cooks in the kitchen is a good thing.   MHN: What are you listening to on your iPod these days?Feldman: U2. Always U2. Inspirational rock n’ roll with a social conscience!  Sure, Bono is an amazing rock star and humanitarian. But can he lease apartments?MHN: What¹s the best or most enjoyable book you¹ve read recently? Feldman: I recently read “The Power Within” by Anthony Robbins. He had this great quote: “People always overestimate what they can accomplish in one year. But they grossly underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years.” That really stuck with me.