Property Management: Striving for Satisfaction

Concierge Services’ Increasing Popularity

At a time when the U.S. Secret Service is being touted as a hot new amenity at Trump Tower by agency Douglas Elliman, it could be an easy assumption that multifamily developers and owners are going overboard with their emphasis on amenities. A doorman and on-site laundry just aren’t enough to draw in today’s renter, especially in the luxury sector, where there are no shortage of choices. It’s not uncommon to see multifamily communities offering unconventional benefits like glass-bottomed pools, spin cycle studios, dog parks and leasing centers that look more like country clubs than business centers.

However, there is evidence to suggest that a specific amenity class may have staying power among the Bluetooth-enabled fitness machines and saunas of the apartment world. According to statistics from J Turner Research, Millennials and Baby Boomers ranked 24-hour security and service guarantees as the most important community services. It seems that in an increasingly digital and impersonal world, today’s renters crave personal attention and service above most other building perks.

Enter the multifamily concierge, an upgraded version of the traditional hotel concierge who knows your name and preferences and can help with everything from receiving packages to booking dinner or theater reservations.

According to Nick Alicastro, vice president of business development at Western National Property Management, “These partnerships create an additional level of convenience for residents and add to the overall appeal of a multifamily community. This increased appeal will ultimately drive traffic to a community, as well as provide opportunities for premium rents.”

Going the extra mile

The multifamily concierge wears many hats, but overall, they are responsible for fulfilling the requests of all residents and anticipating their every need. “If they need for us to research local companies for them, like moving services or pet sitting services, we do that. In general, we provide information, and we provide this service six days a week, (including) Saturdays for those who can’t get to us on weekdays,” said Neil Trifunovski, general manager of Waterton’s Presidential Towers in Chicago. Waterton employs a third-party vendor called Corporate Concierge Services to plan, advertise and execute special events onsite; provide food on the community’s weekly “No Cook Wednesday”; secure discounted tickets to local attractions like the Willis Tower observation deck, the aquarium, museums or Big Bus Tours; and offer other services.

Premiere Concierge, another third-party service, is a similar company that takes an all-inclusive approach to integrating itself into the apartment community. The company, which is intimately familiar with the multifamily industry through its ownership of 18 communities, creates a custom-branded “virtual concierge” for each client, according to Business Development Specialist Aron Freeman. The virtual hub, accessible online and via a mobile app, allows residents to request maintenance service, reserve parking and allow others to enter their unit, among other features. Using the community’s branding for the digital assets draws a subtle connection for residents between  the benefits of the concierge service and their choice to live in the community, according to Freeman.

“At the time of renewal … it’s the service and the personalized attention and the personal catering to their needs that’s unique.”

Haley Rafferty, general manager at Related’s 500 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, said the building’s concierge acts as a “gatekeeper,” with responsibilities varying greatly depending on the individual resident and time of day. “It’s always going to be something different. During the day, they might be providing access with the resident’s permission for their housekeeper to come, or for the dog walker to come—taking care of the resident’s needs even when the resident isn’t here,” she said. “The resident can set preferences, (like) ‘My housekeeper comes every Tuesday, and they have permission to enter my apartment,’ (which) all is logged in Yardi, our software system, so they can see what that resident’s preferences are—if they have permission to check the key out or if the resident prefers to be called and grant permission.”

At 500 Lake Shore Drive, no request is unimportant. The concierge staff can deliver packages inside the resident’s unit, and if preferred, can even unpack and recycle the boxes. For residents who enjoy the convenience of online grocery shopping with services like Blue Apron, the concierge will unpack the food and put it in the fridge and freezer so it’s ready to go when the resident returns home. There is essentially no limit to the services offered—no matter the request, “our staff will deliver,” Rafferty said.

The concierge desk at Presidential Towers in Chicago takes center stage in the lobby. Image by Darris Lee Harris

The concierge desk at Presidential Towers in Chicago takes center stage in the lobby. Image by Darris Lee Harris

Best practices

It takes a specific breed of multifamily community to run a concierge service smoothly. First, the nature of the service is more tailored to larger, luxury communities where the rent costs can justify the expense of extra hires. At 500 Lake Shore, operating a concierge service means having two people on a shift rather than just the doorman.

“Some of the smaller companies are perhaps not equipped to handle this type of a service, or perhaps they’re too small to handle something of this nature or their model is just not set up that way,” said Trifunovski. With more than 2,000 units, “I think our sheer size at Presidential Towers helps us provide that service.”

One of the motivations for adding a designated concierge office at Presidential Towers six years ago was the foot traffic coming into the leasing center with non-leasing-related inquiries. It was overwhelming, and keeping leasing agents from their work. “This way, we have a department that specializes and spends time on doing research into what’s happening in the city, where people are going, what the prices are, what the discounts are, planning events and doing different things,” Trifunovski explained.

500 Lake Shore Drive opened its doors in 2013, when concierge services were more of a priority for a new community than they were when Presidential Towers was built in 1986. “(The concierge service) started before the building opened, so all of our staff underwent a proprietary training program, learning how to anticipate residents’ needs and understand their preferences,” Rafferty said.

During this training period, employees were educated on the 24/7 aspect of service, a component that Rafferty said is integral to ensuring resident satisfaction. “If you’re going to say you have this service, you have to be able to execute it, and it has to be done consistently,” she said. “It has to be consistent across all 24 hours of the day and all seven days of the week. …If you’re going to promise this to your resident, you have to live up to that promise.”

The bottom line

For many, investing in a concierge service program may not seem feasible or worthwhile, but for luxury properties, especially in metropolitan areas with lots of competition, it can provide a much-needed edge. As more of the renter pool consists of renters by choice, luxury communities must provide more equity than homeownership would, and having a dedicated staff to attend to errands, entertainment and appointments can ensure satisfaction and loyalty. According to those who employ concierges, the payoff in resident satisfaction is evident when it comes time to renew their lease.

That return on investment is “hard to quantify,” put in Freeman. However, he added, “for every dollar you spend on a concierge service program, you see about a $3.80 return on your investment, and you see that a couple of ways. You see that through resident retention, new resident procurement … and then also in removing the burden of non-leasing issues off the shoulders of the management team.”

“(The concierge) is an integral part of developing relationships with our residents so that their stay here is happy and satisfactory, and we try to go beyond expectations anytime we possibly can,” said Trifunovski. “I think it shows when renewal time comes. Folks feel that they’re part of the community. We have folks here that have lived here for years and they keep renewing.”

Noted Rafferty: “We do resident satisfaction surveys, and consistently, they give a special shout-out to a certain individual who goes above and beyond.” At 500 Lake Shore Drive, according to Rafferty, the personal relationships that residents develop with concierge staff prove to be one of the most appreciated benefits of living in the luxury high-rise. “At the time of renewal … it’s the service and the personalized attention and the personal catering to their needs that’s unique,” she said. “Our staff has established trust with the resident, and they feel good about that. … They aren’t going to get that somewhere else, or they’d have to start at square one somewhere else.”

While a Nest thermostat or keyless entry may be forgettable, personalized service isn’t. “You’re getting someone who knows your name, who greets you the way you want to be greeted, who treats you the way you want to be treated,” Rafferty summarized.

Originally appearing in the CPE-MHN Guide to 2017.