SPECIAL REPORT: MHW Leaders Panel Highlights Reinvention while Staying True to Fundamentals

By Teresa O’Dea Hein, Managing EditorDenver–“Our world is changing fast and our customers are changing, but we as an industry are not fast to change,” pointed out Joe Peterson, president of Insight Real Estate Group, during Thursday morning’s Leaders Forum: The View from the Top. People sometimes blame market conditions for a lack of leasing activity, Peterson added, when they’re “just doing a crappy job, and still not doing the fundamentals” like first getting a prospect’s name and making sure they publish clear directions to a multifamily property.“The real key is marketing,” Peterson continued, “and that’s changed completely–today, we have to find out how to move into our target residents’ world through viral marketing” on outlets like MySpace and Facebook.Clyde Holland (pictured, top), chairman & CEO of Holland Partners Group, welcomed attendees “to the first conference of the new real estate cycle.” The standing-room-only crowd at the Colorado Convention Center heard Holland, Peterson and three other multifamily leaders share solid advice. “Don’t chase occupancy to the detriment of resident quality,” warned Jeffrey W. Adler, chief property operations officer for AIMCO. “If you pressure your property managers too much to chase occupancy, it can destroy your asset.” “One of the easiest things to cut in a down cycle is training,” Adler said, “but when you cut training, you cut customer service.” Furthermore, he added, “It’s okay to talk about customer service but you have to measure it, too.” Adler also pointed out, “Anything that’s on your financial statement is three months too late, so you have to be a forward-looking organization.” Christy Freeland (pictured, below), principal and CEO of Riverstone Residential Group, urged attendees to find out the needs and preferences of the new demographics of potential residents. For example, she said, by 2010, there will be 45 million Hispanics in the overall market. Given that average annual incomes in the U.S. have decreased in the last 24 months, along with the many other upheavals in the economy, Freeland said she has warned her property owners “not to look for the kind of rent increases they’ve seen in the past, because if they push for that, they’ll drive people out and it’ll be harder to fill those properties.”Mark Humphreys, CEO of Humphreys & Partners Associates LP, predicted it’ll be “heaven in 2011” due to demographic shifts, but people have to adapt to new opportunities. Humphreys noted that Generation Y renters “want places with a story.”