SPECIAL REPORT: NAA Conference Tackles Hot Multifamily Issues

By Teresa O’Dea Hein, Managing EditorOrlando, Fla.–“Every building deserves a brand,” noted Christopher Lee, president & CEO of CEL Associates Inc., during his seminar yesterday morning at the 2008 National Apartment Association Conference & Exposition, held at the Gaylord Palms hotel just outside Orlando, Fla. “You need to develop a differentiating story and brand the quality for each multifamily property in your portfolio,” Lee pointed out in his session, titled “Stay Grounded during Tumultuous Times.” Indeed, when renovating value-add properties, keep in mind that “being the same as everyone else is no way to differentiate yourself,” advised Dan Lieberman, founder and president of Horizon Management in Oakland, Calif., during a panel discussion yesterday on “Maximizing Your Rehab Dollar in Today’s Market”Instead, Lieberman suggested, “Look for the holes in your market and then differentiate yourself. Don’t necessarily try to make the nicest product but one that’s right for the market.”Lieberman noted that common area upgrades attract residents while in-unit upgrades retain them, “so you have to find the right balance between them” when developing your business strategy.“Landscaping, paint and signage are your most inexpensive ways to change your property,” Lieberman said. His company also offers residents a choice of four paint colors, including deep shades, for their apartment walls.Speaking of colors, green was another popular conference topic, with “Going Green: Best Practices in the Multifamily Industry” attracting an SRO crowd. At that panel discussion, Dave Woodward from Laramar Communities noted that there a lot of green initiatives that don’t cost much, such as installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs or low-flow faucets, and have a short payback period. Laramar formed its own “Green Team” a year ago, and over time, they’ve developed a list of environmentally friendly initiatives including using 100 percent recycled carpet on rehabs and offering a car-share service at urban properties. He believes that in addition to saving money, being green can help generate more leases.In the conference’s opening general session on leadership, Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.) inspired several standing ovations from the over 3,000 attendees present who were alternately touched and amused by his 50-minute speech. Powell traced his eventful life from his first 21 years living in an eight-family apartment building in the Bronx at 952 Kelly St. “Every time I hear the word apartment, it pulls up deep-seated memories,” he explained. “With a rent of $40 a month in the 1950s, this was affordable housing that allowed my parents, who came here from the West Indies, to build a family and build a home,” Powell said. “I have a warm feeling for what you do, and am impressed by how the association has grown since the last time I spoke here, eight years ago.”Fifty years ago this month, Powell entered the Army, where he learned about leadership as the infantry officer in Fort Benning, Ga. Powell observed, “The best leaders inspire people so that they are self-motivating. The total role of a leader is to put the followers in the best spot to get the job done.” He added, “The bedrock of leadership is to create conditions of trust within your organization.”