How Cortland Maximizes Maintenance Teams
Insights on keeping properties in prime condition from the firm’s EVP of operations and a senior service manager.
Property maintenance teams play a critical role at a multifamily community, and even more so these days when digitalization has turned them into one of the few client-facing positions in residential buildings. Technology allows for little human contact, with residents having the option to submit their rental payments and work orders online. This makes maintenance technicians the only people residents really interact with after moving in. This makes them even more valuable.
Cortland manages an 80,000-unit portfolio. On average, the company staffs its community service teams with a 1:100 ratio, which means three or four service team members—a supervisor, two technicians and a porter—per community. How do you find these technicians? And when you find them, how do you make them stay?
Cortland invests in educating and growing its existing talent. Danisha Gonzalez, senior service manager at Cortland Colburn in Celebration, Fla., stands proof. She joined the community’s maintenance team as a housekeeper in 2018. She is now responsible for a group of technicians. The new role comes with a whole set of office responsibilities, too, such as managing the budget, keeping in communication with the vendors, creating preventative schedules and analyzing metrics that reflect resident satisfaction, among others.
Last year, Gonzalez led a pilot project researching how to centralize and optimize their property maintenance service. This year, she started with a new property under construction. Her employer’s commitment to helping her grow personally and professionally made her stay and build a “real career,” as she put it.
To further educate and grow its existing talent, Cortland retrofitted a 46-foot trailer featuring “several specialty training stations, convenient, hands-on learning space that can travel the country for onsite training,” Jonathan Tucker, EVP of operations and facilities at Cortland, told Multi-Housing News. Last year, this mobile training unit traveled 5,000 miles and gave hands-on training to more than 250 service associates.
The role requires someone who is not only a skilled technician but is also technologically savvy. “A good technician is willing to learn, curious about how to repair items, and loves to serve others,” according to Tucker. MHN talked to Gonzalez and Tucker about the importance of an on-site maintenance team and more.
What are the benefits of having an on-site maintenance team? How does this improve the residents’ experience?
Tucker: The number one benefit of an onsite maintenance team is the speed of response to needs in the community. Having an onsite team allows us to better serve the residents and maintain our physical plant. It also greatly enhances the residents’ experience, because they are familiar with our team members, as trust is a big component of delivering a high-touch level of service.
Gonzalez: Faster response time makes residents feel valued, assuring them that we’ve got it covered if anything goes wrong in their home. Residents can easily communicate with the property’s maintenance team and know who is accessing their home to provide a service or repair.
How long does it usually take for a service request to be solved at Cortland properties? How do you ensure timely fixes?
Tucker: We always strive to complete repairs as quickly as possible, and we do our best to complete all requests within 24 hours. We are able to do this by comprehensively tracking our spending, supplies and demand patterns.
Gonzalez: In the case of an emergency after-hours call, we respond to the community within an hour. To make sure our team can make the repairs on time, I study all the components inside the apartment home, evaluate our inventory, and stock extra materials and parts so we can fix problems immediately.
Which repairs fall under the renters’ responsibility? What happens when a renter fails to act responsibly and needs a maintenance technician?
Tucker: One of the benefits of renting is the owner takes care of the needs within your home. Our team is always ready, and someone is on call 24 hours a day to ensure we respond quickly. Whether the repair is caused by the resident or the system/item ages out, our team is always ready to respond and resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
What is preventative maintenance in apartments and why is it important?
Tucker: Preventative maintenance is a critical component of our service team’s responsibilities. Preventative maintenance for our apartments is just like working to maintain your vehicle. Your car will last longer if you complete oil changes and rotate tires, among other things, as suggested by the manufacturer.
We ensure we consistently complete preventative maintenance to extend the life of systems within our residents’ homes. This also reduces the number of repairs during the life of the system.
Gonzalez: Preventive maintenance is key to the success of the maintenance team. With organized and scheduled preventative care, we can keep a resident’s home in optimum condition and ensure the systems will last longer. That is not only an economic benefit, but it also makes the residents feel valued and well taken care of.
What features does the ideal apartment maintenance management system have?
Tucker: What was brand new technology just a decade ago—like being able to work from a handheld device—is a must-have now. Because it is important for our teams to be responsive and efficient, we need a system that updates in real-time and allows the team members to reprioritize their days without having to come back into the office. Such a system enables them to not only be more productive and efficient but also improve our service levels.
Gonzalez: The property maintenance system should document communications, track inventory and repairs, and offer tools to track and control expenses. It also needs an easy-to-use communications feature, so residents can quickly submit a service order and contact someone on the team in the event of an emergency. The technology should also allow us to study metrics on the life cycle of service orders. This survey system will help track the performance of our technicians and identify possible areas for improvement.
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Which are the top three most frequent service requests submitted at apartment communities?
Tucker: The three most frequent requests are plumbing leaks, heating and air requests, and electrical requests.
Gonzalez: The three most common service orders across our portfolio are plumbing and bathrooms, appliance issues, and general requests, although they can vary by state and by the age of the community. For example, in Florida, our most frequent service request is for the HVAC system, which is understandable, given the climate.
How has maintenance at apartment communities changed in the past decade?
Tucker: Maintenance continues to be the backbone of every community and, as with everything in today’s economy, the advancement of technology has allowed us to gain more insight into how best to care for our real estate, service our residents, and maximize our efficiency. It continues to evolve, and I expect the technological demand will continue to grow as well.
Gonzalez: Multifamily property maintenance has changed a lot! Technology allows residents the ability to report and communicate service issues enabling us to track maintenance issues more efficiently. Building codes have also changed, making it easier to maintain the systems of a community.