Providing the Spark

How property management companies motivate their leasing staff.

By Philip Shea, Associate Editor

In today’s market, with more and more professionals vying for apartments over single-family homes, making your property stand out is just as crucial as ever. Attracting and securing new residents requires a quality presentation of all aspects of a community, not the least of which is having an energetic and motivated leasing staff.

Obviously, live persons hold a unique advantage over other marketing tools. Prospective residents are often in a precarious place at the time they view a property, the stress of relocating having begun to take its toll, and having real people available to allay concerns and guide the prospect through the process can make a considerable difference.

“Moving is such a scary time,” says Jeff Shore, president of Shore Consulting Inc. “Because of that, the leasing staff has to be able to get inside the head of that customer and understand those fears and worries and concerns. I think turning the leasing agent in the direction of the customer—before we’re talking about our product, our lifestyle and how great everything is—remains the single-biggest factor.”

Steve Boyack, vice president of asset management at Laramar, believes that the key to motivating a leasing staff member in a way that’s conducive to optimal customer relations is understanding and respecting that person’s unique personality, and then pinpointing what makes them tick.

“Each team member is different,” says Boyack. “Some want recognition, some monetary rewards and others appreciate flexible work arrangements that are conducive to their personal life. I find that small things like a lunch with the RM or an email from a VP are extremely motivating.”

Bob Clark, president of Peak Campus Management, indicates that maintaining a competitive environment is an essential component to boosting a staff’s performance, and that this along with commensurate teamwork and celebration of success can foster a superlative level of spirit and energy.

“We have a pretty competitive culture, both at the property and corporate levels, where we constantly measure and stack up our teams against their peers,” says Clark. “So that in itself, I think, is the key to keeping everyone motivated. Nobody likes to be at the bottom of the list, or conversely, everybody likes to be at the top of the list.”

Sometimes, however, it takes something more specific to put the right edge on a staff member’s potential. In this regard, financial incentives are more than reasonable. Shore believes that, whether the employee is paid a salary or by the hour, a bonus package or commission can be especially helpful in terms of motivation, and that such a practice is common in the industry.

“I’ve seen that across the board,” Shore says. “The majority of places will have some sort of a bonus structure tied into their compensation, and I think that they should. The idea that there’s a bonus tied to their production makes perfect sense.”

Boyack states that Laramar typically pays its staff commissions for securing new leases, but there are also other methods that can supplement this and increase the likelihood for further success down the road.

“At times, we will also offer team incentive programs where the team is given a goal and, if they are able to meet or exceed it, the entire team benefits,” says Boyack. “The reward can be monetary or maybe a team activity like a dinner.”

Of course, a staff member cannot be expected to achieve a marked level of success in any endeavor if they are not properly trained. Clark emphasizes the need for a gradual, multi-step process that adequately guides a new hire through every aspect of property management and relevant marketing techniques, while providing an achievement bonus for satisfactory completion.

“We have a five-month program that’s divided into three different levels of training,” says Clark. “The first level introduces the leasing staff to the fundamentals of the job, where they’ll learn the basics of leasing and compliance, fair housing, workplace diversity and basic systems training. The next two levels expand and build on that knowledge into marketing, resident retention and event planning.”

Boyack says that Laramar also incorporates a training program for new hires, which consists of an initial orientation and subsequent online courses. Mentors will then follow up on this training as needed during the first 90 days of the staff member’s work.

Yet while proper training and preparation are indeed essential to fostering a successful staff, Shore stresses that no amount of prep can serve as a substitute for positive personalities and organic people skills.

“You’ve got to hire for attitude long before you hire for any other skill,” Shore says. “The first thing is instant connection, instant connectability and instant likability. It is so much easier to be able to help someone accomplish their goals if they like you, and your power of influence increases when they like you.”

Magnetic personalities, however, are not ubiquitous, so retaining valuable human capital when you’re fortunate enough to possess it should be of the utmost importance. Clark highlights the need to recognize exceptional talent and provide opportunities for them to move up within the company—the sooner, the better.

“We have a very significant promote-from-within career path and corporate culture,” says Clark. “There’s never an abundance of great people, so when we find good people, they work their way through our system at a pretty rapid pace. We’re very proud of the track record we have of promoting people from within.”

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