At Thrive Communities, a company that manages more than 100 properties across the Puget Sound area and greater Pacific Northwest, the shift toward remote work was almost seamless as the firm had accelerated the use of technology long before the health crisis began to take shape in the U.S.
“I truly believe that the pandemic moved multifamily forward several years from a marketing technology standpoint and, in turn, made shopping for a home a more pleasant, streamlined experience,” Vice President of Marketing and Technology Paul Edgeman told Multi-Housing News.
In the interview below, Edgeman expands on the increasing use of technology in multifamily property management and marketing.
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What are the most important changes you noticed in the Seattle multifamily market this year?
Edgeman: We have noticed a significant rebound in interest focused on core Seattle properties, complimented by an overall increase in physical traffic to all communities as people spend less time vetting online and are more confident in person.
Are there any submarkets that have been struggling to adapt to the pandemic-induced landscape?
Edgeman: From my perspective, it has been encouraging to watch how different submarkets were challenged but adapted and overcame obstacles to mitigate negative pandemic impacts.
As an example, Thrive communities south of Seattle, on average, were spending more time assisting residents with rental payment assistance programs to mitigate delinquency while maintaining solid occupancy metrics, where our core Seattle properties were forced to grant concessions and rate reductions to maintain occupancy.
Properties on the Eastside—including Redmond, Issaquah and Kirkland, Wash.—were generally less negatively impacted as qualified residents made their way out of the city in 2020 and no longer worried about commutes.
What can you tell us about rent collection at your properties?
Edgeman: Thrive is proud to have been on the forefront of assisting our residents and clients, leveraging a close partnership with the Washington Multifamily Housing Association to share all possible resources for those in need. Our teams were trained and our compliance department completely shifted to facilitate rental assistance program requirements where applicable. That being said, there was definitely an unavoidable impact on rent collections that affected communities outside of the Seattle and Eastside markets disproportionally.
What new technologies have you implemented at your communities to meet the latest health and safety guidelines?
Edgeman: Thrive was fortunate in that we already utilized a completely paperless leasing workflow that allows prospects and residents to maintain minimal contact to the level of their comfort. This was extremely helpful as Thrive has leased up more than 10 communities during the COVID-19 era, with many more coming online shortly.
Additionally, we implemented amenity reservation tools to comply with guidelines on indoor spaces and a host of marketing technology tools to help both prospects, residents and teams remain socially distant but still connected.
Please talk about how your multifamily marketing strategy changed in the past 18 months. Are there any permanent changes?
Edgeman: The pandemic accelerated marketing technology platforms that we had been pushing for years ago to the forefront of the conversation. All of a sudden, advanced AI communication tools, virtual touring platforms, self-service tour booking and SMS enablement were things that needed to be implemented as soon as possible instead of kicked down the road.
What is your opinion on developing marketing strategies specific to each generation?
Edgeman: We look at marketing from the perspective of both capturing the interest of those with an intent to rent and creating interest in those not yet shopping. The vast majority of our marketing success in multifamily comes from the former—at least in our case—so we predominantly work to create a unique strategy and story for each community we manage that speaks to those actively looking in the neighborhood and surrounding areas.
We feel that great multifamily marketing campaigns should be accessible to all, regardless of their age or background, so to really round out the answer to the question, we develop one boutique strategy that speaks to all generations. I should say—at least we do our best to accomplish that lofty goal!
With the rise of work-from-home, have residents expressed their need for work spaces within their community?
Edgeman: We have had some requests for work-from-home spaces, but not as many as expected. We feel people are meeting their needs instead by moving to communities that offer the space they need inside their home, which is fueling some of the significant movement in the market in previous months.
We are also fortunate that many of our clients designed their buildings with fantastic and flexible common-area amenity spaces from the beginning—and our internal renovations team has done an outstanding job reimagining common areas to be future-proof at both new and older communities.
What type of amenities do you think will be the most attractive to prospects in a post-pandemic world?
Edgeman: I think the focus has shifted more toward what can be accomplished inside the home. But with that said, we have focused intensely on having class-leading fiber optic telecom capabilities at all buildings eligible, as well as ensuring the gyms, conference rooms, lounges and other essentials are set up for comfortable and safe gatherings. Access control that allows for deliveries and service-based amenities like laundry lockers have also been met with positive feedback.
Do you intend to expand to other regions in the next few years?
Edgeman: Given Thrive is focused on third-party fee management, at this stage we are working to continue to build our existing and new client relationships. We are actively growing in the Vancouver, Wash./Portland, Ore., market at this time and would never rule out targeted expansion if fueled by the right partnerships and if it is a benefit to our teams!