Training Leasing Staff to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Latisha Williams of ATC Development knows exactly what new team members need to become top leasing professionals.

Latisha Williams on training leasing staff

Latisha Williams, Training Coordinator, ATC Development. Image courtesy of ATC Development

Providing guidance and training to leasing professionals is crucial for any multifamily business today. When their staff is well prepared to deal with all prospect- and resident-facing aspects, property management companies avoid high resident turnover rates, reduce their marketing costs and, ultimately, stabilize their ROIs.

At ATC Development, a company that builds, owns and manages multifamily properties in the Carolinas and Georgia, training is taken very seriously. Latisha Williams creates, implements and revises all the learning curriculum within the company’s in-house training tool—ATC University. Leasing professionals, assistant managers and property managers are all trained effectively on property management platform Yardi Voyager, and all other databases the company utilizes for daily operations. Her role is vital from an employee’s start date through their career.

In the interview below, Williams explains why properly training new leasing employees is essential to stay competitive in today’s business environment, and to ultimately “lease with ease,” as she puts it.

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How difficult is it to find new leasing staff today? Are there any strategies that property management companies can implement to attract good employees?

Williams: Since the pandemic, the work-life balance that employees are asking for now has made it extremely competitive. The current market is favorable to candidates because they have so many options. Applicants are more demanding in the negotiation stages and companies are forced to make more accommodations to be competitive against other employers. This roadblock has created challenges for employers because it’s increasingly difficult to gain insight on who the candidate really is, how they will work with a team and if they embody the company culture depicted, regardless of the structure of the company’s hiring process.

Recruiting and retaining great talent requires good strategy. The strategies that ATC Development utilize that have been successful are streamlining our hiring process, depicting company culture through core values, maintaining a good company reputation and our employee referral program. We make sure our company’s reputation, core values and career progression depict the culture we want to exude, which we feel has a significant impact on the customer experience provided to our residents. We seek talented candidates who support our vision of providing outstanding customer service through teamwork to ensure the maximum value for our customers.

What role does technology play today in training leasing staff?

Williams: Technology plays an important role in training through skill development and employee performance improvement. Technology allows us to be creative with curriculum implementation and track employee performance; it makes real-life training easier to simulate. Social learning as it relates to training is now elevated because of technology. We can now use video and audio for learners to engage in chats or open discussions on topics related to their training. Lastly, technology has allowed training to be remote and hybrid, which promotes flexible e-learning as learners complete tasks at their own pace.

Please tell us some details about ATC Development’s University platform. How does it work?

Williams: Once the new hire is selected, they are introduced to the ATC Development University e-learning platform. HR has streamlined the onboarding process by assigning tasks on their start date for completion by the new employee within their first week of hire. For any tasks that require signature, ATC-U has made it convenient for documents to be signed electronically. A video is also accessible on ATC-U that depicts our company’s core values for new hires and current employees to refer to at any time.

ATC-U has a student dashboard where we provide a resource area for employees to review company holidays, employee handbook and other pertinent information for daily reference. Once all HR onboarding tasks are completed the new hire is turned over to their department’s e-learning curriculum. The ATC-U platform makes it easy to organize, assign and track the completion of the curriculum.

Give us an overview of the introductory training you conduct.

Forest Hills Racquet Club, a 207-unit community in Augusta, Ga., that ATC Development owns and manages

Williams: The training I conduct is in person, along with the e-learning curriculum. I begin with making sure they understand the basics such as resident status, database navigation, dashboard overview, resident profile review, service requests, and all related fees residents incur from the application process to their residency. Thereafter, I conduct telephone training through mock call practice to ensure their verbal communication skills meet company standards. Also, we listen to recorded leasing calls and grade them based on how well the staff leads the call and provides the utmost service on the call.

Then, I begin instructing their leasing curriculum outlined in ATC-U by allowing them to perform hands-on training using a laptop while I conduct my instructional training on screen. The leasing curriculum assigned is tailored to their position. However, all leasing staff are required to complete the leasing curriculum because it outlines a prospect’s first encounter with a community all the way through their residency as well as additional processes such as renewals, move-outs and reporting. Once all the leasing curriculum is completed, if applicable, additional curriculum for advanced positions, such as Assistant Manager and Property Manager, are assigned. Upon completion of all curricula, certificates are automatically generated.

When we are finished training in person, I go with the new employee to their designated community for a week to oversee that their production is being applied effectively. If I have multiple hires starting at different locations, I schedule my visits accordingly.

How comprehensive is the advanced training? What exactly do employees learn?

Williams: The advanced training is very comprehensive because it goes beyond the basics. My favorite question to ask in training once we reach advanced is “why” because when you truly understand why you do something versus simply following instructions, it makes a difference in the knowledge and production.

What do ATC’s leasing professionals learn about resident retention and attracting prospects?

Barrington, a 134-unit community in Greenwood, S.C., that ATC Development owns and manages

Williams: Our leasing staff learns that resident retention is a way to display our efforts to ensure the satisfaction of current residents wanting to renew and continue to live at our communities. They get insight into how we find creative ways to decrease resident turnover by requesting resident feedback after maintenance requests as well hosting ongoing events for residents, pets and holidays to create a sense of community. They learn that both resident retention and attracting new prospects plays a vital part in our occupancy percentage because it relies on the combination of keeping and attaining both.

The goal in meeting new prospects is to turn a lead into a lease while establishing, building and maintaining resident relationships. They also learn that keeping current residents stabilizes our ROI because it can reduce marketing and turn cost. Let’s not forget about how concessions can affect the bottom line. Giving concessions over the term of a lease can make it difficult at renewal and can lead to increased vacancy when the gap between discounted rent and market rent is too large.

Is it hard to teach soft skills when training leasing staff?

Williams: I think teaching soft skills is hard because it requires continual reflection and an individual’s choice to want to improve in that area. Soft skills focus on attitude, communication, critical thinking, conflict resolution, time management, behavior, professionalism and social skills. These skills can also dictate their career growth because many employers want their employees to have people and interpersonal skills.

When improvement is needed in soft skills, they can be monitored by coaching, training, observing, practicing or the implementation of a personal development plan of action that includes consistent follow-up until improvement is seen in performance.

Is training effective when done remotely or in a hybrid format?

Williams: We make training work effortlessly no matter what is going on in the world. Our goal is to tailor training to what is best suitable for our trainees and the way they like to learn to be most productive. During the pandemic we prepared for all learning to be online, but we were still able to utilize Zoom meetings and later wear masks to conduct training in person when necessary.

training leasing staff

Photo by Jason Goodman via Unsplash

How would you describe the next generation of leasing professionals? What do they need to know to succeed?

Williams: The next generation will have to continue to embrace the latest technology, be excellent communicators, be personable to tailor to what’s important to their prospects/residents by finding out their needs and wants. Most important, be quick at responding to interest shown. A best practice for any leasing professional is to listen first and be persistent but proactive in following up with prospects and resident retention. They must remember that no matter what the community has to offer, the service they provide is the best amenity they will perform because if people like you and your service they will lease with ease.

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