Last modified on July 22nd, 2022
By Paul Bergeron
Although the apartment industry is showing strong signs of recovery, operators are still dealing with the havoc the pandemic wreaked on their business operations – from drops in revenue to increased costs to the number one challenge: HR, staffing, and recruitment.
Using research released by NAA and sponsored by AppFolio, this Apartmentalize session explored what still keeps corporate and on-site teams up at night, how they are solving these challenges, and pathways for the industry to navigate its most pressing challenges.
Paula Munger, AVP, Industry Research and Analysis at NAA along with Donna Smith, President at Enclave Property Management reviewed the insights with moderator Daniel Waas, Vice President, Product Marketing at AppFolio.
The research, based on surveys performed in April 2022, was a follow-up to last year’s survey. In both cases, hiring and HR were the top concerns. Polling of the 200 attendees at the session also placed that atop their list of concerns.
Smith said finding qualified workers is toughest in maintenance. Munger pointed out that the larger the apartment operator, the greater difficulty they were having.
Munger said more companies are hiring compensation analysts to evaluate pay structures to help companies better compete with peers.
Company Culture Drives Hiring and Retention
Smith said improving company culture goes a long way in creating happier employees and better retention rates.
“People leave people, they don’t leave companies,” said Smith, whose growing company operates 3,000 apartment homes in North Dakota.
“Focus on KPIs and processes, employee events, and better leadership; then you’ll see the culture improve,” Smith said. “It will lead to better employee onboarding and word-of-mouth hiring referrals. Talk about the value of working at your company as much as you can. That can make even a better impression than salary.”
She went on to offer valuable insights:
“To get to the root of any challenges onsite employees are facing, do SWOT and gap tests. SWOT is an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It can be a framework used to evaluate a company’s competitive position and to develop strategic planning. A gap assessment helps companies identify why certain goals are not being reached. Most business leaders are good at setting goals. But when goals aren’t achieved, it’s important to understand why. By exploring through a gap analysis, companies can get specific about problems and devise solutions that move them closer to their goals.”
Smith recommends speaking with employees directly: “Dig deep into the details of any frustrations they are having with processes. Explain the ‘why’ of what’s happening and work to get buy-in. This leads to valuable, open conversations. Research technology solutions. If this influences or helps to improve anything, even just a little bit, it makes a difference. Then: Implement. Educate. Follow-up.”
For more insights on how to overcome hiring and retention challenges, check out the 2022 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention Report.
Centralized and Automated Processes
Centralizing administrative tasks can improve efficiency and take the undue burden off staff members.
Smith said automation of workflows in delinquency reporting and product orders, and centralizing the lease renewal process, which can help with quality control, are examples.
“Maintenance supervisors might not be the best people to have running purchase orders,” Smith explained. “They are here to fix the property and are more effective spending their time doing that. If your staff is responsible for a report, but only runs the report once per month, they might not be as proficient with it as they need to be. Consider how you use your property manager in report discussions. He or she is on the ground running the property, and can add unique and valuable insight into a report.”
Another example is leasing automation.
“We have artificial intelligence (AI) tools handling 10 percent of our incoming calls through machine-learning-trained virtual leasing assistants.”
Improving Marketing and Expenses
Smith said that having flexible contracts with its marketing supplier partners enables Enclave Property Management to increase or decrease its marketing spend based on needs and seasonal demand situations.
She added a tip as well: “it’s better to track applications and leases per lead than simply qualified leads. This way, you know your ‘pay for move-in’ marketing costs.”
Smith recommends becoming a “preferred partner” with suppliers.
“The best vendors out there can choose which companies that they want to work with,” she said. “Reach out to them to find out how your company can become a [most-valued] customer.”
Interested in more tips on how to improve hiring, retention, and operational efficiency? Check out the Best of The Top Floor Season 2. It’s a highlight reel of some of the best conversations we had with thought leaders throughout the property management industry.