Last modified on April 25th, 2022
By Marc Frenkiel
When respondents in a recent NAA survey sponsored by AppFolio were asked to identify their three top challenges in terms of importance, more than 50% selected HR, staffing, and recruitment as their number one challenge. 74% selected it as one of their top three challenges. Industry participants should find this as no surprise.
In recent months, it has become clear how the exceptional events of the past two years have led to shifts in employee mindset. Health concerns, financial shake-ups, and the growing norm of work-from-home policies have led many employees to make new career choices. Increasingly, the companies who succeed in today’s competitive hiring market, and hold on to their top talent, are those who prioritize employee engagement and wellbeing.
Let’s get into a few more of the specific challenges currently facing property management teams, and explore some ways that technology can make a difference in employee experience to make on-site roles within your business more efficient and engaging, creating an edge for both attracting and retaining talent.
Skilled Maintenance Technicians and Property Managers are Harder to Retain
The construction industry is booming. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau, single-family home starts increased 11.3% from the previous month, while multifamily starts increased 12.9%. As the demand for new construction grows, so does the need for labor. Therein lies a key obstacle for property management companies. As JC Castillo, President and CEO of Dallas-Fort Worth based Velo Residential tells us:
“We’re not just competing with other management companies or other multi-family owners. We’re competing with the construction industry as a whole. It’s a very competitive time.”
And why would a maintenance tech be inclined to switch industries? As JC tells us,”because right now, it’s easier than ever for them to become frustrated with the demands of the job and leave.”
The same can be said for property managers, where sometimes thankless residents, a never-ending to-do list, maintenance calls at all hours, and often tedious work like data entry and fielding calls from prospective renters are driving workers away from the industry.
The solution, as JC sees it, is in thinking “ about the onsite staff’s satisfaction and happiness above all else. If you are not working on ways to help them offload the back office work and make their lives better, then you are actually shooting yourself in the foot because it’s already hard enough as it is to find talent. Now the talent that you do find you’re going to burn them out, and they’re going to be gone within six months.”
To help attract and retain property managers and maintenance technicians, it’s time to re-define these roles. How? By leveraging technology to handle the repetitive / intrusive tasks and inefficient processes that are driving people away from the industry. Here are some examples:
Automation & Workflow Optimization Tools
Workflow management tools standardize your practices across your organization, take team members exactly where they need to go in the application to execute a task, and facilitate smooth handoffs between team members. For instance, building specific steps for handling inspections into the team member’s workflow effectively inserts your training handbook when it’s most needed. This helps associates learn exactly what to do (and gives you a way to track their progress). Rather than frustrating your employee by making them search for a relevant document or guide, and then having to toggle back and forth to reference it, digital workflow tools keep everything consolidated in a central hub, in this case your property management software.
Having all relevant business data stored in a single system that’s easy to access from anywhere cuts down on frustrations and inefficiencies for staff. Take for example an efficiency shared by David Mehan, Chief Financial and Information Officer at San Francisco-based Structure Properties. David explains how property managers can take care of time-sensitive tasks with just a few easy steps, even while they’re on the road: “I can have a property manager be on the road, call me, and say, ‘Hey, a vendor said he hasn’t gotten paid, and he’s wondering what the status is of his check.’ I can look it up, see he needs to approve it, and then send him a link to the invoice within AppFolio. The vendor can get that link from the mobile app, approve it, and I can pay it. That’s now a two minute deal. Before, he would’ve had to get back into the office, log into his software on a computer, and approve the bill.” Removing friction from everyday workflows goes a long way towards improving the employee experience.
AI Enabled Tools
Although there are many common misconceptions regarding AI technology in property management, what the technology truly unlocks is the ability to free team members from repetitive tasks that do not necessarily benefit from a human touch, allowing them instead to focus on higher value tasks that are core to the business and provide a greater sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and more job satisfaction. Here’s how AI technology can help redefine what it means to be a property manager, which will greatly help the industry overcome the staffing and retention challenges that are causing so much disruption.
Residents are the first ones to know when something goes in one of your units, and understandably, they want the issue to be resolved immediately. Property managers are all too familiar with 3 A.M. maintenance requests. But several of these can make the property manager on the receiving end begin to reconsider the sustainability of such a job.
Instead of waking up your property manager, by leveraging cutting-edge AI technology like AppFolio Smart Maintenance, your business can respond to service requests instantly, at any hour. This is accomplished by using rules and algorithms to judge level of urgency for each request, and dispatch pre-approved vendors on your team’s behalf. Additionally, automatic integration capabilities provide instant visibility of the maintenance request into your property management platform’s maintenance workflow.
According to Mike Fazio, Regional Manager at Elevation Real Estate and Management in Springdale, Arkansas, “When Smart Maintenance was rolled out, it took away a lot of the troubleshooting our techs had to be on-site for, and reduced the number of after-hour calls.”
AI Leasing Agent
AI leasing assistants work 24/7 as part of the leasing team to provide instant responses to prospective renters, including nuanced answers to questions regarding units for lease and scheduling showings. Advancements in natural language processing are helping these systems interact in a more and more human manner, while they continue to learn from every interaction to optimize outcomes.
Data shows that the faster a property manager or leasing assistant can reply to a prospective renter’s initial inquiry, the greater the chances of obtaining a signed lease. According to Zillow, a response in the first 1-2 minutes of receiving the inquiry leads to a 40% chance of prospect engagement. Waiting even 30 minutes to respond plummets that likelihood to 10%. A traditional leasing agent may have their hands full when an inquiry comes through, making an instant reply difficult if not impossible. AI leasing agents can handle an unlimited amount of tasks, day or night, so that your human leasing agents can focus on those human interactions that ultimately close deals, as efficiently and stress-free as possible.
AI Bill Entry & Automated AP
A recent global study of over 10,000 office workers commissioned by Automation Anywhere, a leader in Robotic Process Automation, found that data entry is the most dreaded administrative task of all. Would you disagree? If not, imagine how your property managers and accountants or bookkeepers must feel. Consider then, incorporating the pattern-recognition and automation capabilities of AI to eliminate manual data entry. Whether to spot spikes in utility bills, find accounting discrepancies, or simply parse bills and leases to compile income statements,
AI bill entry and automated AP allow your team to spend less time on manual entry and more time on the high-value work that gives them a sense of fulfillment
Self Service Portals and Tools for Residents
While providing your residents with a centralized hub with all the tools they need to easily pay rent and submit maintenance requests has an impact on their overall satisfaction, the impact is even more tangible for your property management team. Having everything in a single, unified hub makes charging and collecting rent, receiving and tracking maintenance requests, and communicating with tenants substantially easier than having to toggle between various spreadsheets and applications.
To succeed in attracting and retaining property management employees in today’s competitive labor market, think about how your business can lean on technology to eliminate the repetitive, tedious, and often intrusive aspects from the roles and responsibilities of property management.
Focus on tools that are intuitive, and easy to use. User-friendly property management software reduces the steep learning curve so that new employees can contribute faster. Even when your team does face turnover, or needs to hire staff with less experience, new employees can get up to speed quickly and get the job done efficiently and effectively.
Incorporating these tools into your business can change the entire experience of what it means to be a property manager, leasing agent, or maintenance technician — and transform it from a sometimes thankless, tedious job, into a sought after career that offers greater potential for growth.
Comments by Marc Frenkiel