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  • Jun 05, 2020
  • Stacy Holden, Sr. Director, Industry Principal, AppFolio Inc.
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Post-pandemic property management: Why technology matters now more than ever

COVID-19 has changed just about everything in our lives, from how we work, to how we live, to how we interact with others. When it comes to property management, many processes and policies have shifted to support property managers and residents. We’ve seen the real estate industry rapidly transform, and come to rely heavily on mobile technology to carry out tasks, stay connected, and maintain business continuity. While these adaptations were initially a temporary solution to COVID-19 challenges, many are likely to remain long after the pandemic passes. Let’s take a look back to see how property management has changed in the past few months, and how these changes will impact the future.

Shift to remote work

According to a recent AppFolio survey, 82.3% of property managers have at least some staff working remotely, and on average just over half (50.04%) have everyone working remotely. For the first time ever, property management businesses now have to manage daily tasks, teams, properties, and customer service without being in the office.

As a profession centered on having in-person interactions and creating human connections, this has proven to be challenging for property managers. Based on the survey, residential property managers reported leasing, maintenance, and receiving rent as their top three challenges while working remotely. To overcome this challenge, property management businesses have been turning to technology — 46% of survey respondents mentioned adopting new technology as one of the top ways they’re preparing their business for the future in light of COVID-19.

It’s clear that using technology has not only become the preferred way to carry out daily tasks and communicate, but has become absolutely necessary for property managers to do their jobs and prepare their teams for the future. Even after the pandemic subsides, it’s likely property managers will continue working remotely to some degree, and to do that effectively they’ll need technology tools in place. As a result, the implementation of cloud-based technology will likely become a permanent solution.

Communications have gone digital

If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that communication is everything. Frequent and meaningful communication with our co-workers, customers, peers, and family has helped us get work done and maintain some level of human connection during this turbulent time. In the survey, property managers reported the value of “proactive, frequent, and quality communication” as one of the biggest lessons worth sharing with their peers.

Social distancing has made it harder for property managers to stay connected to their residents and interact with prospects. Residents can no longer come into the office to sign their lease, pay their rent, or ask questions, and leasing agents can no longer show their units to prospects without being six feet apart and wearing a mask.

In response, the property management profession has had to think of new ways to communicate using mobile technology. Property managers have had to automate digital communications and move from sending individual emails and text messages to group messages to keep residents informed at all times. This shift has ushered in a new wave of efficiency and streamlined many aspects of property management. In fact, 87% of survey respondents said bulk text messaging and emails are here to stay. Going forward, residents will likely prefer to communicate digitally, rather than in-person, when interacting with their property management company. 

Leasing priorities have changed

Along with working remotely and communicating digitally, property managers have had to shift their priorities when it comes to leasing. At a time when we’d normally see leasing season begin, we’re seeing a softening in demand due to social distancing. To overcome this obstacle, property managers have been rapidly adopting innovative technology — like virtual tours, self-guided showings, and online leases — to fill their vacancies and keep occupancy stable.

According to the survey, 71% of respondents said the priority of virtual showings has increased, and 62% agreed virtual showings are here to stay. The benefits of these kinds of virtual technologies are they enable property managers to still provide a great customer experience without the need for in-person interaction. Now that prospects are accustomed to using these kinds of self-service features, it’s likely the industry will continue to provide them as options (even after social distancing) to save time and boost efficiency.

Maintenance is more complex

In an initial survey AppFolio conducted in March, almost 90% of property management companies either already had implemented a policy related to COVID-19, or were working on one. In these policies, things like social distancing rules for residents, vendors, and technicians were made clear, in addition to enhanced safety protocols such as requiring maintenance technicians to wear masks and gloves, or special conditions for deferring non-emergency repairs. In the absence of in-person meetings and paper, property managers have had to communicate changes to their maintenance policies digitally, via their online portal, email, or text message.

Unlike rent collection and leases, maintenance operations can’t be carried out completely online, however, cloud-based property management software with fully integrated maintenance work order tracking has made it possible for businesses to provide better service, effectively communicate, and maintain transparency.

Some property management companies have developed unique and creative ways for residents to complete non-emergency repairs themselves with step-by-step online tutorials, video calls, and doorstep supply drop-offs. However, eventually non-essential repairs will need to be dealt with, and mobile property management software will help property managers resolve those issues more efficiently. As we look to the future, we can see the need for technology will only increase when it comes to maintenance operations, as it enables property managers to communicate with their residents and vendors safely and effectively.

It’s an understatement to say that property management has changed in the past few months. We’ve witnessed a complete transformation with the accelerated adoption of technology. This critical time hasn’t been without challenges, but it’s also uncovered new opportunities for property managers to streamline processes, strengthen communications, and boost efficiencies. Those who have capitalized on these opportunities and embraced technology have been better equipped to handle COVID-19 challenges, and have an overall optimistic outlook on the future — 66% of survey respondents have a positive outlook for their business.

If you don’t already have a powerful cloud-based system in place, now is the perfect time to take stock of your tech stack and see how you can better serve your customers and employees. Even if your entire team is working remotely, it’s still possible to adopt new technology with vendors like AppFolio, which offer remote implementation, data conversion, and online training. While we can’t predict the future, we know that technology is here to stay, and those who adapt will be in the best position to become leaders in this new era of real estate.

Stacy Holden is the Sr. Director, Industry Principal at AppFolio, a leading provider of cloud-based business software solutions in the real estate market. She has over 20 years of experience in the real estate and property management business, and is an expert on how customers can leverage technology to solve some of their greatest business challenges.


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