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Property managers see opportunity in pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be playing out in chapters. There was the challenge of dealing with the growing global threat. There were the new protocols for maintaining health and safety in the commercial and residential facilities we manage. Then property managers had to face the possibility of rent deferral and forgiveness. And at last came the preparation for the phased movement back to our places of business.

Now we move into the next phase of the COVID experience: the opportunities that the crisis presents. That issue was part of a recent IREM webinar, “Reopening in COVID-19: What Property Managers Need to Know.” The session was moderated by 2020 IREM President Cheryl Gray, CPM®.

Here’s just sampling of some of the opportunities COVID opened up for these CPMs:

For Angela Aeschliman, CPM®, CCIM, LEED AP, many of the opportunities came in the form of tenant engagement. The pandemic created communications that were “more rapid and more upfront. Even if we don’t have a particular answer, it was important to get back to them right away.”

There’s also been an uptick in the use of electronic platforms that were already in place, said the SVP of Property and Asset Management for the Chicago-based Missner Group. “We had a lot of different platforms that were electronic previous to the stay-at-home order,” she explained, “but they weren’t adopted to a high percentage rate. We’ve found now that we’re ticking upward near 100 percent,” in such areas as vendors uploading invoices rather than mailing them in, online rent payments and tenant work orders.

“From an operational standpoint, the pandemic has allowed us to fast-forward our strategic plan in a lot of ways,” said Kevin Owens, CPM®, EVP of Operations for CF Real Estate Services in Atlanta. “There are some things that have begun during this process, things like virtual leasing or self-guided tours that are here to stay.”

How-to videos will also become a larger factor in life at CF, he said: “Our teams have been producing how-to videos for minor service requests or work orders that residents can do themselves, whether it’s simple things like changing a light bulb or a toilet flange or knowing where to change air filters.” He sees a growing library of videos “that residents can use without always having to call for help.”

“This difficult situation has created some interesting opportunities within our company,” noted Richard Forsyth, CPM®, CCIM, president of Westerra Realty and Management in Bountiful, UT. “It’s given us some time to evaluate staff, to understand our strengths and weaknesses, and identify where we can make them better for ourselves and our clientele.”

He also sees the past few months as an opportunity to get closer to owner expectations. “We always like to find out what an owner wants to do with a property over the long term,” he said. The pandemic, “may change those goals.”

Unfortunately, not all of the opportunities are based in positives. “We expect some closures and maybe some bankruptcies down the road,” he said. “That would lead to receiverships and possibly properties trading at lower prices. That sounds very pessimistic, I know. But we’ve seen this happen before in past economic downturns. So it’s probably a good idea to think about that and prepare.” 

Ending on a more positive note, Gray noted that she’s seen more industry interest in proptech, where before, “we were a little slow to adopt.” She also sees an uptick in interest in occupant wellness and what she called the industry’s “sustainability journey.”

There was more guidance on the reopening of our buildings emanating from the webinar, including dealing with costs, the challenges of reopening, and on the topic of opportunities.

Did you miss the event? Watch the free recording for more insights from IREM experts.

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