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Post-COVID property management success: Lead with resilience

Let’s begin with a reflection on the following quote from a property manager: “One interesting aspect of management is its resiliency during recessions or economic downturns. The pandemic and accompanying government response is only furthering that, as private owners [cannot] deal effectively with residents who are experiencing hardship. This better positions us for growth and provides value and education to both owners and residents.”

That was an excerpt from an exhaustive study of the property management industry--including more than 5,000 managers, owners and renters--conducted recently by Buildium (a RealPage company).

Resilience is defined as “the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Toughness.” If after the events of last year, from the pandemic and social unrest to a wearying presidential election, you’re still standing, then the above definition fits you perfectly. Resilience is indeed a hallmark of property management today.

It’s also a hallmark of IREM members, apparently. In conversations conducted in advance of the annual Real Estate Forum “Women of Influence” feature--an editorial in which many IREM members have been recognized, it was a constant theme. (See last year’s feature)

In those conversations, these IREM members focused on such aspects of resilience as:

  • The challenges of navigating the various COVID guidances from local and state authorities as well as from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), all with the ultimate purpose of keeping tenants and residents safe and comfortable as they return to their places of business. Of course, this also includes managing the protocols of vendors and visitors. For obvious reasons, this was a particularly intensive challenge for real estate managers overseeing medical office space, and the more intensive sanitation those facilities naturally demand.

Says Buildium: “Property management teams have been working overtime to prevent the spread of the virus within their properties, and to reassure residents that they’re looking out for their safety.”

  • On a related note, in a time of unprecedented economic recession and the resultant layoffs, property managers rose to the challenge of working with strapped occupants in  handling their rental obligations. This, it should be noted, much like the CDC guidance, was performed over a changing landscape as new relief bills rolled out from Washington, DC. Nevertheless, property managers entered the challenge armed with a host of resources for cash-strapped residents and tenants to pursue, and protocols to ensure follow-up.

In fact, Buildium reports that 60% of property managers had residents whose financial struggles necessitated the creation of rent payment plans.

The resilient stick-to-itiveness that IREM members showed throughout the prolonged crisis was not only there for the benefit of tenants. Much of that, not unlike an iceberg, took place unseen to their occupant constituents. For instance:

  • At the start of the outbreak, management had to pivot, pretty much on a dime, from in-person maintenance and communications to remote working. An additional challenge was to still be obviously present, and provide a guiding voice for staff and vendors--often without the aid of clear guidance from authorities.

As the survey report observed: “Property managers are communicating with their residents, clients, and staff more than ever before—and this is a major way that they’re infusing a human touch into their business processes, even as they’re conducted online.”

  • That voice had to communicate direction and understanding. But they also had to listen, probably more than ever before, to the needs and concerns of staff and vendors. The goal here, much as it was for building occupants, was confidence and motivation.

As one building manager stated in the Buildium survey: “Our role has become one of a steady hand, providing reassurance that everything will be OK, even if we are not being paid. It got messy and terrifying for everyone for a while, but providing a source of stability and comfort has been something we have had to step in and do.”

  • The world didn’t stop due to COVID, although it may have seemed like that sometimes. IREM last year posted a record increase in virtual learning attendees, and part of the property managers’ mission through the depths of the crisis was to continue watching over the career advancement of their teams.

As IREM President Chip Watts, CPM, CCIM, reported in a recent column for Wealth Management Real Estate: “We’ve seen a 30% increase in online course enrollments this year compared to 2019.”

Obviously, resilience comes in a variety of shades. For IREM members, there was a strong commitment to maintaining order, instilling a sense of health and safety, and contributing to the progress and growth of their constituents. In doing so, they built their own arsenal of talents, which will serve them well now and in the years to come. It was a tough year, but IREM members in their resilient response to the crisis, elevated their status before their tenants, residents and owners.

As one property owner told Buildium: “It helps to have a level of earned mutual trust with my property management team. I rest assured that my property manager knows me well enough to help me weather this storm, protect my interests, and maintain quality services to the best of their ability.”


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