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April 29, 2020

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IREM ® headlines

CPM of the Year Winner Focused on Building the Profession

Shannon Longino, CPM, and former president of the IREM Georgia Chapter, was raised in an environment of public service, which she has channeled into her 25-year career as a property manager. This dedication to service helped earn her the 2019 REME Award for CPM of the Year.

Longino’s goal is to bring more faces and voices into the industry. As the 2018-2019 IREM Georgia Chapter president, Longino realized the need for new members and new leaders, particularly from younger generations, and worked to position IREM as an organization dedicated to the success of students. She reached out to the University of Georgia (UGA) to teach a course on affordable housing, which enabled her to showcase the property management profession and IREM to young professionals.

Prior to her role as chapter president, Longino headed up the Corporate Outreach committee and worked to re-engage companies who had lost touch with IREM. She used her skills and relationships to educate property management companies about new IREM ideas, and to get them more involved with their local chapter so they recognize the benefit of investing in real estate management education for their employees.

Learn more about our 2019 CPM of the Year.

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New IREM Webinar Series: Exceed Expectations by Providing Stellar Customer Service

Why settle for just meeting your customers’ expectations when you can exceed them?

A customer’s experience starts with the first interaction they have with a company and more often than not determines that customer’s impression through all future interactions. As a property manager, providing a seamless experience, right from the beginning, will help build an exceptional rapport with your customers. Steve Jobs once said, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” By asking questions and actively listening to the answers, you can learn more about your customers and their needs and build lasting relationships that can last years. Consider what differentiates you from your competition and what experiences you offer your customers. How you respond to difficult situations has a direct impact on how your company is perceived.

To learn how you can manage your customers’ experience, diffuse difficult situations and retain your customers, join our upcoming 3-part webinar series on Stellar Customer Service, which starts Tuesday, May 5. For more information, click here.

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Resources to Support Real Estate Managers During COVID-19

The job of a real estate manager is more important now than ever and IREM remains dedicated to providing our members and all those in the profession with the most up-to-date information and resources available to manage through these ever-changing circumstances. New resources added to the coronavirus updates page this week include:

  • New From the Front Lines segments on maintaining productivity, small business relief, and senior housing. Follow IREM on Spotify and Apple Podcasts for new episodes
  • New advocacy letters requesting clarification on 1031 extensions and advocating for the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act
  • New on-demand courses open for free enrollment through May 8

For continued updates from IREM, bookmark the coronavirus updates page for IREM’s official statement and new information about COVID-19.

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Industry headlines

Malls Should Not Reopen Until These 5 Ideas Are in Place
Forbes (04/23/20) Walton, Chris

Mall operators are facing some extremely difficult decisions as shutdowns continue thanks to the COVID-19 virus. If they stay closed, business will continue to suffer and retailers' existing problems could be exacerbated to the point of no return. But if malls open prematurely and become virus hotspots, it could be a death blow for the entire venue. While there is no easy answer, it seems unlikely that malls can and will reopen with a sense of normalcy. Instead, Forbes columnist Chris Walton believes that owners and operators should prepare right now for the possibility that it may take as much as an entire year to fully reopen. Walton urged mall operators to use their time wisely by considering ways to transform their operations.

He listed five suggestions for the post-pandemic mall. One, malls should embrace the digital marketplace to take a share of online sales. Two, malls should consider instituting curbside pick-up and return policies, extending a practice being made increasingly popular during the pandemic era with restaurants and potentially boosting convenience for shoppers over the long term. Walton also suggested that malls plug gaps in online fulfillment by converting vacant space to online warehouse collectives. Four, malls can take this time to develop comprehensive employee training guides for their tenants, helping retailers deal in a post-pandemic world. And finally, malls should consider shifting to contactless shopping, building in more mobile phone tools to help shoppers browse without passing germs.

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The Coronavirus Pandemic Might Make Buildings Sick, Too
The Conversation (04/21/20) Proctor, Caroline; Whelton, Andrew J.; Rhoads, William

The stay-at-home orders that have radically altered daily life may be quietly making an impact on empty buildings. While office buildings, shopping malls, fitness facilities, and other venues stand empty, their pipes are full of sitting water, prompting organisms and chemicals to build up there. Such a build-up of old water can grow dangerous in just a few days, let alone weeks or months. The harmful organisms and chemicals can cause health problems -- everything from Legionnaire's disease to diarrhea to cardiovascular effects and more. There has been little study on the long-term risks of old water in building pipes, meaning building owners will not have an established guide to reference when preparing their water for use after a prolonged shutdown.

The water does not need to be consumed to cause harmful health problems — people can accidentally inhale harmful organisms from old water when it splashes and becomes an aerosol, as with flushing the toilet or washing hands. As such, health organizations around the globe have in recent days advised building owners to keep water fresh and above all else, do not let water sit for days at a time. Building owners and operators can flush out all water weekly to keep water fresh and remove all sediments that may be building up along pipes. If water has already been sitting for a prolonged period of time, maintenance workers may need to use masks to protect themselves while working in the building.

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Rising Insurance Costs Another Blow to Bruised Apartment Owners
Wall Street Journal (04/21/20) Parker, Will; Friedman, Nicole

Apartment landlords, already finding it difficult to collect rent, are seeing their profits further squeezed during the COVID-19 pandemic due to rising insurance premiums. According to Marsh, renewal rates for multifamily insurance surged 33 percent on average over the past year versus 23 percent for the real-estate sector at large. Global insurance prices could rise even faster if the pandemic results in a large number of insurance claims around the world. This comes as the National Multifamily Housing Council reports that about 16 percent of U.S. apartment renters failed to pay rent through April 12 -- a figure that is expected to be higher in May.

Marc Reisner, managing director of multifamily at Marsh, said some insurers pulled back from selling insurance to apartment owners last year, and the decrease in competition also contributed to the rise in premiums. He contends that claims history accounts for much of the difference in premium increases from landlord to landlord, along with other considerations like geographic factors that put portfolios more at risk for natural disasters. But some apartment operators are reporting large swings in premiums despite making no new insurance claims in recent years.

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Northgate Would Be CBL's First Mall to Hold a School; Company Says It Fits New Approach
Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee) (04/22/20) Pare, Mike

CBL Properties has said it is considering converting a former Sears department store space in its Chattanooga-based Northgate Mall into a public school. The Tennessee experiment would be the first time the company puts a school into one of its malls. CBL said the unusual use of the space fits its desire to transform its retain centers into town centers. CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating said it is an "interesting" idea that definitely "would draw traffic" for Northgate Mall. She cautioned that no decision has been made yet.

Hamilton County Schools has held a meeting to discuss the idea of renovating and remodeling the Sears space and turning it into the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts. One complication is the fact that a real estate group linked to Sears still owns the space where the store used to welcome customers. Even so, the school idea has grown popular among Chattanooga business owners. Bassam Issa, who recently bought the former J.C. Penney store at the Northgate Mall, described the idea as "a good thing" and touted the mall's central location as a benefit. Rodney Bass, who co-owns a Northgate Mall-based store with his wife, reasoned, "People would be picking up kids. They may stay and eat and come in and shop."

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Designing Offices, Restaurants, and Grocery Stores in the Age of Coronavirus
Commercial Observer (04/18/20) Baird-Remba, Rebecca

Architects and designers have begun thinking about new practices to incorporate on the other side of the pandemic, planning ways to make health-conscious changes to the designs of offices, grocery stores, and more. Offices of the future may incorporate barriers between desks, antibacterial coatings, and touchless technology to frequently-touched items like door knobs, faucets, and elevator buttons. Alex Dunham, the director of workplace strategy at architecture firm HLW, said architects will take into consideration the possibility that companies will dictate which workers can be in the office on any given day, suggesting that a rotating schedule may be in the future to minimize the number of people together in an office at any given time. Dunham said local and state governments may also regulate occupancy numbers until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.

With that in mind, architects are pondering whether companies will need to increase their square footage. There are differing opinions among architects, with some believing that companies need to increase the square footage per employee for long-term social distancing and others pointing out that a rotating schedule means fewer employees will be in the office at any one time, negating the need for an expansion. Some architects have turned to barriers as an effective tool within the workplace, including ones that can slide up and down to allow collaboration and socialization at various times and provide privacy at other times. It is likely that touchless technology will become commonplace in bathrooms, and voice-activated or card reader technology could become the new normal for elevators.

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Apartment Living Can Present Challenges During Pandemic
WISN (Milwaukee) (04/17/20) Dutes, Sheldon

As the general public seeks to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, people across the country have retreated into their homes, many only emerging for essential tasks like grocery shopping. For apartment residents, shelter-in-place orders come with a set of challenges related to communal areas in their buildings. It can be difficult or even impossible to avoid using elevators, stairwells, laundry rooms, and trash rooms in some apartment buildings. And the more apartment residents come into contact with communal areas, the higher the chance they will interact with others' germs.

Brian Carberry, managing editor of Apartment Guide, said there are steps apartment residents can take to protect themselves during the pandemic. It can be as simple as waiting to walk down the hallway until the space is clear. But residents can also take more concrete steps. For example, people may want to consider using an elbow or cloth to touch an elevator button, and making it a point to avoid touching railings in stairwells. Apartment managers may also urge residents to time their laundry or mail runs to reduce the likelihood they will run into someone else. This could mean early-morning or late-night visits to these communal areas.

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What's Become of Office Plants Abandoned in the Coronavirus Shutdown
Wall Street Journal (04/20/20) Riva, Matthew

As the coronavirus outbreak intensified throughout March, companies worldwide began encouraging, and then mandating, their workers to stay home. In many cases, these workers took home important files, paperwork, and computers to ease the transition to remote work. But many office plants stayed behind. With workers unable to care for their greenery as normal, alternate strategies emerged. In some cases, janitorial office staff have continued watering the plants and tending to them, stepping in at a time when no other workers are permitted in the offices.

Before shutdown orders became commonplace and working from home was a suggestion rather than an order, some newly remote workers went into the office every so often to take care of the plants. Adam LoBelia, a copy editor in New York, spent much of March making intermittent trips to his office to water the plants his colleagues had left behind. Julia Goldberg, the head of facilities and security for Buzzfeed, said all plants were moved to conference rooms when Buzzfeed offices around the globe closed down. The firm has assigned the building's remaining security guards to water them.

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'Retail-to-Go' Debuts in Dallas Without the Crowds You'd Expect for Graduation and Mother's Day Season
Dallas Morning News (04/24/20) Halkias, Maria

Retailers in Texas have begun offering retail-to-go services as Gov. Greg Abbott guided the state's economy into the first phase of reopening over the weekend. Shoppers were generally enthusiastic about the drive-up concept, saying they liked being able to drive to local stores and malls and have their purchases put in their car trunks instead of waiting for deliveries to come through the mail or other delivery service. Many of these shoppers turned to retail-to-go for gifts with a looming deadline such as a birthday or anniversary. Other popular purchases have included cooking supplies and puzzles and games to keep preoccupied through the COVID-19 lockdown.

At the NorthPark Center shopping mall in Dallas, shoppers were able to pick up purchases from retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, LensCrafters, and GameStop. More retailers will reportedly participate in the coming weeks. But some expressed concerns about the retail-to-go concept. Dallas-based Half Price Books executives questioned whether retail-to-go would do much good over the long run. "It's a great thing for us and it's a positive for retail, but is it going to save a lot of retailers? I don't know," wondered Half Price Books CSO Kathy Doyle Thomas.

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New Pa. Legislation Would Help Pave the Way for Apartment Security Deposit Elimination
Yahoo Finance (04/22/20)

The Pennsylvania General Assembly will soon consider a bill that would lay the groundwork for the elimination of apartment security deposits in the state. Pennsylvania House Bill 2427 would expand renters' options around a security deposit by requiring apartment owners and managers to offer a deposit installment plan or another deposit alternative. Under the terms of the bill, apartment operators could also eliminate security deposits entirely by embracing lease insurance instead. The Pennsylvania bill follows a recent Cincinnati Renter's Choice Law.

Reichen Kuhl, founder and president of LeaseLock, said apartments and renters were already interested in transforming security deposits before the coronavirus pandemic hit. "Now, with concerns about renter affordability mushrooming because of COVID-19, this new Pennsylvania bill is likely just the beginning of a flood of deposit elimination legislation across the country," Kuhl predicted. Proponents of lease insurance and other alternatives argue that they are better for both sides than up-front security deposits.

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Medical Office Buildings Poised for Quick Recovery
Commercial Property Executive (04/13/20) Chen, Jackson

The COVID-19 pandemic has crowded some hospital and healthcare facilities with patients, but non-emergency medical office buildings have seen drastically reduced traffic. People across the United States are living under shelter-in-place rules and limiting travel and activity outside their homes. As a result, elective surgeries and nonessential dental procedures have fallen by the wayside for the time being. Many medical offices have temporarily shut down because of plummeting demand.

But Marcus & Millichap’s April report on medical office buildings has predicted that the sector will experience a strong rebound in the aftermath of the pandemic. Before the COVID-19 virus hit, the medical office building market showed strong fundamentals, suggesting there could be a healthy market when the pandemic ends. There has been steady demand for medical offices, leading to the construction of new properties. And with an aging population, expanded medical insurance coverage, and new treatment options, demand will likely continue at a consistent pace when the crisis ends.

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Tech Leaders Map Out Post-Pandemic Return to Workplace
Wall Street Journal (04/22/20) Loten, Angus

According to a Forrester Research study, businesses will be turning to enterprise technology to smooth out the process of getting employees back to the workplace in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The firm's report lays out an early-stage road map for IT executives preparing to reopen corporate offices -- a process that will vary by industry, but for most firms will involve multiple stages. Among the first wave of employees returning to the job site will likely be CIOs and their teams. Their initial responsibility will be to develop a strategy for keeping employee tech tools -- everything from PCs and keyboards to monitors and mice -- germ-free without damaging them.

IT teams are being urged to have a staging area that will be outside the front door of the office where employees can bring their home technology in and sanitize it. A new focus on employee safety will include applying IT capabilities to physical buildings, including smart ventilation systems that provide better environmental conditions. "Safeguarding employees and enabling efficiency will need to take center stage," Aamir Paul, U.S. country president of global industrial firm Schneider Electric SE, concluded. "We'll see unprecedented levels of capital and technology spending devoted to these areas over the next two to three years."

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Gamers May Have a Cure for Distressed American Shopping Malls
Bloomberg (04/17/20) Gillette, Felix

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shopping malls were struggling as e-commerce lured shoppers away from brick-and-mortar stores. Though malls are currently closed to minimize the spread of the virus, they were starting to experiment with new solutions to the e-commerce problem. Among them were esports arenas. Esports arenas, or venues for video game competitions, have popped up at malls in Florida, Mississippi, and Montana. Meanwhile, the Mall of Georgia was in the process of welcoming an esports arena into the vacant space where a Charming Charlie once stood.

Mall owners and even some retailers have heavily invested in esports, underscoring their belief that the venues will be an essential aspect of malls in the future. John Fazio, who founded and runs an esports company backed by Comcast, said esports arenas can attract and retain shoppers. "A movie theater keeps you for two hours. A gaming tournament keeps you there for 16 hours over three days," Fazio noted. Esports venues have been compared to arcades, serving as a popular destinations for young people who will then patronize the food court and ideally other retailers in the mall. Allied Esports, a leading esports company, said it is analyzing data to determine promising locations for future mall arenas once the outbreak subsides.

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