Providing creative ways to show your residents that you appreciate their loyalty will prove to be a wise investment that will help increase resident retention and pay dividends in both public and owner relations.
There are many ways to acknowledge and show appreciation for your residents. 'White glove' buildings have incorporated concierge services that offer a list of amenities including reservations to dinner, theater and party events, dry cleaning pickup and drop off which aide in resident retention.
To develop a sense of building community may include hosting a social activity like bingo, providing a box of chocolates and/or floral arrangements to residents following renewal of their leases, providing birthday cards and other greeting cards on momentous occasions—or you could provide a Starbucks gift card or gift certificate to a retailer like Macy's or Target—maybe a gas card, or perhaps complimentary movie tickets.
It is psychologically important to build a sense of community with all residents. Consider acknowledging residents by placing an announcement about them on the property's website, resident newsletter, bulletin board at the property's community room, laundry room or management office. The more creative the idea the better.
Below are other important retention techniques proven to increase retention:
* Concentrate on Curb Appeal
A property's appearance and overall condition has an obvious effect on retention. Residents want to feel proud of where they live—their ego and sense of status is often perceived by the environment they live in. Maintaining the cleanliness and upkeep while utilizing creative cosmetic improvements go a long way toward preserving a property's curb appeal making it more desirable and marketable even in tight markets.
* Deal with Complaints in a
Residential complaints offset the morale of the building. Be proactive by providing more frequent interior and exterior maintenance and repairs, and/or management services, which can help reduce complaints. Quality assurance and service is crucial to maintaining residents and should be taken seriously. If you ignore these areas, you could not only lose your existing occupants but also your competitive edge and quickly gain a bad reputation in the process, consequently making it difficult to replace vacating residents in the process.
* Proper Training of Staff
You can develop the best retention program for your property, but it will not be successful unless you also have a properly screened and trained staff that is dedicated and committed to increasing retention. Resident retention should be reiterated to staff until it is part of their daily repertoire thus making it part of the organizational culture and strategic plan.
It is very difficult to find staff that is technically competent, easy to work with and has the ability and interpersonal skills to communicate the homeowner's association core beliefs to the residents. This is why training is so important because you may never acquire staff that excels in all areas of the job as everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
Property management professionals must capitalize on and maintain staff strengths and focus on eliminating their weaknesses. Some employees may have the nuts and bolts appeal of the job but dislike having a face-to-face dialogue with the resident shareholders while others might prefer just talking to the residents and not like the technical and hands-on aspects of the job. With proper training, staff can improve their weak areas which will help create a well rounded staff, reduce staff turnover and potentially increase resident retention because residents will be more familiar with staff and know whom to go to with questions or concerns.
Try implementing the following guidelines when staffing a property and producing an effective team of management professionals.
* After the customary screening of applicants, interviewing, and background checks, you should focus on hiring the best people for the position and that includes someone you believe has good interpersonal skills and can interact well with residents. This is essential because they will be representing management, the board or HOA and the impression they give will be crucial and lasting whether it's good or bad.
* Familiarize new employees and periodically update tenured staff with the firm's culture towards providing excellent service and attitude toward resident retention with customer service being a priority.
* Provide all employees with ongoing training. Utilize job descriptions and give them guidance and encouragement as often as possible. Create an atmosphere that energizes everyone to learn and integrate new skills on the job while motivating employees by serving as a teacher rather than a taskmaster. This will go a long way in forming partnerships with your team by building up their confidence and gaining their respect and loyalty.
* Conduct regular staff meetings and emphasize customer service while reviewing any deficiencies that need to be addressed with the staff member's job performance and or attitude. Solicit their suggestions as well because employees often know better than management how improvements can be made.
Creating a positive environment among employees will help boost both productivity and morale of staff. Staff will believe that their opinions count and this plays an important role in solving management problems. This will also contribute to the success of establishing a winning team and efficiently managed property. Remember, there is no "I" in the word team.
* Set up a work order system to properly respond to all complaints timely and orderly. This is also a good barometer in monitoring the performance of staff.
Staff should be sure to document all complaints and make sure that all problems are handled quickly and professionally with a follow-up in writing or phone call to the resident to apprise them on what was done rather than leaving a resident guessing about what is going on. Leaving someone in the dark can result in unnecessary phone calls to the building or management office inquiring about the status.
* Have Effective Communication
Communication is extremely important from day one. Send out a memo/newsletter to the residents explaining the company's philosophy, a description of accomplishments, while expressing how proud you are to have their property included in your family/portfolio of properties under your management.
Include in it all contact information for key staff members including the president of the firm, the super or site manager, the property manager, the leasing agent, the front desk personnel, the management office and the bookkeeper. You can also include information on upcoming capital improvement work. By providing this information you have initiated a dialogue between you and your residents. The following are other areas of communication that will help in fostering communication:
* Solicit surveys to residents periodically regarding the maintenance of the property and ask for their suggestions.
* Answer all complaints and calls promptly. Superior service must be a prerequisite and not an option in order to maintain a professionally managed property that the staff is proud to work in and the residents are proud to live in.
All residents are entitled to know not only what is expected of them but what is going on as well. It is something that is too often overlooked but should not be taken for granted. Doing so will eliminate the possibility of negative word of mouth from current to prospective residents leading to problems retaining them and justifying proposed amount of rent from prospective residents. Effective communication avoids waste and time.
* Great marketing starts with the right attitude and no marketing plan can overcome poor customer service. As billionaire Sam Walton once said, "The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary." To that end, increased efficiency results in higher effectiveness, workforce stability, increased productivity, and a quicker response time in addressing problems.
* Maintenance-free Living
Make sure that you have the best maintenance staff. Maintenance-free living, cost and flexibility are the most common factors that motivate searching for an apartment, according to a recent study. Many respondents indicated that they are motivated because they are offered a maintenance person available to tend to common household repairs and landscaping.
* Residents as Customers
Be creative and turn any negatives into positives. For example, if you have a property that is stigmatized by its remote location and not that close to shopping venue. Emphasize the peace and tranquility of this little known "secret hideaway."
It is extremely important that all apartment managers take an active role in practicing and implementing a customer service culture. A strong company culture that places value on people, fosters teamwork, and encourages open communication and ideas will go a long way in maintaining a stable and positive work environment.
The direct result is an enhancement of resident's quality of life as well as an increase in the property's overall intrinsic value. Doing so will automatically help retain good employees who will contribute to retaining residents. This can help with lowering marketing and leasing costs making it in the end a more desirable place to live and work. That is what I call good value added management.
Edward Andron is vice president and director of management at Manhattan-based Leebar Management Corporation, a member of The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and a fellow of New York University's School of Continuing & Professional Studies.