The Multifamily Innovation® Show

Patrick Antrim

Patrick Antrim, Founder and CEO of Multifamily Leadership, Producers of the Multifamily Leadership Innovation Summit, the Multifamily Women's Summit, and the Best Places to Work Multifamily® will bring you success strategies for Multifamily CEOs, executive leaders and aspiring leaders that want to drive high performance results for their portfolio.
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Why Leasing Agents Love This New Way of Work
Why Leasing Agents Love This New Way of Work
Today, we will explore a whole new set of questions for how we maximize leasing operations. Our guest today is Larry Gorman, Senior Technology Executive. Larry has 25 years experience in the multifamily industry and currently serves as the President for LeaseHawk. He builds and leads teams to drive business value through the innovative use of technology. Prior to LeaseHawk, Larry served as Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Invitation Homes, the largest owner/operator of single-family homes for lease in the United States.  Larry led multiple technology initiatives as part of a $20 billion merger with Starwood Waypoint Homes, delivering a unified platform for managing the business-critical operations of an 80,000-property portfolio across 17 markets in the United States. As the Chief Technology Officer of Starwood Waypoint Homes, Larry led the technology team that pioneered the use of smart home technology in the single-family residential space. Prior to his role at Starwood Waypoint Homes, Larry served in multiple technology leadership roles at Choice Hotels International, one of the largest lodging franchisors in the world. He led efforts to create the hospitality industry's first large-scale, cloud-based property management system used by thousands of hotels in North America, Europe, and Australia, and was instrumental in bringing this platform to the broader hospitality market as a co-founding leader of SkyTouch Technology. Topics of Discussion: What you never thought about the future of leasingThe evolution of the leasing roleExploring the parallels between the multifamily and hospitality industriesThe evolution of users completing everything online (travel plans, banking, finding a home, etc.)How a leasing agent’s biggest fear can actually be their greatest opportunityWhy teams should embrace technology to gain efficiency in their operationsDemystifying Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it can be used to gain prospectsHow to lease 24/7 without depending on a human being
Aug 20 2021
1 hr 3 mins
A Technology That Helps Identify Quality Leads and Convert More RentalsIt's Not About Bringing New Technology to the Game Lets Change the Game
Summary The multifamily industry is changing, and it’s important to change with it. To do that, you should keep an eye on the way society is changing as a whole, the differences between generations, and the types of things people are already interested in. Technology is a huge portion of that. Multifamily needs to trend toward automation, streamlined online interactions, and no-contact exchanges of information. Think long-term and prepare ahead of time so you don’t fall behind. Key Topics (2:45) -- Demographics is the most under-utilized tool in multifamily. Figure out who your renters are to determine larger trends. Are they moving out of the area, are employment numbers okay? If not, you might not want to build in that area, or might want to rethink your plans at least. (6:00) – The banking industry has changed to be completely digital, with automatic online payments, money transfers over PayPal and Venmo and the like. Even money is becoming digital, with things like cryptocurrency. Consumers have spoken, and they’re saying they want to move transactions online.  (7:55) – Consider the auto industry. It’s a physical product, like apartments. You’re both selling units, and the goal is to get people to the office to make the sale. But just about no one likes the experience of shopping for a car; multifamily needs to make sure the shopping experience is a pleasant one and not something people dread. Tesla has already renovated the supply chain to go directly to the consumer. They recognize they’re selling (or will be selling) to younger generations that don’t like interaction. (14:35) –365 Connect has accumulated a lot of data in its nearly two decades in business. There’s a disconnect between what’s happening with the customer and what property managers expect. The in-between, unexpected things are what matter here.  (17:39) – People figure that if something ain’t broke, we shouldn’t fix it. But innovation is crucial! Re-thinking the industry to come out ahead is going to be important as Gen Z becomes the most common renter.  (20:00) – Companies have this misconception that they have to shove as much information out all at once as possible. But guess what? People have pop-up blockers, and they find information overload unappealing. It can be enough to push them away. It’s better to be clean, precise, and transparent.  (22:00) -- 365 Connect helps to figure out where there are gaps in communication. There are certain features that simply aren’t on the market that need to be built, but 365 is a huge help in the meantime. (24:20) -- Automation is going to be huge. Kirby thinks we’re going to get to the point that multifamily is completely self-service. There’s a huge turnover of on-site staff. Those folks can be repurposed to more critical roles, rather than giving them jobs that robots could handle. Having automation will also expedite leasing. (27:40) – When you’re building software, you’re never really done with the project. At first, you’ll run into bugs you didn’t know you had. It’s better to try something and fail and adjust. You learn from your mistakes. After that, you make adjustments and send out updates to make things better. Kirby compares it to Elon Musk purposely making cheaper rockets because he knows he’s going to blow them up in tests. (31:10) -- Everything is technology-driven. If you don’t have the proper tools in place to bring a prospect in and quickly onboard them, you’ll fall behind. (32:56) – Even if you have a senior property, and you think that person might not be interested in technology, you need to think about who will be in that property 10 years from now. Those people will be more interested, so you should make the adjustments and investments before they get there. (34:41) – 365 Connect does predictive technology tests. They pick their own platform apart and huddle down to innovate.  Multifamily Innovation Advisory Council -- Text (480) 780-2611 to be part of it
Jul 12 2021
38 mins
Investments at Different Stages of the Apartment Lifecycle
Investments at Different Stages of the Apartment LifecycleTom Spahn, Vice President of Camber Creek Summary: Real estate is a unique industry that faces unique challenges. When you seek out new technology, you should be careful about the investment. Tom Spahn talks about what to look for in the investments and commitments you make, how to know whether that product will be a good fit for your company long-term, and how to spot a truly great team. Key Topics: (2:00) – A lot of companies are being fueled by the new technologies that are out there. There’s new technology for every step of the way, including plans for already-existing tenants, technology to deal with supply, management of energy contracts, pet screening, and much more.  (5:40) -- Not all tech solutions are created equal. Additionally, not all technologies are perfect fits for each company. (6:15) – It’s hard for small companies that don’t have the manpower to innovate. It’s hard for large companies because they’re set in their ways. It’s important to really consider what will work and what will be a good fit with that team.  (8:40) -- Things are starting to focus more on tenant engagement and on flexibility. Virtual tours, access control, no-contact delivery – things that emphasize comfort and safety are really big right now. You should balance real estate fundamentals and new technologies.  (12:00) -- In the past, real estate has lagged in the technology side. The pandemic sped up the willingness to change workflows and accept new technologies. Plus, more people are coming into the space who’ve grown up with technology all their lives. (13:20) – Any change is always going to be hard. It takes work! (14:30) – Think about sports teams. They don’t always focus entirely on the fan experience. Instead, they focus on acquisitions of new players and team members who will do well, and thus improve the fan experience. It’s an investment, not an expense. (18:25) -- Still, you have to be cautious when you invest. Your reputation will be staked on their success. (19:20) -- Almost all startups pivot at some point. That requires a good team that can pivot. (21:30) – Avoid make-or-break companies and focus on companies with reasonable long-term plans. Analyze the downsides and weigh whether the company would survive market changes.  (23:30) – When building a team, focus on how people speak about their business. Seek transparency and honesty, especially about problems. You also need the team to be well-rounded – the founder can be great, but everyone else involved should be great too. Sometimes bringing people in from outside of the industry can be good. (26:50) -- Understand who your customer is and what they need. The best founders understand having to justify changes in approach and budget. (28:10) -- The industry is wide open! Spahn thinks data will become more important for driving decisions. Smart buildings are on the come-up. In the construction space, because costs are going up, that’ll change how things are built. (31:30) – Opening the dialogue and having a running conversation is important. Maybe you run into a company when it’s too early in the planning stages, but they might later be a good fit. Bring operators into that conversation. (33:00) – Right now, the larger players are dominating. They’re likely to acquire some of the smaller companies. But, there could be other competitors coming along and challenging that dominance a few years down the road. (34:00) – Operators need to keep an open mind and be willing to try new products and new solutions. There are a lot of exciting developments right now. At least try to have the conversations and think critically about the technologies out there that could benefit your business.  (35:10) – Spahn wants to add value to his portfolio companies and help other investors to find new wins. Have questions? Text Patrick Antrim @ (480) 780-2611
Jul 8 2021
37 mins
The State of Multifamily Tech
Multifamily has typically been a low-risk operating class, but multifamily operators are facing new challenges (2:00) – Innovation occurs not in a breakthrough moment, but in thousands of iterations.  It happens with tons of failures over time. (2:40) – Shadow Ventures is a venture capital firm that invests exclusively in seed-stage real estate technologies that the rest of the market hasn’t found yet. They had to figure out new ways to market to people, so they took a step back and considered the shifts in their business.  (4:50) – What they’d been excited about investing in before the pandemic changed, because life changed. Everyone was in their apartment day in and day out for months. That created a whole host of new things to solve for. That being said, there wasn’t as much uncertainty in multifamily as in other industries, because people will always need somewhere to live.  (6:50) – In the pandemic, most technologies were adopted mainly out of necessity. Other things already existed, but were seized upon in the shutdown, like Zoom. And there were already video chat options available – Zoom was just better. You can apply that logic to other startups. (11:20) – Even if you invest in a technology that turns out to be second-most preferred in the market, that’s still a pretty good outcome. For instance, Coke and Pepsi are both successful. But if the potential solution you’re considering adopting is not going to improve your life or your company by “10x” then it isn’t worth the price and the challenge of switching over. (14:20) – There are some biases around social proof – if other people like it, you assume you’ll like it.  (15:45) – Commercial real estate success correlates with macroeconomic trends. (17:20) -- If you aren’t getting returns at 20% or better, then you’ve lost money as an investor. If a technology can’t meet that rate and takes on a lot of risk, that needs to be evaluated and considered.  (19:30) – Multifamily has to worry about tings like rent delinquency due to loss of work in the pandemic, and urban flight thanks to more flexible work trends. Technology acts as a safe haven during uncertain periods, because it gives you leverage to curb inefficacies. It also lets you eliminate needless risk. And, of course, it lets you improve customer experience. (24:50) – The hardest thing about adopting technology for real estate is that there are so many nuanced layers, because there are physical assets you have to integrate with. That might be why the industry has been so slow to adopt new tech. There are three layers: software, physical facilities, and human capital. If one of those layers is not incentivized to participate in what you’ve built, it creates problems with the other two.  (28:20) – At the end of the day, there’s a lot we don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your community. (29:15) – Consider a hierarchy of needs. Start with the base layer, building resident health. After that is to ensure brand loyalty and drive renewal by improving resident experience. Next in the priority tier is leasing and demand automation. The last piece is data science for site selection. (33:30) – People are starting to question their gut instincts. (35:20) – Rethink the way you do things. For instance, leases are all 12 months long. Why?  Consider whether things should be altered, and who would benefit if they were. It’s the entrepreneur’s job to think about that.  (37:45) -- Durham thinks about things from a top-down perspective. He uses the asset lifecycle as an example – think about how the different phases shift. Data science is huge in that.  (39:50) -- Optimizing building management systems by using tech to put things like that on autopilot. One example is a system that notices when water usage is different from normal so you can detect leaks, even without wifi.  (43:20) -- Multifamily technology companies have a lot of barriers to entry. It’s hard to sell to large management companies, for instance. Multifamily is battling for margins.  (46:00) – If you’re open-minded about embracing technology and thinking outside of the box, you’ll be better at improving the status quo and operations and the ROI. Evaluate your own hierarchy of needs. You’ll find the solution is almost always through technology.  (49:30) -- If the market is telling you great things, that’s demonstrated by revenue and customer base.  (50:00) – There have been lots of acquisitions in multifamily even through the pandemic. As metrics go, look for growth in venture investments. If a company is not doing things at scale, that’s not a startup, that’s a small business.
Jun 16 2021
54 mins
Create an Experience Residents Never Want to Leave
Daryl Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Kettler.  Summary: Right now, Daryl Smith is working to create a fully-integrated omni-channel marketing platform, while also growing the name for his multifamily development plan. Key Topics: (2:10) – Kettler is reimagining the customer experience, namely figuring out how to best use the digital tools available. Smith is trying to eliminate friction as best as possible. (3:30) - What does reimagining really mean? Multifamily has been lagging, compared to other industries. Sit down and be bold and think about how to enhance the consumer experience for tomorrow. That includes both improving the digital experience and giving consumers more choice. Offer them both online and in-person sales experiences, so they can choose what they prefer.  (7:45) – Be bold. For Kettler, they make decisions to figure out what tools best help enable leasing configuration and digital tools. Of course, those things come with price tags, and you have to take your budget into account.  (9:50) - Keep your brand connected to your consumer through personalization. Even if consumers prefer digital contact, they still want to be able to get in contact with a human if needed. (12:00) – What is “omnichannel?” The basis is to reduce consumer friction when they engage with touchpoints. Kettler uses curated ads showing what the property can offer. They basically use a chatbox as a leasing agent. You have to reimagine what you can do and who you can be in the digital space. (15:00) – Kettler’s platform experience has two levels: the enterprise, which goes over basic tools and solutions the owner would need to use the assets; and the discipline, including marketing. (17:10) - Figure out what partners can solve for what and how you can create a frictionless experience.  (20:20) – Be careful about your decision-making. Figure out who can best fulfill what you’re trying to achieve. Create a picture of what you already have and what you’re missing. Interview your on-site teams to figure that out. (23:00) - People don’t engage with platforms in the same way. That’s why you have to have choices available. One good example of tour technologies – people want different options, like in-person, live-virtual, pre-taped virtual, and so on. (25:40) – Of course you have to address consumers’ needs, but make sure you’re still protecting your reputation and your brand.  (27:10) – Chatbots are conversational AI tools. Implementation of that into your strategy is what extends your availability to 24/7, which today is crucial. Consumers want immediate answers. Time is intrinsically linked to engagement.  (30:00) – Any partner you choose should also be bold and innovative. The product should be challenging itself to grow along with the consumers. Consumer data is attainable – you don’t have to guess what people want, just look at the data! (34:40) - The goal is to create an experience that consumers never want to leave. But is that really attainable? Digital tools will help. Plus people are trending way from home ownership. People like having managed care, with maintenance and amenities available. (40:00) - Some multifamily companies are bringing services to them to make things all-encompassing. Some companies are playing with that new model. Think of Google: it remembers what you searched for and then brings new services to you, curated to your previous searches.  (42:00) - Figure out what’s broken and start fresh before you figure out what tools you want. Also figure out what exactly your consumers want. You’ll also need to consider cost and timing. Digital doesn’t just give you the opportunity to relax – it also allows you to boost engagement every hour of every day.  (45:30) - Covid changed everything. It positioned multifamily forward much faster than people could have anticipated. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It pushed people forward to engage better with their consumers. (47:40) - Someone has to drive expectations. That’s true for accounting, asset management, acquisitions, and all other aspects of the industry.  (49:00) - Delta Airlines is a good example of a company that’s doing things differently. Other airlines focus on revenue building and how they can boost profits through shortcuts; Delta’s new CEO focuses on the consumer experience to impact revenue that way.  (51:00) - How do you convince your team to take on new products or ideas? Get a good team and build your relationships with one another. You all have to be in sync and work in partnership for the bottom line. Having clear lines as to who is responsible for what roles and then later combining your ideas to be in sync with a coordinated solution will help.  (54:50) - The agent experience is the frontline sales experience. Next is the employee experience, which relies on changing and enriching as cultures change. Bring in people who truly want to be part of your team and who want to be part of the digital space. Kettler is starting to measure all that.  (57:10) - Kettler is going to start focusing more on sales opportunities. There are expectations there, but they might need reimagining. Figure out what your sales-centered standards are and what your consumer-centered standards are and develop strategies based on that. Pricing is another consideration. (59:00) - Challenge yourself to think about what’s next for the industry.  Resources: Have questions? Want to be part of the Innovation Advisory Council? Text 480-760-2811
Jun 11 2021
1 hr
COVID Driven Risk Management featuring Rachael Kish
Rachel Kish has been busy through the pandemic. She says she’s working on growing her team while focusing on acquisitions for Asset Living, all on top of dealing with things like evictions. Kish joined the Shelton Residential team in 2017, and Asset Living acquired that company in 2020. “The joining of those two families has been a huge success for everybody,” said Kish. “Watching two different worlds collide and watching all of the success that comes out of that has been really fun to be a part of.” Kish says she’s proud of how Multifamily has responded to the pandemic. Companies made adjustments and tested new ideas extremely rapidly, and were largely successful. “I think the pandemic emboldened us to take risks and actions that we just – we wouldn’t have tip-toed around prior to that. And I think moving forward, as we come to a post-pandemic era, we can continue with that same boldness.” Kish says it’s important to analyze the priorities for each client and see where there’s overlap so you can work efficiently. “I feel like the most success comes in hiring great teams. Just this morning, I was texting with my managers, and I just thanked them, saying, ‘I couldn’t do what I do without you and the way that you pour into your people on-site.’ When you can find the right leaders, the execs at each of those sites, you can grow properties, you can grow portfolios. For me, that’s the biggest challenge and the great reward, also.” For a while, Kish was working on ways to try to be open, rather than figure out ways to work through closure. The response was focused on keeping people safe and keeping the virus from spreading. Now, Kish thinks people should shift the focus to making sure things stay open in a safe way. “We have to be very nimble in the way that we create policy in that environment. Really, it’s just, how do we be open, how do we do it really well, make people feel safe and also create the community that our people really desire,” said Kish. Kish says face-to-face interaction doesn’t have to be prioritized in the same way it is now. For instance, self-guided and virtual tours have been extremely successful. However, that’s not to say face-to-face interaction is no longer important. “Moving forward, we should continue to engage the technology to the degree that we have and look for new ways to utilize that platform. I also think we need to reevaluate how we deploy resources. In the COVID environment, we all had money set aside for social activities and then social activities got nixed. So how can we take that funding and re-deploy it so that we can still create community or be open on some level and just repurpose that money?” At one property, Asset Living used the money it saved by not having community events to hire someone to oversee the fitness center, making sure it’s regularly sanitized, and that people wear their masks. At another property, the site had an on-site housekeeper; she was repurposed to focus on amenities, and the property brought in another third-party company to take on her old role. Kish says there are some ways she thinks people’s decision-making and habits may forever be changed. For instance, she thinks people will always keep hand sanitizer in their cars. However, when it comes to residents, people still want the same things for the most part. Properties still have to deliver on those expectations. Communication and even over-communication encouraging people that they should get out and be active, but they need to do so safely has also been important. Choosing the right staff can help with that messaging. “You need the CDC guidance, you need the person who’s highly driven and motivated by all the rules and dotting every I and crossing every T. You need that person in the conversation. But you also need site-level people, because they’re operating within the constraints that some high-level office is feeding down to them. How practically is that working? If we don’t involve those people in the conversations, I think we run the risk of making policy for the sake of policy, which for me, doesn’t work in real life.” The client should also be a part of that conversation. Some property owners might feel differently about how to handle things than others. Remember, everyone is just trying to get through this. Kish also believes it’s important to make things as simple as possible, especially for property owners and managers. “‘What are my priorities? What do I value, first and foremost – not just as a business but as a person? What do I truly value?’ And then let that inform some of the policy. You have to remain energized. A lot of it is just your mindset. If we look at this challenge as an opportunity to find success in new ways, we’re going to find success in new ways. But if we understand the challenge to just be a barrier to success, I don’t think we pursue solutions with the same energy or vigor,” said Kish. Things like that are lessons you learn over time. For Kish, she remembers learning it as a young kid telling herself, “I can do this!” when she was faced with a difficult task. Kish also thinks sometimes it’s important to be stubborn. “Maybe I buck the system by bucking the challenge and finding ways around it. But what keeps me going is just remembering to look back. When I find myself somewhat road-blocked or stalled, I can think to myself, ‘Okay, Rachael, what other disasters have you come through and what wins did you find in those opportunities?’ And I just let those prior victories, big and small, some of them no one else would recognize or even know about, but I draw them as experiences to fuel me through the next challenge.” Kish became a Regional Portfolio Director right at the start of the pandemic, and obviously, she faced a lot of challenges. She says that amassing small victories helped other challenges to seem less daunting. When it comes to evictions, Kish says talking to legal experts early and often has been crucial. “As far as evictions go, they are really very necessary. And I don’t want to sound like a big, bad, evil landlord, because that’s certainly the reputation we’re getting. But the right eviction can save a lot of people and can make people safe. In a 300+ unit building or even a 100-unit building, one bad resident who’s behaving like a criminal, treating people poorly, making a lot of noise, making the property unstable – by removing that individual from that environment, we’ve made a lot of other households far more comfortable and probably more safe. So I think we need to remember what the eviction tool does for Multifamily and for the households that remain on the property after that eviction is complete.” When it comes to evictions in the pandemic, Kish says it’s important to be stubborn. You have to protect the asset, the staff, and the residents. But this isn’t about evicting people willy-nilly. “Don’t just think that because there’s a CDC moratorium that your hands are tied, because they’re certainly not tied. If you feel like they are, get an attorney – or get a better one,” said Kish. Kish says a lot of these issues come down to whether you’re comfortable having hard conversations. Some of those conversations can be friendly but are still difficult. For instance, talking with someone who lost their job and now owes $10,000 in rent can be challenging, but doesn’t have to be adversarial; just discuss with people what’s about to happen. Offer up some ways to help or talk about potential solutions. Keep engaging people in conversation. That helps lower delinquency, because people will pay what they can, even if it isn’t the whole amount. When you’ve hired good managers and leasing agents, that takes care of a lot of problems. Communicate with your staff and figure out what sorts of conversations people are having repeatedly, then write a script for how to deal with that conversation in the future. Once you practice it a few times, it becomes effortless. Kish says the Phoenix market is exploding. People are buying up properties left and right. A lot of people are coming in from out of state, too. “The growth is very exciting, it’s very encouraging. It tells me that the growth we’re in is going to be sustainable, it’s not crazy-growth, it’s exciting. There’s a lot happening.” Kish has about 2,000 units in her portfolio currently and expects that to go up by the hundreds soon. She says she loves site teams and thinks having a great team can make an enormous difference. The more buildings she works with, the more teams she’s able to develop. When your investor or asset manager isn’t local, it’s important to communicate often. Kish recommends taking videos rather than pictures. For instance, she might send a video of a manager or leasing agent talking about their successes and send that to the client, so they feel like they’re part of that environment. “It’s not just about the performance metric, it’s about the people getting the job done and bringing those groups together from very far places.” The operators are juggling both the emotional and technical side. The investor should be made aware of challenges those operators face, and staff should be made aware of investor priorities. “When we link arms and we make our industry more whole and more strong, we can fight the very real battles that we face. With the change in administration, certainly the dynamics in Arizona are changing very quickly with the rent control issue in Arizona that we’ve had some success in abating, but again, is resurrecting. We have to stay sharp, we have to stay connected, and it has to be bigger than our individual management companies,” said Kish. “Make your friends. Stay connected to others, get involved in the AMA or your local association. Look up from your portfolio, look up from the technical side of what you do and really identify, ‘How can I add some value to the industry so that I can leave a legacy, so that our work is sustainable, moving into the future?’ Because if we don’t, we’re going to take some hits, and they’re going to be big ones.”
Jun 9 2021
34 mins
Winning with Company Culture featuring Jamin Harkness
Patrick Antrim, CEO and Founder of Multifamily Leadership, prompts Jamin Harkness to talk about what he went through transitioning his business to remote work. Harkness is the Executive Vice President of The Management Group (TMG), a company that’s ranked three times on the Best Places to Work Multifamily® list. “It was a very uncertain time for our team. We decided to close our offices,” said Harkness.  He says the teams have now started communicating weekly using Microsoft Teams, and he hopes to have the offices open again by sometime in April. Harkness worked for the same family-owned company for 20 years. “This family is very persistent and consistent in one thing: they set up meetings. They have a legal meeting every Monday, a maintenance meeting every Friday, and they just are clockwork with it. Even on vacations. They taught me consistency.” Harkness says he took that model to The Management Group. They have three meetings a week: one for leasing and assistant manager teams, one for maintenance teams, and one for all of the corporate department heads and managers. He says people enjoy that consistent communication and the ability to meet people from other teams that they might not interact with otherwise. That decision to ditch the office in the first place came from meetings between leaders within the Multifamily business. They discussed things like how to run the offices, how to respond if someone doesn’t pay their rent, what will they do about service requests that will keep the maintenance people safe? Those discussions are still going on monthly. “Unspoken expectations are the breeding ground for resentment,” Harkness says. They send out weekly questions to help keep everyone on the same page and activity reports. That form would ask simple questions, like how the respondent is feeling that day, and communicate what the organization is expecting that day. They don’t want to micromanage every minute of every day, but they want to express what the goals are. That form can be submitted at the end of the day to keep track of how well those goals are being met. For instance, they’ll ask the maintenance staff how many work orders they’re getting and whether they have sufficient PPE. They’ll ask the leasing team what its occupancy is and how many renewals they have coming up. If the managers don’t have the numbers, they’re asked to go find them. At the end of the week, everyone reports on those answers, creating a friendly competition and a better understanding of how the company is functioning. TMG committed to two goals before the pandemic. “We could have easily shelved those initiatives,” said Harkness. “But we decided to lean into them.” The first goal was to create a women’s leadership group within the company. “I needed to create a space for the females. I didn’t want to be in their meetings but I wanted to be their number one hype guy, I wanted to help set it up, support it, fund it. I wanted to bring in some of our industry leaders that I know – and some that I don’t know – and ask them to come share their advice. How can they connect? How can this group hold our company accountable?” Harkness says that’s been a tremendous success so far. The second goal was a D.E.N.I. Initiative. Harkness says the company will occasionally shut down for a day to go on a trip or at- tend something together and discuss. This year, with the pandemic, the staff watched a documentary about a Georgia congressman and civil rights leader called John Lewis: Big Trouble. Before, the whole company went to a civil rights museum. The company remains committed to those initiatives. “The title of what we’re talking about is winning on culture,” said Antrim. “How would you shape up the word ‘winning?’” “From the very top of our company, all the way down,” answered Harkness, “we understand that winning on culture is – ‘I want to everyday try to create an organization where our team members want to work. That’s the way we look at it.” To do that, Harkness tries to reward his team’s efforts often. He also tries to express that he supports and believes in people. “Some days, we don’t always win. Some days, we don’t always do the best. But I try everyday to engage with the person I’m with, to be present.” Harkness says he goes to his office once or twice a week, and otherwise spends time at the properties and with the people managing those properties. Harkness has participated in the Best Places to Work in Multifamily® program for years. That’s when he learned that it’s vital to listen carefully and to treat the team members as the asset they are. For instance, TMG would provide lunch for the maintenance team every week and a $500 bonus each month, because they weren’t able to work from home. The entire team got UberEats gift cards, cookies, t-shirts with fun designs, TMG branded sweatshirts and sweatpants, and more. They also do a monthly employee gift program. It costs about $45 a year per employee and takes one hour to plan, but it results in monthly gifts from the company showing TMG cares and respects its employees. He also says he’s leaning more into technology like self-guided tours. Those aren’t that common yet in the suburbs. Leasing agents were also hesitant about self-guided tours because they were worried they wouldn’t get their commission. Getting infographics, explainer videos, pop-ups, and more into the mix to educate people about the availability of those tours was important. He says they’re here to stay. Structuring all that comes down to the property operations level. Typically, the first person who gives a tour gets the commission. Now, TMG has people make a video ten or fifteen seconds long to send to people before their self-guided tour, welcoming them and reminding them of their appointment time. That’s how leasing agents “claim” the client now for commissions. “Every company has a version of a CRM system,” said Harkness. “We really explored all the tools, all the triggers, what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense, what’s overly burdensome, and we really focused on what we could do with our CRM system that was already there. It helped us work remotely.” The company made other transitions, too. For instance, all the computers they purchase are laptops. They got free apps that let them link their office desk phones to their cell phones. Harkness also says that when people work from home, they don’t have any of the distractions that they might run into the office. Harkness says he had to learn to treat people like adults who respect their positions, not like they’re trying to steal from the company. “When we return back to work, we’re very adamant that because our customer service has gone up so much with work order call backs and extra retention on renewals, we think we’re going to have somebody working from home every day.” Right now, retention and reviews are high for TMG’s apartments. He says that renewal rate might be because fewer people are moving during the pandemic, but he thinks it also comes down to customer service. “What are some things you think operators are missing?” asked Antrim. Harkness answered by explaining that team members don’t expect their bosses to know the future, but they do expect them to be present. Those team members are scared about what’s going to happen to their positions, so trying their best to provide consistent updates and answers when possible makes a big difference. He also makes a big point to make sure employees’ first days are pleasant and memorable. They’re greeted with a welcome box of different goodie-box style items, mixed with information they could need that first day. Harkness says that first impression is extremely important, but it’s also important to continue listening and making sure that first impression carries through and stays positive.
Jun 7 2021
27 mins
Building Community During a Loneliness Epidemic featuring Pete Kelly
Pete Kelly is the CEO of Apartment Life, a faith-based nonprofit serving the Multifamily industry for over two decades. That company helped with the Loneliness Epidemic. “About a year ago, the insurance company Cigna came out with a study that found that 60% of Americans would describe themselves as being lonely. If you’re an apartment owner or apartment operator, that’s a problem, because if your residents are lonely, that means they don’t have any roots in that community. And if they don’t have any roots in that community, they’re just as likely to move to the community down the street if they’re offering a good enough deal.” Apartment Life has a program that helps with that. Coordinators do wellness checks to see what residents need. In some cases, they might pick up groceries for those that can’t afford it, or pick up prescriptions for elderly people struggling. “It’s not only the right thing – it’s good for people – it’s also good for the bottom line.” Kelly says on average, you can save up to $188,000 a year in marketing and overhead costs if you have a program to help with loneliness. “Obviously, we had to pivot a little bit. A lot of what we did pre-pandemic were faith-based events. The pivot was really caring for our neighbors.” Apartment Life has a couple different models for its program. The first uses two people who are living in the community as an ambassador for the manager. They’ll bring a proposal to property managers showing off potential event ideas and coordinating on marketing for that. They act as a welcome wagon, throwing parties and events, greeting new residents as they move in, and keeping on the lookout for ways to help people. About 3 months before a resident is set to leave, that ambassador will go over and talk with the resident about staying. That gives people a neighborly experience that makes them want to stay. It also gives managers time to potentially change people’s minds, or find out what they did wrong that they should address. “What’s different is, they’re not just setting up the event, they’re also playing host. And that’s a really key differentiator. If your goal is to put food on a table, you probably don’t need apartment life to do that. But if you want something to help your residents get to know each other, having somebody be really thoughtful about the event can help,” said Kelly. There’s also an off-site model, where the ambassadors are not literal neighbors, but they check in with residents to create that same feel. One coordinator is paid an hourly wage, rather than living in the community. That person looks for ways to create a sense of connectedness in the community. Kelly says he loves technology and social media, but that technology is not meeting the core need of connection. Social media has made the country more divided and lonelier than ever before, Kelly says. “We help residents to make friends, we help them get to know their neighbors. There’s a personalness to it that a chat bot could never replace. Even if we had the most advanced artificial intelligence that could anticipate people’s needs, there’s something about knowing there’s an actual person on the other side of that communication that makes a big difference.” Having those particular people fill that role is crucial. People simply can’t be friends with their apartment managers, because that relationship is transactional. And people don’t always extend friendship to their neighbors naturally. So those on-site neighborly ambassadors serve as the push people need. In some lower-income communities, those ambassadors can also help meet some of the social, physical, and economic needs, Kelly says. That might mean connecting people who lost their jobs with resources that can help them pay rent and get groceries. The visit before people renew is a situation where properties can make a real impact. Kelly tells a story of a single mother named Kathy in Houston. The coordinator for that community went by to do a renewal visit, and learned Kathy had recently put a deposit somewhere else. She explained, she had a spider infestation that the management team hadn’t been able to solve. The coordinators expressed how sad they were to see her go and how much they’d enjoyed getting to know her. That night, Kathy emailed the team, saying she realized that she wants to raise her daughter in a community like the one she’s in, with great personal relationships with the people on site. Kelly says Kathy let go of her deposit, losing the money, and decided to stay. “That takes a human element. I don’t know that an AI chatbot would ever be able to accomplish the same thing as an interaction like that.” Kelly says it’s hard to decide on a single event that’s been the most impactful. But he did bring up the example of Texas losing power. “The problem with apartment owners in Texas right now is, a lot of those pipes have burst and it has created chaos. There’s a lot of people having to move out of their apartments, or their furniture has been damaged, and it’s been a really stressful time. So one ‘event’ that comes to mind is we were able to partner with somebody and raise some money for some food trucks and just say ‘Hey, we know it’s been a hard week. We just want to treat y’all to a free meal.’” Apartment Life is still working through its pivot to try to be there for people in the communities they serve. In some situations, that just meant doing wellness checks. “But as we go into 2021 and the pandemic winds down, there’s been increasing demand from a couple different sectors. We’ve had owners of affordable communities that have reached out and said, ‘Hey, we need help with the wraparound services, and we need a solution.” Kelly says that’s been a growing arm of the business, along with senior communities. Senior communities experience a lot of loneliness. Student communities are also an area of growth, Kelly adds. “I haven’t met anyone that works in property management that doesn’t want to create a sticky community. I haven’t met anyone that’s like, ‘I don’t like my residents,’' joked Kelly. “Generally, these are things they want to do but don’t have time to do, or don’t have time to do consistently. Or if you’re a leasing agent or a property manager, assistant property manager, and the event is scheduled for 8:00, you want to be home with your family! So it’s nice to know that the event is going to be taken care of, there’s somebody who actually lives there who cares about the atmosphere and the environment that’s working on your behalf to create that sticky community.” The Apartment Life team is also helpful in transitions to new management, since they maintain a level of consistency. Some of this takes a bit of trial and error, where you learn what individual communities or people would be interested in. Some of that you solve by having a variety of different creative events. People will always respond to food, but you have to tap into their personal relationships too. Apartment Life does extensive training for its coordinators. They have to be okay with a flexible, part-time schedule; they have to have administrative experience; and they have to be social. They also have coordinators form a network of other teams from different communities and cities to discuss what worked for them and what didn’t. “I see the direction the industry is going is increasing automation. I see the use of technology to run these communities as lean as possible, so that they’re as profitable as possible, using technology to replace the transactional relationships,” said Kelly. Still though, management companies are bringing up questions about how automation might affect the feel of a community." In newer markets, Apartment Life can establish a team within about three months; in markets where the company has already set up shop, it only takes about a month.
Jun 4 2021
27 mins
Stabilizing Multifamily Cash Balances featuring Brady Nolan
Brady Nolan says his company is here to build something special and transformative, that can be innovative and solve big problems. “We are really playing around the rent payments experience. In the United States, rent is a $700 billion payments industry. It’s the largest single payments industry in the world. So on a macro level, I’m excited, because we have a huge opportunity ahead of us to build a really big and special business.” said Nolan. “There’s $50 billion of late rent paid every year. $5 billion of late fees paid every year. We’ve got a big opportunity to help lots of people.” Till’s core platform is called “Flexible Rent.” “The idea is, rent and the policies that have been created around rent have been incredibly inflexible since kind of the dawn of time. We have introduced a platform that sits on this incredibly advanced technology and data analytics platform, really deeply understanding each individual renter sitting in every one of the communities in which we operate.” Till has a few goals: It wants to improve the rent payment experience; it wants to solve problems around payment timing; and based on thousands of renters’ testimonies, Till believes one of the biggest challenges is how inflexible rent is. Nolan points out that rent is due at the first of the month, which is the point when the average American has the least amount of money in their account. “I say as a joke often – but it’s not really a joke,” said Nolan, “we’ve tried to make it as hard as possible for our renters to pay us.” Till helps people who normally pay their rent on time budget for how to pay for rent. It supports them if they run into a short-term pitfall. It also helps design schedules that are tailored to each renter. From there, it supports people on-site. It’s also as straightforward and easy to use as possible. “In every community where Till is offered, we’d like to see 100% of rent collected on the first of the month. And we can do that by having a platform of tools which meets each renter when they come to work with Till. It meets them where they are. It helps them stay ahead if they’re ahead; it helps them catch up if they’re behind. And there’s tools like credit boosts to help catch them up or fill any short-term gaps,” said Nolan. He says that can’t be done with a one-size-fits all system. But when Till works with individuals, renters’ payment success rates are 97%+ in just the first month, and 100% by the third month of enrollment. Understanding your cash planning and your expenses proves very helpful. These challenges existed before the pandemic, and still will after it passes. 60% of Americans have less than $400 in savings, and the average American experiences income volatility with at a quarter of their earnings. 50% of their post-tax income goes to rent. That makes budgeting and saving to be extremely challenging. Right now, properties are not set up to manage different types of renters. But it starts with understanding the individual. “Today, the way we work with renters is, we manage their collections through things like late fees, things like eviction filings, which are designed to be sticks to get renters to pay on time. But when they don’t work, when the renter misses that payment, they often just exacerbate the chance that that renter falls behind,” said Nolan. Having a tool designed to support your teams on-site and give the renter something that is positive and designed specifically for them has been extremely helpful. These systems are proactive, rather than reactive, asking ahead of time if they might need a payment plan. Nolan says Till was the first company to create a rental loan, where it would front money for renters who qualify. From there, they’d have a set amount of time to pay it back. A bunch of people used the product as a tool for flexibility. “The fact is, renters that can be very predictable, very reliable on-time payers shouldn’t have credit as their tool to get them a little bit more flexibility. It should be more diligence, more balance, and committed savings. Renters that are too far behind will never qualify for that product.” At the end of the day, this helps the money come in on the first of the month. “When we really boil it down and share the data and walk you through, there really isn’t anything else that can compare,” said Nolan. There’s another new facet of income and rent payments: “The idea that the W-2 is the sole source of income is just not true anymore,” said Nolan. Because of that, the screening for renter risk needs to evolve. A glance at a pay stub when the person first signs a lease and then a hope the person renews isn’t enough. “We only ever know what’s going on in our customer’s financial life once up at the beginning of that relationship. That affects how we set them up in the home, how we work with them, how we risk-manage, how we service. It’s all reactive.” Integration with the customer’s bank accounts and real-time analytics shows that payroll income is a meaningful percentage but is really only 60 or 70 percent of income these days. Timing within the month also matters, because freelance gigs might not line up with when they’re getting paid from their main employer. “We work with renters to make sure that the timing of their payments is in the most optimal state to keep rent the priority expense. What I mean by that is, as soon as income hits the account, the money for rent should be coming out and paid to the property or prioritized to the property before it goes somewhere else. That’s how we ensure payment success.” Till believes it has two masters: the owner/operator and the renter. On the owner/operator side, it only takes about 9 days to set Till up. The set-up period has to integrate with the property and with the renters. The communication with renters should be as automated as possible. Enrollment is optional. But Till can only help the property if renters are enrolled, so communication about it has to be effective. From there, Till’s team trains up the on-site team for the property. Till has found that property managers spend 1-3 hours per week per late renter trying to collect payment. Till saves between 50 and 90% of that time. “Nobody got into that business to be a debt collector. They got into that business because it’s a people business. They want to create really positive relationships with their renters, and that’s what the residents want. So we spend that training time and post-launch time with a full team that really manages their on-site relationships to make sure we are empowering them with time to go create those relationships with renters.” Nolan says they get feedback from residents frequently. One complaint is that people who pay on time say they never hear from their property managers; on the opposite side, people who often pay late feel like they only hear from the staff when they’re demanding money. This helps alleviate that tension. Nolan says he always asks how people are doing and what’s been going on recently. At first, people say they’re doing surprisingly well; but then, they’ll go on to say delinquency has increased. Nolan points out, that doesn’t mean things are good, it just means your expectations were low. Through the pandemic, optimism had waxed and waned. How well a multifamily community is doing also depends on location and the jobs that are most commonly found in each area. Some properties in the middle tier have done quite well, as people move from more expensive properties and seek out a lower price point. In contrast, urban areas have struggled quite a bit. Multifamily is resilient, but innovation can help. Nolan says this is a very exciting time for this industry. Innovating businesses are starting to grow. “We generally really believe that the rising tide raises all boats,” said Nolan. “You guys, as operators, should be utilizing technology platforms in your properties. We believe wholeheartedly that the relationship between the renter and – I try to avoid the term ‘landlord’ as much as possible – the operator has been kind of combative for a long time. It’s kind of been that the power is in the hands of the operator. One of the North Stars here at Till is, everything we do has to be positive for the renter. Probably 99% of things that fall into that bucket are a net positive for the property.” Nolan says that by setting residents up to succeed, the property will make more money and the staff will be happier in their jobs. The experience should improve holistically.
Jun 2 2021
26 mins
Interacting and Transacting with Anywhere Operations featuring Kerry Kirby
365 Connect has been exclusively serving the Multifamily industry since 2003, with marketing, leasing, digital applications, portals, payments, and an array of related products. “We pride ourselves as innovators in the space,” said Kirby. Kirby says there’s been a gradual change in demographics in the workforce. Generation Z, people born (between 1997 and 2012) is starting to have a big impact on the rental market, now accounting for about 23% of rentals. Millennials are still the largest rental group right now, taking up about 47% of the rental space this year; but that number is down about 6% from just a couple years ago. Gen Z is catching up and has already passed up Gen X as the most active renter. “This is our incoming workforce. It’s not just affecting the apartment market, it’s going to affect our team members and our employment base,” said Kirby. The oldest people in Gen Z are now turning 24 years old. That means they’re recent college graduates who are now entering the job markets. They’re big advocates of remote work, listing that as one of the primary things they seek out in a job, and they felt that way even prior to 2020. “The oldest Gen Z’ers identify themselves as ‘Z-lennials,’” said Kirby. “It’s kind of strange; it’s part of what’s called a ‘Generation Battle.’ It’s basically, the older Gen Z’ers that kind of sit on the line feel they’ve grown up as the digital revolution has evolved, whereas the younger Gen Z’ers who are there, and they just expect more and more things and more and more features to happen.” Anywhere Operations is an IT-based operating model that’s been around for a while but is starting to evolve and come to light more these days. It supports customer service so you can deploy products from anywhere, regardless of your physical location. Kirby says 82% of companies plan to let team members work remotely at least part of the time. They might create hybrid workspaces and change up office spaces. Since companies want their teams to be as efficient and productive in remote work as they would be in the office. Things like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are great for communication, but Anywhere Operations does something more: data security. “This is an entire system that is being orchestrated out there to make remote work more secure, more possible, more integrated into what we’re doing,” said Kirby. Most offices have a secure firewall. That might not extend outside those walls. If someone logs into a company’s system from residential internet, they’re inherently going to be at risk. Anywhere Operations is a cloud-service style service powered by firewalls. It lets people gain access to a network computer system, which lives in the cloud. “It all lives in what’s called a ‘security mesh system,’” said Kirby. “It builds a more modular approach to security, and this is critical in our industry, where we hold a lot of sensitive information.” Kirby says there’s a mix of people who want to go back to the way things were, and those who want to continue with remote work. “The problem with the way things were is, trending behind us is a huge demographic that doesn’t like to talk and would rather text. They don’t like encountering people. These are your next clients, what do you do?” Eventually, Kirby says, even ‘touchless’ won’t be a thing anymore. That’s why he says we should focus on Predictive Projects. “It’s a project that we had in motion long before stay-at-home mandates and mask-wearing was a thing,” said Kirby. “We’ve been building technology, knowing what’s coming into the market. We know that market turns over. We know that the next generation winner is coming in, and just as we started off the year, is going to be that prominent and dominant renter in the market, so that’s what we’re looking at building technology for.” Kirby says the coronavirus helped speed technological advancement. But there were things being built before the virus, based on predictive technology geared toward Gen Z. That means going paperless, texting rather than calling, and making things as un-complicated as possible. Kirby says he calls this the “Uber Generation,” saying the functionality of the Uber app is reflective of the generation today. You press a few buttons, you get in a car, you get where you need to go, and no words have to be exchanged the entire time. With today’s technology in the Multifamily industry, you can do a lot online, but at some point, you do have to interact with someone. Kirby believes the industry needs to make it so someone can apply for an apartment, get approved, sign a lease, all within a matter of minutes at any time of day or night. Right now, AI aids about 90% of the workforce in some form or fashion. It automates something that makes the job easier. Multifamily includes a lot of AI, but application approval and lease generation – two things that have lots of special conditions – still need an actual person to look over. There are a lot of manual pieces involved. Kirby thinks those are the things that need to change to become automated, touchless, and much faster. “I call it Search to Sofa,” said Kirby. “How can I get it search to sofa and not have to involve a staff member? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves.” Applications for apartments have a lot of questions. Some of them go into great detail, hoping to auto-populate in the lease if the person does get approved. But a lot of that information isn’t necessary at that stage. For instance, applications will ask for vehicle information and license plate numbers? What do you do with that information if the person isn’t approved? Nothing! Kirby says you really only need four or five things for the application. People should be approved quickly. “I don’t think we’re ever going to get to 100% pure touchless automation on the application and lease process, because there’s always some piece. But I think we can get in the 90% range,” said Kirby. “And I think the – I call them ‘off-cases’ – can get set to the side, and there’s someone to deal with them. Would you rather deal with 100% or 7 or 8 percent? I’d rather deal with 7 or 8 percent.” Kirby says he thinks there is enough AI out there to make this process better. People should be asked simple questions before their approval, then once they’re approved they can go through the more complex questions. “I looked up some research on what people call ‘response.’ 90% of customers wanted an immediate response. What do you call an immediate response? It was in the study. 10 minutes or less. They want to know something right away.” Leases have a lot of moving parts. Between AI, advanced analytics, automated processes, and more, most of those things can be automated these days. “I think we can use hyper-automation to get there, to get 90+ percent of this done without a human touch.” Kirby admits this might not work for every property type. People in Multifamily are used to talking with customers. Everyone has their different processes, but a lot of people are holding on to processes that are outdated and no longer viable. The younger renters and workforce that will come into the market are not going to put up with old leasing strategies. The new generation will dictate those processes, and corporate America doesn’t have a choice in that. Kirby recommends that leaders shouldn’t spend too much time looking backwards. Don’t revert back to pre-2020, when there was a pandemic, a record hurricane season, and wild- fires torching the West. Look forward, focusing on what might be next. Think outside the box, keep innovating, and keep trying to figure out how to make things better. Then, pay attention to how that affects your team members and your bottom line. Keep in mind, turnover costs money. Another good idea is to pair up with tech companies, sharing some of the information you’ve gathered and walking through other potential processes. Collaboration could be key to moving forward. “We listen to the problems people have and see if they work at scale. A couple things we’ve adopted recently is, when COVID came, a lot of people were doing what I call, ‘paper’ and said, ‘Wow, we’ve got to go digital,” said Kirby. “We tore apart what we were doing, rebuilt some things. Some of the cool things we’ve been able to do is, if somebody’s applying for something online – on an application line – typically, on the other end, that unit is still available. We’ve built some technology that says, ‘this is reserved at the moment,’ and it won’t allow you to apply at the moment. We can set timers on it.” Kirby wants to scale things down and make things more flexible and easier. Those services should be available anywhere. “That’s what excites us. We’re starting to create some things. And as we’re creating them, we’re starting to create some really advanced analytics,” said Kirby. Those analytics will be for big-picture data points, which can be drilled down to get more finite.” Kirby calls those “Actionable Analytics.” He also thinks the industry should take a look at the things it is doing well, like at automat- ed marketing, online service requests, and digital rent payments. All this could use some other pieces, but it’s going pretty well so far. But he says the onboarding process between the application and the actual move-in date has a problematic and fragmented grey area that can be vastly improved. As far as team members, more companies are getting excited about being rated as a “Best Place to Work Multifamily®.” Vying for that title has made Multifamily better at communicating about staff’s wants and needs. “I think we are all moving in the right direction,” said Kirby. “I think it’s about collaborating, innovating, and not thinking that – ‘Oh man, there’s some things I want to know, but I don’t want to call this company because I don’t want to get sold anything.’ Our philosophy is, we don’t want to sell you anything you don’t want. To me, collaboration is more valuable than making the sale. If we can build the right things as partners in the industry, then move things forward for everyone, then that’s the thing to do. I would encourage more collaboration between property operators and industry providers,” said Kirby.
May 31 2021
36 mins
Why We Need More ADHD in the Workplace Featuring Jessica Fern
ADHD in the Workplace Jessica Fern says she wants to start her discussion by talking about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and another less-well known term called Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). “I think when you say ADHD, you automatically have a picture in your head of what that looks like, which is probably a random bee buzzing all over the place, but one of the things I absolutely love about ADHD is chemically wired,” said Fern. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD have been combined into the same term. “ADHD is a chemical neurotransmitter disorder that affects the way your brain processes information,” explained Fern. “It’s not necessarily that some folks can think too much like myself – it’s not that I can’t pay attention; everything gets a lot of attention at the same time. It affects different executive functioning corners of your brain. If you don’t have access to certain chemicals or do have access to too many chemicals, it can cause what’s essentially a misfire. So when you think about being impulsive, your brain might walk you through Step A, B, C, and D. My brain just goes to D, which is great because it’s one of the reasons why I firmly believe that Multifamily needs more ADHD.” Fern says not over-thinking consequences leads people with ADHD to be fearless. She views it as a superpower. But it’s important to know how to leverage that. Of course, ADHD shows up differently in different people. For some people the “H” – the hyperactivity portion – shows up more than it does in others. Fern says for example, her daughter is less hyperactive, but is extremely disorganized, a symptom more associated with ADD than ADHD. Fern says HSP is related. “Being a Highly Sensitive Person does not mean that you are sitting in the dark crying after a hard day. A lot of it is just the reaction to your senses. Maybe your sense of taste, smell, hearing. For me, it’s intuition. It’s energy and how you’re impacted by things around you,” explained Fern. Fern says she had an epiphany in the past year when coronavirus hit and a lot of the stimulus she would normally experience in her career with Multifamily came to a halt. “I have a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes and eat chaos for breakfast,” Fern jokes. “But when you take away all of that stimulus and you are very much stripped down to, ‘Okay, I’m just here in my office and I’m doing the same thing, and while we’re at a high level and we’re functioning at a high level, there is still removal from the external elements that can sometimes mask the struggles and the challenges. Because when you don’t have that high urgency and you don’t have that sense of – almost stress, thriving under stress, you are like, ‘Okay, well, now what do I do?’” Fern says it took her a while to take things seriously and accept that ADHD was a part of her life, 24/7. She had to come to understand what that meant for her and her children, who she sees struggle. Fern says her son has been a distraction in class his whole life and has been punished by being sent to the back of the classroom. She realized recently that different does not necessarily mean difficult. “COVID has forced a lot of us out of our comfort zones to actually ask for what we need. Whether you are learning, or whether you are a leader, it is extremely important to lead and teach the way that others follow or learn and to meet individuals where they’re at.” Identify Different Ways People Can Learn Fern says her company is working on identifying different ways people can learn. That might include anything from focusing on the pace at which you’re speaking, to ensuring the colors on your presentation slides are easily seen even by people with partial color blindness. Providing material ahead of a meeting is also extremely helpful. “Little changes or shifts like that can make a world of difference,” said Fern. “I was almost upset with myself when I realized I had not done that for our own employees, and those are things I had just fought for and implemented in my own home. But we all have those epiphany moments, and I think it’s really important to figure out how humans are working.” She says things aren’t the same as they used to be. For instance, we all know more about each other because of social media. So, you should support how others learn, feel, and grow on their terms, not just your own. Authentic Leadership As far as new leadership is concerned, Fern says people should be authentic. She believes COVID separated managers and leaders, because it’s harder to lead by authority when you aren’t physically in the room with someone. It makes people’s choices become clearer. “I think I get really spoiled because I work for an organization that really celebrates individuality and celebrates inclusion. I always feel like myself when I show up for work. I am fiercely organized, and I was showing the director my project tracker and was telling her, ‘This is just the way my brain needs to function, and all my spreadsheets talk to each other, and I have to have it this way because of my own struggles,’and she just paused and said, ‘Thank God, you have ADHD.’ For someone who feels different and operates to a different owner’s manual, those were wonderful things to hear.” Living With Einstein Patrick Antrim, the CEO of Multifamily Leadership, mentions a new podcast Fern is producing. He says the podcast had him and his wife in tears, listening to the heavy message surrounding children’s experience during the pandemic. Fern says it was hard to start talking about things on the pandemic, but she wants to allow others to feel okay being human. She felt compelled to share her story, and originally wanted to write a book, but felt that would be difficult for her. Instead, she started the podcast, called Living with Einstein. “My fiancé is the one who gave it the name, because I had posted something on Facebook about [my son] Jackson getting his diagnosis at 13. And while ADHD is something that I’m very comfortable with, still, as a parent, to not only go through the process of getting a diagnosis, but then to weigh the option of medication, because it’s not really – it’s definitely a choice you can take back, it’s still really difficult,” explained Fern. She says her fiancé joked that he nearly commented back on that Facebook post to say that living with Fern and their children is like living with Einstein, because their brains all function at a very high level. “It’s not really until somebody else comes into our environment that we think something is different, because all three of us have it – it’s not just me, it’s me and both of our kids.” Fern says she’s always loved Einstein. He has a quote that says, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it’s stupid.” Fern feels that quote plays into how we’re missing the mark with leadership, development, relationships and more. She reiterates that you have to meet people where they are. “We are sending people to training, expecting them to be the expert. We are saying one thing and expecting understanding. I think we have a responsibility to confirm in another person what it is we want to have been heard. I feel like we’re focusing more on what we want to say instead of what we want others to hear.” Redefine a New Era Fern says leaders should use this pandemic and this new era to redefine what they stand for. “If you are not authentic, or competent, or confident, you’re a distraction. People know. People know when they’re following a leader that’s not authentic. That’s why not everybody is good at everything! Pick what you’re good at and run with it.” Leaders should be looking for ways to amplify individuals’ gifts and talents, rather than trying to fit everyone into a mold. Fern also touches on the phrase, “Leadership of self.” “In order to be successful, whether you are managing ADHD or managing another – I like to call them abilities, because they really are strengths, they really are gifts. Whether it is you are managing those abilities or managing people or whatever, you have to be honest with yourself.” That includes seeing what you’re good at, what you aren’t, how you can get better, and navigating your own fears. It’s also important to have the ability to ask for what you need. “I think a lot of times we get really in our own way with failing and fears of failing. I know I do a lot of work around fearless failure – that’s the most recent podcast episode is foundation work around failing fearlessly. But acknowledging where we are able to grow in that fear, and not self-inflict and get in our own way.” That means that as you walk into a task and get nervous, for instance ahead of a presentation, spend some time to mull over why you’re feeling that way. Think about what’s at stake and why, and how much is just a feeling rather than an actual fact. It’s important to figure out ways to break your own patterns. Score Culture Fern says we grow up in a “score” culture where we’re told we always need to achieve at the highest level, and we’re always compared to everyone else. “It’s so one-size-fits-all. We really have an opportunity as leaders to create some individuality with how we move people from being willing to, to wanting to, then able to.” Fern says some strategic ways to do that could include asking people where they need support or finding out how they learn and communicate best. “Nobody likes an email that says, ‘Hey, can we talk?’” Fern pointed out. A lot of people will run through scenarios right away upon seeing that, thinking they’re about to be fired. A lot of people need to be communicated with in a different way. “Really identifying what you need and what others need from you – I know it sounds so basic, but we have to go back to the basics right now,” said Fern. The payoff will be people taking chances and sharing their ideas. Don’t create an environment where people are ridiculed for sharing ideas. Make people comfortable enough to innovate. Fern also notes that there are many situations where people don’t know what to do with the information they’ve been given. “I really did not come to terms with the fact that I’m someone who’s struggling with rejection for a long time. I worked with a counselor, I have almost a whole team of people that helped me work and do cognitive things and really work through some of these emotions. Number one, I was just at a point where I was just tired of feeling like I was holding my breath. And I don’t know any change that doesn’t start with somebody being tired of their own BS.” Fern says that’s a major problem. People need to acknowledge the things that are getting in their own way, self-reflect, ask for feedback, and be willing to do something with the information you’re given about yourself. “I try not to focus on being a leader. I try to focus on being an example, and let the leadership follow,” said Fern. Fear of Failure Fern says that if you’re scared to ask for what you need, think about why. A lot of it will come down to fear of failure. For people with ADHD, the thought process is, you don’t know that it won’t happen, so focus on the fact that it could. Fern has three simple steps for how to fail at things as though you have ADHD. The first step is to think about why you’re nervous and try to care less. Usually you’re nervous because you think you have something to lose, such as friends or family or your reputation. “What’s at stake? Usually, that is directly related to a value – family, health, wellness, knowledge, competence – if something you care about is at risk of loss, you probably won’t try to do the thing that risks that loss because it’s too great of a thought,” said Fern. “But I challenge you to always ask yourself whether or not there’s any truth behind it, or are these stories that you have told yourself.” If you are actually at risk of losing something, talk to the person about what your worries are. “All we’re asking you to do to manage fear is to manage the unfamiliar.” Secondly, get to know your fear. That’s another way to manage the unfamiliar, and thus manage your fear. “Same thing with value loss,” said Fern. “If I value competence, and I’m scared to raise my hand in a room full of people because I’m scared of how they’re going to think of me and that could violate my competence, how do I manage that loss? How do I internally say, ‘What’s going to happen if I do? What’s going to happen if I don’t?” Build failure into part of your plan. Fern says no one is bad at anything – they’re just out of practice or haven’t had practice in the first place. If you’re trying something new, don’t expect it to be perfect. Step three is to remove unnecessary limits. “I hear people say all the time, ‘Oh, I’m not that person, I could never do that.’ The word ‘capability’ by definition means you don’t know what’s going to happen yet. It means you could, but you’re not going to know until you actually try. So by definition, capability is inherently limitless. Because we don’t know what we’re capable of until we actually try, so why would we put a ceiling on what should be the floor? By telling yourself you can’t, you automatically take yourself out of the game. Because what if you could! What is that space of ‘what if’? That’s where you can leverage things.” Antrim asks how Fern works through people’s limitations with them to help them overcome them. “It’s really working through and talking out loud what the fears are,” Fern says. As an example, if someone is thinking about making a position change. If the person is scared, consider what’s at stake that they aren’t willing to risk losing, which is holding you back. If someone honestly considers what’s at stake, it’s simply that people don’t want to get promoted and then fail. Fern says to remember that no one is ever great at anything when they first start out. So, now you’ve identified your fear: it’s that you aren’t ready. So, go out of your way to get more ready ahead of time. If you’re worried about upsetting or disappointing someone, talk with them ahead of time about the possibility of failure, how you’re feeling, and how you should move forward if you do fail. “The real kicker is a ladder of inference -it’s how we make assumptions based on our own morals and ethics and things we’ve grown up with. It’s basically a path to assumption and not a lot of fact is needed to get from Point A to Point B. You can completely fabricate a story, and that’s what I like to call self-inflicted failure.” Instead, focus on the facts that support the fear. If Fern is working with someone who’s very afraid, she makes sure to spend a lot of time exploring why that is. Fern also likes to make sure to involve people who are being quiet. She wants to make people feel comfortable enough to share their own feedback. Another famous quote Fern loves is, “Your story could be someone else’s survival guide.” That’s what she’s hoping for in discussing her own vulnerabilities.
May 28 2021
39 mins
Legislative Impact on Apartment Housing featuring Sheri Druckman
Sheri Druckman, the Vice President of SRG Residential, says it’s an exciting time for Multifamily in legislation. People are going to congress, trying to promote housing initiatives. The main ones are rental assistance, eviction moratorium, and housing affordability, which are part of the American Rescue Plan. At the start of the pandemic, California put an eviction moratorium in place; all but 6 states followed suites. “As an industry, we really had to scramble to figure out, how do we help our residents who were impacted by COVID? What do we need to do to help support their rent deferrals and provide resources for them? That was a big, big issue for all of us as operators.” Right now, the CDC’s eviction moratorium is set to expire March 31st, but it’s likely to extend that. Druckman says the national debt has also grown by tens of billions of dollars, which is another issue. SRG has been helping residents with their rent deferrals and tracking rental assistance. They’re monitoring how people are applying for it and checking in to see how that affects collections and renewals. “Over the five states that we operate in, we have so many different ways the states and cities are implementing the programs, so we really have to stay on top of it.” President Biden recently signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which provides $25 billion in rental and utilities, plus another $10 billion in mortgage aid and $5 billion to tackle homelessness. It gives out $300 in job aid supplement, which was going to expire, but the plan extends those unemployment benefits. It also sent $1,400 stimulus checks to anyone making under $75,000 a year. “The mounting rental debt is up to $60 billion right now, so even with this $25 billion in rental assistance, it’s not enough for what we need. So what will happen now with this rental assistance, in how it’s being distributed is something we’re watching very closely. The intent for the relief is for housing providers to apply on behalf of the residents, to create that broad recipient eligibility. But what’s happening is, the assistance is going to be distributed by the Treasury to the state and local agencies. It’ll funnel through cities and counties, but there’s a lot of variation in how it’s being administered.” The problem is, not all states and agencies are allowing the housing providers to apply on the residents’ behalf, as the plan intended. The money is meant to go to the people who need it the most. The prioritization is first to go people who make below 50% of AMI and have been employed for 90 days. There’s also a higher threshold for people earning up to 80% of AMI. Druckman says property managers should figure out how that money is being distributed in their individual communities and get on the registration list. “These agencies – some are more equipped than others to handle this type of an influx,” said Druckman. The best plan is to elect one person to represent your entire region, who can deal with the state and put in a mass request for funds. That should help expedite the process. If the funds aren’t used, they go to waste. Druckman says through the pandemic, tons of different property management companies have come together. NAA and NMHC are an example of that. “They historically have partnered up on initiatives, housing initiatives, and strategies for consistent messaging,” said Druckman. “NAA spearheads the advocacy efforts through Advocate, but it’s all one global housing message. When we’re speaking with members of congress and our senators and our legislators, we definitely use the guidance from both of our leaders in housing.” Druckman previously served as past president of Washington Multifamily Housing and brings that experience to her new role with SRG. “It’s really about the passion for our industry. I think sometimes what we do is, we sometimes lose focus of why we’re even in this industry to begin with. It’s to improve housing for all. For all income types. My takeaway is to get involved, to have a voice, and to make a difference,” said Druckman. Getting involved with different organizations can help you to do that. “We’re in a position to change housing, as housing providers. That’s a real privilege, and that’s where the reward is, is when you take those steps and team up with others in the industry to make a difference.” Druckman says in her early career, she wanted nothing to do with legislation. But when she started learning about how much lawmakers count on being educated by the people involved in the industry, she jumped onboard. “We are facing a severe housing affordability crisis. Before, if you were to tell me ‘housing affordability’ I would only think about a HUD property or a low-income site. And that’s not the case,” said Druckman, who points out that the pandemic has put a spotlight on the issue. “This has been a crisis for years and years, but now it’s exponentially worse because of COVID.” The challenges vary by state. For example, Washington State needs 10,000 new units each year; in New York, that number is 9,000; in Arizona, its 17,000; California needs 47,000 new units each year. “There’s so many barriers to housing that we need to overcome and work on. It’s a severe crisis,” said Druckman. New advancements are making a difference. In other counties, big housing sites are going up in days. Tiny homes might be a game-changer. But Druckman says it isn’t just about building quicker, the materials we use also have to change. Lumbar has skyrocketed in costs. Druckman also says we need start building denser. Right now, she’s speaking with legislators about zoning reform. The “YIMBY” Act (Yes In My Back Yard) is in the works. “Over the years, we’ve really had to combat NIMBYism – ‘Not in my backyard.’ So part of this bill would require participants of a grant called the CDBG – the Community Development Block Grant – so it would require them to do reporting annually on how they’re working on improving density, to allow more high-density and extend the zoning for Multifamily. If you think about it, we’re not living in the 50s any longer with a one-and-a-half-acre lot sizes. We just have to think differently. We need to create more middle housing.” Druckman brings up something called hyper-local zoning. The idea is, state and local governments’ streets and blocks would be given the ability to decide how much more density they’d want in individual neighborhoods. It’s important to create more accessible dwelling units, too. Beyond that, it would need legislation to support that. Druckman urges people to get involved. “There’s one great thing from COVID that’s impacted legislation: the ability for you to be able to speak on behalf of our industry virtually. Before, we’d go to the Hill and meet in person. Now you can do that virtually. There’s also what’s called Voter Voice. Your local affiliate will have a government affairs director or program that can help guide you, but there’s no reason why we can’t all get involved. The more volume we have on any given topic, the more power and more persuasive that becomes. So get involved, and educate yourself so you can educate your clients and your local senators and representatives.” In 2019, there were only about 300 people going to the Hill to talk about Multifamily. Now that that’s gone virtual, the number in 2020 was 900.
May 26 2021
28 mins
The Fully Connected Community featuring Demetrios Barnes
Demetrios Barnes, the Co-Founder of SmartRent, says in the future, every element of a home needs to be connected online. That means from the front gate to the operational tasks, everything should be online and have corresponding software connecting those things. SmartRent serves over 2,000 customers and was recently recognized as one of the Best Places to Work Multifamily®. The components of a truly connected community start with “smart access” – that means making sure people can get in the gates, the common areas, and the units themselves. Energy saving and energy monitoring is important too, including connected thermostats and tracking of water usage. Also, having sensors around the community will help inform people. SmartRent has a general protocol for in-unit connection and others for elsewhere in the community. Some rely on WIFI, some use cellular data or things like Bluetooth. Barnes says to consider whether the problem you’re solving would benefit from use of a hub. “For us, we can go both ways. But the value of a hub really allows data to be collected and drive action in the presence of not having WIFI or not having cellular. So you still have the ability to have a network that’s running, the devices are communicating with each other. And that’s device-to-device communication, rather than sending data out to the cloud and inflicting change,” explained Barnes. For Barnes, community-wide WIFI is crucial, and residents should be able to benefit from that WIFI. When it comes to devices, he wants a hub and he wants Z-Wave so devices talk to each other on their own network. “In a general scenario where you are buying devices that solely rely on WIFI, there’s a really good chance that that’s a consumer device, so you don’t have the ability to have a management level of control over these various devices, because those devices require a login.” As a manager, you don’t want to have to manage 100 different logins around your community. Z-Wave removes that over-arching credentialing system and allows the devices to talk. The software provider handles the ownership. Barnes provides the example that without managers having access, if it’s up to the resident, the resident may (accidentally or not) sign the manager out of the account so he/she no longer has any control over a certain device. Barnes recommends contracting with a specific tech team or company. Trying to do it yourself is nearly impossible, or at the very least won’t be as good. The other problem is, tech is constantly changing. “That being said, we are a provider that wants to help companies who believe they want to take that burden on themselves. For us, if we find a partner that says, ‘I’ve got my own website, I’ve got my own tech team, I’ve built some key things, maybe we have our own property managing software that you leverage.’ We’re a company that’s got a full suit of APIs through all of our various products. We’ve got large national and global clients that have their own system. And for us, we want to be the hardware/software experts when you’re thinking about connected communities. So if you’re working with a partner like us that can divide you a simple set of APIs, it re- ally keeps your development costs down, keeps your research down, and it gives you that security of knowing this is someone who’s done this across the globe now, which is going to cut your development down.” Barnes says when you do form a partnership with a company, be it SmartRent or any other, that company should walk you through what it’s doing and encountering every step of the way, even if they run into some bumps. A lot of companies are making the switch to use tech for tours. That isn’t just going on a virtual tour where something is pre-filmed or you video chat a leasing agent who walks you through the unit in real-time; it includes self-guided tours. That means prospects show up to the property and take a look around themselves, without a leasing agent present. Many companies, such as Mark-Taylor, are trying this out through a pilot program to see how they like it. Barnes says most end up considering it a success. Of course, that requires working on access. Once you’ve set up a system for access, you can expand it to include many other aspects of your community. Barnes provides parking as an example. Managers can install technology so they can assign parking spots and see when the wrong person has parked there. They can monetize guest parking, which SmartRent is already working on. The options are endless. “How many times have you had to go find the little kiosk station and that’s how you pay? You’re seeing this all over the country, and Multifamily is behind,” said Barnes. Barnes says there are two options right now for that parking program. The first is to pro- vide decals for residents’ cars and put signs up with QR codes. “In both scenarios, residents get a sticker that goes with their car, and through readers and sensors around the community, we know where you car should be, where they’re at, and we can notify the resident if they’re in the wrong spot – or the manager if they’ve been in the wrong spot for too long.” Another option is to put QR codes on signs so people could scan and choose to pay to check in for however long they’d like for a particular spot. The entry for this is fairly low- cost; sensors can get a little pricier. The setup starts with a site survey; software, resident notification, and all other aspects can be taken care of in just a couple weeks. Leak sensors have been a big deal for Barnes’ clients. He says what they save in insurance usually pays for the sensors. Residents are more comfortable knowing they don’t have to be home but will still be protected. SmartRent has installed about 500,000 around the country. “Maybe you just have a running toilet. Well, times that by 100 runny toilets, and the cost goes up. Let’s say there’s a leak that’s happening; not only did we tell you about it, we also turn off the main water to the building.” In some cases, they may notice something irregular and catch leaks before they even hit the sensor. SmartRent is also working with other partners, like electric companies. SmartRent can shift energy load to save the residents and management companies money. Some companies will even pay for SmartRent if you sign up for their energy saving program because it helps those energy companies manage their electric grids better. That helps avoid things like the tragedy in Texas when its electric grids got overloaded. Barnes says return on investment is difficult to pinpoint right now for the leak sensors. “Generally, what we see is about a 10-13% saving in various utility costs. Then there’s that hidden ROI when the catastrophe happens. We’re decreasing that response time.” Barnes says 90% of the units they’ve worked on are retrofitted. That requires working with the leaders and making sure they understand how everything works. SmartRent doesn’t want people installing or deploying things just to do it. “The good news is, the way that we deploy our tech, there’s nothing overly proprietary about the hardware when we’re thinking about locks and thermostats,” said Barnes. They work with brands the customer is already familiar with, which makes the transition smoother.” Right now, SmartRent is working on a new product called Fusion Hub. One of the company’s larger clients already purchased 25,000 of them to go across predominantly B-style communities. “That’s a touch screen device – 8-inch LCD,” said Barnes. “What exciting about that is, the Fusion Hub not only is the hub for the devices, it also acts as a thermostat, so now we’re combing combing devices, keeping that cost down. It also now is going to act as the gateway, the portal – whether that’s our brand, our client’s brand – it now acts again as that communication device.” Barnes says there are still people out there without smart phones or other tech. So when people move in and see that device already installed to help you control your home and engage with your property manager, it’s extremely helpful. Another partnership they’re excited about is the one they have set up with Ring. They’re the only Multifamily partnership with the company. “These are products that are exciting to me because it helps the infrastructure of the community. Look at Ring, they’ve got the neighborhood app where folks are talking to each other,” said Barnes. “You’re really just taking it to the next level, is where I see it going very quickly." SmartRent’s portfolio includes over 189,000 units total. To anyone on the fence, Barnes says do not miss out on making money. “90-95% of the time, a prospect chooses a smart home over the dumb home,” Barnes laughed. “And it typically comes with a rent premium. So when you look at that alone, and I look across the other vendors in this space, we’re all moving very aggressively in the conquest of making this industry extremely smart. So why leave money on the table?” Barnes also says smart technology can make your team much more efficient. For instance, in the pandemic, virtual and self-guided tours were crucial in the pandemic. “Lastly, we’re working with 24 of the top 25. We’ve got 169 logos under our belt just within the last year. So do you really want to show up late to the game?”
May 24 2021
34 mins
The Psychological Impact of a Vibrant Community featuring Fatima Dicko
Fatima Dicko, Founder and CEO of Sugar Summary: Having a vibrant community means having connectivity among your residents. The company Sugar was named on the concept of borrowing a cup of sugar – something that involves friendly interaction, a conversation and building of trust that can bring you closer, and a shared moment that enhances friendships. Nothing will make people renew a lease like feeling part of a community.  So how do we achieve that? What tools can we use to help us get there? How might a sense of engagement change in the future, and how can we adapt and keep up? Key Topics (3:00) Dicko’s focus is to turn mere buildings into communities. That’s done through micro-interactions and residential engagement. Isolation can be devastating.  (5:40) The convergence of old ideas can lead to great new ideas. Being first isn’t necessary if you’re different or better.  (8:00) Product adoption needs to combine utility and community engagement. The app has to have a reason to be in the app every day and be excited about it. They have to be able to hold the user’s attention too. All of this leads to product stickiness. (11:55) The apps we use are going to switch from focusing on productivity to connectivity. They need to go beyond the bare necessities. (16:30) Research and data can help with lease renewal. Studies show that if residents know at least two people within the community, they’re much more likely to renew their lease. You can use analytics to track how often people are using certain amenities, so you know what’s hitting best. (19:50) Sugar is trying to understand the difference between features and benefits. Engagement features are only as good as the amount of time people spend in the app. Understand the biggest problems and figure out how to fix them. Use what people are writing on Yelp and Google to do that. (26:40) When people contribute to the wellbeing of a space, they’re more invested in it. They take greater pride in the community and feel more connected. (27:40) If you get a bad review, respond to it quickly! That shows engagement from management and displays that they’re willing to address a problem or intervene to fix it. (32:10) Apps should integrate with other technologies. It’s important to figure out what your residents are happy about experiencing.  (35:20) The market is evolving, and the future is unknown. Use data to lead your marketing.  (39:11) A micro-community involves a self-sustainability component. That means removing the barriers of making things difficult to share. Sharing both relies on and builds trust. (42:40) What are things that are going to change over time, versus things that will stay the same? What will apartments look like ten years from now, and how will people interact? The need to connect will always exist. (45:20) Keep in mind that everything you do needs to somehow loop back to a return on investment. (46:40) The pandemic has given the multifamily industry a good opportunity to reflect, rethink, and reimagine connection.
May 21 2021
48 mins
Construction Transformation to Urban Elegant Living featuring Dale Phillips
A bold multifamily development is setting a new benchmark for urban elegant living in the Southwest. Dale Phillips, President and Founder of Stellar Residential, the management company for One Camelback is leading one of the most ambitious construction transformations ever undertaken in Phoenix. This boutique, Class A development will deliver a vibrant use of residential space, with soaring and dramatic floor-to-ceiling views of Central Phoenix, modern and functional floor plans, upscale amenities and first-class services – all under one 11-story roof, while aesthetically adding some more glamour and elegance to the Phoenix skyline. We will share the stage with Dale as we take you through the progress updates on One Camelback and talk about the multifamily technology making it all happen. In May of 2018, Stellar Residential was invited to participate in a project. Initially, that was intended for their contributions in property management, but that changed. They started getting involved with the selection process with the architect and design team, then the general contractors. Dale Phillips created a comprehensive marketing plan with a “Vision Session” where the team brainstormed ideas. “We decided to make this the most memorable development in all of our careers,” said Phillips. “So, with the support of ownership, we went down a path that included a theme. I’ve always been of thematic builds, where we make commitments in the very beginning that all of the partners, from design, architecture, they all are tied to one thinking. Because this is a 1985, very iconic structure, the commitment is to the building itself.” That way, any time they’re faced with a challenging decision, they reflect back on the central theme of the building. “Even though everyone involved in this project, to their credit, deserves to be part of it, based on their experience, the most critical component is the ability to work together and solve problems.” Phillips says this could have been a merchant-minded project, where the intent of the investment was to redevelop and then sell. Instead, they decided to make this a legacy project. “When a tough decision is necessary, you just have to think about the fact that there’s 120,000 cars that drive by that project every day, and he wants to be proud. That’s the perfect scenario for someone like me, who’s in the twilight of his career and wants to apply my experience and feel proud as well, because Arizona is my home.” Phillips is focused on an adaptive re-use of the land. Stellar is still brand new, comparatively, but Phillips has had a long career where he’s worked with other adaptations and restorations that have prepared him for this new project. “With our second architect, we’re well on our way to producing what probably will be the most exciting for-rent product that Arizona has ever seen.” Phillips has also been inspired by things he’s seen in his travels. For instance, he’s adding a fitness boutique rather than just a basic fitness center, based on something he saw in Milan, Italy. Stellar Residential’s role is unique this time around. “Anybody that’s in property management that has participated in a lease-up, typically what we are tasked with is, the developer says, ‘I just built 300 apartments, now go find 300 customers’ and you have no influence on anything at that point – the ship’s sailed in terms of any form of alterations in the size of the apartments, the configuration, the amenities.” Phillips says what normally makes things even blander from there, is that you just look up the demographics for who is most likely to live in your community, and you go after that subset of people. “We worked it completely the other way around, where we identified 6 personas, such as single male/single female professional, married couple, empty-nester single, empty-nester family – we identified 6 critical personas that we believe would appreciate and could afford this project. And then I created a questionnaire of 25 questions surrounding expectations in the common area, preference in the floor plans, kitchen island over table. ‘If you have a kitchen island, would you like a cook top or a sink?’” Phillips says he surveyed 6 people in each of the 6 personas and wrote up summaries on their responses. Then, he pushed that over to the architect to show what would work well for their customers. Everything is being built specifically for the people they’re being built for, not what the architect thinks might be best. Phillips gives the example of the draw of the Peloton bike. People can hop right on the bike and get a workout from home with a beautiful view overlooking mountains right from their home window. That’s a better option than going a to a gym and staring at other equipment. “Early on, the idea was to create spaces where people could have some level of flex space. If they chose to work out in their room, we’re going to provide them with a piece of cardio equipment, no charge. If that’s what makes your lifestyle great there, I’ll give it to you.” They also did a feasibility report. Safety was the major concern, followed by size and price, but third was to see whether there’s enough space for storage. Because of that, he’s going above-and-beyond. “So I have five stories or five floors of basement for parking. I’m over-parked. And I am going to build the largest storage containers in a basement that I think have ever been built, which is going to allow people to move a piano in. I’m going to have underground garages for your Ferrari and your Lamborghini. It’s going to be a building of convenience.” Stellar has started getting engaged in social media, sending out little teasers. But it’s on a major road and with so many people passing it every day, wondering what the project is, Phillips isn’t particularly worried about whether people have heard about it. Right now, though, it isn’t obvious that the building will be a luxury apartment. Phillips says they’re also starting to get information about the building out, like rental rates, which will be the highest in Phoenix. There’s also some information about the floor plans, but the overall shape of the building isn’t revealed online. The building is offering lots of different floor plans, of varying sizes. It also has a penthouse option with windows extending all the way around. Soon, they’ll start thinking more seriously about applicants. The building is located in Uptown Phoenix – not Downtown, a distinction that’s very important to Phillips, though he says he still loves Downtown areas. Why does the difference matter? “It’s the best of all worlds. You’ve got an insulation from the hustle and bustle and the traffic congestion. Anybody that knows Downtown – specifically Roosevelt Row – it’s vibrant, but it’s challenging to navigate if you’re trying to get in and out quickly, and you’re subject to a true Downtown living environment of noise and disruption and what have you. Uptown is upscale, it’s sophisticated.” Stellar Residential leased an office space in a high-end plaza right across from the project, intending to do pre-leasing. They planned to print and hang up pictures of the floor plans for the apartments for people to view. But one of Phillips’ friends passed away, leaving behind a robust art collection. He hung that collection up instead, and found he generated more foot-traffic from people viewing the art than he would have from people looking at floor plans. “It was not part of my marketing plan. It generated a good 200-250 leads that I may not have ever had. So I guess if there’s something to learn, it’s: as you’re crafting your path to success, keep some options open. Because if you’re open to new thinking, there’s always going to be an opportunity to explore,” said Phillips. In a video of Philipps giving a tour to Patrick Antrim, the CEO of Multifamily Leadership, Philipps tells Antrim, “The story is all about the building first, the intersection second, the design third, then the floor plans and the views. Every challenging decision has to tie back to our theme. It is about the building, the integrity of the building – a 1985 build. It’s going to be here for the next 5 decades, so we have to get it right. We just don’t get knocked down when someone is tired of it. It’s going to be here forever. That’s our commitment. That’s what makes our decision-making somewhat easier – not always cheap, but I think we come away with the right decisions on what to do in this build.” Phillips has been doing a lot of those tours, but not for potential renters yet. He’s just showing it off to people who are interested in the project. He says the building itself is his billboard right now. “One of my favorite stories is when the first architecture firm would send over their draft of the floor plans. I think at one time, we were at 220 units. The average size was 20% smaller than what they are today. We had some very interesting shapes. So I challenged them, because there was a heavy New York influence here. In the 25 years I’ve been working in Arizona, I’ve learned, we’re not New York. We can learn from there, but we can’t expect our customers to be New Yorkers. Yeah, we’ll get 10% of New Yorkers living there, but we have to compete with Arizona product, which is a larger product and they like fresh air,” said Phillips. He started marking the floor plans and sending them back with notes. “There was one particular studio that never changed. I kept re-writing it, crossing this out, re-directing the floor path, and it was based on – in my opinion, one of the best studios exists in the Optima Signature in Chicago. I’ve been in it, and it rocks. So, I kept sending the changes back, and it just kept coming back the same. So I read it, and beat my head against this. I thought, ‘Well, there’s one way to prove this. We aren’t going to go down to Chicago, but I’m going to go to Home Depot and I’m going to fill up my truck with two-by-fours.” Phillips framed up the studio, building it from the specs. He got a refrigerator box and an oven box as placeholders for the studio so you could feel it. He walked the owners through it to show them that the design simply didn’t work. There wasn’t enough room. “Yes, singles tend to be single occupants, but at the same time, they like company. They like to be able to cook a dinner, or whatever. It’s got to function. So the big suc- cess story there is, don’t give up in what you believe in. I didn’t want to have excuses for why 20 of the units didn’t rent. I didn’t want to say, ‘I told you so.’ I wanted to exhaust every option I had to convince someone to think differently.” Philipps had retired before starting Stellar Residential, but he realized he had more fuel in the tank and he had more ideas. He tries to learn from all he can and hopes to impart a piece of himself that can have a lasting effect. “You touched a little bit on the amenities throughout the building. It’s a very, very challenging building in terms of common area. We cannot compete with a new build. We’re working within some very strict restraints.” During part of his demographic analysis, he found 40% of responses were dedicated to common areas and space. For instance, people said having a fitness center was absolutely crucial in the building, even for people who said they wouldn’t use it. That means it isn’t going to be packed in that center, so they might as well limit the space and fill it with a few nice things, rather than wasting space that will go unused. The basement space will be catered to the services that make life easier. For instance, they can have on-site car detailing. Antrim points out, people tend to ask solely about square footage and pricing, but that may not just be because those are the only things they care about; they might not know what else to ask. “I’ve always been a student of consumer behavior, and even more so, specific to the renter’s behavior and what motivates them to make a decision to come live in one of my communities and pay me rent every month,” said Phillips. “There’s a word I like to use, which is, the ‘reveal.’ The reveal is, when you’re walking into a space that has impact. Most communities, it’s walking up to the clubhouse, going past the pool, into the model, and those are the points of reveal. Our point of reveal is, imagine you’re standing in the bottom floor of the building, the center of the atrium, and there’s a 7-story art sculpture dropping down over your head. You’re not thinking about square footage and rent anymore.” Phillips says the appeal of wanting to show that off to their friends is a big draw, even for everyday life. Because of that, it’s his team’s job to make sure to give people time to talk about what they see as the building is first being shown off. “I almost envisioned that, with my team gaining a little confidence, if they follow my lead, if they trust me, to say, ‘Please bring someone right here and just have them stand here and let them look around. The first thing you should think about saying is: It’s not for everyone.’” Phillips says when he started Stellar, he thought he’d build a third-party management company off his experience and the relationships he’s built. “While that is in play, and it’s growing – it’s a growing part of our company... I’ve looked at more site plans and floor plans and blueprints in the last 3 years than I did in the first 25 years.” Stellar also just built 150 apartments in Prescott, setting records in rent. Phillips is proud of that. “When somebody asks me, ‘What does Stellar do?’ I say, ‘There’s nothing that we don’t do, as it relates to apartments.’ We’re building, we’re managing, we’re buying, we’re involved in all aspects of it, and it feels good.” Phillips says his second piece of business with Stellar was the Empire Group. They felt they could be a competitor in the single-family for-rent market, which is quite popular in Arizona. That’s an average square footage of 670-1200 square feet, with no one living above, below, or beside you, with small yards. It’s been extremely successful so far. Stellar stabilized 180 units in 6 months and it’s now going to market. “I don’t think you can build enough of that product. There’s a lot coming, don’t get me wrong. But the net migration numbers for Arizona are staggering.” Phillips expects population numbers are going to continue trending upwards. If four out of ten people need apartments, the city is under-developed. “If COVID has had a positive affect on any asset class, it’s the single-for-rent product. Because they’re easy living, and now that you don’t have to commute in and out of the city, they’re located out in the periphery, where the land is more affordable.” To manage them, Phillips says, all you have to do is get out of the way. “Our branded tagline is Living Simplified,” said Phillips. “We stepped back from every aspect of finding an apartment, touring an apartment, renting an apartment, and living in one to determine if there was anything we could do. We found a handful of items that would make it easy on someone to support our tagline, because I didn’t want to have an empty promise.” That tagline extended into the design of the apartments. They include specific furnishings that are extremely efficient, helping to make use of a small space. As for Stellar’s lightbulb logo? “What’s it mean to you?” says Phillips.  Antrim guesses innovation and ideas. Phillips jokes that the light is out in the logo. He links that back to their hands-off approach: The lights are out! Really, he says, it’s just a thought-provoking image. “We have a little commitment amongst ourselves that every milestone we hit, we’re going to create our new logo. That’s our second – that’s 2.0. 3.0 is in the workings. We just don’t take ourselves too seriously, as you can tell.”
May 20 2021
49 mins
Developing Emotional Intelligence - Navigating Your Emotions
Audra Lamoon and Scott Sheppard joined the conference from the United Kingdom to discuss emotional intelligence. Sheppard has worked in customer service, the airline industry, and the cruise industry, and the hotel industry. He says he’s traveled to five dozen different countries through his work in the travel industry, learning about how different cultures and communities experience things differently.  “Recently it dawned on me that everyone was saying, you’ve got to say please, say thank you – the niceties of customer service, but no one ever really spoke about how our emotions affect our feelings, how our emotions affect our day-to-day lives. What goes on in our mind isn’t always exposed on your face,” said Sheppard. He says even things like the weather can impact your mood. If the weather is bad, create the weather in your mind! Imagine somewhere with beautiful weather and tell yourself you’ll be there one day. Sheppard started reading books by the researcher and publisher Daniel Goleman, who writes about emotional and social intelligence. He combined what he learned with his own experience to create training materials to help people navigate their own feelings and deal with personal relationships. “I always try to explain to people, can you remember the first time you had an emotion or the first time you had a feeling? A lot of people will say around the age of 5 or 6. Who shows us those emotions? The most influential people in our lives show us the way – and that’s our parents, our friends, our siblings, our teachers. We always think at that particular time, from the age of 5, up to adolescence, up to now, we think when we do things, it’s the right thing because we were shown by our parents, siblings, teachers, that that was the right way. But sometimes it’s not, sometimes we have to change our outlook, and we have to regress back to those times for emotional healing. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, we do the same thing again and again and we make the same mistakes again and again. But people need to understand, emotional intelligence, we’ve all got that.” Sheppard said it’s important to check in with yourself and analyze how you’re feeling and how your emotions might impact the rest of your day. Sometimes you have to differentiate between emotions and feelings and think about how to manage both. “On average, an adult will go through and feel 22,000 different types of feelings,” said Sheppard. “What we need to understand is where that emotion stems from.” So what is an emotion and what is a feeling? Sheppard brings up something called the Wheel of Emotion. In the center are seven key emotions: Happy, Surprised, Bad, Fearful, Angry, Disgusted, and Sad. Looking at the Happy category for instance, you might feel trusting, optimistic, peaceful, playful, or accepted. What leads to those feelings could be that you’re feeling valued, thankful, or courageous. The emotion associated with those feelings is happiness. Under the Angry category, the middle ring of the wheel lists things like let down, humiliated, mad, or frustrated. In the outermost ring, you’ll find things like betrayed, disrespected, jealous, annoyed, and withdrawn. Realizing what feeling is leading to your emotions, and what happened in the first place to make you feel that way, can help you overcome what you’re experiencing. Sheppard suggests keeping a journal where you write the things making you feel positive on the front, and all the negative things on the back. Then, glue the back page down so you don’t dig it back up. Instead, focus on the good things. Sheppard says doing that is proven to help people sleep better and reduce stress. Meditation can also help. From a young age, children are educated by their own emotions with the videos and movies they watch. For instance, the Pixar movie “Inside Out” breaks emotions down and shows people how your memories can evoke certain feelings. Even sad movies like Bambi make kids reflect on their own emotions. Often, people who are very intelligent and have a high IQ have comparatively low emotional intelligence. Sheppard says the good news is, you can improve upon that. Emotional intelligence is abbreviated “EI” or “EQ” for emotional quotient. “It is regarded as more important than IQ – than intelligence quotient in attaining success in people’s lives, in your careers, and as individuals,” said Sheppard. “Our success of our professions today – especially since COVID – depend on our ability to be able to read people’s signals – this is what it’s about, and how you react to them appropriately.”  There are ways to strengthen EQ. You can reduce negative emotions by stepping back and appreciating someone else’s point of view; stay cool and manage stress by reflecting on how you can handle something; be assertive and express your emotions when it’s necessary, even if doing that is difficult; stay proactive rather than reactive when dealing with a person you find challenging; bounce back from adversity by being totally honest about where you failed and try to figure out what you could do better; and express your intimate emotions in your close, personal relationships. Audra Lamoon, the Chief Happiness Officer with Livewire Performance Consultants, says she got involved with multifamily by happenstance. She was working with retail and hotels, and while working with a developer in Atlanta, she made connections that brought her into the multifamily industry. Lamoon and Sheppard have a presentation on emotional intelligence.  Sheppard says there are five elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, empathy, motivation, self-regulation, and social skills.  Self-awareness is the ability to recognize an emotion in yourself. It’s the key to emotional intelligence. That includes recognizing your own emotions and understanding how they might affect other people. “If you evaluate your emotions, you can manage them,” said Sheppard.  Sheppard recommends talking to yourself about your emotions aloud. Doing that out loud gives you the chance to hear yourself. “You don’t always wake up in the best of moods,” said Sheppard. “But if you’re aware of it, you can start to alleviate some of these problems that might’ve gotten you to that feeling in the first place.” Next comes empathy. Sheppard says some people confuse this with sympathy, but the two are not the same. “The more skillful you are at discerning the feeling behind other people’s signals, the better you can control the signals that you sent out.” Lamoon asks the audience or reader to reflect on whether you really know the difference between empathy and sympathy. Brené Brown, a researcher professor who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy has her own definition for those terms. Lamoon plays a video of that distinction: “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection,” says Brown in the video. She breaks down empathy into four qualities: the ability to take the perspective of another person or recognize their perspective is their truth; staying out of judgement; recognizing emotion in other people, and then communicate that.  “Empathy is feeling with people,” Brown says. “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with, ‘At least.’” She explains, you don’t always have to find the silver lining in things or try to make things better. Brown gives examples like, if someone tells you they had a miscarriage, the appropriate response is not, “At least you know you can get pregnant.” Or if someone says, “One of my kids just got kicked out of school,” you shouldn’t respond, “At least your other kid is an A student.” The response you give will almost never make someone truly better. What will help is the connection you form. It’s okay to simply tell someone that you don’t know what to say. Just be there for people without trying to fix things. “I think the dictatorial, autocratic leadership is going, going gone,” said Lamoon. “And I hope to God that these generations – these new generations rising through the ranks are going to understand empathy more than any other generation.”  Sheppard says schools in the UK are starting to incorporate emotional intelligence into their curriculum. Lamoon shows a quote on screen attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt: “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” The next key to emotional intelligence is to motivate yourself to have a positive attitude. You need motivators other than just money. Yes, money is important, but you need other targets. Not just the targets your boss gives you, but your own smart targets for yourself. Self-Regulation, the next tool to EQ, is when you have a little control over something. “I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where people are pushing our buttons and keep pushing and pushing, because they want a reaction from us. Sometimes, we break. Sometimes we crumble, we let into that. Signs of bullying, signs of people being a pushover come in. But if you can understand what that is, and how to deal with it, when to say the right thing, when to walk off is key to this self-regulation,” said Sheppard. This, like the other steps in this process, requires conscientious thinking. Sheppard says it’s important to reflect on your conscious and subconscious mind. Sheppard says we only use about 5% of our conscious mind each day. The subconscious mind deals with the constant autopilot we put ourselves in every day. The subconscious doesn’t evaluate thoughts, memories, and feelings. The capacity for memories in your subconscious is virtually unlimited, but you have to bring those memories back up to your consciousness. Do you remember the first time you fell in love? “Imagine you’re going on your first date with this person,” said Sheppard. “How long would it have taken you to get ready instead of normal?” Lamoon answers it would have taken her twice or three times as long because she’d want to look good. That’s a conscious effort you make, hoping to impress. You might be more conscious about how you ate or how you acted – things that are normally subconscious/autopilot acts. Eventually, as you’re with that person longer, you fall back into autopilot. “Don’t keep pressing play,” said Sheppard. Sheppard says there are tools you can use to control how long an emotion lasts. Mull over how you’re feeling. Use that emotion to facilitate cognitive process and consider whether the situation might have a different explanation than you originally thought. Understand how your emotions are linked to your relationships and consider what you’d like to do about those feelings. Then manage those emotions to promote personal growth by using your self-awareness of the situation to help cope.  Lamoon shows a December 2017 tweet from Elon Musk where he says, “Wanted again to send a note of deep gratitude to Tesla owners WW for taking a chance on a new company that all experts said would fail. So much blood, sweat & tears from the Tesla team went into creating cars that you’d truly love. I hope you do. How can we improve further?” Lamoon says, regardless of whether you personally like Elon Musk or not, he has a high level of EQ. Lamoon says he’s shown that with his employees multiple times, for instance meeting personally with anyone who was injured while working for his company. Another good example is the CEO of Pepsi, who went back to India to visit her family and lots of people came to see “her.” But everyone who visited didn’t talk to her; instead, they went to her parents and congratulated them for raising such a successful child. She took that idea and rolled with it, writing to her employees’ parents to tell them that they should be proud. Sheppard says that once you make a difference in yourself, people will see that change in you. Finally, the last portion of your EQ: recognize that your social skills matter. You may have lost some of those during the pandemic, since you haven’t been exercising those interpersonal muscles. But your people skills are paramount to success in your personal life. Acknowledge how other people are feeling. Differentiate feelings from emotions. Accept and appreciate those emotions, then reflect on them and consider how to handle them.  Also, try to accept and handle other people’s emotions. Patrick Antrim, the CEO of Multifamily Leadership, asks about how to “press stop” on the autopilot we live in. Sheppard says it’s hard to take yourself out of your comfort zone, but doing so can be a good thing because it gives you a reality check. You’ll think differently. You might react differently to the same situation depending on whether you’re in or out of your comfort zone. Lamoon says changing tiny things are a good way to do that. Tiny, incremental changes are best. She gives examples like having tea instead of coffee, or reaching out to different people than the ones you talk to every day. Sheppard says getting feedback from all parties in a group can be beneficial. He calls this 360 feedback. It helps you to learn what motivates people as well as yourself. Lamoon recommends writing up a list of favorites and keeping it at work. That way, if you’re having a bad day and a coworker notices, they can look at your list of favorites and go get something to surprise you with to lift your spirits. List of Audra & Scott’s Book Recommendations: – The Chimp Paradox – Professor Steve Peters – Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman – Working with Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman – Primal Leadership – Daniel Goleman – Dare to lead – Brene Brown
Apr 27 2021
58 mins
How Covid Has Forever Changed the Multifamily Leasing IndustryPivoting Internal Communications During a PandemicThe Argument Hangover