TOPIC: In this new episode of Apartment Academy’s “Master Operator” series, Bell Partners Chief Operating Officer Cindy Clare joins us to discuss multifamily challenges, tools, training, and more. Listen now!
This episode of Apartment Academy’s Master Operator series features Cindy Clare, COO of Bell Partners.
Cindy has been operating multifamily buildings at a high level for a long time. She shared valuable insights on how COVID has changed the industry, as well as some of the difficulties and risks involved in managing apartment buildings.
Bell Partners has nearly 50 years of experience in managing multifamily operations. Today, the company has more than 220 properties and 65,000 units across the Northeast and spanning into the West and some of the South. About two-thirds of those are third-party managed, which makes Bell Partners one of the largest third-party operators in the country.
Cindy explains how getting a foundation at the on-site level can help you succeed as you move up in your organization. Property management is a field that you can go to school for and pursue as a career today, but many in the industry didn’t start out knowing anything about it. And as property management specialties and real estate degrees proliferate, the industry is opening up a lot more, which is exciting.
Challenges of Multifamily Management
The biggest challenge, in a word, is people. Property management is a people business. You have residents, but you also have employees and clients. Everything property management touches, besides the real estate itself, is people-oriented.
Further, the more you move up in an organization, the more you spend time on people rather than assets. While the physical assets and the day-to-day operations of properties have their own complexities, to some extent they’re fairly straightforward. It’s the human component that can make or break your performance in property management.
First, the people operating a property impact how your residents feel. And that includes maintenance as well as customer service. All of that impacts your residents and informs their decision to stay. Are they happy? Are they going on social media today to complain about you or celebrate you?
Another challenge is the connection people have to the culture. And you have to create a strong culture. You have to create a vision for people to follow. They need to know what our goals are and where we’re going. Getting everyone rowing in the same direction is crucial.
Maintaining Connections During COVID
The pandemic forced lots of people and industries to find new ways to connect. That was possible through video and video messages as well as written messages.
Now that we’re starting to get back out, you need to be able to tell people how much you appreciate what they’re doing and hear what their concerns are. That’s a hard job, and every single person on the site makes a difference. And that extends from the person cleaning the grounds to the site manager, the leasing people, and the maintenance people. They all play a critical role in what happens to those properties.
Over the last year, we have been forced as an industry to contemplate how we can maintain some level of interaction with our teams on site without physically being there.
Traditionally, property management is not an industry that adopts technology quickly. When you think about how fast technology has moved and what other industries were doing last year, we were forced to really embrace technology on a whole different level. That’s made a huge difference, and a lot of those changes are here to stay.
Developing Bell Partners’ Training Programs
Training teams is another fundamental aspect of property management. Most in the industry are aware of the basic skills required, such as fair housing training, customer service training, maintenance training, and software training. One of the things that we’ve also focused on, however, is leadership training.
In this industry, we might take a maintenance tech who knows how to fix everything, for example, and say, “You’re the maintenance manager now.” But we don’t give them the tools to be a leader. That’s why we’re very focused on leadership. Those soft skills are critical as well.
Legal training is also important because we’re so heavily regulated. Firms that operate in multiple states, for example, have to know the federal and local fair housing laws. Some states require human trafficking training, and others require harassment training. There are all kinds of different requirements in addition to the skills training.
Companies that don’t have the luxury of a risk management department can turn to apartment associations and other outside resources. That could be supplier partners or local attorneys. But it’s critical to have someone that can help you with risk management and compliance.
Embracing Technology at Bell Partners
Bell Partners has added several digital tools to manage the challenges of COVID, including an artificial intelligence (AI) lead management tool, virtual leasing, self-guided tours, and chatbots on all websites. This has enabled the company to meet customers where they want to be.
Of these tools, the chatbots and AI tools for lead management have had the most direct impact. People want to use those tools late at night, or early in the morning, or if they aren’t in the same time zone. With tracking, Bell has recorded a 10% year-over-year leasing lift, even in the midst of the pandemic. And one crucial reason for that is that the tools free up team members to deal with more real live customers.
For more information about Bell Partners, including available positions in multifamily management, visit bellpartnersinc.com.