Editor’s note: How to Take on Multifamily is a video series featuring Tony LeBlanc, multifamily expert and owner of Ground Floor Property Management. This series aims to cover exactly what property managers need to master the multifamily side of their property management business. Below is an abridged transcript of Episode #3: Delivering on Your Multifamily Promise.
Tony M: Tony from Buildium here, the platform that helps property managers own their everyday operations, make residents feel at home, and take on more doors. Today, we’re here again with Tony LeBlanc from Ground Floor Property Management, all the way from New Brunswick. We’re talking about how to get into multifamily. Episode 3, we’re going to talk about where the rubber meets the road and execution—and really delivering on your multifamily promise. How you doing today, Tony? How are things going?
Tony LeBlanc: I’m doing very well. How you doing, man?
Tony M: Good, good. Excited to talk with you. We’ve had a, I say, great couple of first episodes. Just to give people a recap, Episode 1 was all about really getting into multifamily and everything you have to be aware of from a macro perspective and what that means for your business, if you’re ready for it, and where you need to be in order to be ready for it. Episode 2 was all about marketing and really going after the new kind of owner and investor client that you’ll find in the multifamily side of your business—and how to best do that.
Tony M: Now we’re going to talk about execution. Of course, you’ve got everything set up, you’ve got your processes ready to go, but you really just have the foundation. Execution is probably one of the hardest parts I would imagine.
Tony LeBlanc: Yes, sir. Absolutely.
Tony M: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about what that means. One of the first things that multifamily property managers have to deal with is leasing up a new property. Could you talk to me a little bit about that, Tony?
What is leasing up and how do you do it well?
Tony LeBlanc: If everything goes right, there are two types of buildings that somebody can onboard. One is an existing complex—so someone bought something typically or they’re changing property management companies—and they’re coming to you to take over the building.
In an ideal world, you’re taking over a building that’s either full or close to being full, but either way, you have to make sure that you’re ready for the influx of turnovers that’s going to happen because the reality is the bigger the building, the more risk and opportunity you have on a monthly basis to have turnovers. It’s just a part of that world.
You got to make sure that you’re a) staffed up to be able to handle the showing requests—whether or not you have an onsite resident manager that’s doing all of the showings themselves or if you have a leasing staff or if it’s the owner, or you personally doing the showings. You got to make sure that you have a), the people in place, and then start thinking about what are the different segments of time you’re going to be doing your showings.
I find that as property managers we can sometimes put ourselves in a corner to where we desperately want to be there at all times of the day (and all times of the night) to be able to deal with a prospect coming in interested in renting a property, but the reality is that that can burn you out really fast. One of the things that we’ve learned over the years is basically we try to set somewhat schedules in terms of when we’re showing. We try to set up…we try to bucket a bunch of time in the morning that we’ll do showings and then we’ll do another kind of stage at night where we do showings—and we tend to do the same thing with weekends.
Tony M: That’s a great tip, by the way, for property owners out there who don’t do that. I would say that’s one of our pro tips is bucket your time because getting into that rhythm, as Tony is saying, makes so much sense. I would imagine it’s easier for your staff to manage as well.
Tony LeBlanc: No, absolutely. We’ve seen ourselves run our leasing agents crazy in terms of trying to be all over the city all at once, like back to back to back to back showings. What we do now is we try to accumulate showings. Let’s say we have one unit that we want to show. Try to do your best to put them all together in an hour- or a two-hour span, kind of like an open house is really what you’re trying to do. Depending on the amenities of the building, a showing can take you anywhere from 10 to 15, to 20 minutes tops. Sometimes it might get a little lengthy, but we do them in 30-minute gaps because sometimes there’s driving that’s required.
But if you’re in the same building, 30 minutes usually gives you enough time to properly give the right service to the prospect coming in. What are the action items that they need to do if they’re interested in the property? And then get you prepared for the next one. It gives you a few minutes to check your emails, check your voicemails, and all that type of stuff. Yeah, really being aware of your time and who’s going to be responsible for all that stuff is super critical. You got to have down.
Tony M: Yeah. We’ve talked about showings a little bit. Let’s take it from all the way from lead to lease in this process and get a little bit more into the nitty gritty. Looking at the first thing that you have to do, obviously, whether it’s a lease up or whether you’re already managing an existing building and it’s just churn that’s happening, you want to list the units. You want to have that initial process of listing. You want to have a great listing, first of all, that speaks to the amenities. How do you do that?
How do you write and syndicate rental listings for your multifamilies?
Tony LeBlanc: Yep. That is a very important part. One of the first aspects…it all starts with good pictures. Go out, convince your owner that you need professional photography done for your units. A lot of property managers make the mistake of treating their apartments unlike they would treat a listing on a home when the reality is, in my opinion, they should be at the same level, the same caliber. For an apartment, it’s like a hundred bucks, a couple hundred bucks to get professional pictures taken of the suite, common areas, and the exterior. If you have a really good camera and you have the confidence to be able to do that, then go ahead, but my recommendation is to get a pro to go out and do that.
Great photography. You start putting your ad together, like you said, mentioning and outlining all the different amenities and kind of the target market that you’re putting out there. We have that already. Basically, what we do is we load all that up in Buildium and in our listings manager. Then from there, we have syndication tools that will pull that data from Buildium and then publish it across different websites that we use to do our advertising.
Here in Eastern Canada, Kijiji is 99.99% of where we get all of our tenants. It’s a pretty simple one. It just pulls it, populates it in there, and then tenants usually email back on the ads or they have the option to call us. We’ve also got some ads to where we actually directly put a Calendly link in the ad to give the tenant the power to be able to book the appointment right on the spot with us. That saves a lot of time.
One of the things that you want…technology is your friend here, but I also understand the importance of getting on the phone with somebody because it us as leasing people and property managers, it’s our first initial stab at some pre-screening. It’s like, “Okay. I can kind of get a feel of this person. What’s your name? Where are you living? What part of town are you in? What are you looking for?” That’s like the phase one of screening. If you’re getting some red flags in that conversation, then you can either try to get out of not showing it or at least you’re going to the showing on your terms and you’re being a little bit more strict on when you can go show it and you try to schedule it with something else. Yeah, it’s just kind of a good way to proceed from there.
Tony M: Yeah. That’s a good point too because there are prescreening tools that you can use to ask those questions as part of an application and with using technology, but it just depends because sometimes people can say one thing and then you kind of dig in a little bit more and you find something out that’s a bit different. I think that’s huge.
Also, one of the things that I wanted to bring up with creating listings that really sell the property to the right kind of residents that will benefit most from it, I think one of the important things to remember is how you structure that listing because the listing essentially is content. Being in marketing, we create a lot of content here at Buildium to deliver value to property managers like yourself and just across the US and into Canada and all across the globe. Lots of people look at our content. One of the things that you always have to do is you have to understand your audience, right?
Tony LeBlanc: Yeah, absolutely.
Tony M: What are they going to benefit most by potentially moving into your property? What’s really going to ring true to them? Because you could have all of this information in a listing and you could have like the least important, one of the most important things, buried in a whole list at the bottom. If you’re doing that, you’re doing yourself a disservice because someone might miss that and they might go to a competing building.
Tony LeBlanc: A perfect example. If you’re marketing let’s say a C-class-type building, putting in your ad that you’re close to a bus route and close to grocery stores is key. It’s like that is like one of the most important things that we highlight in a lot of those types of ads because a lot of them won’t have vehicles and they need to be in walking distance and they need to know that there’s good amenities very close by in proximity to where they live—huge selling points.
Tony M: Yeah. Of course, a lot of like property managers know this intuitively and they do it all the time. A shameless plug here though for the 2020 State of the Property Management Industry Report.
Tony LeBlanc: Yes.
Tony M: Property managers, if you haven’t read it, it’s actually a report that Buildium publishes in partnership with NARPM. We do it every year, and this particularly has a lot of insights about what your property owners are looking for and what your residents are looking for—a great resource for you to take a look at, especially if you’re trying to figure out like what are the amenities that residents most want today. Shameless self-promotion there.
Okay. Now that we’ve talked about listings and really how to write an amazing listing and put the right type of information in there, let’s go and talk about screening because obviously this is a huge piece of the multifamily puzzle.
How do you approach screening multifamily renters?
Tony LeBlanc: For us, it all starts again on that initial call that we get with regards to booking an appointment. The next opportunity that we get obviously is when we meet these people face-to-face. That’s why I can understand the allure of doing [self] showings to where they just have a key box and they go in, but in the multifamily world, 99% of the time you’re there or you have a live leasing agent bring somebody through. It’s all about face-to-face, meeting them, getting to hear them speak, getting them to get some insight in terms of where they live and the quality of life in terms of where they’re working. It just kind of gives you your first basic instincts of what these people are going to be like.
Some of the questions that I’ve always trained my agents to ask is kind of like, “Why are you looking to move?” The day of the month is also important—it is for us at least. It’s relevant in terms of when we’re doing the showings. Our eviction dates are usually like the 15th to the 20th, so if I’m showing an apartment on the 19th and they say, “Oh, I got to move right away,” it’s a red flag. It’s like in the back of my mind I got something tingling. It’s like, “Oh, are they getting evicted somewhere else and they need quick access somewhere?” You can get a ton of information with regards to that first showing.
You show the place. If they’re interested, then you send them to your application process and then go through the screening of the app. Again, you’re checking your verification of employment. You’re checking to see can they afford the place. Social media is your best friend when it comes to screening, in my opinion. What we find out about people through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, all over the place. Google has literally probably saved us thousands and thousands of dollars in bad tenants. We do a lot of that stuff. We ask for pay stubs in terms of verification of employment. That’s important to us, and past references, past landlords. That’s important too. You want to get a feel of how they were as tenants previously. And then…
Tony M: Of course, all of that in accordance with the local regulations and following Fair Housing, etc.
Tony LeBlanc: Absolutely, absolutely. Yep. Then at the end of the day, it’s really you’re making a judgment call. You’re looking at all of the details that you have on this person. A) are they going to be the right fit for this property? Can they afford it? Can they just afford it or they have plenty of room, disposable income in terms of this is not going to be a stretch for them? Those are some of the key factors. From that point, we either approve them or we deny them.
Tony M: Yeah. That’s exactly why Buildium, for example, works with TransUnion to have that kind of screening solution in place that just makes it easier for property managers to take away some of that legwork, which is so great to hear.
All right. We talked about screenings. When it comes time to then say you got a tenant that’s going to be (or resident) who’s going to be perfect for the unit, as far as actually getting them to sign the paperwork and doing that whole rigmarole, like how do you run that?
How do you get your leases signed?
Tony LeBlanc: Yes. We have two different ways of doing that. I know the trend is everything in eDocs [eLease]. You prepare the lease online and you send it for electronic signature and it’s beautiful. It’s very quick and it’s very convenient. We do do some of those. However, I would say our mainstay in terms of how we do leases is it’s an in-person meeting. Once we’ve screened and we’ve approved the application, we call them or email them, say, “Listen, your application has been approved. I need you to book a time for you to come in to sign the lease.”
For us again, it’s another opportunity to really spell out the importance of some of the rules and regulations of where they’re going to be moving to. There’s a lot of documents that we need to go through apart from just the lease contract. We have a schedule A with 26 other kind of like rules that they have to follow…tenant insurance details that we need. We need to get vehicle information from them. Again, it’s just another way for us to really invite them and make sure that we’re in sync, that they know what we expect of them and we know what to expect from them. I think that face-to-face is really, really critical.
Again, to me, tenants are just like owners. I want to somewhat build a relationship with the people. I want them to be able to come to us if they have any needs or if they have any issues. We’re providing a roof over their head.
Tony M: Right. It’s their home.
Tony LeBlanc: Yeah, exactly. I like taking that extra 20 minutes, a half hour, for my staff to sit with them and go through that. I know from a time management perspective it’s not incredibly efficient. However, I still think it’s important to have that face-to-face communication in this business. I may be old school on that. I don’t know.
Tony M: No, that’s a good point. There are certain things that you want to say. There are certain things that you want to tell someone face-to-face.
Tony LeBlanc: Absolutely.
Tony M: And it’s because you know that there are certain pieces of information that will make the overall process so much smoother and there are certain pieces of information that you’ll deliver in a much better way in person.
That’s what we like to say at Buildium here. We put people first in everything that we do. The technology is to support people. It’s to support property managers and working with people and those relationships versus being a barrier or replacing it.Read more on Scaling