The situation with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is evolving rapidly; and with every passing day, there are more cities with stay-at-home orders, more businesses closing, and more people in self-quarantine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the best way to keep from getting sick is to “put distance between yourself and other people (more than 6 feet).”
Property managers may feel that maintaining social distance is easier said than done, given the sheer number of people they can come into contact with on a daily basis. Their challenge is in keeping their residents, their owners, their employees, and themselves safe while still providing excellent service.
From closing amenity spaces to disinfecting common areas to keeping their residents informed of the ever-evolving situation, they have gone already above and beyond to maintain social distancing.
Note: The following tips are shared based on the information currently available as of March 25, 2020. Please consult resources from the state, medical or legal authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC before putting any items into action.
Protecting Your Residents
From what we’ve heard from our customers, property managers across the country are already taking action to protect their residents and flatten the curve. Organizations such as the the CDC; the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers; the National Apartment Association; the National Association of Residential Property Managers; and others are providing guidance daily. Below are some of the most widespread measures that are being adopted.
Closing Amenity Spaces: Buildings and complexes are closing pools, gyms, conference rooms, and other amenity spaces to promote social distancing and reduce the number of areas that need regular disinfecting.
Disinfecting Common Areas: Managers are disinfecting areas that must remain open, like laundry rooms. The CDC has released guidelines on proper disinfection procedures.
Monitoring HVAC Systems: Although the CDC has made no connection between HVAC systems and the spread of coronavirus, ASHRAE has put out a list of guidelines on the maintenance and cleaning of ventilation systems in response to the crisis.
Those are the more obvious actions—but there are other steps that property managers can take to safeguard their residents.
Minimizing Walk-Ins: Residents who normally pay rent and fees or submit requests in person could be putting themselves at risk by heading out to your office, especially if they are part of a vulnerable group. Even if they mail their payments, they still have to go out to the mailbox or the post office.
Online rent payments eliminate the need to go out, reducing the amount of contact residents have with others. Residents can set up EFT or automated credit/debit card payments through a payment portal.
Keeping Residents Informed: The situation changes rapidly—sometimes faster than you can get the word out via email, and certainly faster (and safer) than making and distributing flyers. Property managers can keep residents informed via online resident centers and mass text messages.
Restricting Service Providers: Managers should communicate regularly with companies that provide services like plumbing, gardening, phone and internet, HVAC, or general contract work to be clear on the measures they are taking to protect their clients.
Chances are, both properties and service providers are restricting the amount of work being done on-site. In that case, managers should review contracts for clauses on work stoppages or delays.
Creating an Action Plan: The National Apartment Association has provided guidance for property managers in the event of a shelter-in-place order or resident who presents with symptoms. Be sure to visit the COVID-19 resources page from NARPM, too.
Protecting Your Property Owners
There are plenty of opportunities to practice social distancing with property owners as well. Again, the key is to eliminate as much physical contact as possible, while keeping owners informed about their properties.
Eliminating In-Person Meetings: Businesses, organizations, and even friends are using video conferencing software to run meetings and social events. Property managers can move all of their meetings online or address issues via email.
Setting Up a Portal: For documents, payments, work orders, and other day-to-day business, there are online portals to keep things running. Keep everything online to maintain social distancing.
Keeping Owners Informed: Portals, frequent emails, and bulk text messaging keep owners abreast of issues like disinfection schedules, resident questions, or the presence of the virus in their properties.
Adapting to Leasing Season 2020
Property managers are already changing their rental and sales processes to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Here are some of the ways they’re doing it.
Creating Virtual or Self-Tours: In Boston, where Buildium is based, agents are continuing to show properties, but they’re limiting the number of people on a property at a time, according to local CBS affiliate WBZ. Boston mayor Marty Walsh is urging real estate agents and property management firms to use virtual tours to show properties. Property managers can also use scheduling software and lockboxes to set up self-tours, although they will have to sanitize and change lock combinations after each showing.
Of course, each state has its own rules and guidelines concerning open houses and showings. Be sure to check with your state officials to see what they recommend as the situation evolves.
Putting the Lead-to-Lease Cycle Online: Normally, you might meet with prospective residents or property owners to discuss terms and sign documents. You can put this whole process online using a property management platform built for leasing that takes care of every step of the process.
More specifically, property managers can do everything from syndicating rental listings with one click to accepting applications online, screening potential renters, and signing leases electronically. Pro tip: Even if you already have property management software, you should reevaluate it to make sure that you are using the features in every way you can to encourage social distancing throughout the COVID-19-affected leasing season.
Add In Vacancy Periods: When it comes to move-out, move-in, and everything in between, be sure to allow vacancy periods before inspection or maintenance staff enters, followed by disinfecting the units per the latest CDC guidelines.
Protecting Yourself and Your Team
A lot of what we’ve discussed in this article—eliminating in-person meetings with residents and owners, setting up communication and payment portals—also helps protect you and your staff. There are some other steps that you can take to keep everyone in your office safe.
Go Mobile: Unless they’re considered essential, most employees are now working from home. It’s made conference software like Zoom a popular go-to for keeping everyone informed. Communication apps like Slack, cloud-based tools provided by Google Drive, and project management apps like Trello make it easy to stay connected as well.
Property managers can also use web-based software made specifically for their needs that tracks work orders, stores documents, helps with company financials, and allows managers to send mass communications to residents.
Keep Your Team Informed: In the case that any of your residents falls ill, you’re going to want to know. Make sure to keep your channels of communication open in places like a resident portal. Encourage (but don’t require) residents to contact you if they suspect or know that they’ve been infected with coronavirus so that you can take precautionary measures to protect both other residents and your team. Pro tip: Create and share out your preferred method of communication on all COVID-19-related concerns on your portals and at the end of each email. Also, make someone responsible for consolidating the information from residents each day in an accessible place for all internal staff to view.
Prepare Your Maintenance Staff: Make sure that your staff that have to be on the ground are informed on the status of your properties, adequately trained, and prepared with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) per CDC recommendations. You may also want to consider documentation on COVID-19 before sending any member of staff out in the field.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, property managers have to stay informed and remain flexible in their operations. Finding a balance between serving their residents and owners and keeping everyone safe requires creativity and the right set of online tools. But it can be done, and property managers everywhere are stepping up to do their part.Read more on COVID-19