10 communication tips for property managers to strengthen client relationships & prove your value

Robin Young
Robin Young | 10 min. read

Published on July 10, 2023

More than two-thirds of rental owners agree that customer service is their #1 consideration in hiring a property management company to look after their rentals. Another top consideration: reporting and transparency. Rental owners want your company to make consistent, insightful communication a priority—and in a time when competition is steep and owners are highly cost-conscious, it’s crucial in proving your value to your clients.

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So, how do rental owners want to hear from you? There’s been a sizable shift in the number of rental owners who are not only comfortable doing business online, but prefer to do so. As of 2023, a full 95% of rental owners want at least some rental processes to be handled digitally.

However, just 61% of rental owners say that they want communication to occur exclusively in a digital setting. Why the gap? Though technology is critical to providing high-quality customer service these days, it doesn’t replace the kind of person-to-person interaction that has always been a competitive differentiator for smaller property management companies.

When it comes to communicating with your rental owners, this might mean blending automated messages with more personal interactions when the time is right. What’s important is that you take the time to find out how each of your owners prefers to communicate on different topics and under different circumstances. And that’s exactly what we’ll cover in this post.

The Information Rental Owners Want to Receive from Their Property Manager

In our annual survey of rental property owners, we asked what information rental owners would like to receive from their property management company, and how often they’d like to get it. Their answers can serve as a helpful guideline for how often your clients want to receive each type of information, but a lack of consensus in certain areas illustrates the importance of finding out how often your individual owners would like to hear from you.

Information They Want to Receive More Often:

  • Updates on renters & vacancy status: 55% would like to receive this information as it’s available, 28% on a monthly basis.
  • Maintenance & repair records: 49% would like to receive this as it’s available (particularly Intentional Investors), 34% on a monthly basis.
  • Accounting & financial statements: 65% would like to receive this on a monthly basis (particularly investors), 22% as it’s available (particularly Accidental Landlords).

Information They Want to Receive Less Often:

  • Property inspection reports: Rental owners were split on this – 30% would like to receive it as it’s available (particularly investors), 32% on a quarterly basis, 25% annually.
  • Local market updates: Rental owners were split on this – 31% would like to receive it on a quarterly basis (particularly investors), 24% annually, 23% as it’s available. 19% of Accidental Landlords never want to receive this information.
  • Assessments of property value & suggested improvements: Rental owners were split on this – 35% would like to receive it annually (particularly investors), 27% as it’s available (particularly Accidental Landlords), 23% on a quarterly basis.

How to Communicate with Your Clients More Effectively, According to Rental Owners

When we ask rental owners what a property manager could do to ensure their needs are met, better communication is among the most prominent themes that emerges in our owners’ surveys year after year.

First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure that you give your clients access to an owner portal where they can view financial reports, send and receive payments, and communicate with your team.

Here are ten additional pieces of advice that rental owners identified as crucial to their experience with their property management company.

1. Establish how they’d like you to communicate in the event of an emergency.

When it comes to communication, owners told us that it’s not just a matter of when they need to be contacted—how they’re contacted matters, too. Email may work for more routine communications, but when an emergency arises, a phone call might be more appropriate, depending on your client’s individual preferences.

One owner told us, “I think knowing when to use different communication tools is really important. One [property manager] sent an email about a basement flooding issue, wanting to be reminded about whether I had a warranty or not… yikes. [Another property manager] sent a text about an urgent repair that needed my approval.”

Be sure to establish what the preferred methods of communication are within each of your client relationships.

2. Determine when to consult each client, and when to act on their behalf.

Rental owners emphasized the importance of establishing which types of decisions they’d like to be consulted on, and which they’d prefer to delegate to your team. Some owners told us they want to be involved in every decision, while others wanted their property management team to feel empowered to make decisions on their behalf in many circumstances. This is another area that requires conversations with your individual clients.

As one owner put it, “I want to be notified and apprised of all situations, [and] I want to be consulted and part of the decisions for emergency situations, but trust my PM to know me and understand my wishes.”

Another owner expressed the importance of not only keeping them apprised of any issues that arise at their property, but offering advice on how to resolve them: “Keep us informed if a problem occurred, but be proactive about it (provide solutions and estimates), not waiting for us to come [up] with a solution.”

3. Acknowledge messages you’ve received, even if you don’t have a solution yet.

Many property managers feel as though their customers’ expectations around response time have tightened significantly over the last few years. Indeed, responsiveness and availability are two of the most coveted qualities that rental owners told us they want their property manager to possess.

However, rental owners also made clear that what matters most to them is knowing that you’ve seen their message and have taken action on it, even if you’re still working on a response or solution. As one rental owner recommended, “Reply to questions within 24 [hours] even if it’s acknowledgement of receipt and [you] need more time to research [the] inquiry.”

4. Make sure your clients know who to contact when an issue arises.

Many rental owners told us that when they have a question or an issue pops up at their property, they’re not sure exactly who on their property management team they should get in touch with. As one rental owner requested: “Identify a single point of contact for [the] owner. Sometimes it is hard to know who I should reach out to.”

Consider how you might make it possible for your clients to build a stronger relationship with particular members of your team by enabling them to get directly in touch with them, rather than contacting a general line or inbox.

5. Respond to urgent maintenance concerns as quickly as possible.

A surprising number of rental owners said that one of their greatest concerns when it comes to communication is not the contact they have with you—it’s the contact that you have with their properties’ residents. As one rental owner put it: “Service and attentiveness to the tenants’ needs and service and availability to me as the owner are just as critical.”

In the event of a maintenance issue, rental owners want to know that your team will respond as quickly as possible to prevent potential damage and keep residents satisfied.

They also care how residents are able to get in touch with you about maintenance concerns. One owner suggested, “Be available; make sure you can be reached over the phone and have a 24-hour service to tenants for emergency needs.” Another said, “Customer service is very important to me, whether it is responding to me or to my tenants. I know my tenants like to utilize the online portal to submit repair requests.”

(Learn more about a 24-hour maintenance contact center and online maintenance requests.)

6. Make sure that reporting is clear and consistent.

Transparent, easy-to-understand reporting consistently ranks among the top priorities for rental owners when hiring a property management company. Owners consider it a necessity that they receive financial reports on a consistent schedule—monthly, at least—and that the information you share is both accurate and easily digestible.

As far as what information should be contained in these reports, our section above (The Information Rental Owners Want to Receive from Their Property Manager) can serve as a guide.

7. Provide photo documentation in your property inspection reports.

With a majority of rental owners living too far from their properties to visit on a regular basis, many told us that property inspection reports with photos are critical to their sense of ease with how their properties are being managed.

One rental owner requested, “Do a walkthrough at least once a year and provide me with actual pictures [of] how our tenants are keeping our properties.” Another mentioned, “I want to see the inside of my properties at least twice a year with pictures.”

8. Advise owners on how to keep their properties competitive.

Small-portfolio investors told us that one of the most useful pieces of information they receive from their property manager is advice on how to keep their properties competitive under current market conditions. However, this information doesn’t need to be delivered all that frequently to be effective—many investors said they only expect to receive it on a quarterly basis at most.

As for what information to provide, one investor explained, “Provide market trends with comps, rents, local news impacting [the] rental market.” Meanwhile, Accidental Landlords are generally less interested in market trends, and may only be interested in hearing about comparable rents in the area once a year.

9. Be meticulous in documenting maintenance needs and costs.

Many rental owners expressed the importance of documenting their properties’ maintenance needs—both immediate and preventative. One owner asked that their property manager “monitor the rental property like it was their own,” while another suggested, “Advise the property owner as to preventative maintenance actions. Be honest, trustworthy, transparent and forthcoming.”

Owners also recommended that any repairs made—and expenses associated with them—be documented thoroughly, with no surprises as to when, where, and how much money is spent. One owner requested, “Provide more details including photo documentation for maintenance and repairs completed.”

10. Supplement monthly statements with more personalized communications.

Lastly, many owners told us they appreciate hearing about the status of their properties from your team outside of the monthly reports they receive. One owner recommended, “Communicate often. Schedule regular meetings to provide the status of each property—listings, fix-up, tenant issues, etc.”

Other owners expressed the desire to occasionally hear from your team in ways that feel more personalized than a standard email. As one owner suggested, “Remain personal with [owners] via phone, Zoom, and in-person contact when possible.” And another said, “Speak to [us] personally. Make time to come to [us] in person if possible. Then use electronic software. But put a face to a name.”

What ties all of this advice together is the importance of providing personalized customer service rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach with your clients. As one rental owner put it: “Give me individualized assistance and solutions. Don’t just give me cookie cutter responses and generic solutions.”

Smaller property management companies know that a personalized, human-centric approach to customer service is the key to differentiating their businesses from larger firms, and that the right technology can lend companies an enormous advantage when it comes to automating repetitive processes to make time for areas where a human touch can make a real difference.

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Robin Young

As Buildium’s Senior Researcher, Robin leverages her background in social science research and interest in real estate economics to identify trends in the rental market. She combines intensive market research with insights gleaned from surveys of property managers, renters, and rental owners to examine topics like shifting renter demographics, the housing affordability crisis, and the transformation of property management during the pandemic. She's best known as the author of the annual State of the Property Management Industry Report.

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