Keeping the lines of communication with your owners open is, of course, essential. You’re constantly making sure they know what’s going on with their properties, rent rates, vacancies, turnover, maintenance, emergencies, compliance…the list of property management communications goes on and on.
In 2020, it’s all about digital communication. According to Buildium’s 2021 Industry Report, frequency of communication increased, while the types of communication changed dramatically:
During COVID-19, property managers needed to run information past rental owners far more often than in the past—from finding out whether their properties were covered by the provisions of the CARES Act, to getting their approval on payment plans for struggling renters. 73% of property managers reported that they’d advised owners on payment plans, rents, and concessions; 69% kept owners apprised of rental market conditions and regulatory changes; and 45% communicated with owners more frequently about KPIs and incoming payments during COVID-19.
But how do you get all that information to your owners without inundating them with messages? And how do you ensure you’re not spending all your time answering questions and responding to ad-hoc requests?
You need to have a plan in place, one that you can relay to your owners. Here are four tips to get you started on a solid communication plan for your owners.
#1: Determine Which Kinds of Property Management Communications Belong in Which Channels
Before you do anything else, take stock of all the different kinds of information you communicate to your owners, from quarterly earnings and vacancy rates to maintenance requests and tenant surveys. Then, look through everything you’ve written down and parse it into categories.
Which types of information are more urgent and which can wait? Which are more in depth and require more of your owner’s time and which are quick messages?
Then, determine the best way to get that information out to your owners.
For example, general housekeeping and upcoming events work well in a monthly newsletter, while quarterly and annual meetings are effective for going over earnings, vacancies, turnover rates, and other financials. Finally, urgent matters probably need a phone call.
In Buildium’s 2021 Industry Report, owners expressed some of the ways they would like to receive information.
Here are a few examples:
- “Weekly/monthly reports on proposed laws affecting landlords and assistance programs available to tenants.” That kind of information could come to owners in an email newsletter.
- “Maintenance issues all on a digital portal with quicker responses so that tenants are happier with the follow-up. No more wondering if something is done or still needs to be done.” This is where an owner portal comes in.
There’s a lot you can do with well-crafted emails. You can schedule quarterly, monthly, and even weekly emails to update owners on their properties. That could include upcoming events, ongoing and seasonal maintenance projects, or vacancy and turnover reports. You can also use emails for general marketing and promotions.
The key is finding the right balance between getting owners all the information they need and not sending too many emails.
To do that, send a survey to owners to understand the kind of updates they ideally want and how many emails they are comfortable with per week or per month. You can use a service like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to create an easy online survey for owners to fill out.
And be sure to give owners the option to opt out of marketing emails, as well. You should include an opt-out link in every email per your email marketing software.
Texting is a fast, direct way to get a quick message to your owners that they’re more likely to see. If you need to update them on a maintenance issue or a tenant move-in, you can do that with a quick text.
Still, keep in mind that too many texts can be overbearing for some owners, depending on the audience. Use this communication channel judiciously.
Scheduled phone calls can take the place of in-person meetings if your owners just need to talk through a specific issue or challenge.
Of course, if there’s an urgent matter to take care of, you should have an emergency phone number for your owners—and they should have one for you, as well.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still unfolding, video conferencing will continue to replace in-person meetings for the foreseeable future. Use them for your quarterly or yearly updates. They’re also a great way to discuss an issue that requires visual support.
An owner portal and app that’s mobile friendly can help you make your owner and property management communication more efficient overall. Communicate directly through the portal, or use email templates to help you get your message out more quickly.
Owners can view financials and other reports in real time. You can also save and share important documents, cutting down on the number of emails and face-to-face meetings you need by training them to look for the information there first.
In fact, some owners prefer to get their information from a portal rather than through their property manager. As one owner put it for the 2021 Industry Report: “Go fully digital. Let me look at the numbers and run reports. Give me a dashboard and tools like I get from my bank or investment manager.”
Pro Tip: Make sure you have the right email addresses and phone numbers as part of your onboarding process for your owners so they receive all the information they need.
#2: Understand How (and When) Your Owners Want to Communicate
When you onboard a new client, you may already have best practices for communications set up; email templates ready to go, quarterly meetings mapped out, and text alerts on deck to be pushed out. But none of that matters, if your owner doesn’t check email all that often, or prefers not to receive a lot of text messages, your communication plan won’t be of much use.
Of course, you can’t tailor your communications to the needs of every owner, but you can include some small adjustments to try to accommodate the needs of your owners.
For instance, give owners the option to opt out of newsletters that don’t convey essential information. Or hold semi-annual meetings with the owner who can’t meet every three months.
Keep in mind, though, that while you may have a property management communications plan in place, circumstances may change, causing you to rethink how you communicate with owners.
According to Buildium’s 2021 Industry Report:
The constant updates that COVID-19 has required have raised owners’ expectations for communicating with their property manager. They want to know who’s paid and how much has been spent at each property right away, rather than waiting to receive a report after the month has ended.
Right now, more frequent communications are the norm, and will continue to be so into 2021 as eviction bans are lifted and lockdowns are reinstated.
Pro tip: Use property management software and an owner portal to allow owners to configure their notification preferences. In Buildium’s mobile app, owners can now set up their notification preferences to alert them whenever funds are withdrawn from their account, payments are submitted and processed, maintenance requests are created and updated, and reports are ready.
#3: Set Expectations and Boundaries
Setting expectations and relaying boundaries is essential for keeping communications on track and eliminating redundancy. Here’s how:
- In your kickoff meeting with new owners, go over your communication policies in detail. Let them know when and how you’ll communicate with them and how frequently they can expect emails, calls, meetings, and text messages from you.
- Set up a schedule for face-to-face meetings and give owners access to your video conferencing software. Make sure they have your email address and phone number so you don’t end up in their spam folder or on their blocked call list.
- Finally, let them know how and when to get in touch. Give them the names of employees who can handle specific questions about maintenance, billing, and other issues.
Whatever communications agreement you and your owners come up with, make sure you get it in writing and all of your owners have a copy. If you use a portal, upload your communications guidelines and agreements so your owners have access to them all the time.
Make sure you and your team are consistent in your communications, as well. Moving away from your agreed upon plan can reduce efficiency and cause confusion. It can create more work for your employees as well as for your owners.
Communication is one of the cornerstones of your business, but it’s easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of email and text messages. And scheduling ad hoc phone and conference calls is a time drain.
#4: Let Owners Know How They Can Communicate With You
We’ve talked a lot about how you’re getting in touch with your owners, but they’ll want to talk to you, too. Here are some tips to keep you accessible to your owners while still maintaining professional boundaries.
- Make sure owners have a business email and phone number for you.
- Resist the temptation to give them your personal contact information. All business communications should stay within the business both for legal reasons and for your own sanity!
- For after-hours issues, consider hiring a call center. They can take questions and comments, and contact you only if there is an emergency.
Putting together a good property management communication plan lets your owners know you’re serious about providing the best service possible for them, but that you’re also mindful of their time. Give them a communication plan they can count on to show them how professional and reliable you and your property management service truly is.Read more on Scaling