The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for some big changes in the property management space. One that really stands out is the relationship between property managers and residents that continues to evolve almost two years in. Shifting communication strategies have done a lot to foster those changes.
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Many property managers told us they developed closer relationships with their residents through conversations over financial and personal hardships. Others, however, were concerned that the shift to digital tools could hurt resident relationships.
“[Things are] more remote, less in person,” said one property manager. “But that causes a loss in personal connection and creates a commodity mentality.”
Effective communication directly impacts the quality of residents you attract and retain over time. In our 2022 State of the Property Management Industry Report, we asked residents about their communication preferences. Here’s what they told us.
#1. Determine how often residents want to hear from you
Do residents want regular email updates or do they want to hear from you only when there’s an issue? To find out, residents suggest that property managers take the initiative early on to ask them about their preferences and set the tone for the relationship moving forward.
“Most people have a communication preference and different availability times,” one resident shared. “It would be helpful to note this during lease signing to benefit both parties.”
A simple digital survey can help you figure out how and how often you should be communicating with residents. Some may prefer one-off emails or a monthly newsletter with the latest updates on their property or their community. Others may prefer a central place on your website or your social channel that they can visit at their convenience for certain types of information.
Figure out the right communication balance, and where different digital solutions fit in.
#2. Respond right away
Even if you don’t have an immediate answer to their questions or concerns, it’s important to respond right away to resident communications. If you need time to find the answer, just let them know. As one renter put it, “Please respond to my emails within 24 hours, even if you just say, ‘I received it and will get back to you.’”
The key is to acknowledge their request, whether it be an email, repair ticket, or even a comment on your Facebook page, so they don’t feel like their concerns went off into the ether.
#3. Make communication convenient
In our 2022 Property Management Industry Report, we found that American renters are a more diverse demographic than ever before. Renters span age groups, and we are increasingly seeing families as residents.
To accommodate an increasingly diverse population of renters, property managers should make available the communications channels that are the most convenient for their residents.
We discovered through our report surveys that renters of all ages prefer to be contacted by email (preferred by 48% of respondents) , with text messages and phone calls coming in second (37% and 35% respectively).
But preferences among certain demographics might differ. For example, families with young children noted a stronger preference for text messages or a resident portal they can access when they have the time.
As one renter puts it:
“Focus on your digital efforts. Due to your number of renters, it is unlikely we will ever get to know each other personally, but we could develop a professional relationship; and the best way is for you to focus on improving how [residents can] interact with you, particularly surrounding communications and payments.”
#4. Foster open communication during lease renewals
Create a workflow within your organization for lease renewals. That workflow should include early outreach for residents whose leases are ending.
Reach out and ask questions not only about their intent to stay, but also about their experience in the unit and on the property. Ask them if there are any issues you can address.
You may find that with early communication and a willingness to fix issues before their lease is up, they may be more inclined to renew.
“Do a walk-through to fix minor issues in between each lease renewal—all the little things we put up with and don’t need immediate attention,” one resident suggested. “I feel bothersome when I ask my landlord to drive out and fix something so minor. Having those things fixed before signing a new lease would be beneficial.”
If they are leaving, ask them for a convenient time to conduct an inspection, giving them the opportunity to fix any issues before they move out so you won’t have to deduct from their security deposit.
#5. Stay in the loop on property and resident issues
Of course, you don’t want to wait for leases to expire to deal with any issues. Regular communication with residents can surface problems with amenities, services, the unit, itself, or even other residents.
Check in with residents from time to time with either a phone call or an email. If you manage multifamily or single-family communities, invite each resident to fill out a survey to get feedback on their specific unit and individual needs. You could even offer an incentive, such as a raffle for those who fill it out.
A bit of extra effort and creativity to stay engaged with residents early on can prevent issues or other repair costs from piling up. “Ask tenants what would make them treat the rental as if it were their own home,” advised one renter.
Residents also suggested that property managers do preventative maintenance quarterly, give tenants several days notice before routine visits, and work with long-term renters to maintain the quality of the property.
#6. Practice transparency in unit listings
Before they even become your residents, open communication and transparency are key to laying the foundation for a solid resident relationship. And it all begins with your rental listings.
During the pandemic, new technologies have helped renters experience what it would be like to live in a unit without physically visiting the property. In a 2020 study conducted by Statista, 31.5 percent of renters they interviewed said they were attending virtual tours of apartments more often than in previous apartment searches. According to Zumper, 90 percent of surveyed renters would be more interested in a listing that offers a 3D virtual tour than one that doesn’t.
Even without these technologies, being transparent in rental listings can do a lot to attract residents to properties that actually meet their needs and expectations.
Residents consistently urged property managers to “be upfront and respectful of a renter’s financial situation and the total cost of living there. We don’t want to be upsold on living conditions.” They also requested transparency on the details of each rental unit, from including average utility costs and square footage in the listing, to highlighting amenities and whether the area is car-dependent.
With more potential renters shopping for properties online rather than in person, it’s essential to be upfront in listings. Be frank about amenities, furnishings, location, and size.
#7. Keep potential residents updated on their applications
For applications, give applicants a channel through which they can reach out with questions. Keep them updated on the progress of their applications with regular automated emails, starting with a confirmation that you received their applications.
The more information you provide them, the better experience they will have and the fewer phone calls requesting an update your staff will get.
#8. Offer a resident portal
If there was ever a time to offer a digital resident portal, it’s now. The pandemic has pushed a plethora of day-to-day transactions online, and Americans are adapting quickly.
“From a digital point of view, [the pandemic] has increased our clients’ and tenants’ ability and willingness to utilize digital options that we have been urging them to use for quite awhile,” one property manager told us. “And the software that we already have in place has been making great improvements to make all of this easier for everyone.”
A resident portal centralizes and consolidates communications with residents. It’s a place they can go to open and track maintenance tickets, pay rent, read updates from your staff, or simply ask a question.
Depending on the features you choose to enable, a portal can also be a place for you to foster a relationship with your residents. Open conversations and regular updates create a dialogue that make you relatable and approachable to your residents. It also helps them build a sense of community, especially if you’re promoting or sharing local events.
Take control of the resident experience
A lot about the past couple of years has been out of the control of property managers. The broader rental market and outside factors impacting renters’ concerns and decision making can be largely out of property managers’ hands.
But they can take control of the resident experience by opening lines of communication and building closer relationships. Knowing exactly how and when to communicate with residents so that they know that you’re there and you care about their concerns makes you stand out as a business. That renter-first reputation does a lot to attract new owners and residents down the road.
“I would only suggest that [property managers] keep dealing with renters as people first,” one renter told us. “That’s always a good rule of thumb in any business.”
The 2022 State of the Property Management Industry Report
42% of property managers say that attracting and retaining great residents is a primary goal for them in 2022, which represents an unprecedented increase of 30 percentage points since 2019. Learn how your current and prospective renters’ expectations and preferences have changed during the pandemic, and the technologies your peers plan to use to meet their needs, in the 2022 Industry Report.Read more on Industry Intel