Interview: Is the remote work trend a good fit for property management?

Laurie Mega
| 6 min. read
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As mobile apps and cloud storage become inseparable from everyday life, more and more companies are building a remote work culture into their business model. Many employees, who can now work from anywhere and even keep nonstandard hours, love the flexibility—and tech companies across the world are diving in headfirst.

In the last few years, the remote work trend has started to seep into the property management space, as well. Property management business owners can reduce the cost of overhead, speed up the leasing process, and reduce the response time to resident requests, all without compromising on service by using technology to do more with less.

It’s no wonder many property managers are looking around their offices, wondering if they could do without the added cost of a physical space and undertake a fully remote property management team.

Why Become a Remote Property Management Team?

Whether you decide to make your business entirely officeless, or modify some aspects of the culture to be more accepting of remote work, there are plenty of reasons to consider the idea.

Digital Experiences Can Be Personal

It’s important to think about how your residents want to engage with their property managers. If you cater to a large millennial population, a population that has especially pushed the demand for more rentals, there are certain experiences and conveniences that they expect from you.

According to Salesforce, millennials have changed the way all brands provide customer service. Millennials would rather text instead of call, for example, and they expect an answer within 10 minutes of their initial message.

They want to engage with their preferred brands on social media, and they are more willing to give up their personal information to get more personalized service—and they want to do it all from their smartphones. But they don’t necessarily need (or want) to interact with their property manager in person every time they need something.

Offering mobile experiences rather than requiring standard rent payments and requests will also appeal this huge segment of the rental market in addition to Baby Boomers, who have gladly followed suit.

Employees and Employers Say It’s Here to Stay

Another reason: your employees. Last year, 70 percent of professionals across the globe worked remotely at least one day a week, and 53 percent worked remotely more than half the week.

With the incredible success of coworking spaces offered by WeWork and even Staples, it’s clear that remote work is more than just a passing fad. Many employees look for the ability to work remotely either some or all of the time to make work fit their lives, rather than the other way around.

The Pros of a Remote Property Management Business

To fully understand what it’s like to operate a remote property management business, we spoke directly with a property manager who is doing it.

Jonathan George is the principal broker and owner or Zen Real Estate Group, a full-service brokerage that began in a brick-and-mortar location in Warwick, RI, four years ago.

From the beginning, George wanted to take his business completely mobile, but, he said, the infrastructure just wasn’t there.

“At first it wasn’t really possible. We had the ideas. We had the concept. We had the drive. But the systems weren’t quite in place yet.”

Now, he says, with the advent of SaaS platforms like Buildium and cloud solutions like GSuite, he has moved the company out of their storefront in Warwick and entirely onto the cloud.

By doing so, he says, he’s been able to allocate money that used to be spent on overhead to more tech, and find solutions to make it that much easier to be a mobile company with a remote team.

He also says it allows him to really focus on the analytics of his business to keep the company moving toward where they want to be. If you think about it, in a scenario like this, process becomes even more crucial to nail down a consistent service experience across different property managers.

Everything is done online, from collecting rent to tracking work hours for maintenance. Through their tech, they can track to the minute every single task they’re working on.

As a result, he says, “Team members were more accountable and clients were only being charged for the services they requested and actually needed.”

In fact, using their tech and analytics allowed them to restructure their payment plan entirely.

“Our biggest win in 2019 has been restructuring our PM fee structure.” Instead of charging a percentage of the rent, where they risked losing money if costs exceeded the percentage, they found they could simplify the process by charging a basic package of services.

For a low fixed cost per unit, their Core Services plan allows for standard maintenance, with the option to add on services at a variable rate depending on how much time is actually spent on the property.

The Challenges of a Remote Property Management Business

Of course, there are challenges to running an officeless business. For one thing, having a remote team, whether it be one day a week or 365 days a year, poses challenges to communication, transparency and company culture.

George solved this problem by implementing a number of best practices with his team. First, he had to lay out a culture of transparency, he says, both internally and externally.

For team members, that means, “letting the team know we’re to help. Reach out and let’s solve the problems together.”

They use chat apps and conduct video calls a few times a day. They also use the GSuite tools, such as Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets to keep the lines of communication open.

For clients and residents, he says, the key is tracking hours and making sure “we are doing things correctly, efficiently and in a timely manner.”

It’s also hard to be seen as a legitimate business if you’re completely online, and gaining the trust of your residents can be difficult.

“We realized we didn’t need a physical presence, but folks still expect to drop off rent or have face-to-face chats about apartments.”

He says it’s been a challenge to get people to trust in their online communication tools and get out of the habit of driving to a physical location.

Best Practices for Going Virtual

Challenges aside, George still believes that going mobile and creating a remote property management system was the best decision for his company. And there are some best practices he follows to keep things running smoothly at Zen.

First, he says, it’s important to evaluate processes and tech solutions regularly. “We’re constantly assessing what we’re doing. What works. What doesn’t work. We’re evaluating other [tech] platforms out there, what plays nice.”

Documentation and data mapping are also key to keeping everyone on the same page. “It all comes down to the data. You can use that for communications. There are so many ways for people to reach out to us, we need to make it effective.”

Finally, he emphasizes having the right tech stack. “We have pretty detailed notes on our processes. So [the team] can assess at what point a software works and doesn’t work and then find the next step.”

Zen, for example, uses the Buildium platform for their resident services. They use Harvest for time tracking, Zapier to integrate all of their web apps and Hootsuite for their social media marketing.

Of course, not every property management business may want to go this route. For some it may be enough to offer online rent payments and a Resident Center to communicate more easily with residents or employees.

For others, going completely remote may be the right step. The space is still evolving and the solutions to help a property management firm make that change are getting better every day.

For George, it was all about keeping an eye on the numbers, constantly assessing all aspects of his business and making changes where they were needed.

“We’re on the cusp of the change, here, as far as where we see the industry going.”

Listen to the full interview on Episode 13 of the Buildium Property Manager Podcast.

Read more on Team
Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega has planned, written, and edited content on a variety of subjects. Her work has been published by HomeandGarden.com, The Economist, Philips Lifeline, and FamilyEducation, among others. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two boys.

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