Multi-Family Managers -Eyes Wide Open
Each and every day in the life of any multi-family professional hits the ground running…literally! My observation is the day actually starts before I get out of bed. There are always a million things to do, emails to answer, phone calls to make, vendors to talk to, and the list goes on an on. My observation is sometimes we all have so much on our plates we forget to be objective about what we are doing, inspecting, or reviewing.
Years ago when I was a Regional Manager at a very large company, my days were always packed and I had to move at lightning speed.
I had 22 properties and covered 4 states. I was also the tax credit “go to” person as the company was starting to purchase tax credit properties and also do rehabs on existing Rural Development properties. Generally, 6:00 pm rolled around before I would blink and putting in 12 hour days was my normal.
As I have said before, my property on-site staffs are the most important aspect of my job. Anytime I went to my properties to do inspections I also did my best to spend quality time with them, helping them with work (maintenance, landscaping, office, etc), training, answering their questions, brainstorming on leasing and marketing ideas, reviewing reports, and spending some quality time just visiting to let them know they were not alone. I had so many properties spread out so far geographically it made it very challenging to get to more than one property in a day. My goal was to spend at least 6 hours at each site once a month, and for those properties that were a 4 hour drive, my days started at 4 am and ended at 8 pm. I had to be so focused on what I needed to accomplish at each property so I didn’t “drop the ball”, there was little room for distractions or deviations from my schedule. I had teams of great property management professionals and they were counting on me to help them navigate through this dynamic industry.
However, it didn’t take long for me to drop the ball. I had a small property where the property manager and maintenance manager did it all. They did the landscaping, the painting, the cleaning, and the unit turns. They were amazing at what they did and I marveled at how they could get it all done, keep their occupancy over 96% and delinquents averaged about 4% each and every month. As it does with all of us, a few things started to get neglected and at this property it was the landscaping.
I’d had this property in my portfolio for two years and it was a beautiful apartment complex. The site team took so much pride in their job each and every day and it showed. I’d also been to this property at least once monthly, if not more, and did inspections on the interiors, exteriors, files, etc. I looked at everything. They had always done very well and while you will always find something to improve upon, nothing major ever jumped out as an urgent “fix”, until the landscaping got a bit “wild”.
I met with the owner and he agreed I could hire a landscaping company to do a clean up as the bushes around the amenities and buildings had gotten a bit out of control. The day I met the landscaper at the property to go over what needed to be done he said something to me that didn’t make sense. He asked what my plans were for the fence at the front of the property. There wasn’t a fence at the front of the property, not one that I had seen anyway. To the left of the main entrance was a fence but it just needed the annual mulch put down, so I was a bit confused about what fence he was talking out.
Turns out – there was a long wrought iron fence to the right of the main entrance that was so overgrown with bushes and tree limbs, you couldn’t see it. Didn’t matter though, it was my job to know it was there and because I was so focused on everything I had to do, I missed it.
I got so used to being on that property, making sure I got my list of “to do’s” done, my eyes saw what I thought was there, and not what actually was there. I did apologize to my owner immediately (he was very nice about it). I also learned a very valuable lesson.
We can become complacent, not intentionally, about how our properties look, it’s a fact of being in the multi-family property management business. We are in our offices at our properties each and every day and we just don’t see things as objectively as we should. It’s not a failure on our part, not at all, we just get used to seeing things so the obvious becomes the allusive and the forgotten.
There is a very easy fix for this so take heart! Each morning when you get to work, before you go in the office, drive to the back of your property and start there…just look at the buildings, the roof lines, patios, balconies. Don’t start at the front of the property because that’s what you’ve been doing all along. Reverse how you do your inspection! Start at the roof line on the left and go across, then down the right side, then back over to the left where you started.
You can do the same thing when walking units – walk the walls, left to right, and stick to it.
You’re going to see something out of the corner of your eye in another area, but don’t get distracted! Stay on course, left to right, up down, each wall, one room at a time. Make sure you’re taking notes and putting in any work orders which may be needed.
Common areas and amenities are the same – walk the walls. In your offices, close your eyes as you walk in, then open them. Does anything not belong? I once did this at a property inspection and there was a shampoo bottle on the assistant manager’s desk. When I asked her why, she said she didn’t know and forgot how long it had been there. This just makes my point – we are (again, not intentionally) just so focused on all we have to do we forget to open our eyes.
You could even practice this at your home or apartment! I do it in my house and in my yard. Sometimes I’m embarrassed and think to myself, I’m in this business so how did I miss that? Simple, I’m used to my house and my eyes just assume everything is ok.
Take a day, open your eyes a bit wider, look a bit harder, be more objective and observant about your properties appearance. Once you’ve got the hang of it, work with your teams so they can become more objective about their surroundings as well. Assign each person a “zone” to be responsible for each day or week, then get together and come up with a plan to get things corrected and keep it “spic and span spotless”.
It does work, I promise you…you just need to keep your eyes wide open and your thoughts open to new ideas!
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