A Conversation with Bob Pinnegar and Terry Danner

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The power of technology to further build community.

The impact of the pandemic has been both intimate and industry wide. The response to it has woven through the fabric of the multifamily community, and our navigation of various operational changes has revolutionized and revitalized the industry.

While proptech has been growing and gaining momentum in the multifamily industry over the last decade, its full adoption into operational procedures had been measured. The challenges posed by COVID-19 empowered the industry to engage technology more than ever and to come together for the greater good.

An industry built on community, became a stronger one.

As the COVID-19 pandemic expanded nationwide, the National Apartment Association (NAA) faced an even larger challenge – finding a way to effectively and efficiently communicate with its members in a fast-paced, consistent manner and enable communication and collaboration with the industry at large.

“We went into overdrive. It wasn’t just enough to push information out, but to gather pain points,” said Bob Pinnegar president and CEO of the NAA. “To bring that ability to try to share information as much as we possibly could and go back out has been a key part of what we've been doing and will continue to do.”

The NAA implemented more forums, bringing together professionals to talk about what they and others were seeing and experiencing. What quickly emerged were common themes and pain points, enabling NAA research and communications teams to provide resources, real-time information and additional research on how to effectively revise operational policies and procedures.

NAA efforts were extremely successful! In December alone, there were more than 4 million visitors to the NAA website which more than doubled the organization’s yearly goal.

Terry Danner, CEO of SightPlan, believes the NAA has been instrumental in how successful the industry has fared throughout the pandemic.

“I think NAA did a phenomenal job of getting the message out,” said Danner. “The multifamily industry always tends to come together, but in a time like this, I think from an informational perspective we did all come together.”

According to Danner, he witnessed a lot of idea sharing and selflessness while filming the Back to Work series which allowed him to visit 15 communities across the country of varying asset types. After being boots on the ground and seeing the selflessness in action, he is confident that this will continue as the industry moves out of the pandemic.

“I think that tells you how engaged (NAA is). And we are really at the center of the industry in a way we have never been before,” said Pinnegar. “And I think it'd be successful going forward. We need to keep that going, we need to pull people along to understand that their businesses are going to continue to evolve and change, and they need to evolve and change with it.”

On-site teams embrace technology.

Pivot—it became one of 2020’s buzzwords. The industry, perhaps despite its past reticence, learned it is capable of being agile, of being flexible, and of being able to quickly embrace and implement technology. The pandemic forced the industry’s collective hand to find new ways to operate, and the industry rose to the challenge – particularly the on-site teams.

“There is an incredible desire of the site team to take care of their residents,” said Pinnegar. “We all know that this is a people business, and that is something that it doesn't matter where you are in your organization.”

That care and communication was evident during Danner’s “Back to Work” series where he worked side-by-side with the often unsung heroes of multifamily.

“Thankfully, we were able to find pockets of time during the pandemic to film ‘Back to Work’ and was a phenomenal experience for me,” said Danner. “(On-site teams are) the ones who are supporting our management companies, our communities and our residents. They were not talking to prospects and residents face-to-face, (yet) they found new ways to engage and technology offered that opportunity to connect and communicate.”

Technology game changers to take into the future.

As we enter 2021, the uncertainty is no longer so scary. The industry feels a bit more optimistic that there is an end in sight and that we can collectively move forward, and technology will be even more instrumental than ever before.

Here are four technology game changers during the pandemic that operators should implement now to ensure a successful future:

  • Virtual Leasing: Virtual leasing and self-guided tours are now instrumental to the success of leasing.  Prospects and leasing associates can connect in a safe and meaningful way.

    The team at Cantera by Cortland took the opportunity to take its virtual leasing to the next level by curating new custom content to showcase what a living experience would be like at a community a prospect may not be able to visit in person. When the Cantera team combine virtual leasing with CRM technologies the entire process enabled them to maintain high lead-to-lease conversions.

  • Mobile Maintenance: Multifamily operators are busy, there is hardly any downtime for teams, especially maintenance teams which makes having the ability to track, record and complete maintenance tasks while out in the field so important. Maintenance platforms built with mobility in mind are more efficient, more accurate and offer greater access into staffing and resources. Capabilities include scheduling preventive maintenance for things like lighting inspections or HVAC inspections, on the go task creation and the ability to accurately identify urgent tasks from non-urgent tasks in order to prioritize the maintenance team’s response.

    During Back to Work, Danner saw the benefit of on the go task creation while working on-site at a YES! Communities Property in Denton, TX. Community Manager, John, saw standing water which raised a red flag. He was immediately able to create a task, engage his maintenance team to the urgency and request a plumber to address the issue. Without mobile capabilities to seamlessly input the task information like location and pictures directly into the platform from his phone, John would have had to place a call, take a note and get back to the office to update the maintenance log.

  • Resident Communications: Interacting with residents will always be a key customer service driver, the pandemic further emphasized the importance of all aspects of resident communications, including maintenance, package delivery, and community updates including new policies.

    Teams were leveraging technologies like FaceTime or pre-recorded videos help residents fix non-urgent maintenance tasks. Robust resident apps can house short maintenance snippets, offer direct resident and on-site team communication and can deliver segmented communication by community, building, unit, resident, etc. to ensure the right message is getting to the right residents in a timely matter. These communication capability nuances become increasingly important during instances like water shutoffs that don’t impact the entire community.

  • Shared Resources: Emerging technologies offer multi-site capabilities which provide more visibility into the lifecycle of an entire portfolio. Users can filter across all sites to gain a greater understanding of work that needs to be completed, allowing for proactive deployment of service teams across multiple communities. For instance, if a hurricane is coming in, communities in the area of impact can filter and track team preparations and progress.

    Both Pinnegar and Danner hope to see multifamily continue to embrace technology and come to realize that technology implementations are not always difficult. Technology can really innovate and change the way multifamily does things and change can be for the good. In 2021, let there be more openness by all parties; openness at the on-site team to accept change, but also openness at the corporate level to push community building technologies.

“I think that COVID has taught us that we can't wait [to implement technology],” said Pinnegar. “For those who wait, much like you have a value add on the asset side, technology will add value going forward. And if you don't keep up, you're going to do that at your own peril.”

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