Luxury amenities can still turn heads—but increasingly, it’s meaningful engagement that convinces prospects to sign on for the long term.
The days when amenities sold themselves and property managers simply focused on aesthetics and maintenance are long gone. Consumer expectations for personalized experiences and ultra-luxury hospitality have raised the stakes. Now, to win over and retain high-value residents, property managers need to elevate the residential experience as well.
This requires a fundamental rethinking of how properties are programmed—and how they integrate with the larger community. In short, property managers need to be in the business of building connections between the property, their residents and the surrounding neighbourhood.
At real estate company Bentall Kennedy, this shift in philosophy is being led by a group of young, enterprising women with a compelling vision for remaking residential relations with experiential programming. In the process, they are helping to transform property management from a sunk cost into a powerful engine for revenue. Rental rates are up, vacancies are down and investors are seeing a higher return.
Residents who feel that they are not just listened to, but also cared for, are residents who want to stay. This doesn’t just mean customized birthday cards, although that is a start. Rather, property managers need to connect with their residents on a personal level by getting to know their wants, their interests, their hobbies and habits, even their pets’ names. These data points are essential for not just responding to concerns, but also anticipating needs. For example, having a dog walker available for dog owners on move-in day is a small touch, but one that has a real and tangible benefit for residents.
“We are definitely focused on customer service and how our role as property managers affects the lives of residents from the moment they walk through the door,” said Shannon Tullio, regional residential property manager for Bentall Kennedy. “It is a big change, and a change for the better.”
Fostering bonds within the property is also essential to resident engagement. At Hull Estates, a 263,500 square foot residence in Calgary’s historic Beltline neighbourhood, Leasing and Residential Experience Manager Elisha Crawford takes pride in helping residents nurture their talents and interests. She has given the term “resident artist” new meaning by showcasing tenant artwork on the property. She also helps residents set up and promote their own businesses.
“It’s about creating a community within a community,” Crawford explained.
Likewise, Crawford and Tullio, along with their Bentall Kennedy colleagues, strive to anchor their properties within the broader community by promoting two-way traffic.
At Two St. Thomas, a new 217,000 square foot residence in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighbourhood, a resident experience team has brought in fitness experts to offer yoga classes. Local fine dining restaurants have catered building events. And during Fashion Week, the property hosted a designer and several models to show their pieces.
Hull Estates residents have access to a VIP club that offers discounts on local amenities, such as massage therapists, fine dining and spas. The residents value the personalized exclusivity, while the local businesses appreciate the patronage. Crawford has also organized events for area businesses to come in and highlight their services.
“As property managers, part of our role is to bring the outside community into the building, both to engage the interests of our residents but also to benefit local and small family-owned businesses,” Crawford said.
To be meaningful for residents, programming is not necessarily interchangeable between properties, stressed Kellie Speakman, vice president, national residential operations for Bentall Kennedy.
“To be successful, it needs to be relevant to the residents,” Speakman said. “It also needs to be ongoing—it can’t be something you do four times a year. It’s about creating small and large touch points with residents at the first interaction and throughout their tenancy. “
In with the old, and new
This high-touch, highly experiential approach is a natural fit for new luxury developments; however, it can also revitalize older and repositioning assets.
When Two St. Thomas was under construction, Tullio and her team visited local residential towers and businesses with extra-gooey chocolate chip cookies to raise awareness about the project. That homegrown, word-of-mouth marketing created buzz before the building even opened.
“It has created a great vibe, unlike any other that I’ve experienced in this industry,” said Tullio. “Being known in the community helps with our bottom line. We could start with a high price point and succeed.”
In contrast, Hull Estates is a 60-year-old asset that Bentall Kennedy repositioned from a 55+ property to one that serves young professionals, families and active adults. The updates, combined with Crawford’s focus on hospitality and community building, have transformed the property from one with a high vacancy rate to a waiting list in less than a year.
“The residents love it, the businesses love it, the word of mouth that we get is working wonders,” Crawford noted. “I’ve had businesses seek me out wanting to know how they can be part of our community.”
“Nothing is more rewarding”
At Bentall Kennedy, every decision about a building—from design to amenities to programming—is based on the building’s targeted demographic. Staffing is no exception.
“We assemble property management teams that are very relevant to the tenant demographic because every interaction that they have with those residents will set the tone for the lifetime of their residency with us,” said Speakman.
Equipping staff with the resources, budget and freedom to make programming decisions is also key to forging genuine links between residents, the property and the community.
“We really empower our site teams to be entrepreneurial,” Speakman said. “We want our teams to think outside the box and put their personality on the brand—that’s why we selected them. And we have a group of young female leaders who are taking this concept and running with it in a way that is resonating with their residents and the communities in which they operate.”
The company is finding that the benefits extend far beyond resident retention. It is also strengthening bonds with staff and improving its employee retention rate. And by providing a young, visionary cohort of women with a sense of ownership in their properties and careers, Bentall Kennedy is investing in its next generation of leaders.
“Nothing is as personal in someone’s life as their home and their family – and you touch both when you are in residential multifamily,” said Tullio. “At the same time, I have the ability to provide a comfortable and safe and well-developed environment for my team. When the residents are happy and the team is happy, nothing is more rewarding.”
Front (left to right): Shannon Tullio- Regional Property Manager, Chrystal LeBlanc- Marketing and Leasing Manager, Kellie Speakman- Vice President, National Residential Operations. Back (left to right): Paula Agnelli- Director, Residential Property Management, Alexandra Foggetti- Marketing Coordinator, Rebecca Whitney- Director, Strategic Marketing, Elisha Crawford- Leasing and Resident Experience Manager.