While commercial property managers grapple with the opportunities of big data and the risks of cyber-adversaries, the rowdy partier, courtesy of Airbnb, may be the most prevalent and unnerving face of digital disruption in the multifamily environment. Senior real estate executives participating in a panel discussion at last week’s PM Expo in Toronto rated emerging and age-old operating pressures differently depending on their business focus and their tenants’ key demands.
“It makes it much more complex when you are actually managing someone’s home,” acknowledged Cheryl Gray, who comes to her new role as executive vice president, enterprise resources and innovation, at QuadReal Property Group with extensive grounding in residential management.
“It’s like running a small city — 120,000 people — across four time zones,” concurred Jonathan Fleischer, executive vice president, operations, at CAPREIT, in reference to the size and geographical dispersion of the portfolio he oversees. “When you’re in residential, it’s not a job, especially at the building level; it’s a lifestyle.”
Taking a somewhat inverse career path to Gray, he moved from commercial to residential management in 2015, and describes it as a challenging and invigorating new milieu. Notably, there is a greatly restricted capacity to pass costs through to tenants, but also opportunities to reposition that open up with more frequent turnover.
“Residential is more creative,” Fleischer asserted. “If you suddenly have a problem in residential, like we had in Calgary about 18 months ago, you can turn that around on a dime.”
Meanwhile, in-house and contracted “subject matter experts” can help to manage regulatory compliance. “There is just a ton of it and no one person can know everything there is to know,” he advised.
“The legislation that gets added, which makes it even more complex, is the Landlord and Tenant Act,” Gray added. “Tenants are acutely aware of their rights and, because they are voters, you’ll find that any level of government will happily support them.”
However, tenants’ sense of community and protectiveness of their homes frequently supports management. “You will be notified quite quickly when unusual activities occur,” she noted.
Other best practices for operations and customer service are consistent in the commercial and multifamily sectors.
“The simple answer would be, invest in your people first and foremost,” submitted Lachlan MacQuarrie, vice president, national programs, with Oxford Properties Group. “If we listen to our people, they are going to act differently and they are going to engage differently. If engagement goes up, customer service benefits. It’s the ability to tap into their discretionary effort.”