• Kim Yeoh

Webinar Recap: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Multifamily Industry

Ten senior multifamily leaders share their strategies and predictions for a post-COVID world.





On a recent webinar hosted by Fetch, a provider of door-to-door delivery for on-site package management, multifamily industry veterans discussed the pivotal changes their organizations have made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and what the new future of the multifamily landscape may look like.


The event was hosted by Matt Greene, Vice President of Sales at Fetch. The panelists included the following multifamily leaders:

  • Ash Bell – Chief Revenue Officer of Spruce

  • Joe Summers – Chief Revenue Officer of PrintWithMe

  • Devin Wirt – CEO of TFLiving

  • Demetrios Barnes – Co-founder and COO of SmartRent

  • Joe Melton – VP of Marketing for Morgan Group

  • Girish Gehani – COO of Trilogy Real Estate Group

  • Heather Moore – Managing Director for Greystar in New York

  • Wendy Dorchester – VP of Operations for Pegasus Residential

  • April Syria – VP of Thrive Communities

  • Jennifer Chestnut – Head of Marketing at Fetch.


From reduced resident occupancy to company furloughs, the multifamily industry is facing new challenges that no one could have predicted for 2020. April Syria, VP of Thrive Communities, shared the uncertainties and tension as a result of the rent freeze from a moratorium issued by the governor of Washington state. Additionally, many suppliers and residents are directly impacted by the closing of amenity spaces in communities. TFLiving, which conducts in-person fitness classes as many as 500 every week, have had to rethink their preposition to determine ways they could transition into the virtual space.


However, there is a silver lining here. While the stakeholders in the multifamily industry are facing obstacles that, at times, feel larger than life, they shared a positive outlook on the future.


Joe Melton, the VP of Marketing for Morgan Group, refers to this as “a collective experience and a future with collective imagination.”


FOSTERING COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN SUPPLIERS AND CLIENTS


With a common goal to provide superior residents’ experience in mind, the pandemic acts as a catalyst for change and meaningful collaboration between suppliers and management.


“It is exciting to see collaborations between clients and suppliers,” said Girish Gehani, the COO of Trilogy Real Estate Group. As an example, Girish spoke about his brainstorming session with the PrintWithMe team who had recently launched a new online Activity Center as a free resource for both clients and their residents.


Joe Summers, the Chief Revenue Officer at PrintWithMe, said that the wireless self-serve printer amenity provider has created a process to help clients move their PrintWithMe printer to accessible areas on the premise. As amenity spaces closed down, they saw an uptick of 36% in printer usage alongside the rise of the remote workforce.


Demetrios Barnes from Smart Rent, a smart home automation company, said that they are now focusing on harnessing and sharing information to help clients and suppliers make data-driven decisions with respect, agility, and sensitivity – especially during these times of uncertainty.


MAINTAINING A (DIGITAL) SENSE OF COMMUNITY


“Communication is key,” said Syria.


As property teams are physically apart from their communities and co-workers, they are relying heavily on technology and digital channels to distribute information and communicate effectively with each other, including with the residents. From emails to live digital messaging, consistent communication is crucial to inciting calmness and managing expectations – especially when things are changing rapidly.


Ash Bell, the Chief Revenue Officer of Spruce, said, “It is absolutely key to come together to solve this.”


Social distancing had also forced many owners and companies to learn to embrace technology and the virtual environment that they were once doubted. Wendy Dorchester, VP of Operations for Pegasus Residential, discussed the need for human connection as a way to mitigate fear during an uncertain time like this.


“I actually feel closer to my team than I ever had,” said Dorchester.


Devin Wirt, the CEO of TFLiving, said the technology-enabled amenities company is developing “the new cadence” to explore ways to maximize virtual offerings like on-demand fitness classes and resident events to help communities stay engaged and connected.


FINDING NEW WAYS TO CONNECT WITH PROSPECTS


Suppliers and management aren’t the only ones experiencing a major behavioral shift. With potential renters limited to virtual tours, live interaction with the leasing team is now “the new cool thing,” said Heather Moore, the Managing Director of Greystar.


Building trust and rapport requires the leasing team to go above and beyond to be truly present when they get a chance to speak to the prospects outside of the digital space. Wendy personally observed that she now pays more attention, physically “...pushing the phone closer to her ear,” when engaging with renters over the phone.


On the other hand, Demetrios and his team have gathered data insights that show that renters are actually signing up for self-guided tours to examine the apartments outside of traditional leasing office hours. He believes that the option for autonomy is empowering renters to “make decisions on their own terms.”


DIVING DEEP INTO BUDGETS


The economy remains an on-going concern for all industries including in the multifamily landscape. However, property management companies are also seeing a reduction in expenses on typical services like flower decor and are now able to reallocate funds for new essentials such as safety equipment for on-site staff.


Joe Summers encouraged us to be more fiscally responsible by categorizing the essential and non-essential budget line items. The panel agreed and expressed the necessity of tracking line items to help reduce operational expenses.


Although property management companies are reluctant to onboard new amenities due to budget cuts, Joe Melton believes in “people over profit,” stating that renters are more likely to renew their lease based on how the management handles the crisis.


“We can’t just be the receiving end of this,” said Heather as she placed emphasis on taking a proactive approach in managing their finances.


THE RISE OF THE REMOTE WORKFORCE


There will be changes that outlast the pandemic. As Girish, put it, “Long term shift is inevitable.”


One of the more obvious shifts is the surging need for more space and technological support as the majority of the residents are now working from home.


Joe Summers said that in addition to monitoring PrintWithMe’s internal workplace culture as the team transitioned into a fully-remote workforce, they have also reached out to their users to understand the challenges residents are facing.


They concluded that the top three obstacles residents are facing are 1) the lack of dedicated workspace in their apartments, 2) loneliness and the lack of social interactions, and 3) distractions at home.


“Many (residents) did not choose this apartment with the new normal in mind,” said Joe Melton. He said that the Morgan Group is looking into reinventing design models to suit residents’ evolving needs into new developments such as repurposing clubhouses into co-working spaces and upgrading their Wi-Fi technology.



Based on what we have learned from this webinar, all stakeholders in the multifamily industry share a positive outlook of the post-covid19 future. They had agreed that collaboration, agility, and human connection are the fundamental grounding factors in mitigating fear and uncertainties.


Enjoyed these webinar insights? Stay tuned for more upcoming webinars hosted by Fetch!


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