Category Archives: Upgrades and Amenities

Ancillary Income in the Year 2019: Prepare Now for the Generation of ‘Cord Nevers’

By Jason Scutt, Worth Telecom Advisors – MultiHousingNews.com

It’s easy to look back at the 1980s as the far distant past with its big hair, curious clothing choices and antiquated technologies. After all, think how far we’ve come from rotary phones, VCRs, camcorders and the Sony Walkman. Yet when you look at the past, some things really haven’t changed at all—particularly when you look at these now defunct and/or dying technologies and study their original appeal such as mobility, control of when content is consumed, and the creation of personalized content. In effect, these root features make up the core functionality that created the rise of the internet itself and the now ubiquitous smart phones which are enabled by it.

A similar common thread between the past and present exists with the providers of TV and phone services which have adjusted their business models from single service businesses (Bell providing phone and Comcast providing TV) to internet and mobility centric organizations.

Property owners across the US have been unwitting, yet active, participants in this technology evolution as they have been granting providers access to their private properties in order to secure services to their tenants. In some ways, this symbiotic relationship is as important to the owners as it is to the providers since tenants require these services similar to utilities. Over the years the relationship has changed somewhat as the wiring requirements improve, FCC regulation changes, and more competitive providers enter previously single provider markets. Fundamentally, though, the relationship is mostly unchanged: the provider seeks access and marketing rights at a property, the owner grants access in exchange for some financial or in-kind consideration and residents consume the provider’s services. In fact, telecommunication based ancillary income is one of the largest sources of revenues for owners and managers.

What has changed—and what will fundamentally alter the relationship between owner and provider—is the apartment resident whose paradigm has changed completely. In a recent survey 49% of respondents stated “cellular coverage is extremely important” in the selection of a community. In another, residents rated internet as the most important amenity at a property. Landline subscriptions per home are down from 90% to less than 20% while mobile phone rates are up to 90%. Residents demand cellular coverage, quality internet access and providers of their choice. The technology demanded by residents enables a resident to completely bypass the property owner and provider’s infrastructure altogether. So called, “cord-cutters” can use a wireless hotspot as their source for internet access, connect a WiFi enabled TV to the hotspot and, of course, use their cell phone for communications. In fact, residents under 30 years old may become the first generation of “cord-nevers” as they’ve never had a wired connection.

Although their average monthly spend remains at around $200 per month, this group is typically budget conscience and very tech savvy. This group’s first device was a mobile phone which they used for communication and entertainment all while mobile. As they move into their first apartment homes, they see no reason to be tethered. While this trend is less than 2% of the market it’s not unreasonable to assume the trend may increase to 5% of all users. With more and more wireless capability and free content options, the signs point to a “tipping point.”

To an owner or manager of a community (and the providers) this trend can impact occupancy and thus their core source of income. As residents require ubiquitous internet and cellular coverage, they will make their buying selections accordingly. Properties without ubiquitous wireless coverage and provider choice will on a tangible level be less successful than similar properties with coverage and choice. This dilemma is further compounded as the “cord cutting” trend continues. If the trend continues at up to 5% of renters per year, in five years 25% of this critical source of ancillary revenue will disappear! For certain demographics it’s not unreasonable to forecast up to 10% may make the switch and thus 50% of revenues are gone.

To optimize occupancy and maximize ancillary income, many owners are beginning to take a more proactive role in shaping the future of their participation in the technology at their properties. Highlights include:

Cell coverage solutions – To address cellular coverage issues experienced by residents, the most effective solution is a distributed antenna system, which is in effect a cell tower spread across a property. While effective, the solution can also be expensive, ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 or more. Lower cost alternatives exist, at a fraction of the cost. One such solution is a WiFi based cell boost technology which amplifies existing cellular signals and retransmits the signal across the property. A critical potential issue with this solution is a common provision written into traditional telecommunication access and marketing agreements (i.e. TV, internet and phone) whereby the owner is precluded from offering competitive “bulked” services to residents which the WiFi solution can be considered.

Cell towers and antennas – As residents migrate to cellular services as the backbone of their telecommunication services, it is important for owners to participate in the revenue potential available from the placement of cellular towers and antennas at their properties. In recent years, the country has witnessed an explosion in the number of cellular towers with 30,000 or less in 2000 to more than 300,000 in 2013. Cell towers have the ability to dwarf the traditional income seem by any other ancillary income program with revenues ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 per carrier per property per month). While the roof rights of tall buildings, land beside highways, and the high ground remain valuable, so too are properties in dense urban markets, properties adjacent to power transmission lines and train tracks and certain rural locations. An important consideration for owners is to be aware that cellular antennas are becoming smaller and more discrete

Traditional cable TV and internet access and marketing agreements – As described previously, many of the common carriers at each property have a wireless strategy and are seeking to expand their offerings. As the income from revenue share programs are in decline, the need for subscription based vs marketing rights only compensation programs becomes more critical than ever. Historically, providers would pay the owner for exclusive access to a property. As the FCC has struck these type of arrangements, the providers would pay for access, use of wire and marketing rights. These agreements often underperform as the owner and provider would disengage as soon as the agreement was signed, with the owners receiving seemingly arbitrary payments and the providers receiving little to no marketing support. As owners are the ultimate gatekeepers in terms of knowing when the resident is moving in and out—and they maintain regular contact—an opportunity exists for the owner to more actively participate in supporting providers by incorporating their services into their operating processes (i.e. work orders, HOA coupons, etc). Providers are also taking the initiative to offer enhanced services such as portals, concierge, security, and home controls which can dovetail with the owner’s current platforms. New providers are entering the market such as Google Fiber, which offers futurist speeds and a seamless platform between mobile and fixed devices.

The big picture

Providers such as AT&T and Verizon have corporate structures whereby the residential services groups report to the mobility unit. Further, the circuit required to power an cellular antenna is often times the same circuit that can be used to power residential services. For these providers capturing cellular services and residential services is a very efficient and effective business proposition that can be leveraged by an owner. With greater revenue opportunities providers can consider properties and business terms they might not typically consider. Further, for providers, working with a single owner or manager of multiple properties is much more efficient than finding and negotiating with individual owners. As described, cellular solutions such as the WiFi cell boost service are directly affected by the underlying traditional cable TV, internet and phone agreements. And, while adding new providers to a property can help owners create an initial marketing boost, it may also effectively cannibalize existing revenue share programs and be in conflict with existing agreements. It therefore critical to look at the entire telecommunication picture—cellular, TV, internet, phone and WiFi—in order to create a comprehensive strategy to optimize leverage, operational capabilities, resident satisfaction, ancillary income potential and occupancy overall while also ensuring the agreements dovetail together without conflict.

While it’s impossible to fully imagine what technology trends will be dominant five, 10 and 20 years from now, it is possible to identify the obvious trends and position yourself to minimize potentially negative results and realize the most benefit possible. In the case of telecommunications, your residents—and most likely your personal habits—have already identified this trend. By identifying all of the providers and options within the ecosystem described herein, and striking out on your own with a logical game plan or utilizing a professional services group with the experience and expertise to efficiently guide you, the time to start protecting your occupancy and maximizing ancillary income is now.

Jason Scutt is president of Worth Telecom Advisors


 

Tech-Savvy Communities

Thanks to Kingsley Associates for sharing their Tenant feedback 

Are your apartment communities tech-savvy? Many residents expect their apartments to meet their various technology requirements, whether it be communication with management through social media, being able to choose their cable provider online, or having Wi-Fi access in common areas. This month, MHN teamed up with research and consulting services firm Kingsley Associates to ask residents about the technology in their apartment communities—and what they think is lacking.

❝    New tenants should be advised that depending on the location of their unit they may not be able to get the cable provider of their choice. ❞
—Birmingham, Ala.

❝    Look into an online management system for the washer
and dryers so that people can be notified when their laundry is done. ❞
—Charlotte, N.C.

❝    I especially like the front office’s use of Facebook and email to keep residents updated on what’s going on in the community (for example, power outages).❞
—Middletown, Conn.

❝    Setting up cable and Internet service prior to moving in would be helpful. I had to wait over two weeks to get set up. ❞
 —Pasadena, Calif.

❝    Community WiFi access would be a really
nice feature. ❞
—Miami

❝    I’m very upset about my phone and Internet connection. It was never communicated to me that this complex has no reception, and now I have to incur huge expenses because of it. ❞
—Melrose, Mass.

❝    The resident portal could be more efficient if it allowed for payments on the rental units to be paid partially, rather than all or nothing. This would drastically help those that have roommates and travel a lot, allowing for an easier transaction between the tenants. ❞
—Charlotte, N.C.

❝    I don’t care about social networking sites—it’s the community’s website that matters to me. ❞
—Washington, D.C.

❝    My apartment has horrible cell phone reception. In the day and age where folks are using their cell phones more, this is a huge problem for me. I have to stand in one or two spots of my apartment just to send a text or receive a phone call. ❞
—Alexendria, Va.

❝    The business center Internet and printer seems to be out of service a large percentage of the time. ❞
—Jersey City, N.J.

❝    The ability to pay rent online would be fantastic! ❞
—Baltimore

❝    I’m disappointed in the limited availability of technology due to the building’s contractual obligations. It’s difficult to leverage a connected lifestyle. ❞
—Chicago

❝    When I’ve communicated with the management team over Facebook, if it’s something complimentary they were very happy. But if had a concern, then the apartment manager would immediately ask me to stop using Facebook saying that Facebook is only for publicity. ❞
—Woburn, Mass.

❝    The Internet does not meet my expectations and makes it incredibly difficult to work from home or have video chats with family in other states. ❞
—S. Orange, N.J.

❝    I do not like having limited options for cable and Internet service. ❞
 —Jacksonville, Fla.

❝    If they could get the cable hooked up in the gym that would be great. ❞
—San Mateo, Calif.

❝    Can we get a Facebook page set up for the community? A previous community I lived at had a Facebook page and it was really useful for the residents to learn about community news and get to know each other. ❞
—Atlanta

❝    I do wish management could provide wireless Internet throughout the building. I would be glad to pay $10-20 more per month for this service.❞
—Dallas

Resident feedback from Kingsley Associates

What Renters Want: The Amenity Arms Race

By Leah Etling, Contributing Editor – MultiHousingNews.com

Los Angeles—Gen Y likes rooftop pools, multimedia-equipped fitness suites, concierge package service and the ability to order housekeeping for their apartment. They have dogs, get lots of UPS deliveries but almost no mail, like walking places (but also need to charge their electric vehicles), and want the lobby of their apartment community to look like that of a four-star urban hotel.

Sound high maintenance? It’s a fair assessment.

Last week, a panel of multifamily experts delivered an overview of “What Renters Want: Development + Design Trends that Drive Occupancy,” at an AIA continuing education event held in Los Angeles and sponsored by Multi-Housing News, Interface and Universal Fibers.

Speakers Manny Gonzalez, principal, KTGY Group; Kelly Farrell, vice president, RTKL; and Alan Dibartolomeo, chief development officer, AMF Development Inc. didn’t pull any punches when it came to the wish list of the nation’s largest renter demographic: 20-to-mid-30-somethings.

“Gen Y rents by choice. We’ll see if they continue to rent by choice as they age. But if they keep renting, your rentals will have to be flexible enough in their amenities program to meet their needs in the future and the needs of their kids,” said Farrell, who described the demand for services among today’s typical resident.

They want to be able to order up housekeeping, but not pay for it on a regular schedule, calling for an appointment when they have been too busy to clean or Mom and Dad are coming to visit. Someone should be in the lobby to receive their dry cleaning delivery and accept their packages while they work. Rent should be payable by credit card so they can auto-schedule the payment and forget about it.

The good news is that they’re willing to pay for these conveniences.

“It’s a generation that if they have the money, they want to be served,” said Dibartolomeo, whose firm competed a Glendale project near Americana at Brand and the Glendale Galleria that features a 26,000 square foot rooftop skydeck, replete with a dog park and hot tub.

The only disadvantage of creating such posh living spaces is that residents really do seem to think they’re at a resort.

“They really believe they’re in a hotel. And there’s a downside to that: they think they can barbecue and cook and just walk away and leave it, and somebody will clean it up. Almost everything is ‘somebody else will take care of it,’” Dibartolomeo said.

Describing some of the private student housing communities that have been developed across Southern California, Gonzalez implied that multifamily would likely have to raise the luxury bar to keep up with rising expectations. Does your community’s swimming pool feature a lazy river?  How about a fitness center that rivals the offerings of the neighborhood’s most high-end health club?

“If your community isn’t big enough to do something like this, then don’t even try to do it. Get them a membership to the adjacent club. If you can’t go all the way, don’t just go halfway,” Gonzalez advised. He added, “It’s what I call the amenities arms race. Everything’s getting bigger, how much can we do? All the money seems to be going into the amenities: ‘My pool’s bigger than your pool.’”

A few other trends the panel identified:

  • Black box theaters are out, outdoor theaters—where weather permits–with movable furniture are in.
  • Business centers are out, but universal wireless network coverage and scattered “creative spaces” are in.
  • Printers and a couple of computers on site are still popular for that moment when the household printer is out of ink and you need to print boarding passes for a flight or tomorrow’s homework assignment.
  • Multimedia fitness “suites” where you can do a yoga, pilates or P-90X workout alone or with a few friends are hot.
  • Some new construction doesn’t bother to wire for landline phones. Direct data connections are the alternative.
  • The most important amenity? Five bars. “If you walk in and your phone doesn’t have five bars, you’re walking out,” Gonzalez said.
  • Green isn’t as important as you think, though it may matter to owners, builders and lenders. “The leasing people don’t sell it too hard. They may mention it, but it’s not an amenity that really sells,” Dibartolomeo said.
  • Got an In-and-Out burger nearby? You’re golden. A Whole Foods? High five. Neither? No worries. Settle for a designated food truck parking space and invite local trucks to set up a regular visitation schedule. “It’s a great opportunity for them that costs you absolutely nothing,” Gonzalez noted.
  • Micro units need some kind of separation barrier between living space and sleeping space. It gives the feeling of a one-bedroom unit, even if the entire apartment is less than 500 square feet.
  • Kitchens can be smaller than we’re accustomed to, especially with new reduced-footprint appliances. But entertaining is still important, and expandable spaces to host a larger crowd are requested.
  • Location still matters—a lot. “You’ve got to build it where the rest of the amenities are already provided by the city that’s there,” Dibartolomeo observed.

The Top 3 Apartment Lead Sources Used by Renters

by  - Property Management Insider

Ask any marketing director what causes some of their biggest headaches, and you are sure to hear about the need for the correct lead source to be entered into the property management systemwhen a prospect visits a community. Unless you know where your leads are coming from, you won’t know where to allocate your marketing dollars.

So what if you don’t know? What if you aren’t currently tracking sources or you aren’t confident in your current source tracking process? Where do you focus your marketing dollars?

The Top 3 Sources Renters Use to Find Apartments

According to the 2012 SatisFacts Index, which compiles information directly from resident satisfaction surveys, here are the top three sources renters use to find apartments. Counting down, a la David Letterman, let’s start with number three:

3. Internet Listing Services (ILS)

Between 11 and 14 percent of prospects have used at least one of the top Internet listing services to find their new apartment. While there are arguments for and against these pay-per services, they continue to be effective in the marketplace.

2. Word of Mouth (without Social Media)

There’s a lot of focus on social media and how referral incentives potentially skew the true measure of how willing someone is to recommend a community. The fact remains, however, that basic word of mouth—the old-fashioned way without social media—is cited by 17% of renters as a source when they were apartment-shopping.

1. Apartment Signs/Driving By/Curbside Appeal

People typically know the general vicinity in which they want to live. Whether it’s to be close to work, close to restaurants and shopping, close to the freeway, close to childcare, or in a certain school district, people have preferences. And when looking for a new home, they tend to walk or drive through the neighborhoods or areas they prefer. In fact, more than one in five renters claimed signage and driving by as a source in their search.

While ratings and reviews are the talk of the industry (and rightly so, as they are becoming the “norm” in the rental decision), it’s important to ensure we don’t neglect some of the old standbys. Some options are quickly becoming obsolete (newspapers, for example, were only cited by 0.8%), but some of the basics still hold true. Ensure your signage is in great condition, is easy to read, and has your community phone number and/or web page listed. A prospect may drive or walk by this morning, look you up on the Internet when she gets home, and call for a tour by the afternoon. Make it easy for her.

What’s the number one lead source that potential renters use to find your apartment communities? Share them in the comments below.

Cyber Liability

By Kevin D. Smith, CPCU, ARM, The Graham Company – MultiHousingnews.com

Among the many risks that property owners must manage is the risk of cyber liability. Years ago, privacy of residents’ personally identifiable data was confined to filing cabinets and office computers, but now this data exists electronically in the cloud, on laptops, smartphones or tablet devices often in addition to the paper files. Access points are everywhere, and the information can be easily transmitted. What’s more concerning is that cyber criminals are on the lookout for this data, and they are becoming more sophisticated every day. If that is not enough to worry about, state and federal regulations are being enacted that require a duty of care for this data, and complying can be difficult.

Cyber liability insurance is relatively new and has become the fastest growing line of coverage over the last 10 years. Few industries are immune to the risk of data breaches that can include customer, vendor or employee data. As with any risk, it is relative to the type and amount of exposure an individual company faces.

For property owners and managers, the amount of data collected on employees, residents or prospective residents can be immense, and a breach of this data would not only be embarrassing but also costly. Cyber liability insurance can provide a level of protection from this emerging risk and should be evaluated as part of any risk management program.

Cyber liability policies

Cyber liability policies are designed to cover a company for a loss or breach of personally identifiable information. Traditional insurance policies were not designed to cover these types of exposures, so any coverage you might find under your general liability, professional liability, crime or property policies or even a directors’ & officer’s liability policy written for a privately held company will either be very limited or simply accidental. Some carriers might offer you an endorsement to provide coverage for a specific component of your cyber liability exposure, but it is usually not as comprehensive as buying a separate policy.

Here are several reasons why your traditional insurance policies might not respond to a cyber liability claim:

■ General liability policies do not respond to claims for damage to intangible property (there is also typically a specific exclusion for claims arising out of electronic data)

■ General Liability policies typically exclude claims arising out of “blogs” you own or host

■ Property policies only provide loss of business income coverage if there was direct physical damage caused to your property (not caused by hackers or rogue employees who shut down your website or computer systems or the systems of a service provider you rely upon to conduct your business)

■ Crime policies do not respond to claims for damage to intangible property (there is also typically a specific exclusion for loss of confidential information)

■ Private company directors’ & officers’ liability policies typically exclude claims arising out of bodily injury (including emotional distress), property damage and specific types of personal injury

■ No traditional insurance policy currently provides coverage for the expenses associated with notifying affected individuals when their personally identifiable financial or medical information was breached while in your care, custody or control

These are just some of the hurdles to overcome in order to find coverage for cyber liability claims under a traditional insurance policy.

Evaluating costs

Costs resulting from a breach can vary greatly, and when you take into account lost revenue or reputational damage, they can be significant. The costs associated with the breach include defense and judgment costs from lawsuits as well as notification and credit-monitoring expenses. Consider just the costs of notification and credit monitoring for a multifamily property manager with 3,000 residents. The cost of notification and credit monitoring after a breach can range from $30 to $50 per person. If the data lost compromised 3,000 records, these costs alone would be over $100,000.

Policies can be structured to provide limits anywhere from $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 or more, with various deductible and coverage options to tailor the policy to fit the coverage and cost needs of the insured. Premiums will vary and will be dependent upon the amount of coverage, size of your organization, type of data collected and security measures in place. Generally, policies will start around $10,000 for $1,000,000 in limits.

Some of the exposures and costs that can be covered under a well-structured cyber liability policy include:

■ Information security and privacy liability for failure to protect personal or corporate information (like tenant Social Security numbers and credit research) held on computers systems, smartphones, laptops or paper files or entrusted to third-party vendors

■ Costs to notify affected individuals that their personal information has been breached, as required by law

■ Other costs associated with data breaches, such as public relations, investigative costs and defense costs from lawsuits

■ Loss of business income when a “hacker” prevents your customers from accessing your website or disrupts your systems

■ Loss of business income when your service provider’s systems are affected by a “hacker” (such as a cloud service provider or credit card processing company)

■ Personal injury (such as libel) that may result from the use of blogs on your website or other social media

When employees are cyber criminals

Breaches can happen in a variety of ways, and there is no shortage of news of examples of significant breaches. The FTC reports that identity theft complaints were up 32 percent in 2012, and over 12 million people have been a victim of identity theft.

While cyber criminals account for much of these instances, there is also the threat of human error of employees that causes data to be lost. For example, laptops left in cabs, smartphones lost, USB drives left in the open and stolen, or simply emailing a file with this data to the wrong address. While encryption can be a line of defense against the release of this data, many times it is not sophisticated enough, or it simply does not exist on every computer or device. In 2012, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee paid a $1.5 million settlement for penalties under the HITECH Act for a breach of over 1 million patient records after the theft of computer hard drives (with unencrypted health information).

The use of third parties, such as a rent payment portal, does not eliminate the risk. The company that selected the third party would also be involved in a lawsuit or breach since they selected and promoted the third party for resident rent payments. A lawsuit would examine what level of due diligence was done by the property manager to select the third-party rent payment portal and its security measures.

The need for prevention

Preventing breaches with security protocols is a no-brainer and often a requirement of state or federal government. Good security and prevention measures also make you a more appealing risk for cyber liability underwriters, which help keep costs down if insurance is purchased.

It begins with identifying the type of information collected and putting policies in place to protect this data. This protection can range from employment policies to control employee behavior, such as policies on downloading unauthorized software and rules related to personal device usage to technology solutions such as keeping anti-virus software up-to-date and complex password protection measures. Your IT department should regularly monitor security measures and look for signs of attempted breaches. Many companies have used an outside consultant to perform an audit of the cyber security systems in place to determine vulnerable areas.

The threat of lost data, the ensuing costs, and potential liability for property owners and managers is real and growing each year. Companies spend a lot of money and effort on keeping this data safe, but the sheer number of incidents suggests that it is only a matter of time before companies experience some sort of breach.

Kevin D. Smith CPCU, ARM, is vice president, real estate division director at The Graham Company, a property and casualty brokerage specializing in the multi-housing. 

Feeding the Insatiable Need for Internet Speed

By Bendix Anderson - MutliFamilyExecutive.com

The Internet connection at University Village Apartments on Colvin Street in Syracuse, N.Y., seemed like it would be more than fast enough.

But by the time the property opened in 2009, the definition of “fast” had changed.

The students at University Village demanded connections that would let hundreds of them watch video clips and whole movies over the Internet at the same time. While students grilled property managers at town hall-style meetings, the developer rushed to have copper cables torn out and fiber-optic cables installed at the brand-new, Class-A property.

“We’ve got to provide it or risk not being 100 percent leased,” says Scott P. Casey, senior vice president of strategic business development for EdR, a REIT based in Memphis, Tenn.

Super-fast Internet connections are now the most important technological amenity developers and managers can provide at student housing properties.

Strike Up the Bandwidth
Fast Internet speeds have become something students depend on and expect—64 percent said they would consider relocating if Internet speeds were lower in their student housing than expected,according to data from J Turner Research.

“There is just this insatiable appetite for speed,” says Joseph Batdorf, president of J Turner Research.

Fast Internet is not only the most important technological amenity for students. It is also the third most important amenity of any kind for any demographic—a washing machine in the apartment, and a bathroom to one’s self, were the only amenities rated higher, according to J Turner Research.

“Students are doubling their usage every two years,” says Joe Coyle, president of University Student Living.

The race to speed up Internet connections began when students started to watch movies and television shows online. The need for speed has grown rapidly ever since.

All students polled by J Turner Research spent some significant amount of time using the Internet in their homes—86 percent say they spend more than 3 hours per day.

Multiple devices also make a difference—a quarter of students surveyed say that they connect to the Internet with more than three devices.

“Each kid is using three to five devices,” says EdR’s Casey. That multiplies the Internet needs at a property by several times. “A 500-bed property almost becomes like a 2,000-bed property.”

TVs and Smartphones
Some other forms of connectivity are no longer considered amenities, they are simply taken for granted. For example, students assume that they will be able to talk on their cell phones in their homes without dropping calls. In 2011, good cellular phone service rated as second most important amenity, after a large bedroom.

“It would be absolutely critical,” says Batdorf. “If they don’t have good cell phone reception, I think they’re dead. It’s like having a car with no AC in Houston.”

Bad cellular service would probably be exposed as soon as a student visits the community: Many prospective residents phone friends or family from the model apartment.

Students also still watch cable television and have begun to ask more high-definition television channels in their cable service. “Student are really demanding that, for the first time in years,” says EdR’s Casey.

6 Ways to Celebrate Neighborday at Your Community

Jessica Fiur, News Editor-MultiHousingnews.com

In multifamily, neighbors are a fact of life. And that’s a good thing. Who else could accept a package for you or call the cops if they haven’t seen you in a few weeks and there’s a weird smell coming from the apartment? However, it’s likely that your residents don’t really know each other, beyond a brief nod at the mailboxes.

Well, it’s time to change that. If your residents get to know each other there will be a greater sense of community (and they’ll be less likely to leave). Luckily, this Saturday is Neighborday. Perfect time for some bonding experiences with all your residents. Yardi offers some ways to celebrate Neighborday in one of their recent blog posts. Here are some additional suggestions—and don’t forget to take lots of pictures to use in your future marketing or advertising (just be sure to get your residents’ permission first—in writing—before you take their photo).

Challenge another community to a kickball/softball game. Nothing causes greater camaraderie than bonding over a shared enemy. So why don’t you challenge a nearby apartment community to some sort of sports game at a local park (you could even have a cheering section for those residents who don’t want to play, like the type of person who would refer to it as a “sports game”). The winning team gets bragging rights (and, hopefully, pizza).

Throw a pizza party. Speaking of pizza, this is the one type of party that almost everyone enjoys. (Seriously, I don’t get why at meetings they have different sandwiches for everyone. There’s always something gross on them. And, yes, I’m a lot of fun at parties.) Free dinner and a chance to mingle? What could be better?

Organize a community-wide scavenger hunt. Divide interested residents into teams with lists of things around the community they need to get or take pictures of, and first team to check everything off the list wins. (And, clearly, for a neighbor-bonding scavenger hunt, one of the items must be a cup of sugar.)

Have a block party/carnival. Bouncy castles. Cotton candy. Beer (or soda, depending on your crowd). Games. Music. Deep-fried everything. There is literallynothing better.

Organize a community service project. Your residents could have a can drive, or all go clean up a local playground together. (Or they could all help clean up the mess left over from last week’s crazy block party.) That way your residents could all bond while also doing good for the community.

Have a town hall meeting. OK, this isn’t as sexy as the other choices. But you might get a big turnout. Organize a meeting where your staff and the residents gather and people could bring up issues they’re having or explain procedures. That way everyone gets all the vital information, and is able to start putting faces to names. And make sure to serve some snacks as well. (Just not sandwiches. Seriously, gross.)

What are some other ways to celebrate Neighborday at your community? Happy Neighborday, everyone!

Should You Implement a Sub-metering System in Your Community?

By Jessica Fiur, News Editor- MultiHousingNews.com

New York—Should you use a submetering system in your community to generate revenue? In a recent webinar titled “Submetering to Increase Profits and Resident Satisfaction,” which was hosted by Multi-Housing News and sponsored by NWP Services Corporation,  panelists Howard Behr of NWP, Cynthia Haines of WRH Realty Services and Michael May of Tehama Wireless provided best practice suggestions for implementing and maintaining water submetering systems in multifamily communities.

When considering implementing a submetering system, it is important to read up on the different types of meters, as well as the requirements in your state. “Almost all new construction installs submetering systems,” Behr said. “Submetering is required in many areas, which may limit the type of meters you can use.”

Additionally, according the Behr it is crucial to choose a manufacturer that is committed to working with multifamily communities. If not, the service will not be good and it will be difficult to get replacement parts.

In terms of the technology for the automatic meter reading (AMR), May suggested that property managers seek out devices that are non-proprietary so that they are open to a variety of different billing systems. He said that property managers should pick a meter that uses the current technology, because that will allow the AMR to be flexible and take on new abilities.

May also recommended choosing a meter that is easy to install and maintain. “This minimizes disruption to your residents,” he said.

Maintenance is critical for a successful submetering system. According to Behr, a common issue that comes up is the meter will stop sending a signal. To correct this, replace the battery, replace the transmitter and reposition the meter to avoid interference (from the residents or otherwise). Another issue could be that the meter is showing no usage. If this occurs, Behr suggested replacing the probe (wire), replacing the meter and reinstalling the meter.

“There’s not one fix,” Behr said of maintenance issues. “There’s not one easy answer.”

There are some challenges that might arise with a submetering program. According to Haines, there are different legal requirements in different states. The biggest challenge, however, could be complaints from the residents. If this occurs, Haines suggested reviewing the AMR—was this a one-time occurrence or a repeated event? Often times, a spike in the reading occurs when the resident has guests in the apartment, which leads to more water usage that month.

A way to minimize complaints is to put systems on a regular maintenance service program. “This also eliminates the approval process for unbudgeted repairs,” Haines said.

Property managers should also make sure the community staff is knowledgeable about the submetering system.

“It’s important to train staff so they can answer basic questions,” Behr said. This could eliminate some frustrations residents feel if issues arise and could help build their confidence in the system as a whole.

When submetering systems are added to communities, do the residents respond positively?

According to Haines, residents often consider a submetering system to be a benefit, as opposed to paying a monthly flat rate.

“They’re in charge of their destiny,” Haines said.

Increase NOI by Setting Up Home Services for Residents

By Jessica Fiur, News Editor – Multi-HousingNews.com

New York—In a recent webinar called “Ancillary Income: Enjoy Increased NOI By Helping Residents Set Up Home Services,” hosted by MHN and sponsored by NWP, presenters Chris Finetto of NWP and Jason Scutt of CSI and MyServicesNow demonstrated the benefits of bundling technology packages for residents. According to the presenters, by doing so, it makes it easier on the residents and provides ancillary income for the property managers.

“Moving is a daunting process—even for the folks operating the property,” Finetto said. “It’s a logistical ballet.”

According to Finetto, the challenge for property managers is creating an amenity or a perk for the residents without increasing expenses. However, he warned to do so with caution.

“Selling ancillary services can be a distraction from the leasing process,” Finetto said.

Scutt agreed that selling these services during move-in might be a little daunting. However he felt it was in the best interest of the property manager.

“[When they move in,] residents tend not to have the services they could and end up doing it on their own because it’s not in the lease,” Scutt said. “That’s a missed opportunity for revenue.”

In order to take advantage of the best deals, Scutt recommended studying up on the various companies offered at individual properties, since not all communities in a portfolio would offer the same services.

“Audit your revenue share opportunities,” Scutt said. “Use the audit information to create a baseline for your success at each property.” Another key to success with ancillary services is to make it as simple as possible on the residents. “It has to be easy, or no one is going to want to do it,” Finetto said.

Some of Finetto’s suggestions for offering these services to residents included introducing a concierge-based amenity, issuing a unique toll-free number for each site (which would also make sales tracking easier) and offering online access. Ultimately, these services should be an asset to both the staff and the residents at a property. According to the presenters, there are several benefits of offering bundled technology packages: it’s preferred by residents, it allows for revenue growth at the property, it’s a source of new income potential and it’s liked by the leasing associates.

“Moving is never going to be a fun experience,” Scutt said. “But we can make it a better experience.”

Bankers Financial Launches RentersAmerica, the Next Generation of Security Deposit Alternatives for Multifamily Property Owners and Managers

Brought to us by Multi-HousingNews.com

St. Petersburg, Fla.—Bankers Financial Corporation has introduced RentersAmerica, a new security deposit alternative program designed to help multifamily property owners and managers reduce their bad debt, generate ancillary revenue and lease more units. The company, which pioneered the security deposit industry in 1995, developed RentersAmerica as a resident membership association that also benefits residents by dramatically lowering their move-in cash requirements while affording them opportunities to save on a wide variety of products and services through a rewards loyalty program.

For property owners and managers, RentersAmerica:

  • Reduces bad debt through funds generated from all its residents/members
  • Increases occupancy and improves resident retention because they can market their communities more aggressively to prospective residents by offering the option to lower their move-in cash requirement
  • Increases ancillary revenue through marketing fees and excess funds not used to pay move-out debt that remains in their disbursement account
  • Limits costs associated with the administration of traditional security deposits and collections
  • Provides exceptional reporting inclusive of detailed or summary information from the community level to the executive level at a moment’s notice
  • Provides the program without cost to the property or community

For the resident, RentersAmerica:

  • Reduces the move-in cash requirements as residents pay a nonrefundable membership fee which is much less than the traditional security deposit
  • Frees up cash which allows residents to use that extra money for other expenses when they need it most
  • Provides a meaningful rewards program which offers discounts, coupons and special members pricing for goods and services at over 300,000 national and local providers. Used just once or twice a week, earning $1.00-$2.00 in savings at a time can easily offset or exceed the cost of membership.