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The Future of Multifamily Amenities in a Post COVID-19 World

A recent webinar provided by Fetch, a provider of door-to-door delivery for on-site package management, featured it’s first session in a 4-part series on how suppliers and managers are pivoting through the actively changing landscape of amenities and value-added features for residents and tenants in the multifamily amenities race.

The event was Hosted by Matt Greene of Fetch VP sales with Fetch, and also led by a panel of speakers all relative the industry. The lineup included: Ash Bell – Chief Revenue Officer of Spruce, Joe Summers – Chief Revenue Office 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 and Jennifer Chestnut – Head of Marketing and also contributing with Fetch.

What the new COVID “normal” looks like – and how suppliers and property managers have been forced to adapt

The need for increased communication around how to serve clients associates and customers keep employees and residents engaged was one of the first highlights discussed among industry leaders. Continuing inventive ways of customer satisfaction, quickly searching for solutions around legal changes, and providing resources both on the business and client level side have been on a much more heightened level in recent weeks, and an imperative part of operations.

Joe Summers of PrintWithMe noted how their company, already providing a wide network of wireless printing services across many verticles, was met with greater increased demand than ever at a 36% increase in business, and how they were able to provide added value to tenants and residents by including things like shared activities that could be printed for with kids and delivered to the door. With so many working from home and the uptick in homeschooling, and the lack of printers in many homes, the additional need for printing and creative services like this were well received.

Regarding sanitation, there has no doubt been a greater demand than ever from residents regarding cleanliness. Ash Bell of Spruce added that they have been hearing the requests directly from residents and how the need for sanitation will likely be ongoing for lobby spaces, new tenant spaces, and common areas of property buildings. Heather Moore of Greystar noted, they will need to figure out how to optimally leverage the supplier network while continuing to deliver to the expectation of residents as long as it is a demand.

Another incredibly significant pivot that many in the amenities space have been required to shift towards is the increased virtual platform accessibility from residents on their tablet and mobile devices, allowing them to be able to enjoy the same regular services they received in the outside world or even in another area of their property from the comfort of their home. Devin Wirt with TFLiving provided as one example, how TFLiving has met the demand of this pivot from so many angles, with the adaptation of virtual fitness classes and social event offerings that accommodate a diverse portfolio across hundreds of properties every week.

What is crucial now more than ever

Understanding and delivering data to residents and managers about how people are leveraging amenities and spaces such as when a cleaning person was last in a building, as well as the request for added technology to support smart home systems has been a high-demand noted by SmartRent’s Demetrios Barnes.

Morgan Group’s Joe Melton emphasized that where properties make the extra effort to treat residents favorably, and with good lines of communication during this situation, will remain an impression that stays with tenants when they make their decisions at their time of renewal. Now more than ever is the time to be sure optimal services are being delivered where they can.

Wendy Dorchester of Pegasus Residential also stressed the significance of empathy adding to nurturing communication in every interaction. By paying true attention when you are in the virtual world or by sending a video rather than a long email or a text, or providing personalization where you can are examples of how managers and leaders can add value through every touch point.

The silver lning in quick pivots and new ways of communicating

Some of the positive aspects as we have been forced to communicate virtually from each of our homes, is the ability to see more of the human element in all of our lives. Through virtual calls with kids and barking dogs, and families sharing common spaces, we’re peering into a glimpse of each other’s homes and interacting at unusual times while collaborating together on shifting business needs through this unknowing and strange period in our history. We’re all going through this together simultaneously, and working through it as we go.

All leaders and panelists noted that suppliers and managers are working closer and more effectively than ever to team up and drive home the best experience possible for residents and tenants. Girish Gehani of Trilogy Real Estate Group discussed how more brainstorming and coming together has already been a key between suppliers and management companies to service communities during this time.

Virtual Platforms used to adapt during these times will now offer a broader, more custom approach to the plethora of offerings amenity companies can provide and become a staple of pivoting business model well beyond COVID-19, as some of the models that have been created by teams recently are already considered to be a new channel of business for the future.

Industry challenges yet to play out in coming months

One of the greatest impacts for sure is the tangible financial impact during these times. A previously highly active forecasted rental market outlook prior to COVID-19, is now stagnant as with many industries. However, for this industry, April Syria of Thrive Communities shared that in her residing state of Washington rents which have been frozen from a moratorium issued by the Governer, and are expected to likely continue through Q3 and possibly even the end of 2020. This adds additional overlapping challenges where extra amenities are needed more than ever to serve the best resident/tenant experience and yet management groups are still forced to operate with the most conservative approach as possible.

Heather Moore stressed that although expenses have been cut, things like resident events and flower deliveries, this doesn’t mean that money isn’t being spent – and what is being spent better be valuable. In times like these, management groups are taking a more microscopic evaluation of what amenities are truly of value and a necessity. Watching line items in budgets will be more crucial than ever now, and in the coming months. Wendy Dorchester is hopeful that legislation can be proposed for Tax relief to the industry from COVID related expenses like the work from home office that has been a tax deduction.

While some businesses and amenity spaces are looking to open back up already in GA, FL and other spots while other states are in a different state of action. It may still be awhile before people are comfortable using communal spaces, and Wendy Dorchester added that residents from her properties that are looking to open back up soon are already asking what actions are being planned to keep residents safe and healthy as we reopen amenities areas like fitness centers.

Another interference of team operations recently has been the exponential increase in package deliveries to the home. How property managers can shift the need to allocate their teams away from managing the excess deliveries to focus back on their other operational obligations is still something they look to evolve in the future.

Anticipations for the future

Demetrios Barnes conveyed, now more than ever, people need technology data around the decisions they make, whereas before COVID 19 data technology wasn’t as much of a priority. Heat-mapping most utilized spaces is just one thing that can provide useful data to people, in addition to no-touch services and virtual leasing appointments as added examples. An increase in drones and virtual technologies are being adapted to become part of the forefront now more than ever.

The work from home landscape can be expected to come into play even more so in the coming future. Joe Summers referenced a Gallop pole 2 years back in which 43% of Americans worked remotely at least part of the time, and moving forward after this, he expects to see many more remote workforces. At PrintWithMe, their team decided to add a brief survey to every check-out page, asking, “What are your 3 biggest challenges when it comes to being stuck in your apartment home?” The number one work from home challenge was a lack of adequate designated office space, followed by loneliness and lack of social interaction, and also household interruptions.

With the added shift of more people working from home in the future and tenants being able to have access to more business services, Joe Summers also noted bandwidth as a big issue for homes with multiple members using WiFi at once while kids are playing online games and parents needs to work.

There’s also the concern of how the current scenario will play out in the minds of tenants and residents going back to post-ways of using amenities spaces. Will people want more space when they work out in the future? Can spaces support larger groups with more distance? There is no doubt, the extra cost to property owners for larger spaces or additional levels to buildings as well as construction averaging 18 months out would influence consideration placed here and it could be a delayed amount of time before we see changes there, if any. Joe Melton added the significance in being able to leverage flexibility in buildings by transforming spaces whenever possible, can be a solution to potential challenges such as these.

While amenities currently sit static at communities, amenities providers and Property Managers still want to be able to provide the same value. They realize in hindsight that many of these tools were out there already – features including live class abilities and virtual offerings that could have been utilized, but never were until recently becoming a part of forced integration to adapt. Virtual models and adaptation such as these prove long-term benefits, allowing even introverts to unite and for families in all occasions and scenarios to enjoy the same amenities and comforts from their homes in a new, additional capacity.

For more information on this event, or to join the next discussion in this 4 part series taking place on May 7th, be sure to stay tuned to TFLiving on LinkedIn and Facebook.

This week’s event, Part 1

Catherine Rotman