From unit walks to marketing signage, attention to detail is a must during multifamily transitions. Yet, industry execs tell HappyCo even their most organized teams struggle with a major gap in multifamily tech: the link between Due Diligence data and work orders. Here’s why…
“Just adding local flowers or offering local coffee and pastries in the leasing office makes a positive impression.” In an interview with NAA, Greystar executive Stephanie Hovis shares a handful of memorable gestures multifamily companies can make once the transition period comes to a close.
While efforts like these are bound to make residents feel valued, multifamily operators unfortunately face a range of organizational hurdles before they reach this icing-on-the-cake stage. HappyCo interviewed several industry executives to get a sense of their transition process, gauging the biggest pain points they experience along the way. Interestingly, the same missing piece was top of mind for each.
Setting the stage: Paradigm’s digital approach to transitions.
First, to get a sense of the chaos inherent in multifamily transitions, HappyCo spoke with Alice Barrett, Senior Vice President at Paradigm. From the outset, Barrett admitted: “onboarding a property is a fairly labor-intensive undertaking. When we buy, it’s usually several hundred units involved…lots of times a high-rise… and that means pulling teams together who have true expertise in maintenance.”
During the Due Diligence walk phase, Paradigm typically divides up a building by assigning a few floors per team “so that no one steps over each other.” Yet, their hard work unfolds against a somewhat difficult backdrop, as Barrett explains: “there’s always going to be a little tension between the buyer’s and seller’s teams” since “the buyer is looking at everything with a much more critical eye, and it can be hard for the seller to hear.”
However, Barrett stresses that a digital inspection platform is a multifamily company’s best bet to reduce that tension. “Our HappyCo Due Diligence template is able to take all of that inspection info and compile a list, but not just a list — one with time-stamped photos, and that’s a very important piece because it’s much less subjective from team to team, whatever the issue, having that proof.”
With that Due Diligence report in hand, Barrett says her teams can really dive deep into “understanding the scope of the repair work.” In Barrett’s view, this kind of detailed property information “gives you an actual starting point, a way to prioritize what needs to happen. It helps you come up with a plan of attack.”
While Barrett says Paradigm typically sends the list of repair needs back to the seller to address, others in multifamily admit they’re left with less-than-satisfying options to devise their own “plan of attack.”
Lots of questions, considerable time: Maxus talks downsides.
Alex Cuenca, Operations Analyst at Maxus Properties, was especially frank about the headaches that arise during multifamily transitions. “The acquisition process is hectic. Residents, onsite employees, and contractors may have questions you don’t know how to answer at the time of a takeover.”
Cuenca offered a clear picture of the operations hurdles involved in the initial Due Diligence phase: “Let’s say we’ll walk 200 units and 95% are occupied, and maybe 75 units need new flooring — that’s not something you can do while the unit is occupied, so we have to budget and plan for future replacement, which takes coordination from the entire team.”
For efficiency’s sake, Maxus ensures everyone plays to their strengths during the process: “essentially, we create a task force, and everyone focuses on what they specialize in — the construction team works on scopes for building repairs, etc. The key is making sure the load is equally distributed, for example, we can’t have the property manager and maintenance supervisor doing it all.”
Clearly, Maxus has the DD walk process down pat. Indeed, Cuenca admits: the next step, addressing actual repair needs, is what proves so tricky. Cuenca explains: “I’ll compile data from DD reports to identify the work that needs to be done. Depending on the type of work, Property Managers either create service requests or solicit help from their Regional Maintenance Supervisor to get bids from contractors.”
Yet, Cuenca confesses this manual transfer of data to convey pressing repair needs leaves much to be desired in the realm of transparency. “Without a system that directly connects inspections to work orders, it can sometimes be a challenge for our regionals to ensure everything on their plate gets done. Fortunately, at Maxus, our teams are so good at being on top of things, but it does take a lot of attention to detail to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.”
Above all, however, Cuenca argues: “the biggest problem with this kind of system is lost time.” Still, Cuenca admits he’s grateful that the days of pen-and-paper are now over. He stresses, “Prior to HappyCo, our team’s were doing the Due Diligence walks on paper. The time they wasted entering data into the computer and uploading all the photos from a digital camera or cell phone was a massive hassle.”
Longing to clear up confusion: Blanton Turner weighs in.
To Heidi Turner, Director of Intangible Assets at Blanton Turner, the most thoughtful kind of multifamily transition is a customer-centric one: “When we do DD inspections, we start organizing, planning. As we go through the condition of things, we take pieces not for what they are but what they can be and should be — how they can serve the needs of residents.”
Achieving this isn’t always such a smooth ride, however. Turner breaks down the cumbersome process: “then, we’re taking this data and looking at the bigger picture of how we do the repair or replacement work. We organize the information by putting it into Excel and Microsoft Project. We create a work-back plan after that with the who, what, when, where, how, and we go back into the document to keep checking the status of the project.”
Despite her team’s enviable attention to detail, Turner admits: “unfortunately, you can create all the spreadsheets in the world, but if you don’t have the communication piece, it’s not gonna work as well as you hope.”
Indeed, Turner explains the consequences when systems fail to talk to each other: “Every system promises to connect the dots and feed data into other systems, but one little piece is always off. That can mean lost time, duplicative efforts, second-guessing things — making decisions that might not successfully meet revenue goals.”
Worse still, Turner says these disconnects can spur tension between buyer and seller. She admits of the tech status quo: “as is, it can definitely add angst to the seller-buyer relationship, when things are misunderstood or it takes longer for things to close, to be finalized.”
Thus, Turner stresses: “it would be ideal if one system connected those dots. One of the biggest challenges we have is these disparate systems, when what we need is for everything to be streamlined.” She argues this change could spell major benefits in the realm of work culture, too.
Turner believes a seamless work order system “would help us with the communication piece, spending time with our maintenance people right upfront to share the overarching goals of what work needs to be done, and, most importantly, why.”
Saving time, boosting morale: Mark-Taylor’s hopes for Tasks.
Mark-Taylor Director of Collections Dan Regan refers to multifamily transitions as: “really an all-out attack from maintenance and inspections to curb appeal and signage.” Regan describes the legwork involved at Mark-Taylor: “from past experience, I know that we have crafted a whole game plan before going out to a property, and we’re out onsite for several days to get the property up to speed.”
Given the labor involved, Regan says Mark-Taylor is on the hunt for a product set to make the whole acquisition process much more streamlined. To this end, Regan believes Tasks, HappyCo’s newest product, offers some thrilling possibilities.
“Honestly, it’s why I’m so excited about Tasks. It will help so much with our sense of how long the actual repair work will take. To instantly go from an inspection to a work order — instead of entering things manually — will help us hear back much faster about how long it will take to fix something.”
Regan is also optimistic about the ways Tasks can boost team morale during transitions. “I’m also excited for the transparency of work assignments that Tasks is going to provide. It’s going to give everybody the sense of how they chip in to the bigger puzzle.”
Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, she worked at CBS San Francisco as a program coordinator, public affairs producer, and ultimately full-time news writer for the KPIX 5 Morning News. She’s excited to enter the bustling startup world and tell HappyCo’s stories across channels.