There’s no question that the past several months have put many student housing managers, owners, operators, and investors in a state of uncertainty that was impossible to predict at the start of the year.
In the current context, things are always shifting, and all involved in the student housing industry have pivoted multiple times, and will probably have to continue to do so this academic year.
Moving forward into 2020, it’s important for asset managers and property owners and operators to remain fluid and adaptable while having a general plan in place detailing how current residents will be cared for and future leases will be secured. Pulled from key insights we’ve gained throughout this year, here are our tips for remaining successful and stabilizing assets, even in times of heightened uncertainty.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
Consistent lines of communication between residents and staff build trust — at all times, but particularly in times of felt instability. Making sure your current residents are cared for and feel heard are the most important components of navigating new or unprecedented situations affecting your property or property portfolio.
It is essential to create a steady cadence of proactive communication with residents, sending updates as frequently as necessary. Additionally, as relevant, consider creating an online “resource hub” for residents and their parents that hosts commonly asked questions as it relates to the situation. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we immediately developed, and updated frequently based on the changing environment, an online resource to help address common resident questions and concerns related to COVID-19. In addition to providing residents with updates as it related to COVID-19, and in an effort to weave in a bit of “normalcy”, we also made sure that residents heard from us regularly on topics not related to the crisis, by celebrating events such as resident birthdays through communication on our resident portal. We also held virtual events in replacement of in-person get-togethers. While it required more flexibility, we found that genuine connections could, and continue to, still be formed through a contact-less experience.
Outside of proactive communication, it’s important to have quick reactive follow-up, as well. Resident questions that are submitted through email or social media should be responded to as soon as possible. Additionally, consider creating new lines of communication, such as a dedicated customer service line, to make sure any concerns are addressed in a timely fashion.
Invest In Your Team and Culture.
The best process in the world will be unsuccessful if the team in charge of implementing it is disengaged. Accordingly, leadership teams should be just as focused on making sure internal teams are cared for as they are concerned about resident well-being. A great team is a highly valuable asset of special interest to investors. While the worth of an energetic team isn’t always directly apparent in numbers, they are responsible for everything related to the success of the company, and for that, their value cannot be overstated.
Be Flexible and Empathize.
During times of uncertainty or crisis — whether it’s a natural disaster, an economic downtown, or a global pandemic — it’s important to remember that your residents are people who are uniquely affected by the situation. All communication with residents and operational protocols put in place should be understanding of that fact. While it may not be realistic or even possible to completely resolve every resident concern, leadership should have discussions about how to help provide relief; for example, offering payment plan options for rent.
This ethos should be applied when it comes to leasing, as well. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly pivoted to conducting virtual tours, including website tours and FaceTime tours, to make things easier for potential residents while keeping them safe. At the marketing level, we created a new leasing campaign — called CArrying On — to connect with residents and assure them that we’re all in this together.
We’ve seen that our efforts during 2020’s heightened uncertainty produced visible results. In terms of leasing velocity, during the first several months of COVID-19, we consistently produced higher numbers than competitors. We believe this speaks to the amount of planning and effort our teams put in to ensure that residents are heard and taken care of and that, all the while, new leases are still secured. We hope that some of our key insights will help other student housing property managers, owners, operators and investors during this time and in the still uncertain future ahead.
For those who desire expert student housing management or consulting experience, we are happy to assist your property. Please contact us to set up a consultation.