Why is now the right time to change your underperforming asset’s management?

Chris Berger became a member of the Campus Advantage Client Services team in August 2023. He graduated from Texas Tech University in May 2014 with a degree in art and sciences. Chris has received various awards throughout his successful student housing career, including recognition as the Leasing Marketing Manager of the Year and Property Manager of the Year.

Due to his success on site, Chris transitioned into a Client Services Associate role — and, more recently, one as Business Development Executive — where he is responsible for the end-to-end processes related to third-party management business development. In this capacity, he excels in managing requests for proposals, negotiating property management contracts, conducting comprehensive market research, and crafting compelling pitches. His contributions are instrumental in establishing new business client partnerships.

Can you give a bit of background about your experience/involvement with property management and how you got into this industry?

I started in student housing back in 2014 as a leasing and marketing manager. It started on a whim, but my first property manager gave me a chance and we ended up hitting 100% pre-leased occupancy my first year. I was able to learn from the staff what they did and how I could become a better leader. I transitioned to become a property manager with that same company in 2017, managing a 788-bed property at first and then moving to a 1,005-bed asset. After that property was disposed of in 2021, I transitioned into business development and client services and have been working with owners, institutional partners, and colleges and universities ever since. Having that on-site experience has been a tremendous help in client services because it helps me thoroughly understand and articulate the full lifecycle of everything that goes on at a property. I can really grasp what’s going on at a site because I’ve been there and done it firsthand.

What are some common signs or red flags that a student housing property might be underperforming? Can this indicate larger issues below the surface?

The most common red flags for student housing properties are:

  • Lease-ups trending 10% or greater behind the market
  • Any occupancy lower than the industry standard of 95% for new developments (ideally, it should be at least 97%)
  • Brand presence that is not up to par with national trends
  • Low engagement on platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok

When I say “brand presence,” I mean when you first click onto a property’s website — their online curb appeal, and how that is being translated to students as well as their overall online reputation history. Reputation is important; in the past, I’ve seen some communities have a flood of good reviews in an attempt to hide the negative ones. That’s another sign of a property under distress, right? So, seeing how a property’s reputation is being driven behind the scenes is important to make sure the customer service experience is there.

How can a management company like Campus Advantage help turn some of these issues around? What are some key things you should look for when choosing a management company?

When someone is considering a new management company, it’s important to not just look at websites and reviews, but also at the company as a whole. Campus Advantage’s 20-year tenure in the space has paved the way for many properties and trends. We have a consistent track record of exceptional performance, especially in 2023, having finished the year with 97% occupancy and an industry-leading NOI. We have an award-winning Students First® program. Our corporate recruiting team identifies top-tier talent and retains them in an industry known to have high turnover. That’s just a few of the things that set us apart.

What is the ideal time of year for making a management switch? How long does the process normally take?

The ideal time frame is as soon as an owner knows their asset is underperforming. It’s never too early to identify this need, especially if you had a bad leasing season and didn’t hit budgeted occupancy, or if your current management company isn’t hitting the physical and financial targets agreed on. If they’re not meeting those by December, they probably aren’t going to meet them by May, either.

Ideally, a property should be fully transitioned by April, but if it’s underperforming, it’s time to have that conversation. Regardless of date, we can transition sites quickly with hands-on support from our Campus Advantage Transition Team (CATT), which includes members from all major departments that work closely with clients to ensure every step of the process is communicated clearly and executed effectively.

If a property is underperforming due to multiple issues, how does a management company like CA prioritize what to tackle first?

The first thing we do is identify the main goal the client wants to achieve. Are they wanting to increase occupancy or increase NOI? Once we are aware of that driving factor, we deep dive into issues that might be blocking their success: staffing, customer service, reputation, marketing, and so on. These issues would be communicated in one of the first initial calls so we can identify the most important items, resulting in a plan that aligns with the company’s strategic plan and what matters most to them.

How often should a management company be reporting performance back to an owner? What does good transparency look like there?

At the bare minimum, owners and clients should be receiving monthly reports from their management company. Excellent customer service, such as what Campus Advantage offers, means reports can be customized beyond that: daily, weekly, biweekly, you name it. We abide by communication; it’s the most important part of being transparent.

Because transitions can be sensitive by nature, we believe communication should be within every level of the team. We talk internally and say, “We’re good to go on this and get X, Y, and Z done.” And we also initiate communication back to our clients, such as, “We have just started to do X, Y, and Z,” to keep them informed. The burden of a transition should never be on the client or owner. Instead, we make sure to convey information every step of the way — not necessarily holding their hand, but letting them know what we are working on, what is completed, and what we will move onto next.

If an owner already has an existing management company but isn’t satisfied with their performance, what are the first steps they should take when thinking about switching?

We’ve made it easy; the first thing an owner can do is email me at [email protected]. We’ll have a conversation about all their current pain points and come up with a strategic plan that aligns with their mission, vision, and values.