2020 has presented the multifamily industry with unparalleled challenges due to the pandemic with the secondary and tertiary effects forcing the industry to quickly pivot to meet resident and prospect needs. However, the pandemic has also created opportunities for multifamily owners to creatively rethink resident retention strategies and communication and how to demonstrate value. While some external factors will remain uncertain as we transition into 2021, here are six trends we expect for the future of the multifamily industry:
Next year, enhanced customer service will become the most critical component for demonstrating value and increasing resident satisfaction across multifamily communities. While efficiency and timely communication remain two essential strategies for solid customer service, expectations are on the rise as more residents work from home. Although some prospects and residents may continue to request face-to-face (albeit socially distanced) interaction, we foresee most leaning into digital communication via smartphone apps, emails, or text alerts for updates and ongoing communication with on-site teams. For multifamily operators, that means expanding your digital resources and increasing the frequency of communication in 2021.
This also means accelerating response times and prioritizing maintenance requests since many residents are still working from home and spending ample time in their living space. It’s important for on-site teams to prioritize quickly and efficiently, especially as the volume of requests increases and residents expect almost real time responses. What was once a minor maintenance issue can now quickly escalate into an unsatisfied and angry customer as residents are experiencing the maintenance issue for more hours of the day. As we continue into 2021, on-site teams will have to provide an enhanced experience by quickly managing requests, clearly communicating all updates, and going the extra mile to offer the best possible management experience.
Employing a highly skilled property management and maintenance staff is paramount to resident satisfaction and successful day-to-day operations. However, finding and retaining top talent will remain a challenge in 2021 for several reasons. Multifamily is a highly competitive and growing industry with a surplus of opportunity. We’re now seeing an excessive demand for experienced, trained personnel, but a labor shortage of qualified candidates entering the market. 2021 will continue to expose the need for more highly skilled and passionate staff members. The companies that succeed in attracting top talent do so by offering competitive salary packages; providing training, education, and support; and continually looking for creative ways to “surprise and delight” employees. Example perks could always include an appreciation day for the teams, flexible work hours, or an unexpected day off. Onboarding a professional, qualified, and capable team translates to resident satisfaction and long-term resident retention.
Although this year brought economic uncertainty with changes in income and employment status, rent delinquency for multifamily hasn’t been as significant as anticipated. Research conducted by the National Multifamily Housing Council reflects a 1.1% increase in overall delinquency in September 2020 versus the prior year, with a 4.8% decrease in on-time payments. We’ve had a similar experience at Fogelman. Rent collections have outperformed expectations during the early part of the pandemic; however, we recognize that many are still struggling financially, which might impact future collections.
It’s difficult to predict what delinquency will look like in 2021 since it’s dependent on employment recovery and what stimulus is available to help struggling renters pay their rent. Along with the rest of the industry, we’ll be monitoring economic conditions as we head into the new year.
Striking the balance between resident interaction and safety precautions will continue to be a challenge for multifamily teams in 2021. Residents may want to resume “normal” social connection and activities with the coming winter months, but the ongoing pandemic will challenge property management teams to rethink social events and connectivity. Though we’ve seen a lot of virtual happy hours, drive-by celebrations, and Zoom classes, it’s the teams that leverage creative programming to bring people together online that will have the most success in 2021. For safe, socially distanced resident activities next year, we expect to see more virtual scavenger hunts and trivia, virtual cooking and mixology classes, and community visits from local favorite food trucks.
We understand residents are using their living spaces differently in the wake of increased remote working. Apartment units have become a place of work and leisure, and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon. Some major companies, such as Google, Target, Salesforce, and Facebook, are delaying the return to a traditional office environment until summer 2021, and a handful of companies, like Microsoft and Twitter, are transitioning to a permanent remote status.
In 2021, management companies will need to continue adjusting their offerings to meet resident needs in the short and long term. Whether that’s providing better high-speed internet packages, creating socially distant co-working spaces, offering reservation-based conference rooms, or establishing wellness-focused areas like outdoor green spaces and trails. Those that adapt the fastest and implement feedback from their residents will be most successful in strengthening resident retention and satisfaction.
Because of the pandemic, we’ll continue to see less physical interaction with residents, causing a greater demand for information and the frequency at which it’s delivered across online platforms. As mentioned earlier, digital communication tools like apps, emails, and texts are the industry standard and mainstay for properties in 2021. Another must-have for convenience is a web portal that allows residents to make payments, submit maintenance requests, and view discussion boards or upcoming events. For prospects, offering self-guided and virtual property tours will be an important, safer option. Overall success in 2021 requires that digital tools provide both convenience and ease of fast, frequent communication to help us meet our residents and potential residents right where they are—online.