Effectively Managing Multifamily in the COVID-19 Crisis

What we are doing that’s working to effectively manage multifamily assets during the COVID-19 crisis and why.

Read on to learn how we have effectively managed crisis in the multifamily industry for the past 35 years and how the COVID-19 pandemic will create a better world.

Hurricanes, viruses and natural disasters don’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if one lives in a one-room cabin or an 83-room castle, Mother Nature will do as she pleases, when and where she pleases. COVID-19 may present new challenges, however the secret to your apartment community surviving and thriving is a) preparedness long ahead of any crisis and; b) effectively managing the post-crisis process.

Professional apartment property managers have a unique challenge during and in the aftermath of crises to be the perfect arbiter between owners and distressed tenants. Ideally, apartment property owners are caring and compassionate when faced with adversity and there exists a very clear, contractual understanding of how each set of responsibilities are to proceed. Sometimes, as with COVID-19, there is no clear playbook. We must process rapidly changing information as it becomes available and course correct as the situation unfolds. Effective apartment property managers prioritize life safety, resident and staff compassion, asset protection and finally profits.

Who’s in Charge?

Who is going to be in charge? Clearly, government has no better answers than the private sector right now as this is new territory for all. Trade groups are talking but can offer little definitive direction without crossing the line into illegal collusion. Everyone is searching for solutions. Ultimately owners and investors have to take responsibility, and managers have to take charge. This a joint effort with property management and operations teams leading the way to help guide apartment owners and multifamily investors through the complex maze of effective crises management, legislation and regulations.

If the apartment owner/investor has positioned properly ahead of disaster with sufficient capital, financing resources, insurance and experienced, professional management in place, then the sooner life can return to a new normal as the curve peaks and declines. Crises can be a rude awakening for unprepared owners, apartment management, and multifamily residents. Management’s first job is to lead decisively and confidently. Then, navigate the human elements and regulatory paths that will deliver the best health, safety and financial outcomes. Experienced property management knows how to execute a disaster management and recovery plan quickly and efficiently with preferred and experienced vendors and national, state and local regulators and legislators. This is when, who you know counts and those long term relationships are valuable.

When a multifamily property faces potential long-term disruption by crises and there is no insurance or money for mitigation, the task ahead, depending on length of disruption, can be monumental. Once immediate needs are dealt with and stabilized, the next step is to assess longer term impacts, resource availability and how costs can be spread in a way that ensures the physical and financial survival of the enterprise. Currently, we are analyzing resident employment data to estimate and extrapolate potential revenue losses. Once the magnitude of the challenge is quantified, we can begin carving up the pain-pie and developing specific action plans to survive and provide equitable relief.

Housing is a basic human need. Apartment owners are concerned for their investments, yet we all want to remain compassionate toward residents and our communities.

As a multifamily property manager, one has to find the perfect balance between passion and dispassion, as this is where sanity resides. Everyone will be pleased when you make the “right” decision based on each person’s own objectives and perspective. Sometimes, this can resemble a high wire balancing act.

As happened with the far-reaching affects of Hurricane Harvey, some apartment managers were personally affected and experienced loss of their own homes and possessions. This new COVID-19 virus brings new challenges of managing crises within your apartment community while simultaneously joining the ranks as a potential recipient of viral transmission. We are all in this together.

It is absolutely the hardest job in the world to feel fear and uncertainty like everyone else yet press on professionally and confidently. It’s easier when we are so passionate about our stakeholders, our business and our residents that we can’t wait to figure out what’s next and how to make it the world better. This is what we do.

Understanding psychology in the midst of crises can help make sense of chaos and irrational behavior. Denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance and depression are common stages of loss and grief and can cycle back and forth. All the bargaining or melt-downs in the world won’t return things to the way they were. We all will pay a price for the COVID-19 pandemic. Figuring how to carve that pie fairly is the responsibility of multifamily professionals. Recognizing stress and frustration simply for what they are while exercising greater patience and greater compassion with residents, staff and vendors lightens the load for all. Professional management leads by example. Take a deep breath, maintain a calm demeanor and keep executing the plan. Fair but firm.

What We Are Doing

  • We are gathering first-hand information, data and experiences from front-line apartment community staff and residents and sharing this with multifamily industry associations including the National Apartment Association (NAA), Texas Apartment Association (TAA), the Houston Apartment Association (HAA) and other policy makers.
  • We are studying rental property challenges, responses and outcomes from other countries that are further along the curve.
  • We are communicating constantly with stakeholders, colleagues, politicians and regulators.
  • We have engaged internationally recognized crisis management and community development expert, Angela Blanchard, to help further develop a meaningful and responsible response specific to multifamily operations.

Guiding Principles

We have established and communicated a clear set of 10 guiding principles.

  1. We will be sensitive to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of our residents and team members. This is a stressful time. We will do what we can.
  2. We will stay informed by focusing on official information and will abide by the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and our local Health Departments. We will listen to experts.
  3. We will be respectful of the isolation and quarantine needs and desires of all – residents and staff alike.
  4. We will communicate regularly and honestly. We will listen to every suggestion and concern and will relay facts as we understand them. We will not speculate, repeat unverified information or guess.
  5. We will act decisively. We encourage the use of common sense and will adjust rules and policies as needed while continuing to treat everyone fairly.
  6. We will responsibly use our position to encourage our communities to strike appropriate balances for hygiene, isolation, socializing and levels of care.
  7. Staff members who believe they may be infected or who are sick must stay home. We will continue paychecks for affected employees for at least two weeks.
  8. We will be sensitive to the child-care needs of residents and staff.
  9. We will be sensitive to the economic needs and realities of others and will do our part to fairly share the burden.
  10. We will remain focused on our responsibilities and the business at hand and will share all we can to help our multifamily industry and the world.

COVID-19 Multifamily Operational Playbook

  • We have developed an operating playbook with specific changes, policies, directives and actions for each property manager to follow. It includes information on everything from air filters (ineffective), amenities (closed, except for laundry facilities), package management (no office drop off), working with local businesses to connect them with residents, exterminating (exterior only, unless a crisis), to how we will deal with quarantined residents with maintenance needs and much more.
  • Specific policy changes, information and instructions have been distributed to residents in English and Spanish – well beyond wash-your-hands and keep-your-distance.
  • We are anticipating the next shoes to drop – what about uncollectable rent, late fees, evictions, fairness, limited staff, food security, and controlling fear when a resident tests positive, is isolated or dies? These are also in our focus right now.

Be the Light You Seek 

Let’s restore the human connection. We are commending our staff for a job well done. Many have been working 24/7 since the COVID-19 crises hit. A bouquet of bright flowers for the office and a six-pack for the crew goes a long way to soften hardship and restore that human touch we all treasure.

How Are Your Multifamily Assets Faring in the COVID-19 Crisis?

Were you caught completely unprepared and off-guard in in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis? Now is the time to assess and reassess. Professional property management can efficiently guide you through the multifamily crises management and recovery process including cash projections, refinancing solutions, eviction management and more. Experienced property management quickly pays for itself both during disaster and in traditional day-to-day operations.

No one will come through this pandemic unscathed. We will all feel the financial challenges that this crisis has presented. If you do not have professional apartment property management in place, we recommend that you do not roll dice with your prized multifamily assets.

Events like COVID-19 happen but a few times in a career, and no two crises are alike. Depending on how your assets are managed through this process will determine how you come out on the other side when the dust eventually settles. Even those who have been through many crises are often surprised by the next one.

Better World Properties LLC provides jobs for 100+ families and is responsible for the apartment homes for over 3,000 more families. Senior leadership at Better World Properties LLC combines over 100+ years of apartment management, multifamily financing solutions and apartment operational experience with decades of disaster relief and cries management experience offering unique insight in managing multifamily properties during uncertain times. Not long ago, the company expertly navigated through the unprecedented devastation of Hurricane Harvey. We are again on the front lines, managing decisively and efficiently, amid the rapidly changing landscape with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than fear the unknown, effective leaders prepare for the unknown. This crisis, just like all crises before the COVID-19 pandemic, create opportunities to asses and optimize apartment operations to provide more effective response to an ever-changing landscape.

If you are interested in a making it a better world, need help managing your apartment properties during these uncertain times, would like an assessment of your apartment portfolio’s state of crises preparedness, or would like to explore apartment acquisition or disposition opportunities, please give us a call.

We are all in this together. Together, we continue to make it a better world.

(713) 559-6975

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