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"Meta" morphosis: evolving technology provides residential managers with a gateway for opportunity.

The evolution of technology has led to the evolution of most professions--including real estate management, and more specifically the roles of residential managers and leasing agents.

Jobs once heavily weighted in administrative tasks, paperwork and showing off units to prospective tenants who just "popped in," appear to be evolving into more strategic marketing positions that of course, require being comfortable with new technologies.

"The modern residential manager needs to be technically savvy, open to change and capable of trying new things as far as technology goes," said Emily Goodman, CPMV; ARM, and regional property manager for Core Realty Holdings Management Inc., in Greensboro, N.C.

The good news is that while residential managers' and leasing agents' jobs may be changing, they are still very much needed--just in a different capacity, experts said.

"No matter how much technology is implemented in the leasing office, managing and leasing apartments still requires person-to-person interaction," said Steve Winn, chairman and CEO of RealPage in Carrollton, Texas.

THEN AND NOW

With technological advances like online renter applications, credit checks, rent payment and maintenance requests, as well as web-based marketing sites like Craigslist, Backpage and Facebook, technology has not only made residential managers' jobs more efficient, but it has shifted where they focus their energy.

"The residential managers' role is becoming much more of a marketing position in my opinion, at least in conventional apartments," said Cammie Allie, CPM, ARM, and president of Fortress Property Management Inc., in Portland, Ore. "Technology has freed up much of their time, and they are not as bogged down with paperwork. This means they have more time to focus on marketing."

Ryan Bettez, a Boston-based regional property manager at Corcoran Jennison, said that thanks to modern information technology, today's residents generally educate themselves pretty thoroughly before contacting a leasing agent, who is also sometimes a residential manager or managed by one.

Prospects have looked at pictures, read descriptions, taken virtual tours and even read reviews regarding the property, unit or management company. Previously, they would have simply come into the office and asked if any one-bedroom units were available. Thus, he said the manager's or agent's job isn't to just make the one-on-one sale. It's also about ensuring the product has the right online image.

"It's still a matter of getting the prospect interested in getting the apartment," Bettez said. "But because information is so easily obtained, now you have to be more aware of the social reputation of the property. You have to be more concerned about your message. You're more involved in getting the phone to ring, instead of just waiting for it to ring."

Goodman said residential managers today must keep up with the information posted on the various marketing websites to ensure advertised specials and unit availability are accurate and up-to-date. She said advertising expired specials or filled units could cost managers prospective tenants if they were set on renting a particular-space.

She also highlighted the importance of managing a property's or management company's reputation on websites like ApartmentRatings.com which hosts residents' reviews--flattering or unflattering.

"Before, we could control all our advertising venues," she said. "This is one more thing to combat. It's another challenge in the industry." Owen Ahearn, CPM, ARM and ACoM, and president of Ahearn Realty Management Inc., in Boston, said mobile technology has also influenced a shift in responsibilities, and even elevated the position from its former entry level and administrative status.

"The ability to send and receive instant communication has greatly enhanced the role of the [residential] manager," Ahearn said. "If you were in the field 15 to 20 years ago, you were behind the desk more. Now, there is more time spent onsite, meeting with owners and residents. This allows managers to learn a lot faster, and as result, move up in the industry a lot faster."

SKILL BUILDER

The shifting roles of residential managers as a result of technology necessitate a shift in skills to excel at the job.

"You have to have the vision to reposition a building sometimes to attract new tenants," said Alicia Popper, a senior managing director with Savitt Partners in New York City. "You used to write down information on index cards, and canvass a building on foot. Now those data are all stored electronically, and the advertising is web-based. You need to be savvy in how to market a building on the web."

Allie of Fortress Property Management said assertive marketers with creative leasing strategies are needed to stay one step ahead of the competition in the virtual race for prospective tenants.

"I can take someone who hasn't had a day's worth of work in this industry and I can make them a top manager if they are able to think outside the box," she said. "Someone who thinks this job is just sitting behind the desk, performing data entry, is probably not going to perform that well overall."

She said a residential manager who can quickly diffuse a prospective resident's ideas about a property that stemmed from his or her online research is valuable. Vast knowledge about competitors' properties and what is being said about them online is also important--meaning research skills are needed.

"Residential managers need to know what the competition is doing and know why a prospect might rent somewhere else than at their property," Allie said. "This has always been important, but it's even more important now, because people are going to have preconceived notions before they even pick up the phone."

Donald Davidoff, vice president of strategic systems for Archstone Apartments in Englewood, Colo., said his company now looks more for sales and service talent when recruiting leasing agents, and gives less weight to operations knowledge. He said he might be more likely to hire one person to focus on sales and another on resident services, rather than hiring two generalists.

"Technology has changed the way we do business, but you're going to want someone to give you a sense, a feel, a vibe for what's going on at the property--someone who can tell you about the nearest restaurants, the traffic patterns," Davidoff said.

TRAINING DAY

Being valuable assets to organizations does not fall squarely on the shoulders of residential managers and leasing agents, especially those who entered into the field with former job descriptions. A responsibility to train and manage these professionals through such changes--so that valued industry members are not lost--also falls upon management.

"There has been enough research to show that employees who are trained are made to feel valuable--becoming much more productive. They are more likely to buy into your company vision when they feel you care about their personal employment growth," Goodman said.

Companies need to find the associations and courses that will help their residential managers build upon the skills they already have, according to Goodman. She said companies should provide intensive technology training if they want to reap the rewards technology has to offer. She also said webinars regarding online marketing and social media tactics are available and would be useful.

"The job requires continual training," Allie said.

Experts agreed that it's not likely residential managers and leasing agents are going to cease to exist, so investing in their training will be worthwhile.

"You still have to have a person onsite who has the ability to close the deal," Ahearn said. "I believe firmly that through proper education and experience, there are always opportunities for people in the real estate management industry."

Joe Dobrian is a contributing writer for JPM [R]. If you have questions regarding this article or you are an IREM Member interested in writing for JPM [R], please e-mail Mariana Toscas Nowak at mnowak@irem.org.
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Comment:"Meta" morphosis: evolving technology provides residential managers with a gateway for opportunity.
Author:Dobrian, Joe
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2011
Words:1279
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