In the name of efficiency and improved customer and associate experiences, many operators are centralizing leasing and maintenance. Firms that have undertaken the centralization plunge detail how they’ve structured their operations, along with their successes and challenges.
Something can be said for loyalty to tried-and-true processes, but just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only solution. And sometimes, clinging to old methods can prevent a more efficient path forward.
The idea of centralization can seem daunting to some. After all, the presence of leasing teams and maintenance teams onsite has been, until recently, essentially the only model ever used by the industry.
Forward-thinking operators have been experimenting with the centralization concept, and many are already
experiencing previously unseen efficiencies with the new approach.
“Centralization has emerged as one of the many ways operators can push the boundaries of traditional leasing to drive results,” says Chase Harrington, President and Chief Operating Officer of Entrata. “While it’s an innovative approach, it might work better for some than others, based upon the geographical locations of properties, size of portfolio and other nuances. For those in which centralization is a solid fit, it can have a tremendous impact.”
Harrington moderated the Apartmentalize session, “Many Paths to Efficiency: How Operators are Centralizing Services,” during which he spoke to Greystar and Tricap Residential Group associates about their experiences with centralization—which is broadly defined by Forbes as “the effort to move away from individual property-based leasing and operational teams and centralize them in one or multiple regional locations to improve efficiencies and cut down costs.”
Here is a snapshot of the centralization efforts of the two operators, including what prompted the initiatives, the early results of the transitions and any obstacles the companies endured in making it happen.
Greystar’s efficient approach
In areas with clusters of communities, Greystar has centralized the roles of three primary associates: onsite assistant manager, maintenance supervisor and leasing associate.
The assistant manager, responsible for rent collections, renewals, accounts payable processes (such as paying vendors) and similar functions, now often oversees several communities. Greystar first rolled out centralized leasing teams in the Dallas area and has gradually expanded to Austin, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Massachusetts and other markets.
“We were looking at processes that have been in place for decades, and how we could modify them and make them more efficient,” says Kimberly Nicholson, Senior Director of Property Systems for Greystar, who was a panelist in the “Many Paths to Efficiency” session. “Why were our onsite teams performing so many steps? When you centralize those tasks and reduce a function that previously took four to six people to one or two, you’re creating efficiencies. One of the benefits we started to realize is that our processes are more customer-focused, more efficient and don’t take as long as they used to.”
Likewise, Greystar has centralized the maintenance supervisor role in certain locales, with the caveat that the communities must be within close proximity to one another to keep the process logistically efficient and cost-effective.
Nicholson notes that such a changeover requires time dedicated for proper training and the right mix of technologies to make it happen. A methodical approach can eliminate unneeded stresses, she says. She also recommends thoroughly including affected team members in the transition process.
“You can impart to associates that they are part of the ground floor of something awesome, and you need their feedback for what’s working and what’s not early in the process,” Nicholson says. “When you give that opportunity to your team members, they become really invested. They feel very valued because they know their feedback could ultimately lead to changes that make a positive impact.”
Nicholson indicates Greystar is improving its overall customer experience by taking away some of the more demanding functions from onsite associates, who are now more positioned to engage with the residents they have.
“It’s more of a community and less of a business office,” she says. “Leasing teams can focus strictly on leasing from start to finish. It allows the teams to focus on what they’re really good at.”
Tricap effectively revamps processes
Tricap Residential Group, which oversees 3,100 units spanning 19 communities, now operates with an entirely remote sales team. The centralized approach enables associates to connect with prospects through self-guided tours and other remote options without restricting salespeople to a single property.
“Right now, it’s organized geographically,” says Suzanne Hopson, President of Tricap Residential Group, who also was a panelist in the “Many Paths to Efficiency” session. “Ideally, we want to have an even more centralized approach to the sales process in which any leads coming in can be handled by anyone, no matter where the property is located.”
Tricap also has centralized additional functions, including certain human resource components, training, cultural ambassadors and the company’s technology and innovation department. Additionally, the associate responsible for accounts receivable is offsite, which means the property manager—“engagement manager” at Tricap—is not responsible for posting rents or navigating collections. The company’s customer experience (XP) representative is also remotely located, as are all corporate positions.
“Heading into COVID, we already had strong feelings about a few roles,” Hopson says. “We thought about all the different hats that our leasing associates wear and how we could maximize and focus their gifts and talents on connecting with the prospect from the moment they enter the sales funnel until they sign the lease. We considered the accountabilities of each position and wanted to make sure the engagement manager wasn’t also focused on sales or collecting rent.”
Like much of the tech revolution in the industry, the pandemic exacerbated the need for digital processes to oversee all facets of leasing. That prompted Tricap to consider areas where a centralized approach might work better.
Tricap has effectively morphed the traditional “one salesperson per 100 units” to one per 500. Hopson says the sales team is more efficient and happier, as Tricap has “had little to no turnover in our sales positions in the past two years.”
The company also has adjusted along the way, as its engagement managers are now back onsite. Tricap discovered a gap when maintenance personnel were the only associates onsite, which made them responsible for customer-service issues and detracted them from their primary duties.
Hopson’s advice to those considering centralization is to initially test small, make certain to have buy-in from ownership, leadership, investors and team members, and to consider the customer journey before implementing tech.
“Look at how the customer wants to interact with you, then tailor tech to that journey,” she says. “Don’t try to solely train the customer to adhere to your desired method. Be listening to how those interactions may change in the future. You must remain nimble enough to meet your customer needs where they are today and tomorrow.”
As the industry clamors to create efficiencies and not overburden its associates, centralization is a path that could gain steam in the coming years.
“It is definitely here to stay, but it requires a measured approach to be effective,” Harrington said. “The right blend of tech, employee engagement and support can help operators run more smoothly than ever before.”
Paul Willis is a Content Manager with LinnellTaylor Marketing.