By Laurie Mega
As most of the nation remains on lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, businesses across industries have had to rethink how they stay afloat while protecting employees and customers.
Property managers, in particular, are in a unique situation. Not only are they responsible for the safety of their staff. They play a key role in the health and safety of their residents, their property owners, and their vendors.
Nationwide, property managers are grappling with maintaining social distancing while keeping essential services available for their residents and their owners. There are a number of ways they can do that, and every day more resources become available to help them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) have all published guidelines to help property managers establish social distancing protocols.
Here are some of the actions you can take and the tools to help you do it.
Protecting Current and Prospective Residents
So much of your business is about meeting and interacting with people. But maintaining social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t provide vital services.
Putting the Lead-to-Lease Cycle Online: The right online portal can put the entire lead acquisition and nurturing process online so nothing is done in person. From ad syndication to an application portal to tenant screening, everything can be done online without breaking social distancing guidelines.
When an applicant is ready to sign, use an eSignature tool to eliminate the need for an in-person signing.
Rethinking Property Showings: Even before governors and mayors restricted their residents’ movement, property managers had to rethink showings by making only vacant properties available, limiting visitors, and sanitizing between visits. Now, with 90 percent of Americans under stay-at-home orders in 42 states, property managers have even fewer options.
Many are turning to virtual showings, using 360-degree images of rooms.
The NAR gives specific guidelines for brokerage firms in states that consider them essential, as well as for firms in states where they are not essential. Property managers may find them helpful, as well.
Transitioning Payments and Fees to a Portal: In-person payments are pretty much out of the question these days. And although experts have no evidence COVID-19 can be contracted from mail, residents still put themselves at risk going to the post office or nearest mailbox.
The best way to eliminate all risk is to move payments online. An online resident portal can help you do that.
Knowing Residents and Keeping in Contact: Some of your residents may be at higher risk of contracting or developing complications from coronavirus. Use email, texts, or good old fashioned phone calls to check up on them from time to time. Make sure they have the resources they need.
Setting Up a Rapid Communications System: For regular updates on the situation, leverage your social media and send regular emails. Should the need arise for more urgent communications, set up a text messaging system. A good portal will have integrated text messaging
This system will also help residents and owners stay in touch with you and allow you to answer them in real-time.
The major challenge with owners is keeping them updated on the status of their properties and the health of their residents. Payments, work approvals, and maintenance issues have to keep moving, as well.
Moving Meetings Online: Video conferencing apps such as Zoom have allowed businesses to keep running, while Google Meet is allowing teachers to connect with their students. Implementing one of these apps for your property management business will allow you to meet with your property owners without putting yourself or your owners at risk.
Setting Up Frequent Updates: Set up email updates, just as you would for your residents. Keep them informed of new regulations and developments that affect rental properties and how you are responding.
For more urgent updates and communications, use text messaging.
Moving Payments and Other Transactions Online: If they haven’t already, property managers are moving all transactions online. Just as with their residents, allowing online payments keeps everyone from having to leave their homes to drop off or mail payments.
If workers are considered non-essential by your state, they’re working at home. But there are tools and tactics property managers can use to make sure their business stays open and they can meet the needs of the people counting on them.
Move Non-Essential Staff Online: Businesses are taking advantage of communication apps, such as Slack and Zoom, and cloud apps, such as Google Drive, to keep work going.
This is where a good portal tailored to property managers can really help. It will log and track work orders, keep documents organized, handle accounting tasks, and keep track of tenant screenings and lease signings.
Plan for Employees Being Out: At this point, it would be difficult to fully cross-train staff should one of them fall sick. But you can keep all staff in the loop on current projects and find people who can fill in on basic tasks to keep the business afloat until sick staff members can return to work.
Triage Work Orders: Using their portal, residents can enter and property managers can keep track of work orders coming in and determine which are urgent and which can wait. By doing so, managers limit contact between residents and maintenance staff, so that everyone stays healthy.
Prepare Maintenance Staff: When maintenance staff must go on-site to fix an issue, they should be prepared with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Property managers should make sure everyone has masks and gloves as well as clothing and shoe coverings. Provide sanitizing products for equipment, as well.
The CDC has provided guidelines on how to keep from contracting and spreading the virus, as well as how to sanitize frequently touched surfaces properly.
The world hasn’t seen anything like the coronavirus pandemic for decades. The situation evolves daily and so does the response of governments, businesses, and individuals. The best way to keep yourself, your staff, your owners, and your resident safe is to stay informed, take swift action to follow government recommendations, and keep everyone updated as the situation changes.