Property management trends in 2023
This month, the Syberry team was thrilled to hit the road, heading for Atlanta, Georgia, and the National Apartment Association’s Apartmentalize conference. The three-day event brought together rental housing industry experts to connect over ways to improve property management for managers and residents alike.
The agenda for the conference encompassed every imaginable facet of apartment management, from apartment marketing to finances and maintenance management to business growth and even the impact of AI on operations. We went, of course, with an eye toward technology. We wanted to listen, learn, and gather ideas as to how we could use our expertise—custom software development—to support property managers of all stripes across the country.
Through three days of incredible sessions and conversations, we learned enough to fill a book (or two), and we can’t wait to incorporate these new insights into the work we do with our property management clients. For now, here are a few of the key takeaways from the event:
Management of Operating Expenses Is a Significant Challenge
One challenge we heard about multiple times throughout the event was managing budgets and operating costs. While research presented at the conference showed taxes and insurance make up the most significant expenses (32 percent of total expenses) followed by administration and payroll (26 percent), utilities (17 percent) and maintenance (12 percent) also account for significant chunks.
Keeping these expenses from overtaking the entire budget can be tricky for property management companies—especially when as buildings they’re managing age and start to need larger and more frequent repairs. Panelists who addressed this problem suggested forecasting expenses quarterly instead of annually, which gives property managers more opportunities to update their data (and their budgets) with real-time information.
But another item panelists discussed really stood out to the Syberry team: putting the right technology in place to support financial management can be tricky. Several property managers discussed the challenge of forgetting where the most recent data lives and finding themselves working with outdated numbers. And even when they do try to implement a software solution to streamline these processes, staff is often reluctant to embrace it.
At Syberry, we’re no strangers to this challenge. We’ve worked with plenty of companies that worried about staff adoption of a new technology. When it comes to budgeting software, here is our advice:
- Start with management. Before you even begin speaking to vendors, talk to management about how they run their day-to-day operations. What tools do they use to keep information up to date and available to everyone who needs it?
- Create a single source of truth. As a stopgap solution, we suggest managers create a Wiki page that is a single source of truth for data, and be sure to clean it up quarterly or, at the very least, semi-annually.
- Choose software based on your processes. Many companies make the mistake of selecting software based on the shiny new features it offers rather than the benefits it actually provides users. Before you start talking with vendors, outline your own workflows carefully, and make a detailed review of your processes to see which ones require a lot of manual intervention and would benefit most from optimization. Then, look for software that will streamline your existing workflows—not require to you create new ones.
And software aside, because we can’t help it, we’d like to share one other budgeting recommendation: in aging buildings, plumbing, electricity and HVAC are the main sources of trouble. Property managers should consider investing preventative maintenance and quality control, especially for these systems. These upfront expenses will help in the long run to optimize budgeting and improve predictability about the company’s expenses.
Property Management Is a High-Stress Industry
Over and over, leaders at the conference noted that property management is a stressful job—and has become more stressful than ever over the last two or three years. The three biggest challenges, according to research presented at the conference, are as follows:
- Dealing with aggressive and abusive residents
- Mental health and the inability to “switch off” after hours
- Maintaining proper staffing levels
Panelists and conference attendees largely agreed that these issues were pervasive, and shared several good strategies to help alleviate them. First of all, there was the reminder that COVID times were tough for everyone. People started spending most of their time at home in 2020, and with the majority of companies maintaining remote or hybrid work policies, that trend is here to stay. As a result, there’s more pressure on a building's systems, and people start noticing things they would never have noticed—or cared about—before.
Proactive maintenance helps a lot in this regard, but so does investment in staff education. Ensure every team member knows both their responsibilities and their rights, and is confident in their abilities to maintain healthy, friendly, and professional relationships with tenants. Another frequent recommendation was to add mental health benefits such as counselling to compensation packages and be sure to check in on staff well-being—through one-on-one and group conversations—after stressful events on the property. All of these strategies will help staff manage angry tenants and, hopefully, give them the peace of mind to leave work at work as often as possible. And the more relaxed and confident employees are, the easier it will be to retain great team members, alleviating the staffing problem too.
We would add a software-based recommendation to this list of solutions as well, and that is to automate as many facets of the job as possible in order to reduce manual workflows and minimize staff errors. No matter how talented a team is, the more tedious manual data entry, etc., they are asked to do, the more liable they are to a) make mistakes and b) become disengaged and move on to other professional opportunities. But when the company’s software systems take away the “grunt work” of their jobs, they’re left with more time and energy to do the work that really matters.
Visualization of Tasks Is a Big Opportunity for Improvement
Management of day-to-day tasks and needs was another area in which many property managers expressed frustration. The big question was, How do you visualize what needs to be done in a way that everyone can see both the big picture and the underlying tasks?
Text-based status updates aren’t useful because they take too long to process—everyone needs to be able to see the big picture and make decisions quickly, without parsing long documents to do so. And the general consensus was that nobody likes spreadsheets, either.
Data visualization must be easy for everyone to process, no matter what data is being presented. From maintenance needs to unit sales, clear and easy-to-read business intelligence helps property management teams get on the same page and make data-driven decisions, rather than working from opinions that may or may not be grounded in fact.
Here again, a property management company’s software choices have a significant impact on the success—or failure—of day to day operations. Investing in a business intelligence platform with a sleek and intuitive UX can be a game changer for employee engagement, tenant relationships, and the business’s bottom line.
The Software Solution to Property Management Woes
Apartmentalize was, overall, a fantastic event, and we could go on and on about the conversations we heard while we were there. We were happy to see that, from AI chatbots to marketing automation to sustainability software, there are more and more solutions appearing on the market to help property managers improve their workflows—and their job satisfaction.
The biggest challenge seems to be choosing the right tools—and then making the time to ensure teams are learning and using those tools effectively. Here at Syberry, we understand these challenges deeply, and we would love to help. When you’re ready to optimize your property management business, reach out Syberry to learn how custom property management software solutions can boost your business performance.