Empty units mean they’re generating zero income, and while multifamily housing (MFH) turnovers dipped to historic lows during the pandemic, the industry cannot bank on this trend lasting. It’s likely that residents are just postponing due to the pandemic. The more property teams do now to facilitate efficient turnovers, the better prepared they'll be to manage this costly and time-consuming process once the flood of activity gets underway.
Turnovers are often the most expensive part of any multifamily operations. Between repairs, restorations, vendor delays, and team miscommunications, the costs of readying a unit for the market can quickly overshoot your budgeted amount and time to market. The good news is there are many opportunities to enhance the unit turnover process and keep money-making assets from sitting empty.
As we all know, efficient turnovers hinge on standardized processes, flawless communication, and accurate inspections. Paper-based processes worked in the past, but the complexity and volume of modern turnovers require more advanced tools. For example, inspections used to be conducted with papers, pens, and a camera, but mobile unit inspection apps can provide standardized checklists, collect and share evidence, collaborate with back-office teams, and coordinate workflows between all stakeholders in real-time.
“There was a time when we were following a largely paper-based system, and I couldn't get a solid answer as to how we were doing with work orders at any given point," says Ethan Frey, Chief Strategy Officer with Blue Ocean Realty, in our 2020 white paper, 7 Maintenance Mistakes Even Experienced Operators Make. "Work orders were either going in late, coming in with errors, or being closed out without all the information we needed. This also made it tougher to audit those work orders post-hoc, given the lack of transparency.”
If your organization is thinking about making a digital transformation to manage unit turns, here are some pointers about what to look for in an app:
1. Expense tracking and control
Between repairs and restorations, vendors delays, and human errors, the unit turnover bill can be a shock. That’s why managing expenses across the entire process is critical. One effective solution is a mobile app with an “intelligent” catalog that provides an accurate estimate of the items and services your team needs to procure. Speed up the process even more with an app that approves costs in a timely manner while simultaneously monitoring vendor progress.
2. Team coordination
Teams can’t do their best work unless everyone is operating with the same information and expectations – and let’s face it, critical information often falls through the cracks. To keep your unit turnover lifecycle as short as possible, you must have a system in place to track turnovers in real-time. This means that any changes to timeframe or cost are automatically communicated to everyone affected.
3. Let data be your guide
There's strength in numbers. Specifically, multifamily teams that collect and track unit turnover data across their portfolios can use that information to identify spending trends, inform smarter budgets, spot opportunities for efficiency, and benchmark outcomes.
For example, the value of benchmarking in property management cannot be understated. By collecting and tracking unit turnover data across multiple projects, multifamily teams can set performance metrics in terms of staff performance, maintenance costs, and overall property performance.
“Here's where there's an advantage to having the ability to pull up an individual's work orders, scroll through by date or category, and see how they were handled,” says Frey. “Ideally, I should be able to establish what a typical work order looks like and benchmark the work orders I'm getting to address issues or red flags that come up."
4. Vendor management
This is especially challenging because there are a lot of moving parts, but collaborative technologies bring a much-needed level of visibility and accountability. (For a recent blog that does a deeper dive into vendor management, click here.)
Remember earlier, when we mentioned the importance of cross-functional communication? That applies to vendors, as well. It’s crucial to loop them into any changes that impact their schedules, so use a tool that automatically updates information and timelines and communicates real-time changes.
Also ensure your staff can create, manage, and track work orders using mobile apps and connected back-office platforms. An app that does the “heavy lift” of admin work speeds up the turnover lifecycle, while mobile access ensures employees can make updates on the fly.
5. Prioritize effectively
We admit that this one seems obvious, but in many cases, it’s easier said than done. If your team can't address hiccups or delays in real-time, those issues can add up. “Smart” project tools notify each employee when they need to act. This takes the onus of project management off your staff and allows them to concentrate on what they do best.
“One of the biggest issues we had in the past is prioritizing our efforts," says one of the national multifamily operators. "We got to a point where we needed to utilize technology to standardize our work and create a system through which we could identify what is a priority and what isn't in real-time."
This type of functionality also helps management prioritize by allowing upper-level employees to “manage by exception.” In other words, if everything’s flowing smoothly, you hear radio silence. However, when something goes off track, you’ll get an alert that allows you to intervene sooner rather than later.
6. User-friendly tools
All the enhanced apps and tech-savvy systems won't mean a thing if your team can't make the most of them. Invest in technologies that are easy to use, simple to configure for your needs, and keep everyone connected in the field. (Check out our recent blog, 5 Tips to Help Employees Accept Digital Transformation.) One way to ensure an app is easy to use is to look for those designed specifically for the multifamily field. Your new app should be built to facilitate the day-to-day duties of property operations.
Every day a unit sits empty is a missed income opportunity. Finding ways to enhance (and upgrade) the unit turnover process is key to protecting the bottom line during the pandemic and positioning your assets for growth in the years to come.