Lesson No. 1: Good people make all the difference.

As I learn more about the multifamily housing industry, I'm making a mental list of the rules by which executives operate. This first one hit me full force last month during my search for a new apartment.

Moving cross-country from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., my housing needs were simple. I wanted a safe, Metro-accessible building that offered flexible lease terms. During my first scouting session, two spaces stood out.

One was in an impeccable 500-unit building managed by a national company. The complex had an on-site gym and offered tenants coffee and pastries every morning. Each unit featured a brand-new washer and dryer, cherry wood floors, and plenty of closet space. I was drooling.

When I sat down with the leasing agent, however, my adoration turned to skepticism. I explained that I loved the unit but didn't know if the location was convenient to my office. She nodded, failing to ask me where my office was located or to suggest one of the company's other D.C. properties.

“How flexible are the lease terms?” I asked. She said they weren't. Could I rent a parking spot? She had to “check on availability.”

The conversation continued like this. Rather than trying to accommodate a responsible new resident—one with a steady income, excellent referrals, and a solid rental history—the agent kept throwing up road blocks. I was perplexed. Did she want to rent this unit or not?

Contrast that with the experience at an older, independently managed property. The 125-unit building offered simple apartments with few amenities. Individual parking spots were available for rent. There was a communal laundry room and an on-site maintenance man.

Yet, the woman who showed me a studio apartment won me over. When I explained my situation, she made every effort to answer my questions—as if I were a friend, not a prospective renter. She immediately learned about my job and my needs. She walked me through the transportation options to get from the building to my new office.

She said that for a premium, the company offered month-to-month leases. In the same breath, though, she added that I would love the building and decide to stay. In that case, they'd sign me up for a one-year lease and knock the rent down without any penalties. Her confidence and flexibility were encouraging.

What a difference! I quickly realized I would rather take the less stellar apartment because of the service offered by a single employee. Her friendly and knowledgeable attitude made me feel this was a company ready to help.

Meanwhile, the leasing agent at the larger building had left me frustrated. In reality, her building may have been well run, but her lackadaisical approach left something to be desired.

Truth be told, I didn't rent either apartment. Instead, this summer, I will be looking for a condo in the D.C. area. How will your employees win me over? Do they know what I want in my next home? Will I prefer parking or free wireless? Have any tips? Send them my way. I'll do the same—reporting back to you on how my search progresses.

After all, experience is the best educator. Which brings me to my own. For the last few years, I've worked for Hanley Wood, LLC (MFE's parent company), as an editor for one of its construction magazines. This month, I assume the position of editor of MFE and DEVELOPER magazines.

Working on both ends of the residential spectrum, I've realized that property managers are not unlike construction supervisors: They face similar challenges in controlling costs, securing the right customers, and most importantly, finding quality employees.

I read somewhere that the stress of moving cross-country is right up there with divorce and bankruptcy. My move was no exception. And the lesson I learned is a vital one for all multifamily executives: Good people make all the difference.

Shabnam Mogharabi, Editor