Proper planning and due diligence is the key to successfully repositioning a newly acquired property, said Frederick Mehlman, vice chair of Maxx Properties. His fellow panelists, David R. Schwartz, managing member of Waterton Associates, and Tom Brenneke, president and CEO of Guardian Management, couldn't agree more.

The three leaders presented several case studies to help them illustrate the strategies, best practices, and lessons learned when renovating a new acquisition. Brenneke strongly advocates an "outside in" approach to renovation that focuses primarily on renaming a property and updating its facade. "We feel the renter's first impression is crucial," he said. "If the building looks and feels good from the outside, then the renter will be willing to compromise on the interior."

Schwartz, however, sees value in updating interiors. He presented a number of design tactics that can create instant value without a huge investment. For instance, using two paint tones and faux materials such as Formica countertops and vinyl floors can give units an instant makeover.

Mehlman, meanwhile, suggested that one way to ensure your work is not wasted is to conduct focus groups that help you understand the fundamental needs of the residents. His firm did that at Uptown Village, a 411-unit high rise in Denver that was built in 1986, where they found that a larger gym would be a strong draw. "Our target was the 24- to 35-year-olds who want to walk to work," he said. "If we can tell them they will save $50 a month on their gym membership, then that will entice them."

In addition, Mehlman recommends conducting a thorough inspection of the property to avoid any unexpected construction costs or setbacks. The panel, which was moderated by George Quay, president and COO of Village Green Cos., closed by emphasizing the value of a good team--both in the form of a contractor and architect to oversee the renovation and in the form of leasing agents and managers at the site-level.