RMK Management Corp.'s in-place sprinkler retrofit at McClurg Court in Chicago stands out as an example of how leveraging technology and communication tools early in the rehab process, and then employing them at every point along the way, can mean the difference between a successful renovation that pencils out or a months’ long ordeal for residents that accelerates churn and eats into NOI with unanticipated costs at the end.
For the locally based company's executive vice president, Diana Pittro, the beginning of any rehab project starts with what she calls her project information “Bible,” a souped-up spreadsheet that covers everything from scope of work, shopping lists, and projected install dates to marketing and communications plans, on-site storage and rotation scenarios, costs, and analysis tabs. Creating and updating that spreadsheet happens months before residents ever get wind of what lies ahead, to make sure her own staff always knows what, why, and when it is going to be doing something in any given resident’s apartment.
“We’ve done it enough that we’ve actually gotten it down to just two reports, which can be updated and given to our owners on a daily basis,” Pittro says.
Once she made sure her staff and contractors knew what they were doing well ahead of time, Pittro started developing a communication plan for McClurg’s residents to learn about their new sprinklers at 90, 60, and 30 days before commencement of the work, and then again a week before it started.
“If you do it right, your residents are the last to know, but they still find out well before you start any work,” Pittro says.
At McClurg, she got the word out at her set date points and then supplemented that information on a daily basis through e-mail blasts, updates on the community’s portal, displays on multiple screens in lobbies and common areas via McClurg Court’s “Building Channel,” and, for those not inclined to look at a screen, door hangers.
During actual installation, work progress could be tracked on RMK’s community portal, with the units and floors that were scheduled next promptly displayed. Pittro supplemented that information campaign by doubling up on janitorial service at the community during the project, and posting additional security contractors on each floor to keep an eye on things when residents’ doors were open.
Once the project was complete, Pittro highlighted the new sprinklers via e-mail, on the portal, on Facebook, on new banners, and at a completion party for the building. Nicest of all, perhaps, was the completion gift left in each unit—a gift basket, or bottle of wine, for example—after all the work was done.
“For something major like this, you want to give them a big party and a little something for their new home in the end,” Pittro says.
The bottom line? Pittro stayed in constant communication with her residents, before, during, and after the rehab took place, even as she huddled with staff and contractors behind the scenes. It’s an aspect of “overcommunication” that is echoed by many rehab vets.
Say It Again
“You cannot overcommunicate,” says Joe Greenblatt, CEO of San Diego–based Sunrise Management, a third-party manager, and president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. “We want that communication to be high-tempo so residents know what we’re doing, where we’re doing it, when we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it.”
Sunrise keys in not only on the communication preferences it collects from residents—e-mail, text, mail in the slot—but also puts physical “storyboards” in community lobbies and elevators to make an impression off screen, as well, in tandem with a construction party at the property.
At RMK, Pittro paired that kind of effort with town meetings that included contractors wearing their daytime uniforms so residents would know exactly who would be in their apartments.
Or, as Robert Murray, director of asset management at Los Angeles–based TruAmerica Multifamily, puts it: “Constant communication before, during, and after the process.”
Highlight the Value
For Chicago-based Waterton Residential, distributing information about a rehab across multiple channels helps ensure that residents of its 19,000 units know what they’re getting for their money.
“It's important to reach out to customers in the way they want the communication. We've used e-mail newsletters, social media, splash pages, our resident portal, and flyers at elevator banks in large urban buildings,” says Virginia Love, vice president of leasing and marketing at Waterton. “Our goal is for the customer to have more than enough information about what is happening on the property so they aren’t inconvenienced and clearly understand that value we are adding to the community.”
Joe Bousquin is a contributing editor for Multifamily Executive.