Crosland, LLC, has won the 2006 National Multifamily Customer Service Award for Excellence for the seventh consecutive year. Crosland’s entire portfolio, 4,800 properties of marketrate and affordable units, participated in the thirdparty customer satisfaction survey conducted by CEL & Associates. The Charlotte, N.C.-based firm develops, builds, and manages properties in the Carolinas, Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Virginia.

APARTMENT FINANCE TODAY talked with David Ravin, president of the firm’s residential division, and Adam Ford, the vice president of the division, about why customer service is so important. They offer tips on how to deal with residents and talk about some trends in the multifamily arena.

Q How does staff deal with difficult tenants?

Ford: We take the firm but fair approach. We have 5,000 units and occasionally we do get residents with issues. We have found that clear, consistent communication is really the key. We document what we say, what actions we are taking. That’s the best way to respond. First and foremost, it’s important to understand what the resident’s issue is.

Noise issues between residents are the most common difficult situation that we have to deal with. We try to get both parties together to discuss the problem. It’s a lack of understanding most times. We get them to talk about their work schedules, or if someone has kids, for example. Then we try to arrive at some mutual agreement. We have visited units when residents complain about the noise to find out if it is unreasonable. We intervene if we need to. We’ve relocated folks in some cases to different parts of the property.

Q What are some common mistakes apartment managers make with residents?

Ford: Inconsistency with communicating and being understaffed at the property are real problems.

Ravin: Thinking of residents as tenants who you are just collecting the rent from is the biggest problem. Our staff calls these people residents. That helps to think of people differently. We would go so far as to call them guests. And it’s about being responsive to your guests. It may be an issue that can’t be immediately fixed, but the manager has to try to address it and get back to the resident about the status of a problem. Residents then feel like attention is being paid to them. They are not merely a rent check. Above all else, that’s the idea we impart to our staff. You can’t look at your residents as a net operating income factor. In the residential asset class, unlike the other asset classes, your customers are living there. And you’ve got to give them personal attention.

Q How responsive do you need to be to resident requests? What can slide? What can’t?

Ford: We have a 24-hour goal to respond to maintenance requests. To the extent that we can fix something in 24 hours, we do. At times, we have to order parts. A sliding door is off its hinge, and we can’t get a part for it. That wouldn’t be a critical item. We have emergency service around the clock. We define an emergency as no heat or no air conditioning. Water and sewer issues, [lack of ] electricity, security problems are all a very big deal. Those obviously require immediate attention, no matter what time of day or night.

Q What should you never say to a resident?

Ravin: It’s unprofessional to badmouth residents in front of another resident—even if it’s a negative comment about the residents in general. Managers have bad days, but staff has to rise above it. Also, managers should never make a resident issue sound petty.

Ford:We let our staff know not to comment definitively about things like security or safety—things that you can’t guarantee residents. Saying things like, “I can have this apartment ready for you to move in at such-andsuch time,” when there is a chance that it might not happen. As David said, you’re dealing with where people live or where they’ll call home. If your car is not ready when the mechanic says, that’s an inconvenience. When you have a U-Haul packed up full of stuff and the unit isn’t ready, that’s more than a little inconvenient.

Q What are some amenities and activities residents love? Can you talk about some trends you’re seeing with amenities?

Ford: Residents love when we add and update our fitness equipment. We’ve added mountain bikes at some properties for resident use. They like upgrading within the units. It can be small things like changing out light fixtures, changing the color of accents. They like social events like resident yard sales. Bingo, pool parties, and multicultural festivals are all big hits. You name the activity, we’ve had it.

Every year, we see that the exercise rooms get more activity. We are making them bigger and bigger. It’s important to continue to modify the product. The business is always changing. There’s not the perfect project out there that meets everyone’s needs. The business centers, for example, used to be important. Now residents want wireless capability in their units. They’re doing business on their own computers. Multifamily is never stagnant. You can’t tweak some things and then have the perfect model. That perfect model will not be perfect too long.

Ravin: A lot of development now is starting to become more infill. Every square foot is expensive. Laundry centers are something that you need to have, but those spaces are shrinking. Vendors are not seeing the revenue. People are starting to buy their own [washers and dryers]. And they want the laundry equipment in their units.

I’m seeing much more expansive resort-style pools and amenities. Mimicking tricks from the hospitality industry is certainly coming into play. Amenities centering around outdoor activities are big, especially here in the Southeast.

A lot of residents are becoming much more environmentally aware. Managers are telling us that residents want recycling areas to be enlarged or added. Apartments that feature green elements will eventually become a leasing tool.