Click here to download the 2008 Top 50 Managers chart (PDF).
Ask Christy Freeland for one word to describe 2007's multifamily property management landscape and she's quick to respond. “Exhausting,” says the CEO of Dallas-based Riverstone Residential Group, which acquired Stratus Real Estate and Omni Apartment Communities last year, increasing its units under management by nearly 60 percent to 143,200—more than enough to land the company at the No. 4 spot on the 2007 MFE Top 50 Managers list. Things aren't likely to slow down soon for Freeland and her team—a January 2008 acquisition of Las Vegas-based Realty Management and the April acquisition of Seattle-based HSC Real Estate, which brought the company's management count to within a breath of its 200,000-unit goal.
The added scale can look daunting on paper, but Freeland—like virtually all of her peers on the management side of the multifamily business—explains that the primary challenge in assembling one of the industry's leading property management firms has much more to do with maintaining ever-increasing service expectations, both internally and externally. “From our residents to our associates to our clients, everyone wants to make sure that what you say you represent is really what you are going to deliver,” Freeland says. “So we are always continuing to educate our people on how to walk the talk.”
WORKING GEN Y The bar is particularly high amongst choosy Gen Y renters, Freeland says. Expectations range from a wide array of social activities to unique amenities such as pool parties and WiFi saturated cyber cafés—all of which are part of a product and service brag factor that differentiates these young trendsetters from their peers.
It's a challenge that many property managers are trying to get their arms around, agrees Bruce Ward, CEO of Phoenix-based Alliance Residential (No. 15), which had 49,194 units under management in 2007. “We're beginning to market to the leading edge of the Facebook generation,” Ward says. “That includes reaching out to online social networking sites but also working on the connectivity within apartment communities. From doing cooking events to creating cyber cafés, the effort is to facilitate the joining together of people with mutual interests.”
Scott Rogerson, CFO of Fayetteville, Ark.-based Lindsey Property Management (No. 33), says larger properties within the company's 30,522-unit management portfolio will host five or six social networking events annually to create a tighter knit community. “flat's something that we've been doing for a couple of years,” Rogerson says. But, he adds, putting a smile on residents' faces is still a function of delivering on more tactile amenity packages. “We're not necessarily in top-tier markets, so I can't say that we'll go full-bore into social networking. Instead, we are looking to extract value from great pools, executive nine-hole golf courses, and top-notch fitness facilities,” he says.
STAYING POWERRegardless of the demographic strategy, leading property management executives agree that 2008 and beyond will be an exercise in pleasing long-term residents. Many of today's renters—from those cautious about the single-family market to foreclosed-upon former homeowners—are looking for a place to plant some roots. Although vacancy rates are generally stable or declining, a poor economy portends slower employment growth and household creation, making good absorption an increasingly important metric at the property level.
“It's an interesting time,” Ward says, “especially if you can make renting a better experience than buying a home. It seems to be working for us: Our occupancy and leasing velocity is stronger than it has been in 18 months, even with losses in the employment sector.”
Riverstone will focus on the associate level and expects customer service to benefit retention and absorption. “Performance from associates should keep the residents satisfied to the point where they stay with you longer,” Freeland says. “ It's an exciting proposition for everyone.”