There wasn’t much of a shake-up when it came to the Top 50 managers of 2012.

Greystar Real Estate Partners claimed the top position for the third year in a row by gaining more ground in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Western regions in 2012. The Charleston, S.C.–based company saw a 3 percent increase in managed properties last year and hopes to expand overseas in 2013.

Greystar’s dominance will likely be extended into next year, as well, given the $1.5 billion deal it struck with Equity Residential in January to acquire upward of 8,000 units.

Falling in line behind Greystar were five companies that all stayed in the same ranks as the prior year, including Pinnacle, which held its ground at No. 4. The Addison, Texas–based company held its place without gaining or leaving any markets in 2012. However, the firm welcomed a 10,000-unit addition to its portfolio in Texas, president and CEO Rick Graf notes.

“We’ve added some really key people in certain markets,” he says. “We’ve revamped our corporate infrastructure and the resources we’ve put into that. We’re rockin’ and rollin’ on all four cylinders.”

Graf believes companies choose to work with Pinnacle because of its personal touch, a tone from the top that prioritizes soft skills. Graf ensures the company has a good attitude toward everyone involved in the business, from the residents to the office managers to those who are hired to work at the corporate level.

While changes were being made in all aspects of the company, Graf says he didn’t want to lose the fundamental values of excellent customer service. Something as simple as being nice to people and saying “please and thank you” are what makes Pinnacle one of the top managers of 2012.

And while Pinnacle broke even as far as growth from 2011 to this year, with more than 138,000 managed units, there were other companies that saw their numbers fall from one year to the next.

Although Equity Residential saw a 5 percent decline in the number of units managed in 2012, the Chicago-based company held tight at the No. 5 spot, managing more than 115,000 units across the nation.

As part of the historic multibillion-dollar Archstone deal last year, the company expects to see a boost in numbers this year as those units are integrated into its portfolio. The deal adds 21,000 units throughout Equity’s core markets.

Lincoln Property Co. expanded its portfolio significantly in January with the acquisition of Grand Student Living, which added 2,900 units to the company’s portfolio. Lincoln plans to grow that part of the company in the upcoming year to boost its strength in the student housing marketplace.

Despite the acquisition, the Dallas-based company broke even in terms of how many units it managed in 2012 versus 2011, and that didn’t budge the firm from the No. 3 position on the Top 50 Managers list.

Staying True to Company Values

Focusing on customer service is what Jonathan Holtzman believes distinguishes his company, No. 25 Village Green, from the rest of the pack.

The Farmington Hills, Mich.–based company tries to stay in tune with what residents want in their units, says Holtzman, the CEO of Village Green.

“It’s not just fixing a service request,” Holtzman says. “It’s adding things to their apartment. We’re adding things to the community, and by focusing on the customer, we were able to outperform the market in occupancies and rental growth.”

Although Village Green left several markets in 2012, it opened a new office in Indianapolis while also expanding in Texas, opening an office in the Dallas area. The company has more than 10,000 units in its third-party management portfolio and plans to open a new office in Pittsburgh this year. In addition to expansion opportunities in core markets, Village Green also has high hopes for the city in which it was founded more than 90 years ago.

“We’re from Detroit,” Holtzman says. “We’ve always operated in Detroit; now, we’re investing back in Detroit.”

Village Green has purchased two high-rises in the city over the past two years and plans to rehabilitate them into thriving communities for young people.

“Young professional people—they just want to live downtown,” he says. “Downtown Grand Rapids (Mich.), Detroit, or Royal Oak (Mich.). It doesn’t matter. It isn’t just a Brooklyn and Manhattan thing; it isn’t just Boston and San Francisco.”

Holtzman says the Midwest has been a focal point for his team as the economies in some of the region’s struggling cities are headed toward revival. In fact, the Detroit area was one of Village Green’s strongest markets in 2012, he says.

Word-of-mouth references give Village Green’s ­business new deals and a leg up on the competition, Holtz­man says.

“You have customers that like your product or service, so by making the customer happy with our performance, we achieved higher rents and higher occupancies. Therefore, the client that we work for and are partners with gave us excellent references.”

Holtzman hopes to expand the company’s development pipeline to include new construction and historic rehabilitations into luxury apartments. The company also plans to focus on acquisitions of urban properties throughout the Midwest.

Meanwhile, firms such as No. 26 American Campus Communities and No. 18 Hunt Cos. focused on growing in several different markets in 2012.

American Campus Communities, an Austin, Texas–­based student housing company, entered more than 13 new markets in 2012, adding 51 properties to its expanding portfolio. The student housing giant gained additional mass across the country, from Richmond, Va.; to Dayton, Ohio; to Los Angeles. In December, it acquired 19 properties in an $862.8 million deal with Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors.

The team at El Paso, Texas–based Hunt Cos. is taking a more regional approach but covering a lot of ground nonetheless. The firm expanded into three Texas markets in 2012: Dallas, Houston, and Austin.