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Online reputation is critical for all apartment community types—not just the glistening Class A stock.

This year, J Turner Research recognized its Online Reputation Assessment score (ORA) winners in four divisions based on total portfolio unit count. The winners represent a diverse group of communities.

For starters, in Division I, it’s worth mentioning that Bozzuto scored 81.93 and captured the top award for the largest managers for the sixth consecutive year, edging out AvalonBay (80.73), which placed runner-up for a fourth consecutive year. The Division I ranking (Top 10 of the NMHC Top 50, cut off at 30,670 units) was announced in May.

J Turner introduced the Division ORA Power Ranking in 2019 to expand the ORA award recognition to include management companies that manage over 2,000 units.

In Division II (20,000 units up to 30,669 units), Greensboro, N.C.-based Hawthorne Residential Partners’ team members work daily to provide a memorable and positive experience for each customer they encounter, says vice president Kayla Prestwood.

“Our teams focus a tremendous amount of time and attention on leaving people better than they found them each day,” she says. “When positive information is put out into the world about your business, it helps in building trust and credibility. A great online reputation is one of the most powerful marketing assets a business has. Why? The consumer buying process has changed. Online reputation is a make or break for whether a prospect keeps scrolling through their apartment search or pauses to learn more about our community. A positive online reputation has a direct impact on increasing the number of leads received.”

Prestwood says her teams have established a consistency in their customer service on a day-by-day basis, which has compounded over time to create the positive reputation seen today.

“It really starts with the foundation our company is built on, which is putting people first,” she says. “We hire teams who are intrinsically motivated by their love for working with people and their excitement every day to help people find an apartment and have a great experience living in one of our apartments. [Additionally], we have a friendly competition running by posting our rankings reports monthly. We also include online reputation scores as part of a bonus program.”

Prestwood says one key to strong customer service, to drive better reviews, is to always deliver on any expectation that is set.

“If you can’t deliver, then it is important to communicate quickly and frequently,” she says.

In Division III (10,000 to 19,999 units), Wood Partners claimed the top spot.

“When you look at stats such as 83% of residents making their decisions in part by reading reviews, resident reviews are an important part of property management,” says Steve Hallsey, managing director of Wood Partners.

“We’ve greatly focused on this for the past four years, and we’ve made incremental improvements each year. To get to No. 1 is very important to us. It shows that our staff has bought into it. The J Turner Research process for evaluating resident reviews is very important to our industry.”

Hallsey’s staff encourages residents and prospects to leave reviews, “because whether they are good or bad, we’re going to learn from them and respond to them,” he says. “We give each of our communities a goal of getting five reviews per month—that’s a lot when you consider some other communities are getting only about one.”

Wood Partners is a merchant builder—its goal is to build and flip the properties when they are full—Hallsey says. “To meet our investors’ desire to lease up quickly, strong reviews help a great deal with that process.”

He says, “It’s a competitive thing for our properties.” The teams and the C-suite report and discuss the reviews during weekly calls, that’s how we learn.”Hallsey says the company’s Ground Floor Project, in which it invites local musicians and artists to perform or display their work in its common areas, has been a leading source for inspiring positive reviews.

In Division IV (2,000 to 9,999 units), NuStyle Development, based in Omaha, Neb., placed first. Brandon Johnsen, director of property management, also says his company’s long-standing reputation for strong service continues to pay dividends.

“We are a pretty simple company based out of Omaha, and everyone in our company has strong ties to Omaha and the surrounding smaller communities,” he says. “Omaha is by no means a large metropolis, and, in many ways, it is just a series of small communities all connected in one area. A company’s reputation is everything in a city like Omaha. We work very closely with city leaders, local organizations, Omaha-based colleges, and community businesses to produce a product that will fit their needs and needs best for our community.”

Johnsen says his teams in every department—maintenance, leasing, and property management—at each property create personal relationships with their residents and future residents. The company’s motto is, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself.”

“Once we have mastered that, then occupancy and property operations just seem to fall into place,” he says. “Our biggest strength is being a small local company that develops, constructs, and ultimately manages the communities we create. Every department within NuStyle is always working together to problem-solve and to come up with the best solution to any issue that arises. We often get great feedback and reviews on our response time and creative solutions to problems.”

Johnsen says the personal touch helps to drive positive reviews. At the end of every month, he personally emails every single move-in during that month. He asks them about how everything went and where the company can improve. He checks to see if any work-order items are pending, and he provides his phone number and email and lets them know that he is always a second contact if anything is needed.

“My advice is to never be afraid to pick up the phone and call the resident or prospect if there is an issue,” Johnsen says. “Oftentimes, emails and texts can be too impersonal and further aggravate an issue. A single phone call typically deescalates an issue. It typically leads to a resolution that everyone is happy with.”

Johnsen monitors the company’s online reputation. It is linked directly to his email. He also utilizes Google Alerts for reviews that are not directly linked to his accounts.

“Though we are fortune enough to not receive many negative reviews, we always try and respond to those reviews,” he says. “Positive reviews are always celebrated. We have had some amazing residents that have left some very personal feedback about the managers, leasing team, and maintenance crew. These are the moments that make property management all worth it.”

To view the complete list of companies, visit https://www.jturnerresearch.com/division2020.