It’s a transitional time in the apartment world. On-site teams are constantly trying to increase efficiencies, but not at the expense of personalization. They are trying to strike the balance of using technology to assist associates, but not to such a degree that it makes teams appear robotic.
In an ever-brisk industry where demand for homes seldom ceases—and the demands on associates often increase—many apartment operators are outsourcing certain facets of the business that have traditionally been handled on site.
While the industry generally enjoys the control factor of handling things internally, the sizable task loads taken on by associates—coupled with the increased availability and quality of outsourcing options—have made operators more willing to seek assistance with some of the more cumbersome on-site processes.
Managing items such as packages, accommodation requests for assistance animals, and resident events can take valuable time and impose a mental toll on on-site teams, but operators are no longer forced to place those burdens on their associates. While solutions in these areas aren’t necessarily brand new, they are continuing to evolve and become more helpful.
Here’s a look at three stories from operators who successfully have been able to outsource a previously internal process:
Advanced Package Solutions
It became apparent several years ago that package management was morphing into an issue for on-site teams. E-commerce was on the rise, and packages were taking associates away from their daily duties. Many package solutions sprouted up, including lockers, but each one of the solutions had challenges, particularly as the e-commerce trend only exacerbated.
“We were having anything from a Casper mattress to a 65-inch TV being delivered to the community, and things like that aren’t going to fit into a locker,” says Ian Bingham, senior vice president of client services for Austin, Texas-based RPM Living. “So then what do you do? That’s when properties started considering a package room.”
Bingham notes that a package room works for some communities, particularly those with a surplus of space. But for others, that space was needed for other reasons. Additionally, some package room concepts created a familiar problem for on-site teams. Carriers would dump packages in the room, and the on-site team would have to organize them.
“So we were still trying to decide what to do about this conundrum of packages,” Bingham says. “We know our associates didn’t sign up to be in the package business.”
After trying a few solutions early in the e-commerce boom, RPM Living has since adopted Fetch. The third-party, direct-to-door delivery solution notifies residents when packages are scanned to their account at a local facility and allows them to schedule the package delivery to their home at their convenience. This ensures the resident is home, helps avoid any theft scenarios, and takes the process out of the hands of the on-site teams.
“It’s truly a concierge-type of service,” Bingham says. “It’s app-based, there’s a two-hour delivery window, and it’s available during non-business hours. If you’re a resident who’s single, how would you ever be able to get a large delivery item up to your home, even if there was a package room? Now there’s a solution, and it’s delivered to the doorway of your home.”
Bingham says the service helps RPM Living as early as the development process, when space doesn’t have to be allocated for a package room and can instead be earmarked for amenity spaces.
Assistance with Assistance Animals
As it has for many apartment operators, the process surrounding assistance animals was becoming a pain point for Asset Living.
“We were experiencing every problem you could imagine when it comes to an assistance or an emotional support animal,” says Debbie Wiatrek, vice president of Asset Living. “Essentially everyone figured out that fake certificates were a way of not paying a pet deposit and getting around the monthly pet fee. It was truly a disservice to the people who really need assistance animals, because it made it harder for them to become verified.”
Sometimes residents weren’t trying to skirt fees, but rather attempting to circumvent breed restrictions so their pet could live with them. The entire process was so disruptive that Wiatrek knew something had to be done. In 2019, she met with PetScreening, which handles all reasonable accommodation animal requests as part of its service offerings. She says she was immediately sold on adopting the platform.
“It took us out of having to be the bad guy,” Wiatrek says. “All our associates are happy they are no longer in the middle. It relieves a huge burden, and I’m happy we’re not in that position any longer.”
While relying on a legal team that specializes in pet documentation eased the mental burden from on-site teams, it gave them much of their time back. Asset Living was also able to shed blanket breed and weight restrictions in favor of assessing the risk of individual pets on a pet score system.
“It has helped with the ancillary revenue, as well,” Wiatrek says. “If residents initially state that they have an assistance or support animal and it turns out to be a pet, we’re able to recover the rightful pet deposit and monthly pet fee. Now, whenever we acquire a new asset or have a development under construction, we absolutely adopt that service immediately.”
Boosting the Resident Events Experience
LMC had been utilizing outside sources to bolster resident events in some markets, but not in the Minneapolis region. The company had many new developments in the region but no longstanding communities.
“We believe that resident engagement is important, and it can be a little more difficult at a community that is in lease-up mode,” says Megan Mahoney, senior director of marketing for LMC. “Our on-site teams are very involved in the leasing process, including helping residents with the move-ins and taking care of their initial needs. But with that, there was a little disconnect in resident engagement, putting together resident events and working to bring them all together.”
LMC had been using Apartment Life at other communities in its portfolio and believed that it would be a great addition to the communities in Minneapolis. Apartment Life specializes in creating community connections through events and other on-site activities and had an immediate impact for LMC in Minneapolis.
“There’s definitely more of a connection among our residents,” Mahoney says. “It gives them a chance to get out and meet other residents at times they typically would not. With more people relocating, they move into our communities and do not know many people in the area. The events are important to them, because they can get out and meet other residents with a little help from their management team and Apartment Life.”
Mahoney says Apartment Life teams excel at assimilating people and make certain to reach out to those who may be a little shy. Another benefit is that residents sometimes feel more comfortable speaking to the resident event teams about any issues at the community, since they are something of neutral component. The middle-person support is oftentimes beneficial, she says.
She adds the company’s ability to manage LMC’s virtual events during the pandemic was also a tremendous boost, and the partnership has continued to provide value.
Package management, assistance animal verification, and resident events are merely a few examples of the value outsourcing efforts in the apartment world. Communities often outsource trash processes, data analysis, and other aspects of daily business, too. Operators now have more options than ever with the multitude of supplier partners in the industry, and they are utilizing them to improve their service levels and make life easier for their on-site teams.