Some say there’s a special magic behind one of the Phoenix metro area’s oldest multifamily management companies, P.B. Bell.

Many other multifamily owners and operators in the booming Valley of the Sun rental market would likely agree, given the diverse portfolio of A, B, and C class properties P.B. Bell manages for others, in addition to its own burgeoning portfolio, now with more than 2,400 owned units in active development.

What is the secret of the P.B. Bell way? How do you explain a company that maintained average portfolio occupancy at 95%, collected 97% of monthly rent, and added 44 new staffers through the worst of the pandemic? If that’s not magic, it’s close.

“I don’t think we do anything different than anybody else,” explains Debbie Willis, the company president, designated broker of property services, and 38-year company veteran. The company’s large award case crowded with “best places to work” plaques might challenge that assertion.


Maybe it’s because the P.B. Bell team focuses on what they do best: build and manage apartments. That single-minded focus can make things a bit tricky when it comes to keeping up with rapidly evolving multifamily technology. For that, Willis adheres to a few simple principles:

  • No One Has All the Technology. Product innovation such as smart doorbells, cameras, locks, and Wi-Fi tend to come from many different sources. No one player presents a total solution, a continuing source of frustration for Willis. “Small technology companies don’t know our business. They offer pieces of a solution, never a full package. We need a total system.”
  • Renters Must Have Options. It’s tempting to construct a technology strategy around the most demanding users, digital natives like Gen Z. “We have a lot of 50-, 60-, and 70-year-olds in our apartments. I can’t forget them. We always present our residents with options. We don’t want to alienate anyone,” Willis says.
  • Focus on What Matters. For Willis, that’s running a multifamily development and management business. She doesn’t want or need to be a tech guru. “I don’t want to manage technology. I want to manage apartments and customer service,” she says. “It’s really important we work with partners that help us deliver market-leading service and amenities.”
  • Leave Tech to the Experts. P.B. Bell is testing a comprehensive smart apartment concept in two communities. If all goes as expected, the pilot will represent the elusive total technology solution she has long imagined. For that, she singled out a company that shares her firm’s values, vision, and commitment: Cox Communications.

“Cox listens so carefully. They always present multiple options and ideas. With Cox, I know we won’t have to worry about the back end. That’s their business. We don’t need the liability,” says Willis.

According to Willis, P.B. Bell leadership understands the nuance and complexity of technology decisions. It makes sense to the team to constantly pilot and test with a “… company that knows how all this works and with the depth of resources to make it work.”

Learn how Cox Communications can help enable and support your properties’ digital transformation.