A business is forever changing, forever evolving and never has that evolution been so rapid as during the pandemic. In real estate, as in every other sector, we have had to adapt to changing realities – to things like remote work and social distancing.
The multifamily space proved to be resilient when the pandemic swept across the U.S. in 2020. After vaccines were introduced in 2021 the market soon became “extremely hot,” as Rob Warnock, senior researcher at Apartment List, told GlobeSt.com. There was 6.3 percent year-over-year rent growth as of June and vacancy rates remained low.
Internally, our firm held steady as well, as we adhered to principles that have long been part of our DNA – things like agility, flexibility, transparency and maintaining a vision. Those are things that have served as our bedrock over the 42 years I have been in the business, and the things that I’d like to believe will always keep us on solid footing.
It would, of course, be a mistake to overlook the positive impact technology has made on our business during the outbreak. Virtual tours, remote rent collection and online service requests, which were already in the pipeline, have become commonplace, and figure to remain so.
Value the human element in your company with appropriate compensation
But it is the human elements that sustain a business, that enable it to withstand ill-fortune. and that starts with recruiting the right people. They’re hard to find, and when you do find them, it is essential for a leader to do everything in his or her power to keep them happy. They add so much value to your operation that it is vital to compensate them not just adequately, but over market. Make them feel wanted. Make them feel secure. Make them understand how important they are.
While there are studies out there that show the value of various perks, money matters most of all. People want to be appreciated and that’s the best way to show it – and not just through salary. As we are a deal-focused shop, we make sure the people responsible for particular transactions are rewarded.
So that’s number one, as in the movie Jerry Maguire, show them the money. But establishing a healthy, resilient company – one that can withstand all manner of trouble – hardly ends there.
Understand how your company’s culture impacts its people
“Culture” is an overused corporate buzzword, but it matters. That means being communicative. It means being collaborative. It means that everyone understands the organization’s mission intuitively and is working toward the same goals and objectives. Without that vision, it is easy to get off track, easy to be drawn down rabbit holes that are not central to that mission.
We make our objectives clear, and, as a leader, I try to stay out of everyone’s way. No longer do I micromanage, as might have been the case when I first entered the profession in 1979. I trust those around me and try to encourage openness and the free exchange of ideas and opinions.
It’s a cliche to say that everybody’s office doors are open at all times, but that is the case. We want interaction among our 40 team members, eight of whom comprise the executive team. We welcome feedback. No one is criticized for doing something they think was right, in the best interests of the company. No one’s reprimanded if things don’t turn as expected. I think that makes a huge difference.
If everyone is on the same page, it goes without saying that it makes it that much easier to pivot, which is often a necessity in the real estate world. As an example, we moved from student housing to the multifamily sector a decade ago and within the last few years went from buying existing properties to building new ones. On each occasion our entire team was aligned, enabling us to move swiftly and decisively.
That cohesion has been an immeasurable help not only during the pandemic but when other challenges arose. We were able to pursue promising buying opportunities during the 2008-09 financial crisis, for instance, well aware that then, as now, the consumer rental market holds up well in recessionary times. Again, it’s a matter of each and every team member keeping the organizational North Star within sight, and constantly moving toward it.
Our agility and flexibility can be felt on a granular level, as well. When the head of our marketing team expressed a desire to move to Nashville for personal reasons – while still remaining part of our firm – we were able to give our assent. We were cognizant of the fact that she was a valuable part of our organization and well aware, once again, that technology would allow her to do her job from afar.
In sum, then, the idea for building a resilient team is to find (and pay) the right people, then foster an environment that enables them to thrive. Transparency and collaboration should be emphasized, as should agility. These are foundational things, the basis for growth and profitability.