Managing Properties in One of the Country’s Toughest Places

What does it take to get an amazing reputation, not just on Google, but also on Yelp? Our guests on the podcast today are from R.E.M. Residential. It’s one of the highest-rated residential property management companies in all of New York. They have not had a negative review, not even on Yelp, since 2017.

How can they manage in one of the toughest markets in the world while keeping people happy without people-pleasing?

We’re about to find out.

Introducing R.E.M. Residential

R.E.M. was started in 2000 by Rick Elezi. Rick came from an extensive real estate background. He started out as a porter, and he also worked as a doorman and handyman. Shpresa Elezi met him because her dad was a resident manager next door to the buildings where Rick met. They began doing property management in 1995, and five years later, R.E.M. was born.

Rashaad Middleton is the company’s director of management. He started with R.E.M. about 14 years ago as a broker. Ten years ago, he became the director of management. He’s been a landlord for two years, so he understands both sides of the rental relationship. He’s proud of the retention rate of the company, both with clients and employees. Fourteen years in, he’s happy.

Lara Lapysh has been with R.E.M. for seven years. She started as a broker and has been growing the condo department. She specializes in condos and co-ops. R.E.M., she says, is a family. The industry has a large turnover rate, and she enjoys being an old-timer in the company she’s committed to.

How To Maintain Zero Negative Reviews in a Thankless Industry

We know the property management industry can be thankless.

The concept of property management is simple but keeping up with the concept is hard. It’s really just about meeting needs and exceeding expectations.

We all have basic needs wherever we happen to live. We want to know that things will work. Doorknobs turn and there aren’t any leaks. When you go to the bathroom, you want to know that the bathroom is going to work the way a bathroom should work.

Two professionals high five, having solved a client's problem.When clients or tenants approach the team at R.E.M. Residential, the goal is to give them what they want. It’s not just fixing what needs to be fixed. The team helps them solve problems. They’re bringing a better experience to the people they work with.

Property managers cannot control everything. Some situations have no resolution and no one is perfect. But, when the focus is on relationships and innovation, exceptional customer service can be achieved.

One of the main complaints people have is that they cannot get to a live person when they’re making a phone call. When property managers and their teams are willing to talk to people, those clients and tenants will feel updated. They’ll feel taken care of. Sometimes, that’s more important than an instant resolution to a problem. People appreciate a personal touch.

Spresha says she has had disagreements with people, and those people recommended the company to other people anyway. The disagreement is not the problem. As long as you’re communicating and sharing your expertise, even your adversaries will relate to you.

Layers of answering machines and automation do not resolve anything.

There’s a lot of disagreement in property management. It’s part of the job. The team at R.E.M. Residential is dealing with sophisticated, educated, and successful people. They might tell their property managers what they want, and those property managers will respectfully disagree. This is the job.

What makes the relationship work anyway? Communication. Common ground can be found. A perfect record of reviews is more about relationships than resolving management issues.

Keeping Relationships Happy When People Are Not Happy

You cannot make everyone happy all the time.

The key to keeping the relationship happy is getting back to people. Right away. Don’t promise you’ll call back in an hour and then wait two days to call. Even if it’s bad news, communicate immediately. Be respectful. Use soft words. Treat tenants and owners and building board members like humans. Guide people in another direction if they can’t get what they want.

Couple cheering with joy after having their needs met by their property manager.Property managers can establish better relationships with tenants by explaining that they need to implement what their owners require. You’re the liaison between landlords and renters. You have to get to know the people you work with and show them that you’re sticking around when it comes to service. For example, Rashaad has rented apartments in many of the buildings managed by R.E.M. People know him. He showed a lot of his fellow tenants an apartment. They remember he was easy to work with, and they remember when he got them a deal. When those tenants find out he’s also working with the management company, they know that he understands their needs.

Your contract with your tenant does not end when the lease is signed.

The job of a property manager is to advocate for everyone; owners and tenants. A little bit of effort makes a big difference to your tenants. A human element is necessary, even when important things are automated for efficiency and accuracy.

When you work towards tenant retention, remember that you have tenants who love to communicate online and via text but you also have more traditional tenants who want to pick up the phone and have a personal conversation. Be prepared to use the apps but also have the conversations.

Reach everyone.

Automation and Personal Relationships: A Both/And Situation

There’s a place for automation. A need for it.

Specific things can be automated when the human element is not taken away. Tenants can pay rent online and schedule maintenance through an online app, or they can call their property manager and talk about a problem that’s happening in their apartment.

Be flexible. Make sure both options are there and make sure your tenants know that both options are there.

The team at R.E.M. Residential provides their personal phone numbers to owners and tenants. No one has abused that privilege yet.

There’s absolutely a need to automate. You cannot manage properties in 2022 and 2023 without automating. Stay ahead of the tech curve and invest in what you need to run your business better.

Ultimately, however, you have to remember that a property manager’s job is to be a human and to talk to humans. No app will resolve a conflict between seven people in a room.

Balancing the workload at R.E.M. is largely about instinct and knowing how each team member works best. Brittany calls it “a vibe.” No one is overloaded. Personalities are matched to properties and clients. Property managers are asked if they have time to take on another building or another client. They’re not assigned new work without consent.

No one needs to have their time wasted or compromised.

It’s easy not to respond to people who are calling for help or to complain. Most of your clients understand that a large part of your day is putting out fires. You’re a property manager. If you tell them that you’re prioritizing what you need to do, and you’ll get back to them about their situation as soon as possible, they’ll be okay with it. They’ll know they’re going to get what they need.

People want to be heard. They don’t want to feel like they’re sending something into the black hole and they don’t want to give up on ever hearing back from their property manager.

A cheerful response is essential, too. Spresha says she hires receptionists based on how they sound when they answer the phone. Communication goes a very different way if there’s a bad attitude or a voice that sounds rushed and disinterested answering the phone.

Retaining Property Management Clients with Service

R.E.M. has never lost a client, except for a couple during COVID who could not travel the way they intended and thus decided they did not need a property manager.

Their retention rate when the building isn’t sold is near perfect. A customer may sell the building and that typically means they’ll lose the client, but when a building is in the position it needs to be in that it can be sold, they know they’ve done something good while managing it.

R.E.M. Residential does not want to be the biggest property management company in New York. They want to be the best.

Retention at the employee level is also near-perfect. It’s a family. They’ve been a family for a long time, and sometimes they argue and sometimes they come together. The team socializes outside of work. They have wonderful personal and professional relationships.

Without trying to team-build, they manage to do a lot of team-building.

Rick makes most of the decisions, but when suggestions come up, they’re heard. Sometimes, he has to be worked on and sometimes he listens to their opinions right away.

If someone makes a mistake, there’s an immediate meeting. The management team at R.E.M. Residential knows that everyone they’ve hired is good at what they do. But, mistakes get made. The purpose of talking about the mistake is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Mistakes are not a problem, but repetitive mistakes are a failure.

There’s also a collaborative vibe to the team. They cover for each other and they contribute to problem-solving and workload issues. This isn’t just to help their co-workers. It’s also to protect their brand. If one person drops a ball, the entire brand suffers. This understanding brings the team together.

Be Obsessed with Reviews

Rick admits to being obsessed with reviews. That shift has made the whole team pay more attention. Everyone is checking in on their reputation online.

A group of coworkers smile as they check their reviews online.Everyone monitors reviews at R.E.M. Residential. They also ask for those reviews naturally. And, they suggest that the positive review is not for the company, but the specific person who helped them. Usually, it’s the building super.

If a tenant calls in and says they are moving out after five years, they’ll be asked if they were unhappy. Usually, the answer is no. They simply need a bigger space or a smaller space or they’re interested in living in a new neighborhood. So, the team asks that tenant to go online and leave a five-star review for the building super.

Anyone who calls is asked to provide a five-star review for their super or any team member that contributed to a good experience. This request is always made verbally, on the phone. If one of the property managers sees someone in person, they’ll also ask for a five-star review that way.

Seize the opportunity. Have a conversation about the experience, and then ask for the review. This establishes a commitment.

Secrets to Success: A Review

No negative Yelp reviews. Now you see how it’s possible.

The secret to the success R.E.M. Residential has achieved is:

  • Having actual people pick up the phone.
  • Encouraging property managers to do what they’re supposed to do with support.
  • Communicating even if there are disagreements.
  • Asking for five-star reviews for specific people, like a building super.
  • Hiring people who fit your team immediately.

There’s no formula. Everyone on the podcast admits that. The business works because the people in the business hold the same values and they work well together. Their strategy is to treat people well and go off all the best gut instincts.

Creating a culture of accountability and collaboration translates to better client experience, which contributes to client and employee retention. If you’d like to talk more about this podcast, please contact us at Fourandhalf.

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