Here at Fourandhalf, we love our sixth-floor office that looks out over Silicon Valley, and we find it helpful to have everyone in the same place.
But, we often wonder whether it would be possible to build a property management business that is completely virtual. The Property Management Show received an email from a listener named Nicholas who wanted to know if it would be possible to start and run a property management company without a physical office.
Can it be done virtually?
We reached out to a company that’s doing it, and our guests today are Noel Pulanco and Mike Sargent from HomeQwik. They also run yesVIRTUAL, a business providing highly trained virtual assistants to property management companies.
The Thought Process Behind Going Virtual
Leasing agents and property managers spend a lot of time in the field already. There are so many tasks that don’t even require a desk: following up on leads, taking marketing photos of properties, posting signs, leaving keys in lockboxes, and meeting with renters. All of these things happen outside of the office.
Inside the office is where most of the customer service happens. If you’re transitioning those customer service tasks to virtual assistants already, as HomeQwik had begun doing, there are very few reasons to keep a physical office. Renting office space costs a lot of money, so moving all of your current office-based staff can save money and provide flexibility to your employees.
As long as you have good software, good systems, and processes that work, you can keep your company virtual and mobile.
Pre-sale Considerations When Running a Virtual Property Management Business
Having a physical office does not provide any advantages when it comes to signing new owners.
There might be a tendency for people to hire you based on where your office is. You might attract owners who are within five miles of your office just because they know you are there. But, those are easy clients. And, it really doesn’t matter how close you are to the properties you manage when you’re not the one fixing the garbage disposal or locking the tenants out.
It’s probably rare that you meet with owners at your office. Most property owners want to meet at the property. You’ll want to see the home, walk through the property, and talk about the necessary repairs and the most advantageous marketing strategies. You don’t have to bring potential owners into an office in order to manage their homes. You can take them out for coffee or to lunch. Usually, you’re going to meet at their property.
However, your website will need a physical address. Without a physical tie-in, it’s hard to rank a website. So, you’ll want to use your home office. Tie yourself to a physical address so you don’t have problems ranking your website and getting leads and traction. Anchor your office somewhere, even if it’s not a physical office where your entire staff goes.
Post-sale Considerations When Running a Virtual Property Management Business
After you’ve landed new business, you can implement systems to manage properties and tenants.
There doesn’t need to be paperwork, for example. DocuSign allows you to get documents back and forth through email. That doesn’t require a physical office.
All of the tenant application and screening processes can also be done online. There’s no need for a tenant to walk into your office to talk about a property or an application. You can collect virtual copies of identification and have conversations over the phone. You don’t have to drive them around to see properties. If you’re not showing properties in-person already, there’s no need to feel like the process cannot happen without a physical office.
Instead of having tenants come into the office to review and sign the lease, HomeQwik will send them a video that talks about all the important points in the lease. The keys will be delivered to the lockbox, and even though they’ll talk to the tenants multiple times before they move in, the team at HomeQwik won’t have to see their tenants.
Showing a property can be done virtually with lockbox technology. This automates the process and keeps you from having to show every house. You can use virtual assistants to handle direct contact or to answer questions. You don’t need a licensed broker to answer questions about pets or move-in dates.
With the amount of help you’re getting from virtual assistants, you want to make sure they’re trained in certain processes. Work with VAs who understand the leasing process and how to submit an invoice and start a work order. A company like yesVIRTUAL trains them in these processes before sending them out to property management companies. These virtual assistants know how to enter leases and manage data. They understand the property management software and the processes involved in this work.
The technology stack that’s needed to virtually manage the move-in process is probably something similar to what most property managers have in place already:
- Have a solid and transparent website that communicates qualifications, pricing, and value propositions. It should educate potential tenants and owners.
- Adopt a showing technology like Rently, ShowMojo, or TenantTurner so you don’t need a leasing agent to show the home.
- Use tech-driven software like PropertyWare or Appfolio or Buildium that allows you to virtualize the application process for tenants so they can view the property and apply online.
- Qualify tenants using virtual assistants who can answer questions and follow processes.
Application to Lease Process: How to Do it Virtually
At HomeQwik, all of the application information is collected and uploaded into the software system. If the application is denied, an automated denial letter goes out. If you have a qualified tenant, the lease terms are discussed and the virtual assistant creates the lease and sets it up in DocuSign. After one or two conversations with the tenant, a signing date and move-in date are agreed upon. The lease goes out, the tenants pick up the keys, and then inspection tools are provided for the move-in inspection.
The team at HomeQwik moves in between 20 and 30 tenants every month, and they believe the virtual process is scalable. If they had the houses, they could do 100 or even 1,000.
Think about the virtual platforms that are already encroaching on the real estate and property management space, like Zillow. It’s important that you’re prepared and flexible if you want to compete.
Giving Up the Physical Office
Even if virtual offices work better, you’re still giving something up when you move the team out of a physical office.
You won’t be able to see and reach out and talk to your staff. You won’t have everyone in one hub. If you’ve got a big team, moving your staff to a system where you’re not around each other every day might be a challenge.
It’s also important that you’re confident in your staff. You have to know that they don’t need to be micromanaged, and that they will work and be productive.
You can use technology to hold meetings. With video, people can keep in touch with each other and see one another every week or two. You can get together for lunch or coffee. The personal touch is important, but no one will likely miss your office. There’s rarely going to be an emotional attachment to it.
And, you’ll be saving thousands of dollars a month.
Automattic is the company that made WordPress, which runs about 80 percent of the web technology people use every day. They recently said on a podcast that they’re fully virtual and they have 600 people. They have been able to maintain the culture, the heart, and the purpose of their organization even being completely virtual.
It’s important to keep your culture alive.
It’s hard to have it both ways. You might find that you either have to be 100 percent virtual or 100 percent office-based when you’re running an effective property management company. Otherwise, things can get confusing and processes could fall apart.
When you’re virtual, get together for holiday lunches. Have team-building events and stay connected.
If you’d like to hear more about what it’s like to run a completely virtual property management business, Noel and Mike would be happy to tell you more about it. Look for them at HomeQwik or yesvirtual.com.