May 14, 2020

Jaren Bradley: Multifamily Operations Meet Social Distancing

Leasing tours, due diligence, maintenance repairs — multifamily is changing in nearly every arena. How should day-to-day operations shift in a social distancing era? Jaren Bradley, AMC SVP of Operations, discusses.

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Audio Transcript

Glennis Markison
Hi, I'm Glennis Markison from HappyCo. Welcome to Voices, where we feature fresh perspectives in multifamily. Our guests share their voices on emerging trends, leadership strategies and much more. Today, our guest is Jaren Bradley, Senior Vice President of Operations at AMC (Apartment Management Consultants). All told, Jaren oversees about 45,000 units, 12 VP's and 43 regional managers across 17 states. He's heavily involved in training, product development and finding the best advancements to help the workflow at properties. Today on Voices, Jaren joins us to discuss the changing nature of day-to-day property operations and due diligence in this COVID-19 climate plus how to address the biggest concerns teams now face in these areas. Welcome to Voices, Jaren. Thanks so much for joining us.

Jaren Bradley
Hey, thank you for having me.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, well, I would really just kind of like to dive in here. I mean, in this COVID-19 climate, what are the biggest changes that you're seeing to day-to-day property operations?

Jaren Bradley
The list is probably too long for this podcast, but I think probably the biggest change is just not being able to kind of open our doors, have that handshake like we're used to and try to enter, really mingle with the people that come in and really show them a good experience. From having that go away to now, you know, changing to virtual tours, more people paying online, less people coming into the office, most of our properties, the amenities are closed, I would say. Actually, I said most, but all of our properties right now, the amenities are closed. I think that is a downfall for us because I believe that's why a lot of apartment renters go to apartments is, you know, the amenities, the pool, the fitness center and having that all available for them right there. So I think just all of those items and the combination of the unknown of who is going to be paying rent and working out deferment plans. So all those bases are changing around on the daily.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. I mean, I can imagine that asks a lot of you and your teams on a communication level, so just kind of going into this topic of communication. Are your teams largely working remotely? And if so, I mean, how would you say that's changed the way you need to be interacting with each other across all of these states and properties?

Jaren Bradley
Well, pretty much all of our properties are not working remotely. In most states, I think we don't have any right now that don't make property management in the Central Service. And so right now, all of our offices are open, but just closed to foot traffic, so that communication is bigger. Our corporate offices are closed just because we can work remotely, but we're still  doing emergency work orders, we're still there for residents to be able to contact us through email or phone. And this is the time where picking up that phone and really communicating with the residents has been a big plus. You know, we're even trained to, as far as communications going, we, just to do something new at a lot of properties, they're celebrating birthdays by having parades with our maintenance team in the golf carts and...

Glennis Markison
Oh, my gosh. Birthdays for staff or for residents?

Jaren Bradley
For residents. And we kind of picked the middle of the month and they go through and drive-through and, you know, just kind of celebrating things that, just show them that we're still there. Unfortunately, we can't open the door, but we want them to know that we're there and we're thinking about them.

Glennis Markison
Wow. Was that on Instagram? I hope.

Jaren Bradley
Yeah. Yes, it was.

Glennis Markison
Very nice. Yeah. I mean, I want to get into this kind of communication and marketing angle a bit throughout the interview, but kind of for now, I mean, communicating about the safety concerns to residents as you had to close these amenities. And as you've communicated around when they might be open and why there's this delay, can you kind of recommend some best practices as far as recommending the safety needs, but also just keeping tabs daily or weekly with everybody living at your properties?

Jaren Bradley
Yeah. So I think the best communication is just kind of reiterating the ban of being in public places. So I think that's how we're communicating to them. Why we're having to close it. We're trying to stick with the state laws, we're trying to stick with, you know, being in 20 what, 26 different states, every state and city and county all have their little own criteria, and so we're just trying to make sure that we're abiding by those rules. Most people have been very understandable about it. A lot of them stay at home, so they can't really go out. But we are getting into the season in a lot of places where pools are going to start opening and we're going to start attempting to open up fitness centers, and with the pool with, if it's a packed-full pool of furniture, maybe we're gonna take half of that furniture out and create the social distancing, create a maximum occupancy of people that can could be in there. So if it was, you know, 80 people in the pool, we're gonna move it down to 40 or 60, just depending on the pool size and where we can lay out the furniture. So we're having that. We also, with the gym, once those start opening, which should be in the next, I would say, 30 days at most of our properties, we're just gonna change up the signage. We're gonna send out letters before and make sure that the residents know that they need to bring in their own sanitized wipes and wipe down machines before, wipe down machines after. Again, putting that occupancy limit on each of the fitness centers and then our team as well, going in and wiping down all the machines on a regular basis and making sure that we're doing that party as well. So it's gonna be a full team effort, including from the residents, because we can't be there every minute when they're using them. But our goal is to put those things in place to make sure that we're wiping down and cleaning the amenities a lot more frequently.

Glennis Markison
Yea, and turning to team communication. How would you say having a corporate office go remote has changed just the way that you're leading and managing now, as far as I mean, best practices you have around, are there daily huddles you're doing? How have you been sharing information without a shared office?

Jaren Bradley
I think just through Zoom meetings we're being able to video chat, where a lot of my team already is working remotely. I oversee some of our outskirt properties and so we've already kind of hit that remote working situation. But like our corporate office in Salt Lake, Salt Lake doesn't have a full stay at home order, and so they're able to kind of work in there. But we have given the option. You know, some employees fill they've got to be home with their kids or they don't feel comfortable going into an office on a daily basis, so we've definitely really allowed them to be at home. But our communications there is just kind of how we've been doing it in the past, but changing it to some Zoom meetings and having that video conference calls and the daily huddles are still there and those types of things just, most of that stuff didn't change from before, but more in person with the Zoom calls.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and I'm wondering I mean, the sector I think of in multifamily that takes so much communication is due diligence. And so I'm curious, how is that changing in nature? I mean, are you seeing the numbers of DDs that you would be doing go down?I mean, how is that whole world kind of different now?

Jaren Bradley
It is a new world. We actually have, on those types of inspection, so DDs, or even at our properties where we would do normally like a semi-annual unit inspection of each unit, we've eliminated those so far. And right now just because the thought of going into one unit that may or may not have it, they may have it. And then, you know, that person goes and walks 40 other units, what are they bringing with them? So we have eliminated it, but it hasn't been, the request has really been there as well. So, like you said, it's kind of changed on that set. The owners are more understandable about just maybe doing the file audits and looking at the files, making sure that they're right up that site, and then not doing 100% unit walks. Maybe the vacant units or maybe a handful, one in each building or those types of things. But luckily, we haven't come across too many. A lot of our owners and a lot of lenders are kind of stopping the process right now. So we haven't had to say no too often.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. I mean, in terms of buyers changing their requirements during this chaotic time, can you elaborate just a bit more on that?

Jaren Bradley
Yes. So, some buyers are not allowing the unit walks. Sellers are not allowing the unit walks, so buyers are not able to do it. So, you know, we have a couple that are coming on here and same thing where we're only doing the file audits, we're not actually being able to do any unit walks, and that's for the the seller. So, you know, buyers are being understandable. They do need to get in a few units, but again, those are gonna be the vacant units, and that type of stuff.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. I mean, how do you see this changing? Because it sounds so much like it's sort of a band-aid limbo approach. But do you see DDs kind of changing in a fundamental way or going back to normal with this safety concern of one person and one unit means every unit could be exposed?

Jaren Bradley
Yeah. I do feel like moving forward, we're gonna have to start doing them again. The best practice is gonna be wearing masks, safety equipment. And maybe it's putting on booties on every different one. We haven't got there yet because we haven't gotten past the stay at home. But I do feel like they're gonna change. It's gonna be similar to what we've done in the past, but maybe just taking quite a few more precautions. Most of the time when we walk through, we are keeping our distance from residents anyways, and we're in and out pretty quickly, but you just don't know what the air is in an environment. And maybe the residents are "Well, we don't feel good", OK. That's not one we're entry. So, I think also moving forward, 100% unit walk is not gonna be something that we can do fully. I think it's gonna be a shorter version, a smaller pool residence that we're gonna be able to get into.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, but I mean, this all really kind of conjures up the notion of data right now. I mean, collecting it, sharing it, it sounds like such a different scene than you're used to. So whether it's Push Inspector or anything else, do you see that there's a way to still be getting real-time unit conditions and then somehow addressing, cause I'm curious how you're gonna address all these needs that aren't quite urgent, whether it's fire safety or quarterly walks? So what can you say right now? You were such a pro of workflow efficiency and so what are you feeling right now in your gut about the way that data is being collected and shared?

Jaren Bradley
Well, I think that it's definitely less data, which doesn't make it easier for buyers to want to move forward if they don't have the full data. But I do feel like getting into a certain number of units and getting into a good portion of them's gonna give you the picture. I mean, really, our goal is to kind of see what we're gonna have to pay for using moving forward. And so if it's carpets that we're gonna have to replace, then we go into 50% of the units, and 10% of those have carpet replacement that are needed. Then 100% would be 20% of the property. I think you kind of gotta look at it that way and just be more on the proactive side than the reactive side. So we would probably just kind of double those, depending on the amount of units that we get into. But it is gonna be harder, I think, for buyers to be able to want to move forward if we don't get that full data set like they're used to seeing.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and even your relationships with vendors. I mean, around turn. You might already have these pre-move out inspections or some way of really having a solid case for needing X amount of walls painted or carpets replaced. So how are you juggling just that relationship with vendors to be sure that you can forecast and maybe ask for more than you need or have less and hope that they have more? I'm so interested in how you're doing this dance with them now.

Jaren Bradley
Right? So we've created a premium about inspection for all of our residents, and we're doing the push inspection. So we're able to send the resident that pre-move out inspection, and so they're able to send us, we just asked them to take pictures of each of the rooms and just kind of that way we can get an idea of what we're gonna have to do. But, I think we're having to take a little bit longer time on turning the units. So our policy right there is that we don't enter into the unit for four days. If it's not rented, we're not going in for four days, kind of let everything air out and then we're getting in there and our vendors have been real good. Before everything really hit and just kind of when we started changing our policies, we got a letter out to all of our vendors, making sure that they understood our policy for them and then in return, we've asked them to send us their policy. And I think it's kind of helped them form what they want to do when they get into units and vice versa. So once we've kind of seen some of their policies, we've added to our best practices. And we've, I think, with everything with the vendors and all that has been working really well. The hardest part is if it's a need or not necessarily an essential or an emergency, we're having to put some of those things off that we would normally do for residents because our vendors aren't doing you know, carpet replacement, teams aren't doing occupied units right now. Carpet cleaning, same thing. They're not doing occupied units unless it's an emergency. So, you know, like a flood or those types of things, we're getting our vendors to come in and do those. But if it's non-emergency items, they're currently not doing those types of things.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and has there been visibility around just tracking all that? I mean, I can only imagine, like, you're dealing with this everyday flurry of curveballs, and then you're also trying to think about what you're collecting as a problem that you would address later. So how is the process been of organizing all those important needs but not urgent needs?

Jaren Bradley
Yeah, I think just really, we've got myself, my other senior VP Mike Stamper, and Brenda, and Dana who is our president and operations coordinator. So we have all gotten together, and we just continue to update those best practices. But we continue to go over like, what is those essential and emergency services? And then we get questions from our teams on a daily. So we're just reviewing each one individually. In case by case, if someone needs their door knob tightened on a door that's inside of their apartment, we're putting that in our system but we're holding off to do it. So that way, we know once things are kind of lifted and we can get back to those non-emergency work orders, then we're really moving forward with getting that done and getting those processed. But I think that part of it too is just communicating to the residents because a lot of the minor things, residents are being kind of, "Hey, this is how you could do it", like a garbage disposal. "Can you check the reset button?", "Oh, I didn't know there was a reset button", and then they're able to fix those types of things. 

Glennis Markison
That's great. Is that a tech calling them or how are you making that exchange happen?

Jaren Bradley
Yes. So a tech calling them, also someone going into a vacant unit and putting a little video together.

Glennis Markison
That's excellent. Yeah, tell me more about that. How is, however you decided to do that kind of really proactively.

Jaren Bradley
Yeah, we thought of that kind of towards the first of those little work orders that we get a lot, that might be just things that residents could do. Maybe it's even battery change for their smoke alarms or CO detectors. And so we would take in and drop off the batteries at their doorstep, and then we would send them a little video of how to change it. Just little things like that, each property kind of has their little things. So they're able to go in and kind of just show how they can do that themselves and you know, just a little quick video of whatever the issue might be.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, this is excellent. It's very digital age, 2020. I'm also curious, speaking of video, in the virtual, digital age we're in, can you tell me more about leasing? I mean, you're obviously doing so much with the marching band stuff on someone's birthday to make the best for your communities already living there, but how do you feel like leasing and marketing a unit is changing right now? What is your practice around engaging a prospect but, you know, obviously adhering all these safety concerns?

Jaren Bradley
Well depending on the state, most of its by appointment only, on tours. We have a lot of prospects that don't want to come to the property because they don't want to leave their homes, but they want to see the unit. And so Facetime, Facebook Messenger, virtual tours, you know, going in and videoing it and then sending it to them. Most of our properties have set up a YouTube account where they've gone in and set up those virtual tours. So it's just a combination of all those things. We're getting a lot of tours that we go in and really just show them via phone and where they want to look at the unit that they're going into. Summer just requesting a virtual tour, so we're sending them to our YouTube pages. We're also doing self-guided tours. So, you know, we can go in and unlock the unit for the prospect, and we would tell them where it's at, send them a map, kind of have the directions to where they need to go once they park. They go in, they've taken a look at the unit and then we go back and, you know, lock it up after that they leave. So we're just trying to get creative so they feel that comfort of, you know, looking at their home and purchasing them or leasing a new place.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. No, I think that's really exciting, that the nimbleness it's requiring of your staff and how everybody across all these different states is getting the memo. I am curious how you envision it changing going forward, lease-saying and marketing of units. I mean, how do you feel there's going to be a marrying of that kind of personal touch of a tour with the person and then technology just going forward in leasing?

Jaren Bradley
Well, I think now that we've added those virtual tours and you've added the idea that it can happen, some of the stuff we were already doing because we have those out of state residents that come into town. So they're renting something, sight unseen anyways, so we had some of those things in place, but I think moving forward, it is gonna be a lot different because we're gonna have that social distancing factor where we're gonna have to, you know, I don't know if you've been into a grocery store lately, but most of them have put the plexi glass in front of the registers and so, is that our new way of kind of keeping our employees safe and keeping the prospects safe? Where we're putting that plexi glass up, we're putting down the signs where people are six feet apart. The one I don't like the most is the no handshake policy, but that's just something we have to put in place. But I think just touring them like that and touring them into those different, I think we'll reopen here soon. Obviously, it's going to come, but I think putting those measures in place of having the signs and the floor signs and having the floor markers to show how far to stand back or, you know, maybe no chairs where you have someone come in and really sit down and take them to the whole thing, might be a standing tour. You know, we've already kind of talked about do we start changing office desks from sitting to standing? Or do we have, like, a little counter where people come up to, higher tabletop that someone would come up to versus going to a desk? So all those things are things we're starting to put in place as we're going to start opening up here in the next few weeks.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. I mean, it sounds like there's a lot of embracing of change right now, And if it's not embracing, it's accepting, right? So what can you tell me about, I mean, are you inspired to see an industry just doing it live, you know? I mean, what can you say about the capacity to embrace change that you're seeing? And what kind of changes do you think this industry will see going forward?

Jaren Bradley
Well, first of all, thankful to our teams because they've been wounds that have really embraced it, because we have changed. We've changed, you know, a good portion of our operations in the last 45 days. And so you know, they have embraced it. I think everybody is going to have to. It is a new day of technology and we're able to utilize that. I think that, you know, I still see questions on chat rooms and stuff that I'm on that are "Are you guys doing virtual tours?",  "Well yeah, we've been doing them for the last 45 days", you know? And so I think those  people need to really get in that spirit of that it is going to change and that you need to embrace it and figure out those ways to use the technology. And then I think, moving forward, the multifamily industry has always been that leader of changes in a lot of things anyways, so I think that's going to continue to be pushed. And, you know, a lot of our industry is gonna push those things to our owners and to our leaders and make sure that they get impacted or they get in place moving forward.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, that was really, I mean, that was excellent and kind of inspiring to see that it's really been your team just persevering through this, and I guess I wonder, what else just specifically has made you really hopeful or laugh or just kind of feel giddy and like light on these really dark occasions sometimes where you're not sure what's next for the business, or how rents are coming in or how you know you should be communicating a certain safety law that's changed. Just if you could weigh in on some of the, specifically, very hopeful moments you've had recently, I think that'd be nice for listeners to know that even the most chaotic days can be light-filled.

Jaren Bradley
Well, we have great teams at our properties. And so, you know, some of them were having fun with the virtual tours and creating, you know, like the Instagram with the Instagram posts. And I think just one comes to mind that I saw just yesterday. It was basically, like, come in for a tour, and they were grabbing a bottle of wine, and how does this quarantine have you shaken up and do you need a new place and you know, just things like that. So I think just having fun with that. Our teams have really had to change some of those things where they're putting on that show, where they're doing the parades, where they're trying to do things for their residents to show them that we're still here, that we care. We had a property in Nevada. They went and took over 100 pizzas to all the residents.

Glennis Markison
Wow. Different flavors?
Jaren Bradley
Yeah, it was Little Caesar's. But you know, doing those types of things, Hawaii has been one that's been hit hard to our owner out there. He's given gift cards to the residents for groceries. He's just, all kinds of things, and just the care that you kind of seen during this time has been awesome.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, well, thank you so much for sharing these insights with us, Jaren. I mean, I really think they're going to be of great benefit for anybody listening, and I appreciate your joining us on Voices today.  

Jaren Bradley
You're very welcome and thanks for having me.

Glennis Markison
If you'd like to hear from other voices in multifamily or learn how to share your voice, head to voices.happy.co. You can find Voices on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. Voices is produced by HappyCo. The leading real-time property operations platform for multifamily and student housing. We're on a mission to elevate property management to community management, prioritizing staff and resident well-being. That starts by listening to you, the voices of multifamily. I'm Glennis Markison, thanks for listening. Also, feel free to take a minute and rate or review this podcast. That will help us share the voices of multifamily.

As SVP of Operations at AMC, Jaren Bradley oversees just about 45,000 units which total 287 properties, overseeing 12 VPs and 43 RPMs in 17 states. With his team, Jaren watches over the day-to-day operations on each property, as well as being heavily involved in training, product development and finding the best advancements that will help the workflow at the properties.

Our Host

Glennis Markison

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. As a content producer at HappyCo, she’s excited to highlight diverse voices and share stories from within the Multifamily industry.

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