September 14, 2020

Rae Schnabel: Learning and Leading in Multifamily

When your industry changes constantly, how do you change with it? Rae Schnabel, Director of Education and Sustainability at Maxus Properties, explains her path to embracing change in multifamily: from seeking feedback to prioritizing sustainability to rethinking education.

Subscribe On

The Short About Rae Schnabel
Rae currently leads the Maxus Education Development Team, a new department established to develop a complete education program for all property positions. Using surveys, focus groups, live in-house classes, the six-month-old department has focused on educating new hires. The next phase is creating the curriculum with current education and developing learning paths for advancement with defined accountability measurements.

Audio Transcript

Rae Schnabel 0:00
Most of them offer some kind of a rebate. And it's just going in again and researching and asking and finding the people within those utilities that know what it is. And we ended up with $4 million worth of projects that we did and we paid for about a quarter of that because there were so many free things available and rebates available.

Glennis Markison 0:26
Hi, I'm Glennis Markison from HappyCo. Welcome to Voices where we feature fresh perspectives in Multifamily. The industry is now facing a fundamental shift in workplace dynamics, resident experience and business operations. In Season Two of Voices will feature multifamily leaders who are actively embracing change. Our guest today is Rae Schnabel, Director of Education and sustainability at Maxus Properties, Inc, which oversees 13,000 units. Before serving as director of Maxus' new education development team, Rae helped the company and Implement over $4 million worth of utility cost and consumption savings initiatives at just 26% of the price due to incentive programmes. Now she's helping Maxus rethink education through focus groups, in-house classes and much more.

Today on Voices, Rae will discuss how she's embracing change for entire multifamily career, accepting feedback from mentors using technology to prioritise sustainability and creating education programmes f rom scratch. Thanks so much for joining us on voices Rae.

Rae Schnabel 1:32
And thank you, Glennis.

Glennis Markison 1:33
Yeah, I mean, if we could just kind of kick it off. Can you tell listeners about your career growth in multifamily, really the roles that led you to Maxus ultimately?

Rae Schnabel 1:42
I indeed can as many people who are in multifamily business we kind of just stumble into multifamily It seems I have a master's in education and taught for a couple of years I was in sales and with a several different companies. Not because I got fired but because I chose to change and And then I was a business owner for many years. And I was just tired of that and looking for a change and had a conversation with a gentleman who runs owns Max's properties or started it, and decided that I'd come down and kind of stumble through and see if I could find a place that that I fit. And we started in I was I was a novice in computer literacy. So I stumbled into there the first day and was working and was assigned to do some work on Li HTC, which I was did not have a clue what that meant. And through some guidance with my lady who was at the time, my boss and mentor, she guided me through and put up with me so that I could learn a variety of different things that I needed to know such as how to handle emails and Excel spreadsheets and what a Li hdc meant, and journeyed on down the road into doing some application. for low income housing tax credits in a couple of different states, and learn by trial, and I think that that's probably how most people learn, unfortunately, in the multifamily business, but that was kind of my start. Yeah, I mean, it takes a lot of courage to learn by trial. But I know that I've heard that you have mentors at Max's who really helped you find those strengths and find some weaknesses that could have used some additional training. So can you go into how that how that worked, how you accepted feedback, Who gave it to you kind of how that looked as you grow in your career at Max's I can almost everyone there gave me feedback on how did you do? Why did you do it this way? And how did you do that? But But there was one lady in particular, who as I said a minute ago was my boss and she was very aware that I was a novice in her arena, and was very patient with me most of the time, and letting me stumble through and figure out how to do something that needed to be done. And the fellow who initially hired me, was also a mentor in the fact that he gave me that opportunity and it was always in couraging to find where my happy place was within the company and just move through it. And that's what I did. But But everybody, I mean, from accounting side to the other people that were involved in with residents and properties, were all very accommodating and happy to help educate where I where I needed it, which was everywhere at the beginning.

Glennis Markison 4:19
And then also, I mean, on your end, how did you ask for help? I mean, I'm curious both sides of it. So I don't mind asking for help. Can you can you kind of explain why I mean, some people do. Some people started job and they're excited, but they're fearful. You know,

Rae Schnabel 4:32
I I just don't I don't know, that just isn't part of me. If I don't know something I'm going to ask and I, as I was working through some of these low income housing tax credit applications and talking to the people at the state level, and not even sure what I was supposed to be asking. I know a lot of them thought I was just the biggest idiot that there was, and I acknowledge that going in. But you know, that's how you learn is by asking and trying. I love trying new things. And you just have to kind of do them and not be afraid to ask questions, people, people like to help other people most of the time unless it becomes too much. But if you're grasping to grasp things, most people, most people love to help other people. And I don't mind asking for that help. Never have

Glennis Markison 5:16
no, it's wonderful. I mean, that's why you're here because you've been unafraid, you know, and I'm excited for other people to lead by your example. And I'm curious across your 10 years at Max's, I mean, how did you start to change your tune about technology and appreciate the possibilities of software?

Rae Schnabel 5:30
I think I started that at the very beginning because as I said, I knew nothing. So I started learning software programmes and what benefits they could they could provide. And I was also given an opportunity to reach out to my own go sub conferences, I got to go to the NA conference and real page conference at the NA conference I love because there's always new ideas and new products and new technology to look at and my goal is always to come back with something that we can can perhaps implement at at our corporate level? And sometimes I'm successful that and sometimes I not. But I think that's, that is, and there's so much technology, the evolution of that has just been remarkable. I think when you, you start out, I can remember having conversations with another fellow who in the company who's also very eager to learn new things and try new things. And we started going to these talking to technology people back in eight or nine years ago at these conferences, and that was all pretty foreign still in the multifamily business, or at least with our company at the time. And it was pretty innovative to to look at these different packages and bring them back and didn't get a lot of response. And of course, now, with all the smart technology, that's a huge piece of our business, but, you know, just evolves. It's just fascinating to me the products and thinking of how those can make our properties better properties for a residence, or operationally how it can save us money.

Glennis Markison 6:55
Yeah, I mean, what kinds of things did you need to know when you were at these conferences? I'm curious about the question. that you had in mind being late, slightly unfamiliar with technology but hopeful about it.

Rae Schnabel 7:03
I don't know. I just started going to the meetings and talking, you know, going up to a vendor that looked a product that looked interesting and asking him questions and how do you use that and where would that fit? I always had somebody with me that was more familiar with multifamily to see if it even made sense what I was looking at but they weren't in a so obviously, it did make sense. And again, I think it's just starting to ask questions. One of the first projects that I did was with tax and sales tax and utilities in most states are not taxable. And I had had familiarity with that particular piece when I was a business owner because the when we took the bought the business, somebody came to our door and said Hey, are you paying sales tax on your utilities and had no idea and looked into it? We ended up getting a pretty substantial rebate back on that so I I knew that and when I was at one of the conferences they were talking about sales tax so I thought wow, I wonder for paying and got back and talk to the to the owner today. I said, Are you paying sales tax and wasn't really sure. So I looked into it. And we ended up getting about back about $120,000 over several different properties. Because we were not we didn't need to be paying sales tax, the utilities typically are not going to tell you that you, most of them, and then you also you multiply that times every year, that sucks that savings, and that becomes pretty monumental. But that was the first place I started as far as a project went. And then really got into savings and interest in water and electric and savings and how those could happen as well.

Glennis Markison 8:34
Yeah, I mean, that's phenomenal. That just some the right questions at the right time found $120,000 extra I'm sure. I'm sure that was met. Well, well received.

Rae Schnabel 8:43
That was appreciated. Yes.

Glennis Markison 8:45
coming into speaking of electrical and utilities, I know that part of your passion and part of your role centres in sustainability. So I'm curious, can you talk about how technology plays into that workflow and really what you've learned about the possibility to kind of improve efficiency when you do work? With technology that way,

Rae Schnabel 9:01
It's very substantial what you what you can save the programmes that are available through and this really isn't the technology part of it. But just the the utilities themselves in major cities and where we are in in Missouri and Kansas City and Dallas and some other locations at St. Louis. Their electric utilities offered substantial rebates up to 50% on various projects several years ago. Now they've trimmed those down some but once you start looking into those and find out that they're available LED lights, which we all know now, we're just starting when to be introduced in the multifamily when we started the first project that we did, which was a lighting retrofit, with a 50% rebate from from our utility electric utility. And it was pretty scary because it didn't know the technology and didn't really know how it was really going to work. Although we read and studied it, and we're told by people selling it, what it would do, but it really worked out very well. And from that point on, just try going to every utility. And at all the properties and they all have most of we had 60 properties at the time. And we probably had 45 different just electric utilities. They're all different. And they, but they all most of them offer some kind of a rebate. And it's just going in again and researching and asking and finding the people within those utilities that know what it is. And we ended up with at $4 million worth of projects that we did at that time. And we paid for about a quarter of that because there were so many free things available and and rebates available in a range over a primary electric oriented but then we got into the water savings as well. And with the Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refires that were available the last several years. We got into it in a major way doing even more larger projects, savings of you know substantially more than But technology's become a huge piece of sustainability. Now before it was the reporting piece of it that was difficult to do on the usage and the cost because there were a lot of software packages did that well, and went out looked for I was at another conference. And there were some companies there that electronically would pull your data from the utilities instead of having someone manually get the bills and manually enter that. And I was very intrigued with that. And we started a couple different projects within that. And as this Fannie and Freddie started, one of the companies I was working with with some of them, some of my properties became a huge piece in that because they, the company's Fannie and Freddie their lenders knew of this company and they do a great job of reporting and helping us step through the process of the reef eyes. But the smart piece of smart technology piece of it, we're now implementing in a variety of different apartment complexes, and that's the smart thermostat, water sensors and early detectors and there's a variety of different programmes and different things you can do in the smart ring. And they're very popular and kind of on the cutting edge now, and heaven only knows where all that's going to go. But it's pretty exciting stuff.

Glennis Markison 12:10
Yeah, I know you're on the front lines of all of this. And then you're you're sure with inspections is does help you and kind of dashboards like the way that you actually know through metrics that this is working well, yes.

Rae Schnabel 12:20
And each property where they're smart technology, there's there are dashboards that come in, we've also got a property that using a company that puts a metre on the metre, the water metre, and it can detect leaks, I'm using that at a property who has substantial leaks has had in the past, and they will immediately alert you if you are above a certain threshold that you've implemented it. And at one time, that property had a $30,000 water leak, and had we had this this particular package at that time that would have saved us most of that money. So there, there are things to look and that's a dashboard programme. The programme I'm using for that reifies his his day Word related, and those are just, it's just an amazing thing to be able to have all that information at your fingertips. And and to understand and part of it is, is helping the properties understand how to use that because they're overwhelmed with the amount of software that there have to be knowledgeable about. And it soccer is only great if you can understand it and use it correctly. So that becomes a huge piece of it as well.

Glennis Markison 13:26
Yeah, I mean, speaking of knowledgeable, this is a great transition into your role kind of shifting a bit to have an education focus. So I'm wondering, I mean, why was Max's interested in starting a new education programme and what kind of goals were really guiding the idea from

Rae Schnabel 13:39
the beginning and we started talking about education programme, about a year maybe a little over a year ago, and we were really looked at it for a couple things. One is how to reduce turnover because that's it. That's a huge piece for all multifamily companies and it ranges across the board. As to what position is, is the turnovers and and so we started looking at how What's it costing us to do for the turnover every year? And what is it? What can we do to minimise that. And it seemed that one of the things that we were really not doing very well was education. And we really threw people in and said, here, you're now you're an assistant manager, figure it out, or here, you're a leasing agent figure it out, or depending on in most cases, the property manager and their time is pretty valuable. They're running a property, they're responsible for multimillion dollar property and to have them also responsible for the education of all the the employees at the property seemed that there may be was a better way to do that. So we were really searching and decided that turnover was our real goal was trying to reduce that. And in how did we do that and that kind of developed into our education programme and the focus on that,

Glennis Markison 14:57
and I understand I mean, speaking of focus, that focus groups were really key to this process. And that's such an interesting I mean, how did you set those up? Why did you feel like that was a real, real key element in the in the initiative.

Rae Schnabel 15:10
One of the other pieces in in reducing turnover we felt was engaging our employees, if people studies will show you people don't leave jobs just for money, certainly that can be a prime motivator. But if they feel engaged, if they feel a part of something, if they feel knowledgeable, if they feel that there is a learning path that they have to grow within that those are reasons for them to stay, but engagement was huge piece of it. And as we started this, we did a survey sent out an anonymous survey to all of our our employees and asked them a variety of questions. And as a follow up to that, then we were having a managers meeting and where we gathered all the managers in once every two years, we would bring them into Kansas City and do the same thing with the lead maintenance and they just happen to be the That particular time. So I thought what a great opportunity to do a focus group and find out and do more follow up on the questions that we had asked in the survey. And Gosh, they were just invaluable as a result of those we came up with action steps from each one of those that also have guided us in our education programme is, what is it they're asking for? What do they need, what do they want, and we're trying to work our education programme also around those so they were invaluable. As a matter of fact, we're getting ready to do another set of those. Oh, great. refining it even further. Yeah, we do those, what we're doing is doing a buy position so that all leasing agents are on the same or we'll break it up into a couple of groups, but they are all talking on the call. So it's not like there is a manager listening to them or that they're, they're talking to their peers. And that's another piece of this is the engagement is we want the peers to become to know each other because there's nothing. There's nothing. There's a great benefit in having someone on your own at your own. level of, of work to communicate with and to talk with and bounce things off of. And we want to encourage that. So that's why we're doing those by by position.

Glennis Markison 17:10
Yeah. And what did what did you find employees wanted most? I mean, was that consistent at all across departments?

Rae Schnabel 17:15
It was, it was pretty amazing. Actually, we didn't expect to find that. But they all wanted education. It didn't make any difference what their position was. They all wanted more training. Now we call it education. But they all wanted more of that. Some of them were wanted food. wanted. Free food is a food Yes, lunch, dinner, snacks or maintenance guys really liked those ideas. They all wanted some sort of recognition vehicle to be recognised, not just intercompany but they also wanted to be recognised on their own property when something was that they had done was was completed well or they had done a good job. They wanted the ability to share and a place to go to have fun Communication at the corporate level so that we were not expecting a manager to pass on all the information, which is we know, anybody that does is referred for that always leaves something out or doesn't do it exactly the same way as the message started. So those were probably our biggest. And as a result of the communication piece, we started maxsa Central, which is our corporate communication piece. And it launched in March or April, also. So right around the same time we, we launched the education department. But we were amazed because those were pretty common themes for every one of the positions, and makes it a little easier when it's that way. And we were kind of surprised that it was

Glennis Markison 18:38
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm curious to turn all this great question asking which it sounds like has really driven your whole career I mean, to find the right answers. Once you found the answers and you were thinking about creating these training courses, can you talk about how that played out and if COVID the circumstances around it if that made it difficult you notice to launch these courses, just kind of how you turn these action steps into courses. Would be great to hear the education part of it.

Rae Schnabel 19:01
What they all wanted was it was a great thing to find since we were really trying to push this education department. And those were done. those focus groups, actually before we formed the education, but it was a great impetus for us to go in again to push the development of an education depart because people wanted it. And so what we have we there's three of us now on this team, and I brought in because I don't have product knowledge, and I have not worked on a property. So I brought in two ladies that I know do both things, that one of them is a great communicator. They're both great communicators. What else focuses on this, Max's Central and is also doing education in actual training classes. And the other one has a great grasp of technology, which as you can tell from previous answers, I don't. And she's also worked on property at a variety of different levels. So she has the property knows the property. So it's a great group, and we all bring something a little different to the table, but we decided After many, many, many discussions of how we were going to do this, we wanted to start with product training and new hires. And we didn't realise at the time we started that, that would be what we were doing, because we had some grandiose goals. And we still do as far as how we want this training programme to really look or education programme. But we started having so many employees that we needed to train that that's what we ended up doing. The first three or four months of this department was doing product training, and we're doing all those live and COVID started, we started March 13. Our department officially and COVID hit us at the office on March 18. So prior to COVID, we had planned to bring as part of the onboarding process all new employees into a corporate office. And that obviously, with COVID did not and could not happen. So we said okay, we're all within we're gonna have to do all this virtually, which Scared me to death because I didn't know how to do that. And so we said okay, If we're gonna do that, then all of the properties have to have cameras, which they didn't have or access to a camera through their computer, which they didn't have. So we started doing that we got cameras for every one of the properties and you couldn't get them at the time because they were all sold out. So we waited for that. But we started developing live that Kristen and Jessica do all the training. That's not true. Alex does a lot of it, two or three of us three of them do that. And we just set our setting up times and tried to get as many new employees if they came on board, we did a welcome about Max's history and one of them to be again engaged that this is a company It's a family. We're all in this together. We have history, we didn't just want them walking in their property and going out starting to do their job. That's a huge piece for us as the beginning piece. So we just started doing it. And it's just grown. We're we've got properties have about 13 software programmes that they have to learn and not everyone on site is responsible for all But that's how many are on site that we really need to educate to. So we started doing it. And we would have as many as four or five live trainings a day for multiple people and new hires. And now we're doing refresher courses for people who have been in, like happycow would be a good example. We've all bought properties use happycow. And we now are doing happycow refreshers for people maintenance techs who have been on site, maybe just need a refresher on what they're doing because there's so many pieces to most of the software so that they're running them the most efficiently and that they're comfortable using them. And I think those are comfort with using them is key for them to become efficient and proficient with those products. So it's just growing and now we're working on a with a product that we're going to hopefully introduce after the first of the year that is going to record a place where we can do all of our live training from the can register in I will have transcript of what they're doing, because another piece of the education was to do accountability. And if if we're going to hold people accountable for jobs that they're doing, and we want them to become proficient at it, we have to we have to measure that some way and hold them accountable for those and they have to know those expectations and what those criteria are. So that then their managers are the people that they report to have some tools, better tools, maybe to evaluate performance or or better yet, is to recommend to them that they need some focus on something else and get a hold of the education department say hey, can you also do this. And we're going to be branching out once we get this whole put together into soft skills as well as product skills because products are hugely important to the property, they have to have those two functions and you have to know how to do them and efficiently do them. And that takes a lot of work to do that experience on their part. But there's so many soft skills emotional intelligence, communication, leadership, mentoring, We want to get into so that we develop learning pads. for themselves, a leasing agent wants to become assistant manager, they will have already find courses or steps that they need to take. Those could be live courses, or they could be webinars or whatever that they've got to take in order to tell their manager I'm ready or they're regional. I'm ready to be an assistant manager, because I've done all of these other steps. So I mean, we've got a long ways to go, which are only six months into it. And we have a long way to go. But I think we're headed in the right direction.

Glennis Markison 24:30
Definitely. And it sounds like that must be so refreshing for have someone to see the ladder of their own growth, you know, to have these concrete expectations and really feel at the agency. I'm sure to meet them.

Rae Schnabel 24:40
I think they will. It's been interesting so far. It's been a lot of fun.

Glennis Markison 24:44
Yeah. And just in the last couple minutes, I mean, can you tell me a little bit about the way you've already maybe started to see work culture improve at Max's and just maybe something that's been the most rewarding for you to see on that front, whether it's been with one of your collaborators and the team or on the participant level?

Rae Schnabel 25:00
And it's been in both. I love to watch people grow in an area that they're in. And that's, that's fun for me, and to watch some of the initial leasing agents that we've had. And they've taken the courses that that we product courses, and they've also taken a communication class or a closing class, and watch them perform afterwards and perform by getting leases has been really remarkable. And we're getting great feedback from everyone who's participated in them that I mean, if it's a refresher class, or it's a new one that they're learning, and we're and they know that they have a resource where they come back and ask questions. So we're developing that, that camaraderie, again, that's so important, I think for within a company. We had one manager that I followed up with and follow up as a key to education as well. After we had done the training is to making calls to those people were training to say what what is it that worked, what didn't work? What would you like to see and take manager said that education was just a blessing. I don't know how I would have done and know as much as I know, there is no way unless I had had that. So that feels great. But more importantly, it's gonna feel great a couple years when we have more and more people who are have grasped that and come in and they're comfortable in their roles in maybe six months went before maybe it would take two years for them really to be comfortable and efficient and want to be a part of what we're doing.

Glennis Markison 26:25
Yeah, that's wonderful. I mean, Doesn't it sound like your favourite thing, which is asking questions is really making all of this happen?

Rae Schnabel 26:31
Right. I mean, I guess I don't know that. I've looked at it that way. But it I do ask a lot of questions. It's just really been fun. It's fun group to work with. The three people that I work with directly, are great. They've got lots of great ideas. And I think the best is certainly yet to come. That's fantastic.

Glennis Markison 26:51
Thankyou so so much for being on Voices Rae and for sharing all of this with us. I really appreciate it.

Rae Schnabel 26:56
Well, thank you for the opportunity. Glennis you did a nice job.

Glennis Markison 27:04
If you'd like to hear from other Voices in multifamily or learn how to share your voice head to voices dot 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 resonant will be. It 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.

Transcribed by

Our Host

Glennis Markison

Glennis is a writer and 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 HappyCo's Senior Content Producer, she’s excited to highlight diverse voices and share stories from within the Multifamily industry.