Multifamily Industry Frontline – The “Abandoned Child” Syndrome.

Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 2/9/2012

Last August, I launched an on line training program called My Leasing Coach.  I am very proud of the quality of the content and the fact that I personally touch my students with phone and e-mail communications.  Recently, a new student posted a comment thanking me profusely for sending her e-mail.  I called her in response.  She said, “I feel as though I’m not very important to my company.  You made me feel like I mattered.”

Wow.  That’s sad!  She’s a site manager at a very good company.  It’s growing exponentially providing new jobs and developing beautiful affordable housing.  But their communities are geographically dispersed with supervisors whose plates are overflowing.  

The more time I spend with folks at the frontline of the multifamily industry the guiltier I feel, and I’ll tell you why.  We hire some of the loveliest, kindest, most enthusiastic people to stand at the front doors of our properties.  We give them initial training, hand them a procedures manual and orient them to our company culture.  Then we, their supervisors, scurry back to work putting out the fires that incessantly blaze around us.  We abandon the front line. 

What happens to them?  They work hard.  They deal with prospective customers, existing customers, vendors and the like.  They collect the money, market our product and problem-solve as best they can.  They work almost entirely on their own, but keep us apprised through regular reports, electronic data, phone calls and e-mails.   If occupancy lags or budgets bloat we suggest corrective action.  But, where are we when they need a pat on the back, a bit of mentoring or simply recognition for their daily contributions?  Too busy, I suspect.  Not surprisingly, their initial zeal wanes and we have high personnel turnover. 

Affordable housing communities may have the greatest need.  They often have older product, more problems and vacancy challenges that their staff is ill trained to handle.  Several of my colleagues have admitted that they only visit some properties twice a year.

I’m no exception.  I liken my own behavior to how I functioned as a mother.  My first child was heaven-sent.  He never fussed. I could take him anywhere without disruption.  My second child was plagued with nearly incurable ear infections.  Allergic or resistant to all but one antibiotic, he was in constant pain and could rarely be left unattended. He got everyone’s attention while his angelic brother managed to amuse himself with books and toys in his room.  They both became fine adults, but I could have done better.

Our managers, leasing agents and other frontline property staff could use a bit more attention.  They love training.  They want to better themselves and do the best job for you.  They want to be recognized when they do something right--not just when they fail in the performance of a task. 

I designed My Leasing Coach to fill the void that I perceived.  It wasn't intended to replace, but rather support, upper management.  In my role as owner or property manager, even when I visited properties, maintenance, inspections, HR and collection issues took up my time.  Rarely did I spend any substantive time coaching the most important job-- leasing and retaining customers.  I’ve walked in their shoes and I empathize.

I’ve finally found my niche in life as a frontline coach.  I don’t have to deal with the clogged toilets or the leaky ceiling or the party animals in apartment 5B.  Those things are critical and others are dealing with them.  I just teach the best leasing and retention techniques, share wisdom, motivate change, and recognize achievement.  I love my job!

Kathy Harmon, CPM, ARM, CSA, CRM
My Leasing Coach    View the Coach Video

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