Many Single-Family rental (SFR) and Multifamily (MF) rental owners opt to outsource the operations of their properties to third-party property managers. Owners, whether institutional investment funds, investor groups, or individuals, typically want to focus their energies on analyzing and making investments to maximize return and do not have the time nor skills to manage daily property operations.
A number of third-party property managers operate at a significant scale. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), the top 10 third-party property managers in North America all have over 100,000 units under management with the largest, Greystar, boasting over 700,000 units. There are numerous operational activities managed by these third-party property managers that affect both the top and bottom lines. In this blog, we will cover a number of these activities in broad strokes but will drill down on one increasingly important process in particular – maintenance.
The Rise of the Property Management System (PMS)
The ongoing responsibilities to manage a property are significant and poor execution can dramatically affect the profitability of an investment. As the industry has grown over the last few decades, third-party property managers have put much of their focus on activities that affected the top line – pricing analysis, marketing, resident screening/acquisition, rent collection and renewals. Empty residences, under-market rents, or non-paying residents affect the top line. This is highly visible to management, investors and, in the case of public companies, Wall Street.
Many of these activities are repetitive and the rapid scaling of the number of residences under management by third-party property managers created the need for and drove the growth of Property Management Systems (PMS) software solutions to help automate and scale these tasks. Major players offering PMS solutions include Yardi, Real Page, Entrata, and a others.
As It Turns Out, Maintenance Is Really Important Too
In addition to these top line activities, one property management category that has been getting more and more attention over the last few years is maintenance. While there can be quite a bit of interaction with a resident during the leasing and renewals process, once the lease is signed and the resident moves into the unit, maintenance becomes the primary touchpoint between the property manager and the resident.
Maintenance can affect both the top and bottom line. For example, a resident’s maintenance experience can be positive or negative and has a direct impact on renewals. The experience also affects resident satisfaction ratings, which in turn impacts new resident acquisition. In addition, a poorly executed and inconsistent maintenance process can result in unnecessarily high expenses due to staff inefficiencies, overcharging by vendors, and even fraud. This can have a negative impact on the bottom line. Whether it is preventive maintenance or emergency repairs, quality maintenance ensures that rental properties remain attractive to residents and retain their value over time while keeping costs under control.
Maintenance in a Multi-PMS Environment Can Be Complicated
As the importance of maintenance has grown, PMS providers have expanded their offerings with maintenance modules. However, because the PMS’ feature sets are very broad, these maintenance modules do not typically have the same level of depth and feature richness as a dedicated maintenance solution. In some cases, PMS-based maintenance modules operate more like excel worksheets requiring manual entries. Manual processes often lead to human error, lost or missed communications, and, ultimately, slow responses to maintenance issues, staff inefficiencies, and resident dissatisfaction. This is in contrast to dedicated maintenance solutions which are typically more fully featured, workflow-based, automatically guide staff with next steps and track every transaction in the maintenance process until the maintenance issue is resolved.
Another challenge for larger third party operators is that of operating multiple PMSs. Large third-party property managers continue to grow by taking over operations from owners who no longer want to manage their properties. Many owners have already deployed a PMS and integrated it with their accounting systems and financial reporting processes and insist that the PMS not be changed when operations are transitioned to the third party manager. This has resulted in third-party property management companies operating multiple PMSs.
This poses a challenge to maintenance leadership at the third party manager – different maintenance processes unique to each deployment of a PMS solution. For example, two different properties might deploy a PMS from the same vendor but have different implementations, configurations and thus different maintenance processes as a result. Managing multiple maintenance processes makes it difficult to standardize and train on one set of procedures and to gather normalized data to compare maintenance team performance across the portfolio. It also makes it difficult to track the performance of vendors and to perform bid management in a consistent way to ensure fair prices from service providers and suppliers.
Even with single sign on (SSO), multiple PMSs require that operations leadership work inside different systems. These silos can make it difficult to tie together a service or product order with a particular unit and invoice. As a result manual work is required to figure out what line items are tied to a particular unit and which line items should be charged back to the resident, the owner or filed for an insurance or warranty claim. Maintenance leadership must work inside each of these systems to manually export and normalize the data in order to create corporate-wide maintenance reports that show apples-to-apples performance across the portfolio. All of this manual work to untangle and calculate maintenance chargebacks and create corporate reports takes significant time and energy.
Dedicated Centralized Maintenance Software as a Solution
Over the last few years, centralized maintenance solutions have been developed to enable third party managers to deliver consistent and measurable maintenance processes portfolio-wide. These solutions often feature workflow automation, tracking of every transaction in the maintenance process and using AI analysis of the data from the previous transaction to inform and recommend the next step in the process. A set of standard maintenance processes across the entire portfolio makes it much easier to train staff, gain efficiencies and measure performance.
Even more apropos to the challenge of PMS heterogeneity, a number of maintenance software solutions integrate with multiple PMSs. Some even offer their own enterprise data warehouse (EDW) that can span the multiple PMSs to automatically tie together any services rendered or products purchased at the line item level to the unit and make it easy to create resident and owner chargebacks or file insurance or warranty claims. These systems also can normalize maintenance data to enable consistent tracking of work order progress and provide homogenous reporting of maintenance performance across the portfolio.
FacilGo Enterprise Software Platform (ESP) operating across multiple PMSs and accounting instances
featuring a dedicated Enterprise Data Warehouse
The maintenance solution also ideally logs all communications between residents, staff, and vendors and ties those communications to the work order. This provides a clear history of each maintenance issue, independent of the PMS, to help resolve any disputes while also providing the necessary documentation in the case where an insurance or warranty claim is required. The better solutions also offer both web and mobile user interfaces so field staff and vendors can progress work orders in the field (even with poor or no connectivity) while headquarters staff stays apprised of progress.
With a software solution focused exclusively on centralized maintenance, maintenance leadership of third-party property managers can implement standardized processes and measure staff and vendor performance consistently portfolio-wide. Teams that are performing well can gain more autonomy and those that need improvement can receive more time and training from maintenance leadership. Services rendered and products purchased can be automatically tied to the unit and invoice to radically simplify resident and owner chargebacks as well as insurance and warranty claims. This is all done automatically across multiple PMS and accounting systems, saving tremendous amounts of time and providing the confidence that they are measuring the performance of their teams and vendors with apples-to-apples consistency. Ultimately, with third-party managers handling tens or hundreds of thousands of maintenance requests per year, a portfolio-wide, centralized maintenance solution can provide significant gains in resident satisfaction, improvements in staff efficiency and more control over vendor costs.
FacilGo Maintenance and Maintenance Plus
FacilGo statistics pulled from anonymized customer data shows up to a 35% savings with our Maintenance and Maintenance Plus solutions. Even in the first year of deployment, savings can be significant, driving a quick payback on a maintenance software investment. For example, this case study documents how owner/operator FirstKey Homes realized a solid increase in resident satisfaction and a 17% reduction in maintenance costs in their first year of deploying the FacilGo Maintenance Plus solution.
For more information on FacilGo’s Maintenance and Maintenance Plus solutions, contact us for a personalized demo.