Erin is responsible for leading, managing and integrating all major functions of property management operations. She oversees the Human Resources, Finance, Operations and Marketing departments. In addition, she manages asset and insurance needs throughout the portfolio. She has also held roles within the regional management and investor relations groups.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way your communities operate?
In order to keep our business running and keep our residents and team members safe, we had to be prepared to move and change quickly. We adjusted our mindset to focus not on what works best for us, but on what our residents or prospects need and how can we accommodate that. For potential renters, that meant finding a way for them to safely shop for a new home. With that in mind, we worked to offer as many options as we could. In some cases, that meant offering tours by appointment only so we could ensure social distancing was maintained and masks were worn. In other cases, we made the entire shopping process available online, from 360 virtual tours to filmed walkthroughs, to live video chats to give our prospects a tour of the exact apartment they’re considering renting.
For our residents, our focus remained on how to continue providing them an exceptional living experience without exposing them, or our teams, to any unnecessary risk. Luckily, the resident portal we had in place prior to the pandemic enabled us to move on that quickly. We had our residents shift to paying their rent and placing work orders entirely online via the community portal. When we were unable to have our maintenance teams entering homes except in the case of an emergency, our teams began to think outside the box, and launched a series of maintenance how-to videos that could be accessed via a YouTube library, or through a link in the resident portal.
How have you utilized data to make operational changes?
As our workflows shifted entirely online, we realized we had a wealth of data at our fingertips to help guide our decision-making. We started digging into how quickly we’re able to respond to prospect inquiries, the time of day in which our offices are contacted most frequently, and how people were getting in touch. We worked with our teams to optimize scheduling and processes so that we could provide exceptional customer service by responding quickly and being available when we were needed.
We also recognized that amid the pandemic, some of our residents were dealing with furloughs or layoffs, in addition to some understandable fear about potentially moving to a new apartment. We chose to keep our renewal rates flat, which has resulted in our residents choosing to renew their leases at increased levels, and decreased turnover for our teams. This provided stability and security for our residents, and minimized the time, expense and exposure turning units results in. We’re also closely monitoring how those changes have impacted our bottom line, so we can continue to adjust and optimize going forward.
How has your response to the pandemic varied from others in your industry?
It was our goal from the beginning to focus on two priorities: keeping our team members safe and employed and maintaining or increasing the level of customer service we were able to provide to our residents and prospects. With apartment communities across 15 states, there were a variety of rules to follow, and they changed frequently. It can be a challenge to keep up with, and we saw many competitors close their doors completely as a result. But it was our goal that we would never close. Instead, we adjusted. We found ways to have our teams work remotely or adjusted our offices to allow for socially distanced workplaces. We evaluated each community and each market and created a plan for what worked based on the challenges they were facing. We are lucky to have incredible on-site teams who were up for the challenge. They were on board with finding solutions and adjusting to a constantly changing environment. They were critical in determining the best course of action for their site.
Looking ahead, how will this pandemic change how Timberland Partners operates in the future?
The pandemic has really forced us to act quickly, and our teams have embraced that. We have learned to evaluate our current circumstances and adjust our workflows to suit the current needs. And we realized that regardless of circumstances, there are still ways to serve our customers, our team members and our investors effectively. It’s been a valuable learning experience, and while we’re not out of the storm yet, I have no doubt we will carry these lessons forward with us, well after we’re done talking about COVID-19.