While it seems that the world has come to a standstill on the back of the Coronavirus outbreak, the truth is that some things just don’t stop. This is true for the management of rental properties.
So, how do landlords and property managers navigate this trying time? We chatted to Anne Crarey – Little Real Estate’s National Manager of Property Services – to find out how landlords can adapt to and survive this global pandemic.
What do you see as being the biggest challenges facing landlords during (and on the back of) the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has created various difficulties for landlords – and everybody really. Physical distancing rules definitely changed the leasing process so we’ve been conducting many more private inspections instead of open homes – which can be less efficient and more time consuming for leasing teams. We definitely understood the requirement to adapt to the changing climate to minimise the impact to our clients so we introduced virtual inspections and saw some great results from that. The other key area where many landlords have been impacted is due to the economic impact of COVID-19. We saw whole industries shut down and an increase in unemployment so we had some tenants requesting some leniency when it came to their rent responsibilities. On the whole, a relatively small portion of our portfolio requested this support but we were amazed to see how landlords responded with compassion and self-lessness in many instances. It was really heart-warming.
And, what guidance do you have for landlords to tackle these challenges?
It obviously helps to have the support of professionals. Property Managers facilitating negotiations between landlords and tenants has been very helpful in reaching an agreement that’s fair to all parties. It’s also been wonderful to see how introducing new technologies like virtual inspections has helped manage the challenge so it’s important not to underestimate the importance of technology too.
It appears we are living through a time where everyone has to embrace a ‘new normal’ – how is Little Real Estate adapting to a new way of property management to support its clients?
We were actually very well positioned to take on this challenge because of our flexible working policies. Our teams have had the option to work from home for some time now and many of them were already doing so for a portion of their regular week anyway, so we’ve encouraged that. However, our offices remain open with physical distancing measures firmly in place. I think it comes down to having the infrastructure to support effective service delivery from anywhere and we definitely have the technology and policies in place to do that. I also think it’s crucial to maintain a focus on health and wellbeing for your people during times of change, so we’ve introduced things like virtual mindfulness sessions and we have an employee assistance program so that we know our people are cared for and when that’s the case we know they’re able to deliver exceptional property management services for our clients.
What guidance would you give to landlords who have tenants that are doing it tough during this time (e.g. facing a job loss)? How do they communicate with their tenants and what are your thoughts on rent deferment vs reduction?
It’s a really difficult situation because there’s economic uncertainty everywhere and many landlords are also doing it tough right now and it’s important to remember that. There are also government support packages available to help but we have implemented a tool for tenants to submit a request for rental relief through to us for us to negotiate a solution with the landlord. I think the most important thing is that everyone behaves with compassion and understanding during a difficult time and to be honest that’s what we’ve seen – it’s been remarkable.
There is so much misinformation out there about how landlords should respond during this time. Do you have any go-to resources to help landlords source reliable information on the evolving situation?
There’s definitely a lot of noise right now – an abundance of information being published and shared and it really can be overwhelming. We’ve been closely monitoring government announcements and relying heavily on those official updates from state and national leaders and we’d recommend that our landlords do the same or talk to their property manager about any impact to their property or portfolio.
Are there any silver linings you can see that will stem from this issue and impact the real estate industry?
Absolutely. I’d say we’ll see many positive changes in various industries. In real estate, I think we’ll see more businesses embracing flexible working practices and introducing new technologies to deliver better service to their clients. We’re proud to have been ahead of the game in relation to that. As we’re adapting, there are definitely some useful learnings that will come out of this challenge.
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