Like many industries affected by COVID-19, real-estate is no different. Among this affected ecosystem is everyone from the residents and property owners to the building and maintenance staff. Property-management companies like TCS Management are navigating this ship from the epicenter of all these groups. We are doing our best in these unprecedented times to oversee apartment communities, protect residents and ease owners’ fears, all while juggling evolving government guidelines, health and safety regulations.
While this is unchartered waters for everyone, there are certain steps we as a company are taking to help mitigate risk and lessen the disruption as much as possible. The current pandemic is affecting both sides of our equation with property owners and residents. Job loss, furloughs and potential for missed rent checks then affects the property owner who uses that rent to pay taxes, mortgage, bills, etc. It’s a domino effect and here are some of the steps everyone here at TCS Management, from our operations to our maintenance staff, is taking to help catch those dominos before they fall.
Monkey in the middle:
At companies like TCS Management we serve as the middleman (or woman) between the property owners and residents. “During a time like this, property owners have a slew of things to worry about and don’t necessarily want to be bogged down with collecting their own rent, evolving health and safety concerns, government regulations and all the unknowns. They want to have a professional step in and be the leader,” said our Sales Director, Joseph Puggi. While it may seem like a time to cut back and spend less money, we see it as a beneficial time for property owners to hire a professional like TCS Management to step in and be the leader during these unprecedented times. That way when the market bounces back, which it will, there is less of a continuing ripple effect and business can resume as usual.
Different states. Different regulations:
For businesses that operate in more than one state, there are evolving government guidelines and regulations for each of those states. While the property management side of our business was deemed essential, the leasing side had to abide by state shutdowns. At first, we did not know how to lease properties in states like Pennsylvania where this was deemed non-essential. In early March, we first closed the TCS office for visitors and only essential staff were allowed into the buildings. We have since shifted to an entirely remote workforce with twice daily virtual meetings to keep everyone abreast of the changing environment. Currently, we are still not allowed to show vacant properties in the market so we’ve shifted gears to get less physical and more virtual.
Removing physical barriers:
With a highly contagious disease such as COVID-19, society has been forced to shelter-in-place, implement six-feet of social distancing and eliminate public gatherings as a whole. On the other hand, this hasn’t eliminated individual needs to move or rent properties. We here at TCS Management have had to knock down the walls (not literally, of course) of these physical barriers with health and safety remaining our top priority. “We are now offering virtual showings and have seen success in still renting properties through this virtual medium,” said Angela Calvanese, our Director of Residential Sales & Leasing. Our team is taking a video of the property and then we’re supplying that video to the applicant and potential resident inquiries. We are also working closely with a technology vendor called Matterport, which offers a 3D camera and virtual tour technology for potential residents to see (as closely as they can) their new home. While we were already working with companies like Matterport, it has since become a more regular feature for our properties to still move the rental process along in the only way that we currently can, virtually. We are also offering this service, free of charge, to all of our property owners to help with sales during this unprecedented time.
Talk to your clients. Talk often:
With emerging news stories, frightening medical statistics and soaring unemployment rates bombarding the general public at every turn, it’s important that you communicate what you can and when you can with your clients. Sure, we all want someone to tell us when this is going to end and that everything is going to be okay. We’re unfortunately still waiting for that Magic 8-Ball to be developed, but there are communication strategies to employ today and keep implemented even long after this pandemic settles.
We here at TCS Management have been communicating with both our property owners and residents via a weekly letter. We are responsive to both the owner’s needs as well as our residents. We’re taking a less is not best approach to the way we handle communications during this crisis. We’re confident that we won’t look back on this pandemic and say, “I shouldn’t have reached out to my clients so much.” Our Owner Liaison, Meg McDonnell, is also sending personal outreach to all of our owners and answering inquiries as their central point-of-contact.
“While corporate communications are needed during this time, personal outreach also goes a long way,” said McDonnell. Here is a sample timeline of events that McDonnell has personally communicated to our owners during this time.
- March 13: TCS office closed to visitors, essential staff only. Informed tenants of other ways to pay rent and how to communicate with TCS during this time. We also notified owners of possible disruptions during this time, such as delays in rent and utility payments, delays in the eviction process and vacancy time frame.
- March 20: Property management is considered an essential business. We are thus moving forward with new safety precautions but conducting necessary business as usual and possible. Currently not allowed to show properties, offering virtual tours for vacant properties.
March 24: Courts are closed until at least April 6 and any evictions or fair housing cases scheduled during this time are currently on hold and will be rescheduled. TCS is doing its best to supplement the media overflow during this time, and is providing residents with the tools to be able to handle their personal situation.
March 26: Notified any property with a PHA/section 8 tenant in residence that rents will be delayed in April and owners should expect rents to be dispersed later in the month. Offering vacant property protection to avoid any break-ins or squatter situations during this time.
March 31: Philadelphia extended its ‘Stay at home’ policy until April 30.
April 1: If a tenant contacts us to let us know they are not working, we are tracking that information in the property file, working out payment plans and relaying this information to the property owners. Tenants are required to submit a letter stating that they are not working or have lost hours due to COVID-19. The letter serves as sufficient evidence for property owners should they attempt to apply for forbearance with their mortgage company.
Rent maintains. Incomes decline:
We have developed and launched dedicated COVID-19 communications for our residents. If there is a situation where a tenant has been furloughed or laid off and can’t pay their rent, there is a special, streamlined process we take them through. We are diligently working with our residents to resolve any COVID-19 payment related issues, as we also over communicate with our property owners to satisfy their needs as well. For the month of April, we waived all late fees to ease some of the financial burden that we can control. We will reassess this on a monthly basis and continue to implement financial measures that we can control. We are also working with our residents to ensure that they have the most up-to-date information on layoffs or furloughs due to the pandemic and are providing assistance to file for unemployment.
Our owners are nervous. Our residents are nervous. Owners have turned to us for everything from essential updates on eviction laws to questions like, “When is this going to end?” While we don’t have the exact answer, we’re working on the solutions. We have seen a spike in questions, calls and emails and we’re advising and working with each owner on a case-by-case basis. Some owners are opting to waive a full month’s worth of rent (due at a later time), or offering a percentage off of the coming months. If a tenant can pay half of their rent, we are advising our owners to accept half and we will work on collecting the rest when the country is back to normal. This is handled on a resident-by-resident and owner-by-owner basis.
Essential steps for non-essential businesses:
Companies like TCS Management have many facets to our business, some deemed essential during the crisis and others are not. The property management side of our business, facilities, upkeep and maintenance, have been deemed essential. Due to city and state restrictions in certain areas, our Maintenance Department is reviewing the work orders on an individual basis and only fulfilling maintenance tasks deemed an emergency. We are also closely monitoring how our residents feel about a certain situation, communicating the safety and concerns with both our staff and residents. We areairing on the side of caution and if any party does not feel comfortable, they have the authority to not allow something to be done. For our actual offices and leasing side of the business, different steps were taken.
From crisis comes opportunity:
Back in 1959, then-president John F. Kennedy was quoted saying “In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” As many industries have slowed down or been forced to a screeching halt, we have been granted the (perhaps unwanted) gift of time. With the rental-side of our business slowing down, while areas like client communications ramp up, we now have more time to implement and improve existing processes. On a personal-level, real-estate is a high demand job and our employees are now spending more time with their families. The virtual technologies we implemented as a response to this need will stay implemented long beyond the current pandemic. Sure, there will always be a need for face-to-face connection in this industry, but technology such as virtual showings can be a way for businesses to scale back some of their resources and operate more efficiently. From a sales-perspective, we are actually seeing an increase in interest from new investors as property owners are looking for an expert in times like these. From a property management perspective, there is opportunity to re-think some of your resources and invest elsewhere.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has launched us all into unchartered waters, we’re all learning how to swim at the same time. TCS Management hopes to be a life-vest for both its property owners, residents, staff and community during this time. We don’t promise to know every answer, but we promise to listen, understand your concerns and do our best to get you safely to the other side.
TCS continues to do all we can to ensure we maintain the vital role of managing homes for our residents, securing job stability for our employees, supporting our vendors, and operating properties for investors and clients. TCS is open for business, and we will continue to adapt as necessary.
Recently, we implemented electronic systems which are aiding management operations during this very unexpected and evolving environment.
We are all struggling during this unprecedented time. To our operations and facilities staff – we thank you and we salute you for your unwavering bravery and dedication being our “boots on the ground” everyday! We are grateful to our Accounting and Office teams who have so quickly transitioned to this virtual new world; we applaud you for your endless commitment and flexibility!
To our Vendors, we appreciate you supporting us and the properties you serve. We rely on you, and we arc grateful for your relationships.
To our Landlords, we arc working hard to protect your investments, as always. We thank you for your faith in us as your partner.
To our Tenants, these arc challenging times for us all. We will do our best to continue to provide a safe and comfortable home to all our residents.
Very Truly Yours,
Owners/Principals at TCS Management