What Makes a Market a Good One for BTR Communities?

One of the big stories in the real estate industry in recent years has been the emergence of the single-family rental market as an appealing destination for investors’ dollars.

According to Berkadia, the construction of build-to-rent homes – single-family houses built for the purpose of renting out – jumped by 30% from 2019 to 2020. A 2022 report by the company also notes that “developers expect build-to-rent homes will reach a double-digit share of new construction by 2024, compared to its 6% share of new homes being built in the U.S. today. SFR is the fastest-growing sector of the housing market.”

For years, the SFR market has been dominated by mom-and-pop operators, but institutional players and large multifamily companies have observed the vast demand that exists for this product and have entered the sector in recent years. Mill Creek and others are developing entire BTR communities, which can feature hundreds of single-family homes while also providing residents with a multifamily-like array of amenities, such as swimming pools, fitness centers, playgrounds, dog parks and maintenance services.

Looking ahead, those interested in this growing market might wonder what makes a submarket a good one for a BTR community, and which regions of the country might see these developments arise and flourish in the years to come.

Growth, Jobs and Schools

Many of the factors that make an area a good fit for a BTR community are largely intuitive. Residents in these developments want access to good school districts, quality retail and thriving job centers. For developers and investors, they want to see population and job growth in the surrounding area.

At Mill Creek, we want our BTR communities to be within 30 minutes of a major employment hub and minutes away from major grocery stores. Walkability and Walk Scores, which have become such important factors for apartment residents, are not important to SFR renters. For the most part, they are going to drive.

Unfortunately, there are jurisdictions that aren’t especially enthusiastic about SFR properties and BTR developments. These local governments may restrict the number or percentage of single-family homes that can be for rent, or they may prohibit single-family rentals altogether. Or they might try to make BTR development almost prohibitively expensive through architectural restrictions. Obviously, these are areas that investors and developers are likely to pass upon.

Considering the above factors, Mill Creek is targeting the Atlanta, Phoenix and Nashville metros for BTR projects, as well as markets throughout the Carolinas, Texas and north Florida. Berkadia has identified Utah, Nevada and Idaho as other states that are likely to be attractive to SFR/BTR developers.

Words of Wisdom

When building a single-family team to evaluate opportunities and develop BTR communities, it’s important that longtime multifamily players make sure they bring in people with ample SFR experience. Although there are some surface similarities, the multifamily and BTR landscapes are profoundly different overall.

It’s not easy to find suitable development sites, and developers need team members who know the major land sellers in the space, as well as the capital needs and providers. You also need team members who understand the BTR community construction process and how to maximize efficiencies in that process. If you asked a longtime SFR player to build a high-rise apartment building in a downtown area, they would be lost. The same is often true for apartment companies entering the BTR space without the right in-house experience and expertise.

Looking ahead, it’s clear that BTR communities will play a major role in the rental housing world in the coming years and decades. Renters want them and in those areas with the right market and economic factors in place, developers can build a product that will experience high occupancy rates and deliver the targeted returns to investors.

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Supporting Multifamily Associates’ Ongoing Development

Development Programs and Mental Health Breaks

Mill Creek Residential, one of the nation’s most established developers and operators, has various yearly on-site programs designed to foster associate growth. These include development and leadership training programs for service technicians, assistant community managers, community managers, and regional managers. In addition to the extensive onboarding training program, associates have access to self-paced learning opportunities to spur further workforce development.

“We really give them the tools they need to support their own curiosity and growth in the way they prefer,” says Taryn Silva, vice president of learning and development of property operations for Mill Creek. “One of the things I love about what we do today is that we have cultivated and curated so many on-demand, self-service learning opportunities. The courses and job resources are not solely focused on day-to-day tasks, which of course are important, but they also focus on wellness and skill set development. For instance, if you’re not an Excel pro, not a problem, you can quickly hop in and take a course.”

In the last two years when everyone’s mental health has been tested by the pandemic and its impacts, adding wellness courses have been especially beneficial, according to Silva. The courses provide the opportunity for associates to take a few minutes to reset, which Silva notes is unique in the industry. It’s part of Mill Creek’s mission to focus on associates as a whole and what they need to be supported and successful.

It’s universally known that many industries struggle to find ways to support the personal development of associates, including mentoring, coaching, and mapping a path to personal growth. Silva believes that in a people-centric industry such as multifamily, it should be a primary focus. Mill Creek’s L&D initiatives factor into one of the company’s core values, she says, which is to create a culture of continuous improvement.

“The truth is that associates want to stay with an organization when they believe it really cares about their personal and professional development, and we want to provide them with that opportunity,” Silva says.

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Creating Happy and High-Performing Associates

It’s clearer now more than ever: happy and high-performing associates are essential to a rental-housing company’s success.

When onsite teams and other associates throughout a property management company feel supported and are committed to their jobs, the ripple effects are immense. Happy associates begat happy residents. They also make their coworkers more energetic and more productive, and can build an atmosphere of creativity and innovation that benefits both the company and its residents. They reduce the expense and headaches of high employee turnover rates.

So, how can a rental-housing company build an organization in which team members thrive and are fulfilled? Below are five general recommendations.

1) Supervisors have to operate in the sweet spot. Over my years in multifamily, I’ve determined there are two major causes of associate unhappiness. One occurs when team members feel their supervisor is disengaged, unsupportive and hard to reach. The other cause is the opposite situation: an associate is micromanaged by an untrusting boss.

There’s no one golden rule about how often a supervisor should interact with team members, but associates should always know that they can reach their boss when they need to and that their supervisor will have their backs when the situation calls for it. Some team members may need a conversation with their supervisor every day, while some people may require one chat per week. Great supervisors are responsive to the needs of their associates and their communities.

2) Sharply define performance expectations and your company’s areas of focus. Associates do best when they know the metrics and benchmarks that matter most to an organization’s leaders. This gives them a way to know what they should be working towards and how they will be evaluated.

At Mill Creek, our team members know that we emphasize customer satisfaction, financial performance, online reputation, associate engagement and lead management. We’ve got custom-made scorecards around those areas that we’ve had for years. We also regularly publish community and regional portfolio performance metrics for all associates to see. Our team members appreciate the transparency and the chance to engage in some friendly competition. We use this as an opportunity to celebrate top-performing communities but also as a chance to lean in and help those communities that may be lagging. Associates at lower-ranking communities know that we’re not going to shame them and understand we will work diligently with them to improve.

3) Create a culture in which hard-working associates aren’t afraid to fail. Associates want to be part of a company where they can work hard, try new ideas and not be afraid to fail. When engaged and caring team members know they won’t be reprimanded if a particular initiative doesn’t go entirely as planned, that creates an atmosphere in which associates can develop and thrive.

4) Provide enhanced educational opportunities for excellent performers. Hard-working and caring associates want to grow. They want to move up. Rental-housing operators do themselves a big favor when they clearly spell out what team members need to achieve to be successful and prepared for further responsibility. Mill Creek has implemented formal training programs that allow assistant community managers and assistant maintenance managers to get the coaching and guidance they need to be successful at the next level. These programs have been a big cultural win for us and have prepared excellent associates for additional responsibility.

5) Show your appreciation. Department-wide contests and associate appreciation weeks are simple but powerful ways to build team member satisfaction. So are fewer formal acknowledgments of success and achievement, such as simple marks of praise during a company meeting. Who doesn’t enjoy being recognized and rewarded for their good and hard work? When associates feel their efforts are insufficiently acknowledged and appreciated, that’s a surefire recipe for discontent.

In the final analysis, rental-housing companies simply must prioritize the satisfaction, engagement and performance of their associates. The benefits of happy and high-performing team members are too great. And the consequences of unmotivated, disengaged team members – such as unhappy residents and under-performing portfolios – are too severe.

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Thriving Market: Is Charlotte the New Gem of Multifamily?

MFE-PaulWillis11.13.22 — Charlotte is notable for its distinct-yet-charming neighborhoods, pleasant subtropical climate, and a healthy contingent of high-level employment opportunities within the financial sector.

Oh, and a thriving apartment market.

The Queen City, located in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina, seldom is regarded as one of the nation’s largest cities, but ranked No. 15 in 2022, boasting a population greater than that of San Francisco, Denver, and Washington, D.C. While multifamily markets in those cities are often regarded as more prominent, Charlotte has certainly joined the fray.

“Charlotte has the primary characteristics of what you like to see in a market in that it’s large with a diverse economy,” says Brian Schneider, principal and co-founder of Addison Partners, a New York-based apartment owner. “It’s a prominent regional hub with a heavy finance component, with Wells Fargo having a sizable presence. It’s experiencing great population growth with many younger generations relocating there. It’s just a fun and vibrant city that draws renters.”

According to a market insights report from NorthMarq, Charlotte has experienced increased demand, accelerating rent growth and a steady vacancy rate of only 4.8% in the second quarter of 2022. The city had 20,657 units under construction as of the second quarter. “The local investment market remained competitive during the second quarter with activity gaining momentum, per-unit prices rising, and cap rates remaining low,” according to the report.

Home to the corporate headquarters of Bank America and Truist Financial—and the East Coast headquarters of Wells Fargo—Charlotte ranks as the second-largest banking city in the U.S., trailing only New York City. The city also boasts a collection of eclectic neighborhoods, from Uptown (the city’s downtown area), Fourth Ward, SouthPark, South End, the arts district of NoDa, and several more.

Three operators recently imparted their thoughts on the market, sharing some of their immediate and upcoming plans in the city.

Developments Underway in a Thriving City
Mill Creek Residential Trust expanded into Charlotte in 2019 and is rapidly building a presence within the city. The prominent developer, builder, and operator, based in Boca Raton, Florida, also added a regional office in the city, which underscores its fondness.

“Charlotte is consistently ranked as one of the best places in the U.S. to live,” says Alex Eyssen, senior managing director in the Carolinas for Mill Creek. “Charlotte’s population has been steadily growing, and demand continues to outpace supply. This became even more evident during the pandemic, when remote workers and families relocated from other cities to Charlotte.”

Mill Creek is developing Modera SouthPark, a 239-unit community in the popular SouthPark neighborhood, which is projected to open in early 2024. The company recently broke ground on Modera LoSo, located in the rapidly growing Lower South End submarket, which will feature a sky lounge overlooking Uptown. In addition, Mill Creek acquired the Alister Uptown community in Uptown.

Eyssen says the highest rent per square foot is typically attributed to the Uptown and SouthPark communities, but that several SouthEnd communities have recently risen to the top. Other light rail-adjacent neighborhoods are poised to experience increased demand, as well. Likewise, pockets west of Uptown—such as FreeMoreWest, the Wilkinson Boulevard corridor, and areas northeast of Uptown—are also experiencing growing interest, he says, along with every county adjacent to Mecklenburg County.

Investment activity in the city’s multifamily market remains strong, Eyssen says, as several institutional investors and REITs that have historically favored major gateway markets have recently targeted the Queen City.

“Almost everyone has a neighbor or colleague that relocated to Charlotte in the last two years,” Eyssen says. “I don’t see that trend stopping. Charlotte also is part of a regional, prosperous economy that attracts a talented and educated employment base, many of whom are relocating from markets where renting is commonplace. Thus, we view Charlotte and the surrounding areas as having great fundamentals.”

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Mill Creek Announces Addition of Paragon Theaters to Founders Row

FALLS CHURCH, Va., Nov. 8, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Mill Creek Residential, a leading developer, owner-operator and investment manager specializing in premier rental housing across the U.S., today announced the addition of Paragon Theaters to Founders Row, a mixed-use lifestyle center in the heart of Falls Church.

Paragon Theaters will add 600-plus seats and seven screens, including its innovative Lux Box concept featuring heated “Zero Gravity” reclining seats, complete with privacy walls. Guests can enjoy an array of food and beverage conveniently delivered to their seats with the convenience of QR code ordering. In addition, Paragon will bring its Axis 15 Extreme, a ground-breaking large format Auditorium with a 65-foot screen tilted 15 degrees for optimal viewing. Axis 15 Extreme will feature Laser projection, Dolby Atmos sound and 3D capability.

The area’s most advanced moviegoing experience is coming to Founders Row, which sits at the intersection of West Broad and North West Streets about 10 miles west of Washington, D.C. The theater, which will also include a full-service restaurant and bar along with bar and arcade entertainment options on the ground floor, will join the retail landscape at Founders Row that also includes restaurants Ellie Bird, Chasin’ Tails, Nue, Roll Play Vietnamese Grill, Kyu Ramen and Kyo Matcha, along with other retailers such as Club Pilates and 4Ever Young Med Spa.

“We are thrilled to welcome Paragon Theaters to Founders Row,” said Joe Muffler, senior managing director of development for Mill Creek Residential. “While previous efforts to bring a theater to the City of Falls Church were thwarted by the pandemic, we have nevertheless worked tirelessly to realize the vision that we set to create when this project was first approved in 2016. We firmly believe in the future of movies and the exhibition industry, so this is the best possible outcome to partner with such a high-level theater operator. We believe the addition of Paragon Theaters will further transform Founders Row into a true destination community.”

Paragon Theaters was formed in 2009 by former Muvico Entertainment executives Mike Whalen, Jr. and Mike Wilson. The company has a proven track record of building, retrofitting and operating successful movie theaters throughout the southeast U.S. Paragon’s portfolio currently consists of seven operating theaters in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, with the most recent theater addition the brand-new Paragon Fenton location in Cary, N.C., which opened in summer 2022.

“Founders Row is a genuinely unique development that attracts a wide array of residents and visitors, and we’re eager to make it the next home of Paragon Theaters,” said Mike Wilson, Co-CEO of Paragon. “We believe the theater will become an immediate attraction and offer an unmatched entertainment experience in the area.”

Founders Row boasts a centralized location within Falls Church, a charming inside-the-Beltway suburb of Washington, D.C. that features a thriving school system, an active arts and cultural presence, and direct access to the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) trail, a paved 45-mile rail trail that extends through northern Virginia.

“With new development, the City consistently seeks to bring in popular amenities like great retail, restaurants and entertainment that residents and visitors can all enjoy,” said Falls Church Mayor P. David Tarter. “We congratulate Mill Creek on this milestone at Founders Row and look forward to welcoming Paragon Theaters to the City.”

Located at 110 Founders Avenue, Founders Row includes 80,000 square feet of overall luxury retail space and offers two distinct apartment communities. Modera Founders Row is a contemporary market-rate community featuring 322 homes, and Verso Founders Row is a 72-home age-restricted community dedicated to individuals 55 years and older.

“Adding our anchor back into the mix at Founders Row is extremely exciting,” Muffler said. “We have spent nearly a decade curating a vision with our partners, CrossHarbor Capital Partners, and the City of Falls Church to create an exciting, boutique lifestyle entertainment environment within the Beltway. Combining Paragon with Michelin-award winning chefs at Ellie Bird, and best-in-class operators such as the HEH Group, IVEA Restaurant Group and our other retailers, fulfills that goal, and we are thrilled to be opening retail at Founders Row before the end of 2022.”

There is limited available space for restaurants and other boutique shops remaining at Founders Row. To inquire about available retail space, please contact Chris Wilkinson, principal at Willard Retail. He can be reached at 301-657-7330 or [email protected]

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Tech Can Make the Construction Process More Efficient — But People Remain the Most Important Component

Construction, at times, can be more of an art than a science. Plan changes, altered timelines and supply chain issues are often part of the landscape.

But that’s not to say the process cannot be efficient. Teams that have contingency plans for any potential obstacle and are best prepared to adjust on the fly greatly increase their chances of making the construction process a smooth one.

In many facets of multifamily, tech has become a critical component of creating efficiencies. The construction process is no different, although a balance exists in blending tech with standard building practices.

In a big-picture sense, homes have been built the same way for 2,000 years. Over time, innovations have been developed to attempt to change the way we build—particularly to move away from wood-framed construction. But none of those technologies have necessarily taken hold. Tech, after all, will never surpass skilled workers when it comes to the manual portions of developing a multistory building.

Tech does play a primary role, however.

Construction teams are utilizing tech to track issues, solve those issues and make sure they don’t reoccur in the future. The ability to manage information—and use tech to be more efficient in a sometimes-unpredictable space—has been the biggest improvement in the construction industry in the last 10 to 15 years.

For example, project management software such as Procore can be utilized throughout all phases of the construction process. It can provide leadership teams with real-time updates on any facet of the project. Entire teams can understand the status of any plans or timeline and identify stress points. A project executive can get a report at any time and ask: “Why haven’t these change orders been approved at Project X?”

Tech has also benefited construction teams in the form of security at job sites. Motion-activated cameras can alert teams to any unwanted afterhours visitors at construction sites. Leak detection technology includes audible alarm alerts and, perhaps more importantly, water-loss prevention triggers that can shut off water when too much pressure is identified. This can help prevent potentially catastrophic delays and ensure timelines aren’t short-circuited because someone mistakenly put a nail through a pipe.

With regard to the construction process itself, the tech isn’t quite there yet. Significant advancements have been made with robotics, but no one has yet been able to successfully scale it. Tech has also helped materials to become better and more efficient, but tech itself cannot install those materials precisely where they need to be within a building.

At the end of the day, the most critical component of the construction process is your people. Tech can be used to make them better at what they’re doing by providing them with materials and the information to be more efficient.

While people will always come first, tech will continue to provide value. The new generation of builders—whether superintendents, project managers or assistant project managers—are being trained on technology as much as they’re being trained on construction management. Tech is largely intuitive to them, and they are expected to use it in all facets of the construction process. Over time, the tech component will become even more intuitive and have a more significant impact as it becomes further integrated.

The benefits of an efficient construction timeline are widespread. From a financial standpoint, apartment communities can start bringing in revenue when they were originally projected to —or even sooner if things go especially smoothly. Time is the one thing you cannot get back. The sooner construction teams can move communities to operations teams, the more value it will create for the owner and their investors. Prompt timelines also help operators maintain their reputation as good neighbors in the jurisdictions that they operate in.

The tech helps create a more efficient project. The people make it happen. Construction teams can have the best plans, the best processes and the best sites in the world, but without the right people doing things the right way, it won’t really matter.

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Mill Creek Moves in Residents at Modera Six Pines

Mill Creek Residential has begun moving in residents into to its Modera Six Pines, a 429-unit community designed around health and wellness. The property is situated in The Woodlands, Texas, a neighborhood 27 miles north of Houston.

Modera Six Pines is a five-story podium-style property built on 11 acres. With an emphasis on the health and wellness of its residents, the asset was designed to include a two-story Life Time Fitness health center, group fitness area, pool and yoga and Pilates studio. Other community amenities include bike storage, valet dry cleaning, electric vehicle charging stations, an on-site library, coworking spaces and a bar area with resident lounge.

“We’re tremendously excited about welcoming our initial residents to Modera Six Pines,” Ginny Hightower, regional design manager for Mill Creek Residential, told Multi-Housing News. “Our two-story fitness center helps underscore the community’s focus on health, and the tree-surrounded location helps foster a serene, relaxed living experience.”

Mill Creek owns two other communities in the Houston area: Modera Flats and Modera Washington. The firm currently has a North Carolina 134-unit property under construction, slated for completion in 2023. In partnership with FCP, Mill Creek broke ground this year on a 800-home asset next to Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, Fla.

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Four Tips For Driving Resident Retention

Retaining current residents helps curb turn and marketing costs, builds a sense of community and limits the volume of new residents that teams will have to attract each year.
Apartment operators work tirelessly to attract new residents. They regularly mull innovative ways to appeal to the modern-day renter. But many of those residents who can lead to a robust occupancy rate are already in the building.

When crafting marketing plans and pushing to drive the performance of their portfolio, operators should not overlook current residents. They’ve already done the hard part and sparked their interest—now it’s just a matter of keeping them at the property. Maintaining current residents helps curb turn and marketing costs, builds a sense of community and limits the volume of new residents teams will have to attract each year.

Granted, a healthy mix of renewals and new arrivals is generally ideal. But operators who neglect residents after move-in generally will experience more than their share of one-and-done terms. From Zoom rooms, exemplary service levels, cutting-edge pet policies and a state-of-the-art maintenance approach, operators recently shared some of their tips for keeping valuable residents in
the building.

1. Appealing to the remote worker
As the remote-work boom continues to increase, resident demand for comfortable work-from-home spaces has followed suit. Birchstone Residential, based in Coppell, Texas, aims to keep pace and will soon implement its first Zoom room at Halston on Frankford in Dallas.

“It was a remodeled, somewhat awkward space that didn’t really make sense for anything else,” says Carie Grout, Regional Manager for Birchstone. “We are planning to add calming backgrounds that allow clarity and frosted glass to help with any type of notes or visuals needed, as well as equipment to ensure the work-from-home environment resembles that of an office feel. We imagine that we’ll probably start to see the addition of Zoom rooms at other communities.”

Grout also notes that while package lockers have been around for several years, they have become even more crucial with residents at home more than ever. Originally devised as a solution for residents to retrieve their shipments during off hours, residents now more frequently crave the ability to quickly pick up deliveries as soon as they arrive.

The same spike in demand applies to onsite gyms and fitness centers.

“Fitness centers have always been a crucial part of our communities, but the usage of them has increased tremendously with the new work-from-home cultures as residents do not commute to their jobs as they did before,” Grout says. “You’re seeing many operators really dedicate capital for their fitness centers and make them an attractive, sizable space for residents to utilize more often.”

Birchstone has also observed an uptick in resident demand for convenience-based in-home tech packages rather than those rooted in entertainment.

“Nowadays, the usage of mobile devices is a very big part of everyone’s life, as it gives us the ability to control almost everything from our fingertips,” Grout says. “A resident can be working from home and has the ability to adjust the thermostat or control lighting without disrupting their current activity. They can let someone in the gate or into their home from their phone, as well.”

2. Service excellence = longer stays
Apartment operators set high expectations when they showcase a fantastic resident experience. But as noted by Mill Creek Executive Vice President of Property Management Stephen Prochnow, you don’t want to be the multifamily version of one who’s a great date but isn’t as adept in a committed relationship. In short, that means not forgetting about residents after they move in.

“It’s up to us to make sure we follow through and provide an experience that’s commensurate with the expectation,” Prochnow says. “For us, the key has been focusing on the operational team at the community level. We’ve discovered that a high-performing, customer-centric community team is the key to resident retention. We focus on associate recruitment, training and retention to ensure our teams are equipped to provide exceptional customer service and empowered to encourage resident retention.”

In a competitive employment environment, avoiding turnover and retaining those high-level associates that drive renewals is key. Mill Creek offers a unique set of benefits, including paid parental leave, a sabbatical program, tuition support and much more, but discovered the company needed to further highlight these perks.

“We offer great benefits, but we were finding that even our internal associates oftentimes didn’t realize everything that was available to them,” Prochnow says. “Similarly, we weren’t prominently marketing some of the fantastic benefits to job candidates, so we’ve focused on our recruitment process and messaging.”

Mill Creek constantly analyzes data to ensure the company is hitting its service benchmarks. The company utilizes a scoring methodology to gauge target metrics for customer service at every community. These include scores pertaining to various consumer touch points within the leasing and service-request processes that outline the speed and quality of the response.

Knowing stellar service levels also means offering useful amenities, Mill Creek has remained astute about morphing resident preferences. With the work-from-home propensity ever rising, Mill Creek noticed residents were starting to compete for common-area workspace.

“One thing we’ve tried to do is create more workspaces that are divisible into smaller increments, whereas in the past we would have one large table with eight or 10 seats,” Prochnow says. “Now, many of our workspaces are smaller so they can accommodate one to two people, and it’s yet another place where residents can get different elements of natural light, be part of a buzzier scene with other residents and get to know each other.”

3. Innovative pet policies
Pet policies previously had been regarded as something of a secondary tool to attract residents—at least in the eyes of many operators. But as pet ownership continues to ascend and residents view their pets as part of

the family even more, properties must have something to offer the pet-owning demographic.

An unabashed pet lover himself, Jamin Harkness was eager to disrupt the traditional model. The Executive Vice President of Atlanta-based The Management Group (TMG) was ready to move on from virtually everything contained in the industry’s standard, antiquated pet policies.

He shed breed and weight restrictions in favor of screening pets on an individual basis. He outsourced assistance animal accommodation requests—which became more streamlined after eliminating the restrictions because fewer residents would attempt to sneak in their pets under the guise of an assistance animal. He adopted tech resources to help manage and properly track the growing pet population at TMG communities.

In another bold move, Harkness eliminated pet rent. He had resident renewals in mind when doing so, but he was beyond flabbergasted—in a good way—by the results. TMG communities experienced a vigorous 80% renewal rate among pet owners after making the changes. Looking industry-wide, residents in pet-friendly housing stay 21% longer than those in non-pet-friendly housing, according to a 2021 report from the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative.

“We estimate that approximately 53 more residents are renewing at a 250-home property than if we had the industry standard 50% renewal rate,” Harkness says. “I’ll gladly sacrifice pet rent for the cost savings on not having to turn 50-plus homes per year. Plus, it helps build a sense of community when people and their pets remain in the building.”

TMG also hosts several pet functions per year, which include welcoming pet photographers and pet trainers to the property. The company adds fresh mulch to its pet parks several times a year and often stocks them with play toys and pet features. While TMG is a prime example of a truly pet-centric experience, Harkness says that communities without the capital to go all out can still make a genuine impact with a few subtle upgrades.

“We’ve discovered that the most crucial features are a pet park with shade and benches,” Harkness says. “If you can repurpose unused space and offer these simple amenities, it can still equate to an enjoyable, pet-centric experience.”

Harkness notes that onsite pet parks are regularly used more often than the swimming pool at TMG communities, which is as much of an endorsement as any that operators would be wise to continually enhance these spaces.

4. Timely and communicative maintenance teams
Operators agreed that a community’s maintenance team often qualifies as a key component in driving renewals. Birchstone, for instance, aims for a 24-hour service completion time. If the community cannot hit that deadline, teams will make certain to communicate the reason to residents, along with timely updates.

“If it takes a week to get your service request done then when renewal comes up, nine times out of 10 you’re not going to renew,” says Grout, noting that Birchstone includes maintenance techs in the renewal bonus pool. “But if you’re at a property where a request is done with no questions whenever you submit it—or you were communicated with if there ever was a delay—nine times out of 10 you’re going to stay.”

Prochnow alluded to the idea that maintenance teams can be the face of the community because residents might see them most often. Mill Creek is among the operators that make certain to equip and train technicians with innovative tech tools to digitally manage service requests.

“Residents want a convenient experience when something goes wrong,” he says. “Timely communication and swift completion of a request is their expectation. Many times, the work-order process is the deterministic factor during the lease.”

Residents have many reasons as to why they decide to move on from an apartment community. Utilizing the concepts and ideas above, operators can counter with several reasons why they should stay.

Paul Willis is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.

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Atlanta Metro in Growth Mode

MFE-ChristineSerlin-9.12.22 — The Atlanta rental market is expected to remain strong due to a healthy economy, a lower cost of living, good demographic trends, and positive rent growth, according to a midyear multifamily report for the metro from Berkadia.

Multifamily starts have increased since the beginning of the pandemic due to recent strong demand. More than 26,000 units have been added since the beginning of 2020, with delivery of 4,500 units in the first half of this year. In all, 11,752 units are expected to be delivered in 2022, with another 20,385 deliveries projected for 2023. According to Berkadia, leasing activity hasn’t kept pace with the deliveries in the first half of the year, with the market seeing a drop in occupancy. However, the current occupancy rate of 95.7% is higher than the pre-pandemic average of 94.5% in 2019’s fourth quarter.

While Berkadia predicts that occupancy will decrease in the second half of the year as more units are delivered, it says this is not expected to deter operators from continuing to raise rents because of the strong fundamentals. Effective rents were up 3.9% to $1,662 year to date in the second quarter, or 17.5% year over year.

“There is a pipeline of oncoming supply that will stabilize the rent growth we’ve been seeing, but that does not seem to be significantly outpacing the population growth of the metro,” says Frank Roessler, founder and CEO of Ashcroft Capital, which owns nearly 3,500 multifamily units in the metro.

The Atlanta metro area boasts strong population growth and employment drivers. According to 2021-22 population estimates from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the 11-county metro area added nearly 65,000 people within the past year, pushing the region’s total count to 5.1 million.

“Atlanta is the pure definition of a growth market versus a barrier market like Boston, Seattle, or San Francisco. Recently, there has been a steady in-migration to Atlanta from other cities,” says Patrick Chesser, senior managing director of development in the Atlanta office of Mill Creek Residential, which has developed over 3,300 homes in the metro. “It’s less expensive and more convenient for companies to do business here without compromising the quality of workers. The jobs and demand for housing follows, which add to the supply imbalance Atlanta already has due in large part to the scarcity of development activity from 2008 to 2012.”

According to Berkadia’s midyear report, year-to-date sales volume was at $3.6 billion for the metro, with 47 transactions and an average cap rate of 3.7%.

“Nationwide, multifamily trades have slowed to a trickle. However, we are seeing quality deals get done in the right markets. And Atlanta’s population growth and exploding economy have provided investors with the confidence to continue to invest. Currently, we have about 25 properties in our investment pipeline, and several are in Atlanta,” adds Roessler.

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ORA Scores: What They Are and How to Improve Them

Consumers often rely on online reviews before purchasing products or trying new restaurants.Online reviews are perhaps even more important to multifamily owners and managers. That’s because the online reputation of an apartment community impacts not only whether prospective tenants visit and tour it but also leasing rates, rents, tenant retention and valuation of the property.

That’s why owners and managers need to pay close attention to Online Reputation Assessment (ORA) scores, an industry standard that measures a property’s online reputation. Created by Houston-based J Turner Research—an online reputation management firm that monitors the online ratings and reviews of over 126,000 properties nationwide—ORA scores establish a score for each apartment community that’s an aggregate of that property’s ratings across various review sites. The scores are based on a scale of 0 to 100 and are updated every month.

This may seem obvious, but industry executives report that they often have to remind their team to simply ask a resident or prospect to post a review after a positive interaction.

“Whether it’s a new lease-up community or one that we’re rebranding, we’ve found that the first online reviews set the tone for that community,” said Stephen Prochnow, executive vice president of property management. By simply asking for a review, residents feel encouraged to take the time to go online and offer their positive feedback. Full article can be found here.