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How Property Managers Are Beating the Squeeze With Automation

Feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day is a hallmark of a property manager’s job. Property management is a profession where something always needs fixing. To make matters worse, costs are also snowballing. Inflation has cooled, but many building owners report that expenses like property insurance and repair costs are rising faster than revenues as rental price growth has decelerated.

Property managers are being asked to do more with much less. Finding cost-efficient strategies to maintain properties will be pivotal throughout 2024. Automating specific tasks is a significant way to save time and cut costs. Though it won’t solve every problem, it can go a long way. Property management teams do many routine tasks involving manual processes that consume time. It diverts attention away from business-critical tasks, not to mention how monotonous it can be.

One area especially ripe for automation is preventive maintenance. Relying on phone calls and emails for maintenance requests is okay with a dozen tenants, but the old-school way is cumbersome if you have hundreds of tenants. Automation tools offer tenants a portal where they can submit maintenance requests directly. The property management team is notified, enabling them to coordinate with service providers and send them to the tenant’s location. When the work order is completed, it’s marked off in the portal. This digital tracking of work orders ensures no maintenance ticket slips through the cracks and keeps tenants updated on the status of their requests.

Maintenance management systems like this have been around for a while, though not all property managers may benefit from them. Newer developments take this idea a step further. AI-powered predictive maintenance systems analyze past repair data and determine when mechanical systems need upkeep. Property managers plan repairs more efficiently by anticipating when maintenance is required. Take HVAC repairs as an example. Proactively addressing HVAC maintenance extends the life of these expensive mechanical systems and lowers operational costs. Nipping HVAC problems in the bud also prevents countless too-hot/too-cold complaints, increasing tenant satisfaction. If optimized to the full extent, predictive maintenance keeps properties in a clean, fine-tuned fashion that reduces tenant requests before they happen.

Another function that consumes time and money is leasing. Most buildings have a leasing team to take inbound calls and show properties to prospective tenants. While leasing agents are still likely necessary to help keep a building occupied, much of the leasing process can be automated. Chatbots have been designed to answer easy questions, and self-guided tours allow tenants to schedule and complete showings even if an agent is not available. Self-guided tours gained popularity during the height of pandemic social distancing. They have continued after COVID-19 and saved property managers countless hours.

One of the most important parts of any office manager’s job is reporting a building’s performance to ownership. Gathering and communicating all of the important information is a time-consuming task that can be made much easier with the right automation. “With the right systems, a manager can automate communication with landlords, but that is just the start of what can be done,” says Marcus Moufarrige, founder of Illity, a commercial property management software. “If the building’s data is set up correctly, it allows owners to do some of their own research without having to bother the property manager.” Metrics about important aspects of management like tenant communication or inbound leads might not be part of the manager’s normal reporting but could be easily quarried by other interested parties without adding additional work to the manager’s already heavy load. 

Rent collection is another area where tech can save time and money. Collecting rent has always been one of the most tedious tasks for property managers, but automation tools excel in this area. Automated rent reminders ensure tenants never miss a deadline, and the systems can automatically tack on late fees when they do. Some rent collection platforms also come with portals that offer detailed views of payment records, which promotes transparency. Automated rent collection with digital payment options provides tenants with a more convenient way to pay. It encourages tenants to pay on time while also improving tenant satisfaction. In some cases, tenants can also set up automatic payments scheduled for specified days of each month. This simplification of the rent collection process saves property managers enormous time.

Automated tools benefit property managers significantly, but there are pitfalls to beware of. One concern is data privacy and security. Property managers must ensure all tenant data is protected and secure and comply with data privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation in the E.U. and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the U.S. Implementing property management software can also be expensive and complex. Choosing the right tech solution, implementing it correctly, and training staff to use it effectively are easier said than done. Software must also be updated regularly to maintain its effectiveness. Investing in staff training for these tools may be the most crucial aspect. Maintenance management software brings significant benefits, but not if employees don’t know how to use it.

While automation helps, property management still requires a human touch. Software that automates routine tasks enhances the tenant experience but shouldn’t replace human interaction entirely. Tenants will still want to interact with human staff members for complex issues like lease negotiations and dispute resolutions. Property managers must balance automation and personal interaction, especially for tenants who aren’t tech-savvy. A rule of thumb is to provide automated customer-facing tools for tenants who want them and ensure access to human staff members for those who don’t.

Property managers searching for ways to trim budgets and save time have many options. Preventive maintenance programs are proven cost-savers, and predictive maintenance takes the idea even further. Many automation tools can ease burdens, too. Automation allows quicker responses to tenant issues and, in most cases, promotes a higher degree of tenant satisfaction. Emerging tech like virtual reality property tours gives us a glimpse into how much automation can drive cost efficiency in property management. When every line item is scrutinized, property managers must get creative to find more time in their frantic work days and eliminate redundant costs. This has always been true for property managers, but brainstorming such ideas may be even more critical in 2024.

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