HALSTED FLATS, LOCATED IN CHICAGO'S LAKEVIEW NEIGHBORHOOD.
With fewer concerts, weddings and barbecues to attend, one could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that it is indeed summer. The COVID-19 crisis has impacted so much, including another staple of the mid-year—renters moving in and out of apartments.
Throughout the pandemic, property managers have had to be nimble, adjusting to new guidelines and working to keep their spaces sanitized and their residents healthy. As tenants begin to change properties, an extra level of resiliency is necessary to make sure everyone can move about safely.
According to Diana Pittro, executive vice president at RMK Management, there were 50 percent fewer move-ins across their portfolio in June and so far in July. They saw a similar decrease in foot traffic, with half the typical number of prospective tenants visiting their properties.
“We went back to all of our people that were due to move out in March, April and May, and asked them if they wanted to stay versus moving out,” said Pittro. “In those months, I would say 90 percent of them changed their minds and stayed.”
However, most of these tenants did not renew for another one-year lease. Many took a three-month extension. This has led to more than the usual move-outs in June, July and August because that’s when those extensions are expiring.
“Normally, if someone is leaving and they have a job or a new house or something like that, we will always work with them if they need a month or so. But generally, you would not do a three-month extension,” said Pittro. “This pandemic has caused everybody to think outside the box, and basically be so customer-service-oriented that we’ve basically accommodated in every situation where we can.”
In addition to visuals and floor plans available online, RMK has long provided virtual tours for the properties it manages, such as Halsted Flats in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Typically used by corporate users or potential residents relocating from out of town, RMK saw a steep surge in virtual tour requests during the pandemic.
“A lot of those tools were probably used more than they have been in the past, however, we did not do any stronger leasing with those tools,” said Pittro. “I would say probably 10 percent of our total clients who got a video or virtual tour actually leased. That was because some of them felt that, because of the pandemic, they had time to wait until we reopened to the public so they could tour the unit or the property.”
When it comes time for residents to move in and out, COVID-19 has created a new set of policies for both the residents and the property managers. While a number of commercial real estate interactions have moved online, it’s the nature of multifamily that residents need or prefer face to face exchanges. Even so, RMK has strived to shift as many of their operations to the digital sphere as possible.
For example, move-out inspections are now conducted without the resident present. Someone from the RMK team, wearing the appropriate protective equipment, walks through the unit and conducts a video inspection. That video is then shared with the resident before they move.
Residents moving in also get a copy of the video for their records. Additionally, instead of meeting with new residents face-to-face to walk them through household items like programming the Nest thermostat or changing the air filter, they instead received training videos.
The day of move-in can often be a hectic one, with U-Haul trucks lining the streets and multiple couches navigating stairways on their journeys to separate units. Controlling this chaos is more important than ever during the pandemic, so RMK established some guidelines and procedures for residents moving into one of their facilities.
Typically, residents are provided a two-hour window to move into their unit. RMK padded that to three hours, to give the cleaning crews time to sanitize in between each resident, and also limited move-ins to three per day. The docks were also carefully monitored so that they were occupied by only one truck at a time.
Residents and, if applicable, their movers were required to wear face masks and gloves during move-in. Unit doors were propped open so that no one had to touch them, and plastic was laid down in corridors for further protection. No more than two people could be in an elevator at the same time and the buttons in the elevators were covered in plastic.
The pandemic is compelling multifamily property managers to find new and unique ways to safely accommodate their residents’ needs. With enough resiliency, they and their tenants can adapt to a—hopefully short-lived—new normal.