The 2019 Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has become a global crisis, affecting the lives of many. As the virus continues to spread in the United States, businesses are being affected as cities are put on lockdown, offices are being shut down, and employees are quarantined at home. For a property manager, this highly transmissible virus poses challenges in a job that thrives on human interaction. However, despite growing uncertainties, life – and work – doesn’t just stop. Real estate managers are on the front lines as the health and safety of employees, clients, and tenants are their top priorities. Thus, working actively to cope with COVID-19 is critical. So, how can property managers work efficiently in the time of quarantines and social distancing? There are many actions you can take as a property manager that’ll help get you back on track in the midst of a crisis. Here are our top recommendations:
#1. Have Rent Flexibility Measures
With rents due for many American renters for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, people across the country are feeling anxious. Tenants who can’t pay rent are asking for rent relief and urging federal, state, and local governments to institute eviction moratoriums as 3.3 million have filed for unemployment. Landlords and rental property owners are also pleading for help, saying if millions of tenants are allowed to forego their rent indefinitely, they themselves could go bankrupt and be forced to sell their rental properties. The federal government took a big step to protect tenants by issuing a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing or from a property with a federally backed mortgage loan. According to USA Today, some states have stepped in and issued broader moratoriums:
Some states bar evictions for a few weeks, some for the duration of the state of emergency issued in those states. Some states bar all evictions, some only in cases where the tenant has been diagnosed with coronavirus or suffered a job loss because of it. State supreme courts have also stepped in. Some have simply postponed all non-emergency court hearings, with landlord-tenant disputes among those. Others have explicitly forbidden judges from issuing eviction orders or clerks of courts from issuing the legal document necessary to finalize an eviction.
As a property manager, there is only so much you can do. For now, it’s really up to rental property owners and their tenants to come up with their own agreement through their property management. Of course, there is no standard rent reduction as landlords’ and tenants’ circumstances vary. So real estate managers should prepare and familiarize themselves with processes that help administer these changes as efficiently as possible. We recommend having more flexible rent arrangements or application of rent-free periods in line with federal government advice or requests by the landlord.
#2. Communication Is Key
Communication during this time is more important than ever! Containment measures for coronavirus have forced people to limit physical interaction. Still, that doesn’t mean communication will be less effective. The only certainty surrounding COVID-19 is that there is an immense amount of uncertainty due to a lack of understanding and information. If you own your property management company, keep in mind that all your employees, clients, and tenants will be seeking information from you. Hence, it’s absolutely critical that you keep all ongoing communication channels open between you and your stakeholders when you’re managing a rental property during a pandemic. Here are some of the best tips for a property manager in this regard:
- Make sure you keep everyone up to date with the safety measures you’re taking as well as any business actions that you are planning. This is important for reducing anxiety and uncertainty.
- Whenever possible, try to phone and Zoom rather than send email to send important messages and notifications to your customers quickly.
- Make sure to be as specific as possible as leaving room for interpretation can only lead to errors.
- Use automated communications (offered by most property management websites) to streamline your communications and send the right messages to the right people at the right time using just one integrated platform.
- Offer materials or templates to effectively educate staff on how to communicate with their tenants and identify symptoms.
#3. Consider Virtual Routine Inspections
Property inspections are often a pain point for tenants who don’t want real estate managers coming into their homes. Now with quarantines and social distancing measures taking place, routine inspections are going to be one of the top challenges for a property manager, especially those managing a rental property with tenants who are compromised. One benefit of property managers not physically inspecting the property is that it’ll reduce the spread of COVID-19. But, routine inspections are one of the most important property manager responsibilities that need to be done in order for you to perform your job effectively.
Even if you’re managing rental properties without vulnerable tenants, it’s important to practice social distancing. So, the best solution for this issue caused by the coronavirus outbreak is to start virtual routine inspections. This is similar to the concept of virtual showings which is not new to property managers and real estate agents. But in this case, you’ll have to educate tenants (or rental property owners) how to do that and what they need to look for. Then, they can use their smartphones to walk you through the rental property via video chat and follow your instructions so you’ll be able to conduct the inspection thoroughly.
#4. Use Rental Property Management Technology
If you don’t already use property management software, now is the time to start. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, working from home has now become the new norm for many businesses including property managers. During this time, staying productive just as you would in your office is important which is why you need to ensure that your systems and tools are easily accessible online. Cloud-based property management tools are essential in 2020 for working through daily tasks and keeping your business running smoothly. The software will store your data in the cloud, making it accessible whenever and wherever you log in on any device. A virtual dashboard also allows a property manager to keep track of business and team performance which is especially important during these critical times.
Plus, as most people cannot leave their homes, tenants will more likely prefer to have rent payments and lease signings done digitally – ensure your company has the right tools that allow that. Furthermore, video conferencing apps allow you to set up virtual meetings that your team can attend online. Your marketing strategies should now focus heavily on digital and social media marketing – if you’re not already. Content like blog posts and videos of topics that your audience can relate to can drive more potential customers to your business. Widening your reach through social media channels is a great way to promote content, attract more views, and still generate rental property management leads during this time.
#5. Reinforce Proper Cleaning Practices
Of course, one of the key functions of managing a rental property is rental property maintenance by keeping spaces clean. One way to battle the virus is to reinforce cleaning policies and provide tenants with options to supplement what is being done. One recommended practice for a property manager is to highlight the importance of cleaning hard surfaces such as phones, light switches, tables, and doorknobs. One recommended policy is to install hand sanitizers in highly-trafficked areas like elevators and entrances. Another tip is to provide tenants with the appropriate cleaning wipes so they can wipe down their personal spaces.
We also advise real estate managers to ask cleaning companies which products they use and whether they are cleaning high-touch areas with greater frequency. Remind cleaning personnel to wear latex gloves and dispose of them nightly. Understand who is coming in and out of rental properties and have a plan for where visitors should be allowed. These are decisions tenants and rental property owners need to make, and a property manager must be able to guide them. Finally, you should consider posting signs in common areas to remind people of the best cleaning practices for their safety.
#6. Stay Informed and Don’t Panic
Knowledge is your most important tool in the fight against COVID-19 as a real estate property manager. It’s worth monitoring the news to see if there is any activity reported in your area – this helps you adjust planning. You, or someone on your team, can monitor updates from authorities like the Centers for Disease Control’s coronavirus summary (which updates daily) and their coronavirus index (which provides more tools for prevention). Then, ensure that you communicate those changes to your clients and tenants as needed.
Lastly, it’s crucial for property managers to keep everything in perspective. The coronavirus pandemic can pose a threat to health, but panicking only leads to rash decisions that worsen the situation. As mentioned earlier, property managers are on the front lines and dealing with these issues on behalf of their real estate clients, so they need to be able to advise others with a clear head. Remaining calm, reinforcing policy, creating an open line of communication, and leveraging available technologies will help you limit disruption and give your clients the top-shelf service they expect. Just remember to take it day by day, keep calm, and always wash your hands!