Madison Meier: Successful Property Management Transition

by Scott Reid

Management change is bound to occur at a number of student housing properties this year, but managing these transitions is a topic the student housing industry only discusses behind closed doors. Management transitions can be a trying experience for your staff and residents. If a change is needed, the transition needs to be mutually strategized and orchestrated to ensure achievement of your desired benefits and returns. Campus Advantage has been brought in to replace other management companies after acquisitions or transitions and has developed expertise in handling these transitions successfully.

Maybe your leasing goals were missed, your expenses have more than doubled your budget, or your vision no longer aligns with the actions of your current management company. Regardless of the reason for the change, you will need to address a management transition very delicately with a thorough action plan. This is an opportunity to have a fresh set of eyes on your asset — eyes with new marketing ideas, possibly new staffing and an eager will to succeed. Your new management company will be anxious to quickly make changes to the current marketing plan and to the operational structure. While immediate action may be necessary, it is also important to remember that taking time to plan out the transition with your new team will increase the benefits a transition can bring to your market presence and reputation.

  • DO insist the management team place corporate staffing resources on-site for the first three weeks.
  • DON’T expect for residents, parents, and staff to immediately embrace the transition.

Before offcially agreeing to the transition, ask to review the new management company’s roadmap and schedule for the transition. Ask if they have a transition team to handle the transition period, or who will be your point of contact for transition-related questions. Your new team should prepare a customized plan of what to expect during the transition, when to realistically see measurable changes and a staffing coverage calendar. They should provide corporate resources to address resident questions, fill staffing gaps and provide training during the first critical three to four weeks. Your residents and guarantors will overwhelm the office with transition questions to which your on-site staff may not have all the answers. Also, your new partner should reach out to staff members prior to the transition to introduce their company and culture. Ask them to facilitate an on-site meeting with all staff members on the first transition date to address questions about benefits, compensation and new responsibilities. The staff will be nervous about the change and won’t know what to expect from the new company, so ask to see the management team’s introductory processes and materials.

  • DO listen to recommended changes from your new partner.
  • DON’T assume the new company will operate from the existing budget. 

Listen with open ears to the new company’s recommendations for your marketing strategy and other improvement areas. They have likely successfully transitioned multiple properties and will have a plan in place on how to address low occupancy or less than favorable resident retention and engagement. Proposed changes may include target demographic website modifications, social media strategy enhancements, resident feedback surveys or residence life programming increases. Some of these changes may require simply more staff training or a national operating platform approach, but some may require additional dollars to help optimize resident events or online presence. Ask your new partner to provide a sample budget prior to the transition. The sample should include transition-related expenses for new software, marketing materials and travel costs. Discuss costs up-front to ensure agreement and that both parties are ready to commit the time and money needed to turn around the asset.

  • DO communicate the transition to students and guarantors.
  • DON’T blame all past problems on the previous management team. 

On the first day of the transition, communicate the change to students and guarantors through email, letters, social media, fliers and personal interactions. Gather results from a resident satisfaction survey to gain insight on improvement areas most important to the students. Plan to host a community meeting two or three days after the transition date where students are encouraged to ask questions about the new management team and explore areas of opportunity. On-site staff will not be equipped to address all of these concerns; therefore, ensure your new management team plans to provide corporate contact information and resources to assist with surfacing issues. Also, placing blame for all prior issues on the previous management company is not important, nor is it productive. Students and guarantors do not understand the concept behind third-party management companies. Instead, they associate the term “management” with the faces of the on-site office staff. The transition is an opportunity to communicate change to the students, but be careful not to hinder the on-site staff’s ability to strengthen their relationships with residents.

  • DO introduce the new team to the university.
  • DON’T expect unrealistic miracles to happen overnight.

Capitalize on the transition by introducing your new partner to university officials. Request a meeting with the student affairs department for your management team to present their tailored residence life platform. Use this meeting as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the university and convey questions or concerns about the prior operating practices. Your new partner should outline the transition calendar and roadmap with the university and set realistic dates to resolve concerns the university may have with the property. Be mindful that positive changes from the transition will be evident to you quickly, but may take several weeks or longer to improve existing relationships,  leasing numbers, resident retention, or your brand in the market — especially if those elements were unstable prior to the transition. Your new team is focusing on improving your image with the university, while simultaneously working to increase marketing efforts, enhance relationships with residents, establish integrity with guarantors, and train your staff, so keep consistent lines of communication open with the university and city officials. Invite them to events or ask them to participate in upcoming programming, and they will quickly realize your new partner is putting their plan into action and is committed to making requested changes at your community.

A management transition will not solve every issue you have, and there are benefits to retaining your current management partner. However, if you cannot reconcile your differences, a management transition will serve as an opportunity to introduce new practices and change your market reputation. Plan to spend at least two weeks creating an innovative roadmap with your new strategic partner to address resident concerns, staffing issues and leasing obstacles. Create realistic goals to achieve within the first three months, six months, throughout the leasing season and at the end of the budget cycle.

Setting the foundation with your new management company is the first step to achieving success for your asset as you move forward. The right team, along with good communication and collaborative planning, will improve the reputation of your community, making it an experience that is sought after and recommended by the university, family members and, most importantly, the residents themselves.

— Madison Meier serves as the director of business development and transitions for Campus Advantage, overseeing the transition process for new properties and helping grow the company’s management and consulting services. Meier has been with Campus Advantage since 2007 and has held numerous operational roles on-site and within the corporate team.

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