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An event reimagined

The Virtual IREM Summit charts the path forward

By John Salustri
Business Colleagues Chatting At Coffee Break

Simply put, the Virtual IREM Summit 2020 was the next best thing to being there. This year’s event delivered on (virtually) all counts, with a nonstop menu of in-depth keynote presentations and educational sessions targeting issues top of mind for most property managers as well as interactive events emphasizing social networking. Peppered throughout were personal accounts of CPMs on topics ranging from diversity to decompressing.

Keynote speakers strike hopeful tone

The Virtual IREM Summit was formally themed “inspire 2020,” but the subtext, of course, was management through the ongoing pandemic and carving a path for the future. Given that, the tone of the conference was simultaneously frank but hopeful. This year’s IREM President Cheryl Gray, CPM, set that tone to words with introductory remarks at the start of Day One: “I know how difficult it is to manage through uncertainty. If you are exhausted, you are not alone.” And she ended on the positive note that defined the conference: “You all have the knowledge that your tenants, residents, and owners need, and you strive in an ever-changing world.” 

Exactly how much change we’re striving through—both good and challenging—was underscored by keynote speaker Spencer Levy, chairman of Americas Research and senior economic advisor for CBRE, AMO, in a session appropriately entitled, “The Way Forward.” From the macro view: “Notwithstanding that we’ve been in some version of social distancing or lockdown much longer than expected, the macro still has some good news,” he said. 

He indicated predictions of a “strong and rapid” recovery and a GDP that will stretch from 2020’s -5% to a +5% next year. He also cited the jobs, stock market, and consumer confidence pictures. “Yes,” he said, the “macro economy is stronger than people feel in their gut.”

However, that doesn’t erase the challenges of the real estate sector, and Levy set a course of sorts back to recovery for all the major “food” groups—one that included a solid, if very different, office sector (thanks in large part to work-from-home options) and hope for our cities. “The death of office and big cities has been over-told,” he stated. “Both have a bright future,” even if that future is a ways off.

Breaking the return of the food groups into what he called yearly “buckets,” he put industrial and multifamily in year one, office into year two, and (not surprisingly) hotel and retail into bucket three.

Given the economic and market disruption wrought by the pandemic, there’s little wonder how much stress it has caused for individuals, sometimes to the point of depression. In sessions that exploded the webinar chat box, keynote speakers John Register and Ben Nemtin shared their personal stories of overcoming hardship to achieve personal and professional success. “The new normal is not a destination,” said Register, a Paralympic silver medalist. “It’s a platform from which we grow.” 

Nemtin’s pressure to succeed led to anxiety and depression. Making a strong case for mental health advocacy, he told the more than 1,000 Virtual IREM Summit attendees, “You are the architect of your own inspiration.”

Bringing those concepts to the workplace, keynote speaker Sara Ross noted that the three biggest stresses are excessive workload, difficult people, and the inability to balance work with the rest of life. Stress can be a good thing, she noted, but for it to be helpful, “we must have the opportunity to disconnect.” The brain, she said, has a two-part structure: emotional and logical, “and only one can be in the driver’s seat.” She advocated for a “rest ethic” in addition to a work ethic. “If you always put yourself last on the list, there’s no way for you to be of service to the people who need you.”

Lesson learned; where from here?

Barry Blanton, CPM

In that context, it’s important to note the importance of reasoned compassion. It’s a favorite theme for 2021 IREM President-Elect Barry Blanton, CPM, and one he raised again during the Summit. Blanton moderated “Lessons Learned From COVID-19,” in which listeners learned the steps that IREM is taking to activate that compassion. 

One clear way is through active legislative outreach designed to support both occupants and managers alike. Ted Thurn, IREM’s director of government affairs, talked listeners through the legislative milestones of the past six months and encapsulated three prime IREM initiatives:

  • Exploring the legal aspects of the Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium executive order, a movement the Institute is mounting with its coalition partners
  • Advocacy on the part of members
  • Education—Thurn emphasized such steps as recent ads in outlets like Politico indicating the “detrimental effects of an eviction moratorium.”

Blanton was also on hand for the International Forum, where the themes that carried through most of the Summit were very much in evidence. Reports from chapters around the globe all touched on the same idea: persevering through the storm despite the cancellation of live events and the inability to interact face-to-face.

Yet, the growth of IREM continued through the year, and Cheryl Gray ran down the roster: 48 new Canadian members, 69 more Chinese CPMs (along with a new Chinese AMO accreditation), 87 new members in Japan, 19 in South Korea, and 18 new South African members. In addition, there was one new member each in the Czech Republic, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore.

Calling the pandemic “the most sustained event I can remember,” Gray saluted the members around the globe for leveraging the IREM network and bringing tools and resources together for the support of one another. 

Life beyond COVID-19

While the pandemic touches all of our lives in many ways, not all of the sessions were focused primarily on the changes of the past few months and how, to use a term popular throughout these two days, property managers had to “pivot.” There were numerous sessions that were more focused on essential best practices that transcend the immediacy of COVID-19.

Kelly Charles-Collins, Esq., MBA

In “Disrupting Unconscious Bias,” attorney Kelly Charles-Collins, Esq., MBA, made a strong business case for awareness, noting that bias was in a sense much more insidious than racism. She defined unconscious bias as “snap judgments and stereotypes; it’s not intentional,” but rather is driven by instinct and preferences. 

To illustrate, she bulleted six forms of bias: 

  • Affinity—the trait of seeking out those just like you 
  • Confirmation—the tendency to seek out information that confirms our beliefs
  • Conformity or Group Speak—the trait of going along to get along
  • Halo and Horn biases—attributing all good or all bad traits to a person 
  • Prototype bias—the images that set the standards for our actions, such as assuming all CEOs should be white males

Accountability is also key to this disruption. Bias awareness must be intertwined with the bottom line.
An unnerving statistic she offered was that people are 50% less likely to get a job interview if they have an ethnic name. And yet, it’s been proven that diversity can positively impact productivity, creativity, recruitment, and retention. “If people don’t want to work for you, it will affect your bottom line,” she said.

So how do we disrupt unconscious bias? Charles-Collins laid out five steps: 

  • Awareness
  • Acceptance of the fact
  • Concern about its impact
  • A willingness to change 
  • Taking actions to make those changes

Accountability is also key to this disruption. “Bias awareness must be intertwined with the bottom line,” she said.  COVID-19 did reappear, indirectly at least, in two other sessions. In “Accelerating Smart Buildings,” Thano Lambrinos, vice president of smart building technology and digital innovation at QuadReal Property Group, indicated that COVID-19 brought technologies to the forefront of our consciousness, whether it was the ramped-up use of videoconferencing or the installation of more touchless devices to stem the spread of disease.

Whatever the motivation, “89% of investors say COVID-19 would accelerate adoption of technology in real estate,” he explained. 

Lambrinos noted that smart buildings carry a specific financial value for your tenants, including a 3% productivity increase, a 5% retention increase, and 30% fewer sick days. And these, of course, translate into enhanced building value, as does an “almost 12% increase in lease value,” and a potential hike in sale price by as much as 25%. “There is significant value for the landlord, whether the asset class is office, residential, or others.” Tech may have once been considered a luxury. Today, he said, “it’s mission critical.”

Getting social 

COVID-19 also underpinned the importance of a strong social media platform, but this, too, transcends the needs of the current environment. Katie Lance, CEO and founder of Katie Lance Consulting, talked attendees through the ins and outs of various programs, urging listeners to “stop random acts of social media.”

Noting that “relationships are king, and content is queen,” Lance urged members to be both intentional and strategic in their social media campaigns. She called LinkedIn one of the most important social media sites for business, but also urged us to leverage our Facebook profiles and add videos and blogs. She also described the benefits of Instagram and the use of hashtags and various other apps and tools to enhance your social media presence. 

“People do business with people they like and trust,” said Lance, noting that social media is a great way to build that trust and stay in front of your intended audience. She also urged attendees not to wait. “Done is better than perfect,” she concluded. 

Despite the virtual nature of the 2020 Summit, there were ample opportunities to get social and connect with fellow members and vendors. Certainly, the virtual trade show was one of them, as was an interactive “book review” with John Register at the end of Day One. 

There was also a tribute to Bob and Gladys Beal. For  half a century, Beal served in executive positions at RPM Management, AMO, in Little Rock, Arkansas. An active IREM member, he served at both the local and national levels, including positions as an IREM regional VP and an IREM Foundation board member. He also received the 2008 Arkansas Chapter Man of the Year award. The IREM Foundation is a named beneficiary of the Beal Trust.

Still managing to make a difference

On Day Two, newly installed IREM President Chip Watts, CPM, CCIM, offered his thoughts on the current environment and the way forward, and in doing so, encapsulated the theme and the mission of the Virtual IREM Summit, if not the Institute itself: 

“There’s no playbook for the current environment. Even though we had to be alone in a physical sense, it’s clear that in order to get through the challenges of the last few months, we as property managers need each other. We can learn a lot from each other, even though we’re divided by distance. 

“So, as we move forward, it will be important for us to maintain that togetherness and continue to connect with one another, whether it’s on a personal or professional level. The more we can lean on each other and collaborate, the more successful we’ll be in managing to make a difference.”

2021 Leadership

Executive Committee

W.A. Chip Watts IV, CPM, CCIM
Watts Realty Co., Inc., AMO
Birmingham, AL

Barry Blanton, CPM, President-Elect
Blanton Turner, AMO, Seattle, WA

Renee M. Savage, CPM, CCIM, Secretary/Treasurer
CFI-Capital Growth, Inc., AMO, San Diego, CA

Branden Barker, CPM, CCIM, CSM, Senior Vice President
Barker Property Management, AMO, Baton Rouge, LA

Dawn Carpenter, CPM, Senior Vice President
Dawning Real Estate, Inc., AMO, Staten Island, NY

Libby Ekre, CPM, Senior Vice President
MEB Management Services, AMO, Phoenix, AZ

Mindy Gronbeck, CPM, CSM, CSX
Senior Vice President
Hawkins Companies, AMO
Boise, ID

Ron Penner CPM, CRP, Senior Vice President
Globe Property Management, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Mel Schultz, CPM, CCIM, CCAM, Senior Vice President
Clarity Commercial, St Louis Park, MN

Waddell Wright, CPM, CCIM, Senior Vice President
W. Wright & Co., LLC, Nashville, TN

Brad Ashley, CPM, RPA, At-Large Member
Newmark Grubb Zimmer, AMO, Kansas City, MO

Michael Brown, CPM, ARM, At-Large Member
GVA Property Management, Austin, TX

Gregory Cichy, CPM, At-Large Member
Colliers International, AMO, Washington, DC

Kim Collins, CPM, At-Large Member
CBRE, Inc, AMO, Indianapolis, IN

Toni R. Harris, CPM, ARM, At-Large Member
Avanath Realty, AMO, Bethesda, MD

Sidney Ingelson, CPM, At-Large Member
The Northern Trust Company, Pasadena, CA

Shaniece Sanford, CPM, At-Large Member
Cushman & Wakefield, AMO, Washington, D.C.

Cheryl Gray, CPM, Immediate Past President
QuadReal Property Group, Toronto, ON, Canada

Donald B. Wilkerson, CPM, IREM Representative to NAR
Gaston and Wilkerson Management Group, AMO, Reno, NV

Julie L. Scott, CPM, IREM Foundation President
Fortress Property Management, Troutdale, OR

Denise LeDuc-Froemming, CAE, MBA, CPA, CEO/Executive Vice President
IREM, Chicago, IL

US Regional Vice Presidents

Region 1
(CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT)
Peter Lewis, CPM
Schochet Companies, AMO
Braintree, MA

Region 2
(DE, NJ, NY, PA)
Christine Lacy, CPM
CELL Solutions
Lawnside, NJ

Region 3
(MD, VA, DC)
Jae Roe, CPM, ACoM
The RMR Group
Norfolk, VA

Region 4
(FL, GA)
Dr. Deborah R. Phillips, CPM
The Quadrillion
Stockbridge, GA

Region 5
(AL, AR, LA, MS)
Debbie Prejeant, CPM
Latter and Blum Property Management, AMO
New Orleans, LA

Region 6
(IN, KY, MI, OH, WV)
Anne Ficeli, CPM
PURE Real Estate Management Services
Grand Rapids, MI

Region 7
(OK, TX)
Jessica Warrior, CPM, RPA
Granite Properties
Dallas, TX

Region 8
(AZ, CO, NV, NM, UT)
Angelina Scarcelli, CPM
Colliers International, AMO
Las Vegas, NV

Region 9
(IL, MN, WI)
Kris Cramer, CPM
Colliers International, AMO
Rosemont, IL

Region 10
(IA, KS, MO, NE, ND, SD)
Ryan Huffman, CPM
Cohen-Esrey Apartment Investors
Kansas City, MO

Region 11
(CA, HI)
William Sheridan, CPM
Sfinvest, AMO
Chico, CA

Region 12
(AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
Jason Jackson, CPM, ARM
Kiemle Hagood
Spokane, WA

Region 13
(NC, SC, TN)
Amy Hedgecock, CPM
Fowler & Fowler Realtors
High Point, NC

International Vice Presidents

IREM Canada
Chrystal Skead, CPM, ARM
Clear Stone Asset Consulting Inc.
Edmonton, AB, Canada

IREM Japan
Hidekazu Sakihara, CPM
Owner’s Agent, Inc.
Tokyo, Japan

IREM Foundation Board of Directors

Julie L. Scott, CPM, President
Fortress Property Management
Troutdale, OR

Karen L. Pharr, CPM, Vice President
Cushman & Wakefield PIRES Intl, AMO
El Paso, TX

Clark F. Lindstrom, CPM, Ex Officio Member
Peterson Properties, Inc.
Wichita, KS

Denise LeDuc-Froemming, CAE, MBA, CPA, Executive Director
Chicago, IL

Malcolm Bates, CPM
Richmond, VA

Anshu Bera, CPM
Wheaton, IL

Walter J. Crumpler, CPM
Welltower, Inc.
Charlotte, NC

Terrell T. Edwards, CPM
Blanton Turner, AMO
Seattle, WA

Benjamin R. Forsyth, CPM
Westerra Corp.
Bountiful, UT

Kaci B. Hancock, CPM, ACoM
REIS Associates
Houston, TX

Shawn P. Harvey, CPM
Lee Associates
Houston, TX

Byrdy L. Kelley, CPM, ARM
Plano, TX

Christopher E. Mellen, CPM, ARM
Dedham, MA

Jo D. Miller
IREM Houston Chapter
Houston, TX

Regina (Reggie) Taylor Mullins, CPM
Cushman & Wakefield, Inc., AMO
Arlington, VA

Renee M. Savage, CPM, CCIM
CFI-Capital Growth, Inc., AMO
San Diego, CA

Jonathan Leigh Tucker, CPM
Cortland Management, LLC, AMO
Atlanta, GA

Deborah Deraney Westphal, CPM, ARM
Franklin, TN

Eileen D. Wirth, CPM
MEND, Inc.
Moorestown, NJ

Journal of Property Management

John Salustri is a contributing writer for JPM.

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