The first news stories about the emergence of a novel coronavirus appeared in the early days of 2020. In the weeks that followed, the illness spread, and governments began to mobilize in response. In three short months, COVID-19 had taken root around the globe, changing the lives of billions of people in countless ways, large and small.
Nearly every industry has been impacted. Effects on the real estate management industry have been profound. Some of the impacts, like the need to sanitize properties and put in place business continuity measures, were foreseen in emergency planning. Others were unexpected and to a degree few had imagined.
“We have many small retail tenants in our mixed-use buildings, and they’re getting the brunt of this,” says Barry Blanton, CPM, chief problem solver for Blanton Turner, AMO. “They had to close earlier than most; they’ve had to lay off staff. We’re trying to support them in any way we can. We’re working diligently to make sure they get whatever funding is available, because they are the heart and soul of the neighborhoods that our buildings are in.”
Another, more hopeful outcome of the crisis—rapid innovation. IREM has talked with countless members who have inspiring stories about their teams pulling together, often using virtual platforms, to solve problems with creativity and ingenuity. We’re also hearing stories of opportunity and growth, despite the difficult times.
Cammie Allie, CPM, ARM, president of Fortress Property Management, shares how a nimble approach and rapid problem solving as the COVID-19 crisis began led to a welcome increase in new leases: “In February, even before we really shut down, our traffic slowed to next to nothing. We would host open houses, and no one would show. So I said, ‘You know what, we’re doing videos. If a leasing agent needs to go into a unit and do a Facetime tour, we can do it that way.’ Our move-ins went from nine to 19 in about a week’s time. People are still moving, and I think they are appreciative that we’re not doing first-hand connection.”
The COVID-19 crisis also calls for prioritizing resources based on need and keeping the specific impacts to your tenants’ businesses in mind. Mindy Gronbeck, CPM, CSM, CSX, director of property management at Hawkins Companies, AMO, explains how her company first directed their support to smaller tenants. “We decided we would offer [rent] deferments to the small mom-and-pops,” she says. “We have also created Facebook pages for our centers that have lots of restaurants, and we are posting several times a day that they are still open for delivery.”
In addition to addressing business impacts, the members IREM spoke to recommend staying attuned to the needs of your teams and occupants. “We really need to flip the agenda,” says Debbie Phillips, PhD, CPM, principal for The Quadrilion. “Most of the time as leaders we are checking on things, working our to-do lists and managing our priorities. More than ever, leaders have to listen, listen and listen more.”
Adds Blanton: “What matters most tends to rise to the top in times of emergency.”