The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the property sector in unprecedented ways. The impact has been immediate and widespread – hitting everyone involved in the housing market. Whether you are a tenant living in a rental property or a landlord with a single property or a portfolio to manage, this rapid change has created a new set of living and operational conditions that both parties must adjust to.
The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown of all non-essential businesses have forced many property operators to conduct a top-to-bottom re-evaluation of their operations. How do you keep your residents and staff safe and well-informed about this rapidly evolving situation? How do you continue to conduct viewings in an online-only world? As lockdown begins to ease and businesses reopen, how will day-to-day operations be carried out while observing physical distancing?
Landlords and property managers are under greater-than-ever pressure to take the lead and communicate on how the crisis is impacting their residents’ living conditions. For example, they will be expected to provide updates on the latest health and safety practices and what steps are being taken to protect customers – such as deep cleaning measures, security at entry points and visitor rules.
The traditional paper and person-to-person methods of managing these requirements seem more problematic and undesirable than ever in light of the crisis. Tenants are likely to have questions on everything from cleaning in communal areas, maintenance issues and handling of deliveries to how and when they should pay their rent – all at a time when lockdown and social distancing are everyday concerns. Indeed, property managers need to be able to communicate a lot of information that tenants need to know.
Responding to the challenges posed by Covid-19 has also served to remind landlords of the value and importance of digital innovations. With the majority of the population sheltering at home as much as they can, there is a greater sense of urgency to employ digital tools, as these are increasingly becoming the norm for interactions throughout the residential life cycle – for everything from taking a virtual tour and providing references online, to signing tenancies and making digital rent payments, to booking amenities and tracking repairs, to giving notice and completing an online checklist before moving out.
By leveraging technology, not only can landlords reduce operational costs and streamline workflows, but they can also improve the resident experience by facilitating effective communication and engagement in a virtual world. In this trying time, it is increasingly clear that landlords and tenants need to have an open dialogue and be willing to adopt a collaborative approach to overcome challenges together. If a renter is experiencing financial hardships, for instance, residential operators may have a need for flexible systems to manage and account for deferred payment agreements in which balances due are spread over future periods.
To minimise the need for face-to-face interactions while maintaining routine operations, property managers need to embrace online resident portals. These portals help maintain clear and consistent lines of communication with customers by providing an easier way for them to raise queries and maintenance requests from the safety of their homes.
Critically, online portals help minimise social contact by allowing 24/7 access to important tenancy documents. Digital tools such as e-signatures will be increasingly relied upon because they enable documents to be signed and shared without direct contact while securely storing them in one place.
Aside from providing greater convenience by centralising all landlord and tenant communications, online portals can also help build greater trust and cooperation which is crucial during this period of extreme uncertainty. As the health crisis continues to evolve, landlords will need to continue to put the safety of their residents at the forefront, meaning that digital innovations that facilitate the dissemination of up-to-date and accurate information will become indispensable.
The Covid crisis comes at a time when property operators are already facing mounting pressure to provide better customer service than ever. Today’s consumers have high expectations on the use of digital technology to work and play – particularly millennials and generation Z, who are accustomed to constant connectivity and convenience – so landlords today need to consider positive customer experience as a fundamental part of how they operate.
These trends, driven by changing demographics, are not new, but the coronavirus crisis has massively accelerated the need for technology adoption. With more and more services moving online, going digital is an essential component for landlords to enhance the resident experience and build stronger bonds with the communities they serve. Landlords and property operators that embrace this trend will have a distinct advantage over those that don’t.
Trevor Youens is a director of residential solutions at MRI Software.