• Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

Apartment Maintenance Staffs Mix Digital Sensors and Hammers As Profession Evolves


Jun 8, 2023
Greystar, which manages the Jade at Avondale apartment complex in Decatur, Georgia, has centralized many staff functions. (Jason Buch/CoStar)


Apartment property managers are going high tech when it comes to keeping buildings running. Instead of a plunger, your next visit from a maintenance pro could involve transmitters, remote monitors and other digital gear that’s more James Bond than Roto-Rooter.

Multifamily industrial professionals spent the first day of the National Apartment Association’s 2023 Apartmentalize conference in Atlanta swapping tips on the latest tools of the trade. The gear includes thermal monitors for detecting pest and wildlife in walls and ceilings, digital refrigerant analyzers — and even flushable transmitters for locating blockages in sewer pipes.

Mary Gwyn, chief innovator at property manager Apartment Dynamics, joined managers in saying maintenance is constantly at top-of-mind in her line of work. While they also experiment with new software for a variety of tasks, she said all that cutting-edge technology isn’t going to work unless managers are adept in the age-old technique of communication. And that can be as low-tech as pen and paper.

“The number of sticky notes I would leave at the office at the end of a day,” would be countless, she said at one panel discussion. “I would leave the office and there would be sticky notes on my body.”

Even with the advances, some property managers still aren’t using the most updated tools for assessing broken air conditioning, electrical systems, plumbing and other areas, said Mark Cukro, president of Plus One Consulting.

They may look pricey, but simply buying new digital gauges for many tasks will save a property management company in the long run. A digital refrigerant gauge, for example, costs a few hundred dollars and can be used repeatedly for years. A single visit from a plumber can also cost a few hundred dollars.

“It’s a wise investment, that’s really what it is,” he said.

Another recommendation: property managers should consider purchasing updated tools for every member of a maintenance staff. That can help each employee be more efficient, rather than waiting for a colleague to finish using a tool, for example.

But that doesn’t mean only new tools will do. Sometimes nothing beats a well-made hand tool that requires nothing but human power, Cukro said. Hammers made by the Rockford, Illinois-based company Estwing can last for decades, he said.

“There are tools that will go throughout generations and will remain unchanged forever,” Cukro said. “This hammer is one of those.”

Management companies also need to take care to get the right digital tool, software, for tasks beyond maintenance, Tricap Residential Group President of Operations Suzanne Hopson said. Tricap has changed its customer relationship software vendor three times in three years to get the correct fit since it began the process of centralizing work functions, she said.

Greystar, one of the largest U.S. property owners and managers, uses technology in centralizing business functions like sales, leasing, accounts receivable and maintenance calls to save money and streamline service, Kim Nicholson, senior director of property systems and owned assets, said during a panel discussion.

Different types of software can improve how a multifamily landlord manages the leasing process. Donald Davidoff, CEO of Littleton, Colorado-based Real Estate Business Analytics, said mapping software can be used to help set rent rates based on price movements in a specific market.

Property managers should also improve mapping functions on their leasing websites because consumers have become comfortable exploring an entire city’s offerings for things like hotel rooms, Davidoff said.

“It’s a very powerful tool for self-help” for potential renters looking for available apartments, Davidoff said.

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