Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, oh my! Today, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t use some form of social media to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues. Whether they are posting updates on their daily life, sharing articles and pictures of interest to them, or just seeing what others are up to, social media has become a part of our daily lives.
Many Tools, One Goal
As the rise of online social media has diffused into nearly every aspect of life, many of the savvier co-op, condo/HOA boards, and property managers have embraced the medium as a powerful new tool for connecting and communicating with the residents in their communities. Building websites, email listservs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and custom mobile apps have also supplanted the mailroom bulletin board as primary means of inter-building information exchange. For example, run a simple search on Twitter for ‘property management’ and up pops Power Property Management in Culver City, California. With more than 1,200 followers, Power Property Management posts information on community events, changes in hours of operation, and leasing updates.
In addition to social media, web portals have become a popular way of managing buildings and reaching residents. Sharing documents on these portals—things like board meeting minutes and conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs), just to name two common examples – to multiple residents in a community enables easier tracking and quicker communication.
“A plus is that the board can communicate more efficiently with scheduling of meetings, having access to board minutes, financial information, etc.,” says Paul Purcell, managing director of William Raveis New York City, part of William Raveis Real Estate. “It will all be in one place with easy access. We also have a board-only section that is password protected.”
“There’s tremendous upside to these portals,” agrees William Aronin, partner in the New York City-based law firm Perry & Aronin, PLLC. “They make it easier to manage and collect payments, organize and respond to repairs or other complaints, and let residents develop a community. You can also send announcements.”
For example, the portal that Chicago’s Kass Management Services has created also allows pictures or documents to be attached as needed. Additional features include the ability to post/e-blast all residents with announcements relating to the building. “We also can post and store items such as meeting minutes, rules and regulations and other pertinent documents unit owners may need access to without the need of reaching out to someone for access to them,” says Mark Durakovic, Kass’ vice president and principal.
In the past, Aronin says his buildings have incorporated a full internal Craigslist-type of board where people could list and buy furniture, organize events and plan workouts. “When it’s working well, it’s great. But because I’m a lawyer, I feel I’m legally obligated to then say, ‘Be careful, because there are some pitfalls as well.’”
Text and Forget It
“Effective communication with residents is critical to the success of any residential community,” says Nat Kunes. He is vice president of product management at property management software provider AppFolio, which allows management to collect rent online, but also to text message and provide a contact center for residents to reach out to management.
“Modernization of these efforts is key to meeting resident expectations,” says Kunes. “Take mobile, for example. It’s opening many avenues for effective communication with residents, enabling property managers to do things like connect easily with them via text messaging.”
Kunes says that two-way texting options are the future in property management. “They drive faster, personalized and more direct communication with residents—ideal for sending late payment reminders, maintenance reminders and time-sensitive correspondence,” he says. “Going mobile also improves transparency and customer service, and appeals to the modern-day resident with technology that they use every day. It also enables property managers to perform almost every aspect of their business from anywhere, helping them get more done in less time.”
Purcell agrees, and says that his firm has pared down the board packages that residents receive from nine to three, opting to move to a more modern way of communicating. “We then disseminate the need-to-know info to the rest of the board on one or two pages,” he says. “We are saving trees, helping with confidentiality issues and the risk of a package going missing.”
Purcell’s company is also moving to an internet-based form of communicating with one another and with their tenant shareholders. “We’re excited to be able to enhance communication with our shareholders and among management and board members,” he says. Among their current initiatives is investigating the use of software designed expressly for co-ops, condos, and large rental buildings. “Our communications will change from notes and memos in the elevators to emails and texts,” says Purcell. “We will still maintain the traditional means of communicating for those who prefer that. We will have a tablet in the lobby to be used for package signatures and building issues, such a water shut-offs and so forth, and anything that needs to be communicated to the entire cooperative or to an individual resident. For example, guests allowed to enter, cleaning staff, that sort of thing. We do not want to lose the feel of a small and intimate prewar cooperative, though. So, we have discussed how we will move into the 21st century while still preserving a white-glove feel. We’ve discussed the training of staff, which will no doubt have some bumps.”
The Good, Bad and Ugly
The drawbacks of all this online technology? Firstly, technology is only good if it’s working. Durakovic explains that technical glitches will inevitably occur from time to time. “Using such technology also eliminates some of the human interaction and relationship building that occurs between owners and management staff when connecting face to face or over a phone conversation,” he says.
With any residential relationship, regardless of whether it’s owner-occupied or a rental, no matter how well the parties get along, Aronin says that there is always the risk of litigation. “If complaints start to pile up without the situation being fixed, the portal creates a record of all the grievances and can show a pattern – regardless of whether the board or manager thinks the complaints themselves are overblown or unfounded,” he says.
Similarly, he sees a problem when residents are reluctant to use the portal exclusively – or even at all. “No matter how great the system is, boards, managers and landlords have an obligation to respond and address problems. It's not a defense – or at least not a good defense – to say that yes, this person emailed me 12 times, but every time, I responded that they should use the portal to make requests,” he says. “These portals are great when they’re used, but management cannot refuse to acknowledge things that are brought to their attention outside of the portal.”
Social media has the same advantages and pitfalls, but this time it can be shared by both sides. “It’s amazing how often parties find themselves in litigation and a Facebook photo shared by one side contradicts their claims,” says Aronin. “The advice is always the same – just be careful. No matter how well everyone seems to get along, especially when it comes to real estate, you never know when one side is going to end up suing the other.”
It’s also important that if a board uses a company for their social media or app needs, they need to thoroughly investigate the firm. “Get their reps in and interview a few,” advises Aronin.
Purcell says his firm isn’t using social media right now, but it might evolve to that. “It would be nice for tenant shareholders to more easily speak to one another,” he says. “Who needs a babysitter? Who needs a housekeeper? Who has a sofa they want to sell or give away? And if you are traveling, you won't have to rely on a note in the elevator that you weren’t here to see.”
When implementing change from the older ways of doing things to more modern, tech-savvy ways, Aronin suggests that management start slow and consider who their audience is.
“If it’s new construction with a primarily tech-savvy demographic, then starting with a portal and really focusing on it can work wonders,” he says. “If, however, it’s, for example, a building with residents who have lived there for decades and may resist change, it’s probably easier to start with an email list and an option to pay online and see how that goes.”
Durakovic suggests creating a list of main objectives that property managers wish to accomplish, as not every avenue will offer the same features and it is best to know what would be the most useful for the association.
Whether you live in an ultra-modern glass-and-steel high-rise, or a prewar walk-up with neighbors who’ve been there for generations, social media and technology can indeed help you run your community more smoothly – it's just a matter of knowing your residents, and tailoring your use of new methods to fit their expectations and comfort level.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.