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© 2019 by JOSHUA TREE CONFERENCE GROUP

Internal Innovators

and the Multifamily Process

“When you put your money in, the candy has to spin and drop out.”

That’s how Andrew Silverman, the Vice President of Operations at Veritas Investments, sums up the entire multifamily industry.

He’s not wrong.

In this era of extreme innovation, owner/operators are spoiled for choice. Multifamily management has moved way beyond the level of simply minimizing vacancy and maximizing revenue. These days, it’s just as much about tracking prospects in microscopic detail, streamlining internal processes to achieve robot-like efficiency and making use of the latest and greatest in smart home gadgetry.

But at the end of the day, minimizing vacancy and maximizing revenue really is what it’s all about. (Hence the need for the candy to spin and drop out.)

During this highly interactive panel, veteran technology experts from three management companies offered unrivaled insight into how owners and operators really determine which third-party suppliers deserve their valuable business.

Moderator Joshua Erosky (Director of Information Security and Building Technology at UDR) framed the discussion by asking each panelist to describe how his or her organization views innovation.

 

Whitney Ciraulo-Stuart, Regional Property Manager at Greystar, explained that Greystar has an innovation committee comprised of employees from a variety of departments. The committee meets regularly, and

 

Greystar makes excellent use of its intra-company portal. She acknowledged that Greystar can be fairly fast-moving when it comes to implementing process changes and refreshes, but they’re “much more methodical” about disruptive technology.

 

Mr. Silverman, of Veritas said that his company’s strategy is more diffuse.

“We’re small enough and contained enough, and yet we have a different business plan. We have 200 buildings, with no on-site staff to speak of,” he explained. “The tech in the marketplace isn’t wired for us. We were forced innovators, and we’ve had some wins. We’ve had some losses, too. And when those happened, we recalibrated.”

Veritas’ approach to technology has been disruptive by design. The company is continually evolving its processes, and “there’s a bunch of pivoting.”

For Taylor Wiederkehr, Software Implementation Analyst at Alliance, his organization’s approach to technology is disruptive … with an asterisk.

“On paper, it’s easy to say that we’d like to be disruptive as an organization,” he said. “As you know in multifamily, the definition of disruptive is skewed. We have a lot of unique challenges in keeping our disruptive mentality relevant.”

Mr. Erosky presented a series of questions to the panelists regarding their organizations’ experiences with implementing new technology.

Ms. Ciraulo-Stuart said emphatically that her biggest question is always “Who’s going to pay for it?” Mr. Wiederkehr agreed. Both noted that this cost sensitivity is reflected in their companies’ cautiousness about adopting new technologies.

Their advice to vendors? Do your research on the company you’re pitching. Be patient about the legality issues that any big corporation will need to work through. Be open and collaborative. Don’t try to “short-circuit” the decision makers. And most importantly -- don’t oversell.

“This is a very relationship-driven business. That’s what you need to take into consideration when you’re trying to sell your product,” Mr. Wiederkehr said.

When Mr. Erosky steered the conversation to specific technologies, one panelist became coy.

“What innovative technologies are we most excited about? That’s a loaded question. You never want to show your hand,” said Ms. Ciraulo-Stuart.

Mr. Silverman was more forthcoming.

“I don’t have a problem tipping my hand,” he said. “Pillow Residential -- we’re on our third iteration with them. We weren’t always aligned, but we got there by figuring out our need and theirs. Latch is another thing we’re excited about. We like the idea of getting mobile access and control. We’ve partnered with Pillow and Airbnb to be the first rent-controlled city in San Francisco.”

Mr. Wiedekehr said that Alliance allowed him to complete a full national audit of its properties when the joined the company eight months ago. He found the survey highly enlightening -- it indicated that smart home automation was a top priority for residents. The biggest innovation that site teams were excited about? EV chargers, far and away.

From that exercise, Alliance began working with Tesla and ChargePoint to improve EV charge capacity across all its assets. The survey findings were so conclusive that Mr. Wiedekehr characterizes smart auto as “the bread and butter” of Alliance’s current innovation efforts.

Finally, the panel took turns summarizing the delicate balance that innovation executives must strike as they field proposals and pilots from qualified vendors.

“We don’t want 12 lock boxes on the fence outside our buildings,” Mr. Silverman said. “That’s obviously very complicated. We need transparency. It’s not sexy and entrepreneurial, but we need to make sure people know the house rules. These processes should be easy, smooth and filled with awareness on both side. From the owner’s to the resident’s perspective, it should all flow.”