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Resident Retention: A Primary Role of the Maintenance Professional

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by Chris Abernathy and Amy Gillaspie

As the Maintenance Olympics draws near, we thought it would be important to spotlight the importance of our maintenance teams to the success of our communities, specifically in the area of resident retention.  

Our maintenance teams are on the front lines and interact with our residents as much as anyone in the office, and their effective communication with residents is crucial.  

Here are six important ways that maintenance teams can contribute to resident retention: 

Decrease Work Order Turnaround Times  

One of the most effective ways to keep our residents happy is to keep their homes in the best working order.  Obviously, the longer it takes for repairs, the less happy our residents become.  There is nothing better than working in an office where you can state with confidence that your maintenance team will get to any non-emergency problems within 24 hours of all requests.  

If repairs cannot be completed within 24 hours due to a part being ordered, for example, communicating the delay and estimated time of repairs is key to keeping the resident informed and satisfied that the team is making their best effort.  It is such a wonderful feeling to get a work order response survey where the resident is shocked at how quickly their problem was repaired!

Be the First Line of Communication

Maintenance teams don’t just hear about maintenance issues, they are often the first members of the community staff to hear about residents other needs or concerns.  If a resident is upset, they may vent to the first staff member they see, and that person could be completing a work order.  I have actually had residents initiate renewal conversations with maintenance supervisors and technicians, whether it’s wondering if they could get their carpets cleaned for renewing, or even asking if the rates would increase.  

This is a perfect opportunity for the maintenance team to be trained to smoothly direct the resident and their concerns to the leasing office.  The maintenance team could also be empowered to grant the request of the carpet clean, if it is community policy, immediately demonstrating the good will of the community and perhaps making the renewal more likely.

Attend Resident Events

The best communities create a true sense of home for the residents.  Maintenance professionals are at their best when they get to know residents, learning their names, welcoming them home for the day,  and listening to how things are going for them.  A dedicated maintenance team member will even go above-and-beyond and attend resident events.  This is an opportunity for the maintenance staff and residents to get to know each other outside of their normal relationship of dealing with some problem or repairs.  This serves to “humanize” them to each other and view each other in a new light.  A resident will form stronger bonds with a community where they trust and like a staff that they have gotten to know and had fun with.

Develop a Strong, Dependable Team

It seems common in the our industry that often times staff members, no matter how well they work together, see maintenance and office staff as two separate functioning entities.  While both teams truly are part of one, more cohesive team, the staff at any given site knows that office staff and maintenance staff go about their own tasks and responsibilities daily and approach those tasks different than the other team might.  

Residents do not see the staff in this way, though.  They feel comfortable approaching members of their maintenance teams to ask questions about renewals, pricing, and other work order related questions.  Often, these are questions the office staff would handle, but a strong maintenance team welcomes resident conversation, and will speak with the residents with respect, and not dismiss their questions by saying something such as, “You will need to call the office for that.”  

A strong maintenance staff supports their office staff, and vice versa.  Without that solid relationship between the two sides of the same coin, staff morale can suffer, employee turnover can rise, and resident retention can fall off.  Therefore, it is very important that our maintenance teams understand their value toward retaining residents.

Understand the Value of Your Community’s Curb Appeal

The first impression that prospects who turn into our residents have of a site is most times a visual impression.  As our customer base changes the way they shop for apartments, by researching their options online before calling or coming to the site for a tour, they are viewing pictures of communities, sometimes from other states and countries.  

Maintenance teams are almost always the people who are working daily to strive for perfect curb appeal.  Something as “simple” as the work our groundskeepers do to ensure our sites look clean, fresh, bright, and safe, is imperative to the prospect coming to visit for a site tour.  We often overhear prospects going out on tour state that they looked at apartments online before visiting locations, and if they drive into a property and the location looks nothing like the pictures they viewed online, they will turn around and drive away without even stopping to take a tour.  

Make Preventative Maintenance a Priority

While the city of Denver is currently experiencing a massive development boom, the majority of communities in our city are much older than 5 years old.  

The importance of preventative maintenance is key for new build communities, as such maintenance work impacts a community from the first move-in the day the property is open for business.  Those communities in our city that are more than five years old know that preventative maintenance, as well as the repetitive, daily work the maintenance staff undertakes has long-term, tangible benefits.  

If maintenance is done well, day in and day out, over years, it is very helpful to resident retention.  A community that has been well cared for and maintained over twenty years creates a place to call home for hundreds of residents.  The daily work orders that maintenance members take care of lead to long-term care for a community and property that translate directly to resident retention.  

If a community has not been cared for, a resident is very unlikely to renew, given the choice.  If it has, and the work has been done exceptionally well, an older community can easily compete with a newer one if the homes are not maintained well.  Each and every maintenance member, from the groundskeeper, to the housekeeper, to the techs and supervisors, puts in daily work that, over years, creates a solid home, and thus leads to strong resident retention.  Their daily work is very important for long term benefits.  

Chris Abernathy is the community manager at 1600 Glenarm Place (Redpeak), and Amy Gillaspie is the Leasing Manager at The Vintage at Hyland Hills (Legacy Partners).  They serve on AAMD’s Communication Committee