The importance of active asset management in multifamily
Investors in multifamily real estate are often attracted by the high levels of dependable cash flow that many properties can generate. However, few properties can be acquired and safely ignored by owners who are not hands-on in their approach. We do, unfortunately see this hands-off approach employed by many investment groups, including even some sophisticated institutional investors in multifamily properties. Often when performing an on-site analysis of a potential multifamily acquisition, it becomes evident that the on-site staff may not be representing ownership’s best interests. In some cases, the leasing staff may be inattentive, the on-site manager may not know their tenant base, the landscaping can be unkempt, unit turns may be sloppy, etc. We see this even with reputable third-party management in situations where the ownership is disengaged and not actively monitoring their asset. This may happen for multiple reasons: the regional and corporate management may be choosing to focus resources on other properties, the on-site property manager may consider the property a rung on the career ladder, or the focus of the property staff may not be on maximizing performance but instead on avoiding mistakes. As a result, rents and occupancy lag the market and property NOI is depressed, creating an opportunity for others. This is an approach that often leads to sub-optimal performance and a gradual erosion of the properties’ value and cash flows. It does, however, create opportunities for owners that are willing to invest in robust asset management capabilities.In order to avoid this and maximize value within a large multifamily portfolio, we find that it is essential to emphasize asset management and elevate it to a level of importance that is as high as any other function of the firm. Rather than viewing asset management as a cost center and staffing it with lower paid employees, we at Castle Lanterra view it as a core competence. We also maintain a high degree of overlap within our acquisition and asset management divisions. This ensures continuity following closing and enhances our acquisitions capability by providing the acquisitions team with first-hand experience with business plan execution and actual property performance versus pro forma projections.In addition to emphasizing the value of asset management, we take an active role in ensuring that our property management teams are performing to their potential. Some strategies that we employ include unannounced property visits, secretly shopping properties, and auditing collection and maintenance practices. This is followed by an open discussion in a positive environment where the emphasis is on potential means of improvement rather than criticism. We want our team members to adhere to the highest standards of customer service for our residents, and we encourage everyone to “think like an owner,” a mindset that we underscore with incentive compensation that aligns their interests.We have found that these approaches can have transformative effects on property performance. Even when we maintain the same on-site property management team following an acquisition, we see occupancy increases, rent increases, and reductions in costs through preventative maintenance. We also see increases in tenant satisfaction, and of course, strong returns on our investment in asset management.Elie Rieder is the founder and chief executive officer of Castle Lanterra Equity and Castle Lanterra Properties.