The budget season for multifamily communities is upon us! Every year, multifamily teams’ budgets take into account a variety of variables: weather, unemployment, regulations, utility bills, you name it. But one variable no one accounted for this past year? A pandemic that shut the nation down, enforced social distancing guidelines and affected every industry.

More than ever, multifamily teams need to ensure that their budgets are flexible and easy to adapt to the unpredictable world that we now live in. My experience as a real estate investor and CEO of a company dedicated to helping multifamily teams do their best work has given me insight on this year’s budget season theme: virtual capabilities and increased safety measures. Let’s take a look at some of the new considerations in four key budget areas for multifamily budgets for 2021.

Marketing: Meeting Your Prospects

As the market changes, so should your marketing tactics. Needless to say, the market has drastically shifted heading into next year. It is tempting for many properties to immediately begin cutting budgets — especially marketing budgets — during uncertainty. However, there are cases for maintaining your marketing budget. Instead of cutting budgets right away, reprioritize where your marketing dollars are allocated.

Because we live in a virtual world, it is crucial that your marketing efforts reach your prospects in that space. Consider budgeting for a website refresh instead of budgeting for a billboard. Include virtual open houses and promotions in your budget — in addition to or instead of an in-person open house. One of the most effective ways to reach your targeted audience is through video as video posts are shared 12 times more than text and images combined. As digital marketing increases, I see personalization and the power of human connection becoming increasingly important as meeting in-person may not always be possible.

With these factors in mind, consider budgeting for:

  • Digital and social channel revamp and maintenance
  • Virtual open houses and other virtual events
  • Technology to support video for increased engagement and authenticity
  • Ways to streamline marketing efforts to minimize extra lift

New Leasing Methods

Uncertainty may best describe leasing in 2020 and into the next year. The key to finding success leasing in 2021 will be providing opportunities. Even if social distancing is not mandated, leasing teams need to be cognizant and creative in order to adapt to different comfort levels of prospective residents. Equip your teams to provide the opportunity for a prospective resident to engage and interact with your property no matter their preferences or desired means.

Budgets should be flexible and include line items for tools to assist in virtual leasing and blended leasing methods. These tools may look like virtual leasing platforms or something as simple as videos taken on a smartphone. These videos can also be leveraged in other areas, including marketing, social media and resident engagement efforts. The more uses and integration of whatever methods you use, the better!

For 2021, consider budgeting for:

  • Virtual touring and leasing via video or integrated technologies
  • Extra sanitation for in-person and self-guided tours
  • Preparations for teams to go virtual

Maintenance Safety

Not only do property managers need to determine the who and the what for their maintenance budgets, but they also need to be aware of the how and when due to increased safety and sanitation measures. Property management teams need to proactively think about all of the ways that maintenance is changing and how to best limit the in-person maintenance needs in your community. Being watched more closely than ever, proactive communication with maintenance is of the utmost importance. It may be a determining factor in whether a resident leaves a glowing review or a scathing one.

When gathering quotes from different vendors, it is important to understand the different guidelines and policies of these vendors, which often increases time and effort for a maintenance team. Consider providing your team with virtual communication tools, whether through an email address dedicated to requests or tools built just for management teams, to handle standard maintenance requests. These can help inform and teach residents to safely troubleshoot simple fixes on their own, thus eliminating a key-in to a unit while quickly resolving that ticket. Marketing and leasing aren’t the only teams that should consider budgeting for virtual tools in order to save your team time and mitigate unnecessary risk.

2021 maintenance budgets should include considerations for:

  • Proactive measures to limit in-person maintenance
  • Increased sanitation measures
  • Virtual lines of communication with residents
  • Virtual lines of communication to collect quotes from vendors

New Resident Priorities And Amenities

The market has shifted — so have the needs, desires and demands of residents. As of earlier this summer, 38% of residents are planning to move in the next six months. Of those moving, 39% are doing so due to their experience in the community during the pandemic. During a tumultuous season in our history, increased personalized and empathetic communication is imperative for 2021.

Furthermore, work from home is now the new norm with a resident’s home also doubling as their workspace. How can your community be proactive in making the most of the situation? What priorities in your budget need to change?

Consider including the following in your budget:

  • Work-from-home stations, including Wi-Fi, throughout the community.
  • Virtual events and channels for resident engagement.
  • Increased communication with residents through video.

As you wrap up the budgeting process, take a step back and ask if your budget accounts for different scenarios. Does your team have everything they need to connect with prospects and residents virtually? Is your team ready with the necessary technology to work partially or fully remote? Will residents and prospective residents feel safe, informed and cared for with the provided resources?

Perhaps more than any other year, 2020 has brought substantial changes to a property’s budgeting process. But by including the needed resources to ensure adequate safety and sanitation, while prioritizing personalization and communication, your team will be prepared for whatever 2021 holds.

Originally published on Forbes as part of the Forbes Real Estate Council.

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