Is the Resident Ever Wrong?
Creative Tips for Dealing with Residents

Resident retention is the fastest and most economical route to higher occupancy and greater Net Operating Income. To KEEP RESIDENTS LONGER, the on-site professional must acquire the people skills to effectively handle the customers - the residents. Even those Residents who are chronic "problems" for the on-site folks deserve professional and caring treatment. This is the second of three articles that address the dilema of "problem Residents" and how to deal with them in a way that will maximize the income of the property while maintaining the on-site staff's sanity!

Residents with problems and problem Residents are inevitable in apartment management. When there are people, expecially people living in close phyiscal proximity like your apartment community, there will be conflict. The astute on-site professional is actually delighted about these potential Resident problems and the people challenges. After all, it's the Residents - with their everyday concerns - that have created the opportunity for property management and for on-site management, leasing and maintenance positions. Frankly, we would not need the on-site professional.

The Resident is Not a Problem.
They are the Reason We Exist.

Everyday more property professionals realize the statement above is not just a nice thought or a simple, frameable quote. It is truely the essence of what we do in our daily acitivities at the on-site level. In two previous articles, we concluded that while the Resident can be wrong when they prevent us from meeting our property management objective - To Increase the Value of the Property - most Residents are not problems. True problem Residents are rare. And even the angry, difficult Resident is usually bringing the on-site staff a legitimate problem that must be properly handled.

Flee or Attack?
Some on-site professionals seem better prepared to handle these Resident problems or conflicts. They know how to turn a heated situation into an opportunity to make a Resident feel positive about the on-site staff.

Other on-site managers and their staffs dread the inevitable "situations" their Residents often hand then and choose to flee. They run from conflict and, frnakly, shirck their repsonsibilities when it comes to dealing with Resident problems. Rather than make a visit to a Resident's apartment or come out of their own back office to appropriately handle an angry or frustrated Resident face-to-face, these less equipped on-site professionals tuck their tails and disappear. The hide behind a note to the Resident when a personal meeting is more appropriate. They chicken out by forcing a young and inexperienced leasing consultant to deal with the Resident problem, or they make the service technician their messenger to the Resident to avoid personal confrontation.

On-site managers who do not like dealing with Resident problems and problem Residents are not necessarily poor operators. Most folks tend to avoid confrontation whenever possible; this is a natural human response. Yet, fleeing Resident problems does not promote positive goodwill nor effective Resident retention.

While some managers choose to flee Resident problems, others take an equally inappropriate approach to conflict - they attack! When this on-site professional begins to feel the heat and pressure from a Resident with a legitimate problem, they feel abused and begin attacking the customer - the Resident. For example, a Resident shows up Monday morning at the leasing office cussing up a storm because their air-conditioner was out for two days over a hot August weekend. Rather than realize the property failed to deliver what was promised to the Resdient - a cool, comfortable apartment home - and immediately apologize for the inconvenience, some managers choose to attack. They take the angry Resident's comments personally and respond like this:

"Say; this is the first I have heard of this problem!"

[Not the Resident's fault. He called the answering service all weekend!]

"I will not tolerate that kind of language in my office. Please leave until you can come back and communicate in a civilized manner!"

What a pathetic and lame way to deal with a real Resident problem. Any person would be angry if they were denied the air-conditioning they had been promised - especially in August! Attacking a Resident is rarely the way to solve their problem and leave them feeling good about living - and STAYING - at your community!

Remember Your Objective
When dealing with Resident problems and problem Residents, never forget your primary property management objective:

To Increase the Value of the Property

By appropriately handling a Resident's problem and those rare problem Residents, we can create situations that make Residents want to STAY and renew their leases. Considering the fact that a turnover can cost your property up to $2000, keeping Residents longer by properly handling their problems is critical to meeting your #1 Objective!

Ten Creative Tips for Dealing with Resident Problems
The following ten tips will help any on-site professional more appropriately and effectively deal with Resident problems and problem Residents. While they ar a bit simplistic, these ten tips provide a sound foundation for positive Resident relations.

  1. Treat People Right!
    Always be FEP [Friendly, Enthusiastic and Professional]. Remember that each problem is special. Although a problem may be routine for you - onw you solve many times a day - it's special and unique to the Resident. Treat it that way.
  2. Don't Try to Change the Resident!
    Accept people for whom they are. Realize the only person you can change is you.
  3. Keep an Open Mind!
    Don't use "Already, Always Listening." This means you already know what the other person is going to say because they always say it, so we "listen" to what's going on in our head instead of what the Resident is really saying.
  4. Keep All Promises
    Be careful of what you say - and promise. Always do what you say you're going to do ...and do it right the first time.
  5. Restate the Problem!
    This shows the Resident you are really listening and helps to eliminate errors. Take careful notes so the Resident can see that you are trying to help quickly.
    " Let me make sure I understand what you saying" - "Let me see if I got this correctly."
  6. Ask: &quout;How would you like me to solve this problem?"
    The Resident may have an easy, cheap solution. Most people want less than we think they do, get their ideas first.
    "Do you have any ideas on how we might resolve this?"
  7. Don't Tell the Resident "You have to!"
    No ones likes to be told they "have to" do anything. Besides, the Resident doesn't even "have to" obey the lease or pay the rent. They can choose to do otherwise. Create an atmosphere or cooperation and get the Resident to "sign on" to a solution that will benefit them.
  8. Don't Hide Behind Company Policy!
    Effective Resident service requires you to do the right thing - not to simply do things right. Sometimes the right thing is not what policy says. Regardless, do not chirp the obnoxious statement, "Sorry. That's company policy!"
  9. Remember, You are Selling!
    Every encounter with the Resident is a reselling of your community. You are selling the Resident to pay their rent, follow the community guidelines, be considerate of their neighbors, etc.. Most important, you are selling this Resident on renewing their lease and staying longer!
  10. Thank the Resident!
    Say thanks to the Resident for their "complaint" - even if you have to bite your tongue!
The Resident is Not a Problem.
They are the Reason We Exist.

The Irate Phone Call
An irate Resident on the telephone requires some special skills and techniques. Your objective is the same: you want to use this uncomfortable situation as an opportunity to reaffirm your concern about the Resident's happiness and satisfaction. Whether a problem Resident or a Resident with a legitimate problem, the way the on-site professional handles the situation can make the difference in the success of the real estate investment. Deal with the "problems" correctly, and it will Increase the Value of the Property!

Nothing you can do is more important than winning back an unhappy Resident and solving their problem so it will not happen again!

Rick Ellis, one of multi-housing's foremost consultants & educational speakers.

Rick Ellis' Biography and Article List
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