by George F. Allen
Landlease (nee manufactured home) community owners/operators, portfolio 'players' and sole proprietors alike, rarely have their valuable income-producing properties professionally 'shopped'. Why?
It's been said of Mickey Mantle, and now a world famous golfer, known for their perennial leg injuries, 'They're billion dollar talent on dime store legs.' Same metaphor appears to apply to most properties in the LLCommunity realty asset class! We routinely put multimillion dollar investments into the hands of oft untrained; rarely certified; frequently underpaid; and loosely – if – that, job performance evaluated (by independent, third party Mystery Shoppers with no personal or job security axe to grind) on-site management and sales staff! Think I exaggerate? Ask yourself, if a community owner: 'When did we last train and certify (e.g., ACM or MHM designations) our managers, as well as home sales staff (e.g., PHC designation), and have the property and/or sales centers professionally 'mystery shopped'? Your answer disturb you enough to right those wrongs?
What's it cost to do so? Between $500 and $1,000 per property for a comprehensive evaluation and written report, effected by a capable, experienced, motivated Mystery Shopper (or firm) who 'visits' the subject property(ies) by telephone; via the internet – if there's a dedicated website; and, in person, to conduct anonymous, unscheduled 'interviews' with appropriate staffers, after touring the property documenting (photographing) marketing, resident relations, curb appeal, and rules/regulation shortfalls.
Why isn't Mystery Shopping the job performance evaluation as routine for the LLCommunity asset class as it is for the conventional apartment property type, and builders/developers of site-built housing? In a word, 'professionalism,' or lack thereof. Within the apartment management, and housing sales disciplines, it's commonplace to regularly measure, and accordingly adjust, off and on-site marketing measure effectiveness (e.g., does your staff keep a record of incoming telephone inquiries & visits to the property? More important, are these tallies studied weekly and used?) as well as OJT performance of leasing and sales teams. In my opinion, there're additional nefarious, not-so-obvious reasons to 'not shop.' In the first instance, regional and executive property managers frequently 'fear' having their assigned properties 'shopped,' because results, first time around, are rarely 'pretty.' In fact, they're downright awful. All sorts of 'problems' with marketing – or, as it turns out, lack thereof; obvious symptoms of sour resident relations, lousy curb appeal (unforgivable), even selective enforcement of rules/regulations becomes glaringly evident. And guess whose fault that is? So, we're talking job security here, and not just for the on-site sales and leasing staff.
Another reason? Frankly, it's downright difficult to find Mystery Shoppers who know and understand the basics, let alone nuances, of LLCommunity property management and new/resale home sales, even finance. And guess what? That's not going to change anytime soon, if the major property portfolio folk don't 'get on the stick' and have every one of their income-producing properties professionally 'shopped' at least annually – preferably, several months before their local housing market's leasing and sales season begins.
What to do? Hire a professional Mystery Shopper to visit and evaluate your properties! Contact MHI/NCC and request they address this performance evaluation void at a future meeting. See if the National Apartment Association has a list of Mystery Shoppers who might be comfortable learning the LLCommunity business. Maybe even hire and train your own in-house 'shopper.'
To utilize GFA's people – Michael or Tim in Florida, Candy in California, Curtis in Texas, Greg in Oregon, John in Chicago, 'Mac' or himself in Indiana – call (317) 346-7156 for contact information.