Office N Illinois

The big truth at 13th Annual Property Management Conference? Amenities don’t matter if no one uses them

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What good are conference rooms, onsite fitness centers and rooftop decks if the residents of an apartment building or tenants in an office tower never use them? When it comes to renewing those leases, these amenities won’t mean much.

That’s why property managers who program events designed to fill these common-area amenities with tenants and residents are so important.

That was one of the main points made during the 13th Annual Property Management Conference held Sept. 19 at the Drake Hotel in Oak Brook, Illinois. The event, held by Illinois Real Estate Journal and Chicago Industrial Properties magazines, attracted more than 150 attendees, all there to hear the latest news on the property management side of the commercial real estate business.

The first panel of the day, “State of Today’s Property Management,” featured some of the biggest names in the property management business, moderator Bob Six, principal and chief operating officer with Zeller Realty Group; Neil Pendleton, managing director of asset services with CBRE; Niall Byrne, president of property management with Inland Investment Real Estate Services; Daniel Hanson, principal with Mid-America Asset Management; Sam Delisi, regional director of management services with Newmark Knight Frank; and Bob Assoian, managing director with NAI Hiffman.

Sam Delisi (from left), Regional Director of Management Services, Newmark Knight Frank; Neil Pendleton, Managing Director of Asset Services, CBRE; Daniel Hanson, Principal, Mid-America Asset Management, Inc.; Bob Assoian, Managing Director, NAI Hiffman; Bob Six, Principal & COO, Zeller Realty Group; and Niall Byrne, Presidient of Property Management, Inland Investment Real Estate Services

During this first panel, property management professionals spoke of the many common-area amenities that apartment and office buildings offer today. Many of these spaces are impressive: large conference rooms, workout rooms with the latest equipment, rooftop decks that offer expansive city views.

But Delisi said that too often these spaces are rarely used. And if that’s the case, they aren’t serving their purpose of making it easier for building owners to renew expiring leases. As Delisi said, so many buildings today offer the same basic amenities. If tenants aren’t using the ones in a specific building, they’ll have no problem moving to another space that offers the same ones.

“It’s only an amenity if people use it,” Delisi said.

The solution? Property managers need to be creative to get residents and tenants into these spaces. That could mean scheduling Toastmasters seminars in conference rooms or holding concerts on rooftop decks.

Whatever brings attention and bodies to these amenities counts as a worthwhile event, the panelists said.

“Our main job is to do everything we can to help the building owners renew their leases,” Assoian said. “The property manager who takes the extra time to create events for a building? That manager is worth a lot.”

Pendleton said that property managers today need to have the hospitality mindset. Part of this means creating experiences to draw residents and tenants to the common-area amenities. If these people have a connection to these amenities, they’ll be more likely to stay at a building when their leases come up for renewal.

“You need to find property managers who deliver that hospitality approach,” Pendleton said. “It really is all about the people who are utilizing our buildings.”

Byrne said that this mindset holds true at retail facilities, too. Retailers are learning that they, too, have to create experiences at their centers if they hope to compete with online retailers. They must give customers a reason to visit their centers.

These experiences don’t have to be high-tech or ultra-modern, either. Byrne pointed to an Easter Egg hunt held at a retail center as an example.

“I thought that it was pretty old-school thinking to have an Easter Egg hunt,” he said. “I thought we needed to be a bit more 21st Century. But the hunt was a huge success. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who were there. We couldn’t believe the success of it.”

Assoian echoed this. At some of the industrial buildings managed by his firm, managers will order up visits from ice cream trucks or hot dog vendors. This might not sound like much, but it does make an impression, Assoian said.

“It gets a great response,” he said. “We’ll hear from people who say that they’ve worked in a building for five years and no one ever bought them a hot dog before.”

Hanson said that property managers need to get used to this job duty; it’s not going to disappear any time soon.

“As opposed to 10 years ago, retailers today know that experiences matter,” Hanson said. “The way to get people from their car doors to your front doors are through experiences.”

Kim DeFily (from left), Portfolio Manager, American Landmark Properties; Edie Scurto, Senior General Manager, Lincoln Property; Chris DeMale, moderator, National Sales Executive, Skyline Property Management; and David Fink, Regional Director of Business Development, Tovar Snow

The day’s second panel took a hands-on approach. Titled “In the Trenches: Today’s Solutions & Strategies in Property Management,” the panel featured Kim DeFily, portfolio manager with American Landmark Properties; Edie Scurto, senior general manager with Lincoln Property Company; David Fink, regional director of business development with Tovar Snow; and Chris DeMale, national sales executive with SKYLINE Property Management Technology Solutions.

The event concluded with a winter weather outlook presented by Eric Hartmann with Tovar Snow.