Bringing The Human Element Back
“Sometimes I show apartments. Sometimes I’m the enforcer. Most of the time though I’m a psychologist who provides housing to people.”
In a moment of bold zaniness I described my profession this way at a networking event last week. It got some good laughs. On the way home it reminded me of how much this business is about personal connections. Not just with our vendors or colleagues but also with our tenants. It’s easy to get caught up in the robot mode of the business. Where in a way we forget we are dealing with people.
I've talked with tenants over cheating spouses, divorces, life traumas, milestone events, promotions, demotions, and more. I've learned so much about thought patterns and societal norms from these conversations. The conversations that I've been privileged to have with my tenants, when they have confided their worst life stories in me has made me a better person...and better investor.
I’m not changing my mantra. Our industry is still a business and we need to run it as such. Yet there are times when the human element is applicable. We are different than big corporations like Chase, CitiBank, or any other big name vendors people use on a daily basis. Why? Because we as property owners interact with our tenants on a consistent basis. Emails and texts are exchanged. Property visits are made where we cross paths. Their lives play out in a building we own. All of this creates an environment where we find ourselves as the sounding block, consoler, and therapist.
How does one walk the line between business robot and business with people skills? Well there are obvious ways we can do this. When we hear a tenant has lost a loved one (and it’s not a story…) send a condolence card in the mail. Go the extra mile and google “sympathy messages” to include a handwritten sentiment of your own. Some owners send birthday cards, congratulations on your baby or promotion cards as well. These are easy every-day ways to remind your tenants that you know they are more than your mortgage payment.
Yet, at times you may be forced into a situation that requires more than a sympathy card. About 6 years ago I got a call at 11:35pm from the police that my tenant a 24 year old with a 3 year old son had been killed in a drunk driving accident. (I know exactly where I was and what time it was because you don’t forget things like that.) I went over to the unit to be sure it was secure and wait for the police who needed locate her son yet. With the police presence, neighbor’s slowly started to congregate outside the building near her apartment. Then a police transmission gave away what I hadn't said yet. “...Be advised decedent's son is at her mother’s currently. Officers just verified location.” At that moment to the crowd gathered around with me I became the therapist. I kept that role for months. When they came in to pay rent (just a few days after her death) they were all still in shock. I’d be at the property and I’d stop and chat about Jessica for a bit as part of their healing process. Listen to their stories, tell one or two of mine. When one tenant moved out because she couldn’t handle the daily memories 4 months later, I hugged her and consoled her one last time as I took the keys from her.
I’m a counselor. Therapist. Life coach. Cheerleader. Property owner. I don’t mind being these things and I don’t let what I know interfere with it being a business. If I show sympathy it doesn’t prevent me from being the enforcer who still needs the rent paid. If I congratulate them on a birth it doesn’t mean I can’t critique them when their children leave toys in the hallway. If I show empathy and sympathy I am creating a bond which ultimately creates a sense of loyalty. Those that I’ve been there for have not been the ones that “screw me over” by skipping or getting behind or damaging the property. They end up being my most respectful tenants and sometimes long lasting ones.