Technology has greatly impacted the sales and leasing side of property management. The industry has seen how companies like Zillow and Airbnb change how we market and sell online.  Facilgo wanted to understand if the operations and maintenance side had been similarly impacted.  Specifically, we wanted to understand how changes in technology or other external forces would cause fundamental shifts in how people were planning to allocate their workforce in the future.

 

External to the survey, our conversations with various property management companies revealed that changes in the labor market made it difficult to hire and retain maintenance personnel.  Specifically, they stated that Millennials often left maintenance jobs for jobs in other industries due to the heavy usage of paper processes and lack of mobile apps being available to complete their jobs efficiently.   Our survey touched upon how new strategies were being used to deal with changes in the labor market and whether technology was having an impact on their organizations now or in the future.

 

Facilgo surveyed 54 companies to better understand their visions for the future of property maintenance.  We were able to see several patterns in the industry as a whole, and although our sample sizes were small for certain sub-segments, we were able to gain some insight into them as well.

 

In general, we found that as of yet, technology had not substantially changed how companies structured their maintenance operations.  Larger properties continued to staff properties with dedicated maintenance personnel, while smaller properties had roving work forces and used outsourced services.  While it is likely that mobile phones, resident portals, and electronic work order systems had some impact, they had not caused a significant shift in how properties were being operated.

 

Following are some of the specific results that we found from the survey.

 

Impact of technology on maintenance organizations for the next 5 to 10 years:

The vast majority of operators felt that technology would have a high or medium impact on their maintenance organizations in the future.  Specific applications that were seen to have the highest impact to an organization’s maintenance approach included mobile work orders, mobile inspections, preventative maintenance reminders, and mobile order placement.  Companies also felt that receiving notifications about appliance/device failures would have a high impact on an organization’s maintenance approach in the future.

 

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Of those companies responding, we found that owner operators and 3rd party managers viewed the impact of technology differently on their maintenance organizations.  3rd party managers felt that technology would have a medium impact while owner/operators felt technology would have  a higher impact.

 

We didn’t see any correlation between the organizational structure (roaming staff versus dedicated staff), since that was largely dictated by the size of the property.

 

We also didn’t see any correlation between the number of units being managed per maintenance personnel with companies’ expected impact of technology.  Most companies responded that each maintenance person handled 100-150 units.

 

Maintenance organizational structure and outsourcing

Creating a maintenance organization that relied on outsourced personnel was less popular of a strategy moving forward than we anticipated.   Only 6 of 47 of respondents (13%) noted that they would run their maintenance staff with combination of onsite staff supported by outsourced technical expertise.

 

The average size of the properties dictated how companies were organized more than anything else.

 

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In looking at other subsegments, we saw that the small number of Affordable portfolios that responded to the survey were more likely to outsource tasks than other types of portfolios.  Conventional had a much higher sample size and those respondents were highly likely to have dedicated staff on-site, and possibly have some personnel that provide maintenance across multiple properties.

 

With regard to the tasks that companies expected to outsource included HVAC repair, carpet cleaning and painting, and dry wall repair.

 

 

Number of Units Managed by each Maintenance Personnel

In general, we saw a majority of responses clustered around 100 and 150 units per person.  3rd party managers had a mode around 150, but the mode for owner operators’ was 100.  Conventional was clustered around 100 and 150.  Affordable had a mode at 100.  The larger property management companies had each personnel manage more – from 150 to more than 300 per person.

 

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We also saw some correlation between the number of units managed by an organization with the number of units managed per maintenance person.   Companies with 2,000-5,000 unit were more likely to have their maintenance personnel handle 150 units per person while companies with 5,000-15,000 units were more likely to have their maintenance personnel handle 100 units; however, several companies in this unit count range selected 150-300 units per person.   Some of these outlier responses may have been due to a misinterpretation of the question.

 

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Maintenance interaction with residents, performance metrics and hiring characteristics

Respondents anticipate their maintenance personnel to have a medium to high level of interaction with residents.  In particular, all of the REITS responded that they anticipated their maintenance personnel to have a High level of interaction with residents.

 

Most companies expected 3-4% increases per year in their training budgets, but an equal number were clustered around 5-10% and 10-15%.  500-1,999 unit portfolios predominantly answered that training budgets would be increased by 3-4% increase.

 

Most companies reported that they would be conducting training on a quarterly basis, but there were plenty of other responses.  We did look at whether there was any correlation between companies looking for experienced personnel and the amount of provided training.  We found that those companies that cited having property maintenance experience being an important hiring criterion tended to provide more training than companies that didn’t provide as much frequent training.  Companies with less than 2,000 units provided much less training than other companies, but they generally were more likely to hire personnel without property maintenance than larger companies.

 

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Resident satisfaction and Amount of time to complete service requests were by far the most common metrics that companies planned on using.  2nd tier items were Cost per unit, % of preventative maintenance tasks vs reactive maintenance, and % of service requests that need to be reworked.

 

Companies were looking to hire personnel that were experienced in property maintenance.  In particular, they were looking for people that had specialty skills such as HVAC, plumbing, and electrical.  An understanding of mobile technology was another key skill.  Having a high school diploma or GED was also deemed to be important; however, customer service experience was cited as characteristic for property maintenance hires for less than half of the respondents.

 

 

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Take-Aways

Maintenance organizations are evolving, but are evolving at a slow pace.  From our survey, it appears that property management companies anticipate that technology will have a high or medium impact on their maintenance operations in the next 5 to 10 years.  Specifically, they felt that mobile work orders, inspections and mobile ordering would be the most impactful.  Outsourcing of maintenance tasks did not appear to be a strategy that companies cited as a popular direction of the future.  Moreover, companies predominantly had their maintenance personnel managing 100 to 150 units per maintenance personnel.  While interaction with residents was forecasted to be of medium or high value, customer service skills were only cited as an important characteristic for a maintenance hire by less than half of the respondents, Resident satisfaction and the time to complete service requests were the two highest metrics for measuring performance. The survey provides interesting insight to the importance of tenant satisfaction and projects a slow utilization of technology to improve the experience and efficiency of the maintenance staff.