With COVID-19 shuttering businesses and putting tenants out of work, Al Sartorelli takes a proactive approach to property management. Instead of waiting to react to problems and issues, he opens up lines of communication to help prevent surprises. With a splash of empathy, he’s found navigating this crisis less difficult than he anticipated.
At Alpha Real Estate in Asheville, Al manages his own properties and many others’. Specializing in investment properties, he helps those who want to buy a home, rent it out and make money. He also can assist if you’re buying to renovate and sell in the future. Al manages 425 tenants and 175 units on a daily basis.
The COVID-19 Effect
When the novel coronavirus struck in early 2020, it put Al’s skills to the test. It’s important to know how to get through tough situations as a property manager. This issue went beyond basic tenant issues, however, as it affected almost everyone drastically. It was also unprecedented, a brand new problem we’d never faced.
In the past, Al learned to take feelings out of professional situations, that emotions will lead you to make inappropriate decisions for his clients. But now he’s incorporated empathy into his approach. He’s shifted from transactional business relationships to more personal ones, part of a proactive property management strategy.
When COVID hit, Al made care calls to see how his tenants were doing, checking in to see how they were getting by. He got great feedback and learned about his tenants, and they appreciated that he cared about their well being. Al was also able to pass along suggestions from tenant to tenant, like resources and tips.
For example: “Oh, you haven’t received unemployment yet? Tenant X got funds from One Buncombe, have you checked with that organization?”
The phone check-ins were a strategy for a specific crisis, and aren’t sustainable practice. Al still wants to maintain contact, however, so he will transfer to automated email check-ins and follow up personally as needed.
In April and May, Al’s tenants mostly pulled through and paid rent. The only ongoing rent issues are with people who were already having money issues before COVID. A few tenants did vacate their homes, moving back with their families. By speaking with them early on, Al helped those tenants move out without penalty, and Al found new renters for those units.
Now, we’re past the newness of the pandemic. June is looking a lot better, and Al is cautiously optimistic. He is anticipating a time when unemployment payments run out. Businesses may be unable to give employees full-time hours right away. Since many of his tenants (and Asheville as a whole) work in the hospitality industry, this is important to monitor.
The New Normal: Proactive Property Management
As some aspects of life return to normal operations, some remain changed into the future.
- Communication. Al will remain proactive with communication instead of reactive. Open communication is always better, and allows him to prepare and be ready for what’s to come with tenants, clients and coworkers.
- Professional Networks. During quarantine, Al connected via video calls with other property managers to brainstorm new solutions and share stories together, rather than suffering alone. Along with the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), they developed procedures to figure out the process together.
- Evictions. Courts opened back up June 2, meaning some landlords may not be as willing to work with tenants as they were before. His advice to tenants: get caught up as soon as possible, or make efforts to pay as much as possible on back rent.
- Lease Renewal. In order to renew leases, part of Al’s process is a walkthrough and property inspection. This allows him to check on maintenance, wear and tear, as well as potential misuse of property. Even though many COVID-19 are lifted, he doesn’t feel comfortable inspecting hundreds of units and possibly exposing others or being exposed himself. Because of this, all his leases will roll into month-to-month leases with the same terms. Tenants are mostly understanding of this, as it gives them wiggle room if they do have to leave.
Al believes we can do property management better as a profession – we can carry the increased value of the relationship into the future. He is working to maintain communication and keep tenants longer, but also helping them step up to home ownership if that’s their goal.
Find Al Sartorelli Real Estate on social media and via his website.