The number one reason residents renew their lease at an apartment community is satisfaction with their maintenance team. Everyone loves a quick and precise response to service requests. However, multiple factors have converged to create an environment that makes it increasingly difficult to provide a top level of service satisfaction to residents. All indications are that it will be even more challenging in the next decade.
Obstacles to overcome
The law of supply and demand puts qualified maintenance technicians at a premium as their numbers dwindle due to retirement, additional apartment communities springing up in markets across the country, and increased redevelopment of aging communities. In addition, the multifamily industry now competes with construction, retail, office, hotels, and HVAC companies for their talent.
Many maintenance technicians are drawn to the higher pay scale offered by other industries, or perks such as no-weekends and/or shorter hours. All of these factors influence the current 35 percent turnover rate for maintenance professionals, according to National Apartment Association (NAAHQ).
Because of the turnover rate, trying to find qualified technicians has been a constant struggle for some communities. “My problem has been applicants who exaggerate their qualifications,” said an apartment management professional to Units Magazine. “A great, dependable service team is THE best asset of a community. But it’s difficult to find the right people who will strive to do their best every day.”
According to NAAHQ, “maintenance technicians are the backbone of every apartment community.” To achieve the end goal of keeping residents happy, the right candidates must be hired.
But how do you do it?
It’s important to find a candidate with the knowledge and experience needed in order to do the job. In addition, they should be dependable and have a history of getting tasks completed in a professional and timely manner. Finding this person might be hard to do, but it IS possible.
Typically, an applicant does not search out open positions on large management-company websites, so it’s essential to post the ad where it will receive the visibility desired. To start, list the expectations for the position, research the going salary rate to entice more candidates to apply, and outline the skills needed. It’s key to make sure that your ad is clear and concise. Remember this is a candidate’s market and write the ad accordingly. Determine what makes this opportunity better than others or the company a great place to work and “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”. Market your opportunity via numerous sources, which could include:
- Placing a help wanted ad in the local classifieds or community job boards. When doing this, run the ad in both English and Spanish, as many applicants are fluent in one or both languages.
- Asking residents for referrals and giving them an incentive (i.e. rental discount) for helping to secure qualified applicants.
- Keeping all resumes from applicants who were qualified. Call them at regular intervals to see if they are ready to make a change or know of anyone who is. Offer them a referral fee.
Narrow down the applications to the top 5-10 based on the skills and qualifications that best match your company. Call and confirm their background and skill set. Keep in mind that many maintenance applicants don’t have typical resumes – including academic degrees or industry certifications/training. Schedule an interview with them to further confirm their skill level, get a sense of their character and consider the image they would portray to residents.
Tips to help you identify the right hire
- Find out if the applicant lives close to the property. This question is crucial because it impacts the ability to provide prompt service to a resident. Response time is key to happy residents.
- Working in an apartment community is much different than the DIY (“do it yourself”) tasks around a home. Make sure the applicant is familiar with the multi-unit scenario and that he/she can handle multiple work orders coming in at once.
- Because most maintenance requests are ranked from low-high importance, it’s necessary to know if the applicant has the time management skills to address most – if not all – of the tasks on a daily basis. Discuss the system that’s already in place within the community and confirm that the applicant understands it and would be comfortable working within its parameters.
- Customer service is an important attribute of a maintenance technician. Make sure the applicant has the attitude that reflects the values of your company as a whole. Technicians will often work alone, so it’s important to ensure that they are promoting the company’s image and values.
- Check all qualified references to verify the knowledge and skills of the applicant are accurate.
- Create a trial period for the hired applicant, to assess how the technician meets the needs of the community. There is typically a learning curve and a new hire might need a little time to adjust to your system. This can be problematic for some companies. If you’re unable to offer this, there are still ways to test performance. For example, you can place them in The Liberty Group’s payrolling program (RapidHire) to “test-drive” their performance without hiring them. This will reduce liabilities, costs, and provide the evaluation time needed to make the right decision. In addition, there are no buyout fees or conversions hours. It’s the simplest way to hire someone full-time, with the security of knowing The Liberty Group will handle everything should the candidate not turn out to be the right fit. It’s a win-win solution for all.
Resident and Maintenance Technician Retention
Once you have identified and hired a good maintenance technician, pay attention to the details that will keep them engaged and loyal to your company. Recognize their value and show your appreciation. Help them deal with the heat by having plenty of bottled water readily available for them. Other items to make their job easier could include sunscreen, mosquito repellant, sports drinks or even popsicles. Consider making evaporative cooling ball caps with the company logo as part of their uniform. The summer heat makes this a much appreciated perk.
Offer a training program or utilize one already in place. The Liberty Group states “Our Maintenance Certification Training is a quick and inexpensive way for your maintenance staff to earn their EPA Universal Certifications. We find that technicians appreciate and value a company that invests in their career.”
Hiring the right staff not only simplifies day to day life for apartment owners but for residents as well. It’s one of the critical factors that separates the good from the great apartment communities – ultimately creating longer-term stays from residents.
Shonna Schneider-Marquis, CAS
National Director of Marketing and Public Relations