It may be nearly impossible to find a busier acquisitions team than the one at Morgan Properties over the past few years.
Since 2018, the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based owner and manager has doubled the number of apartments in its portfolio to 90,617 units, propelling it to No. 2 on the 2021 National Multifamily Housing Council Top 50 owner's list. But as vice president of business operations, Samantha McQuown says, buying apartments is only part of the battle. Once the deal closes, the real challenges begin with staffing and technology.
The process of adding new properties "is never smooth," McQuown said. "There's still so much improvement out there ahead of us. We're always looking to improve. What worked yesterday isn't going to work tomorrow. So that's where we are as a company, always looking forward."
Here, McQuown talks with Multifamily Dive about staffing challenges, technology and rent growth in the company's large portfolio.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MULTIFAMILY DIVE: How are you handling staffing issues right now?
SAMANTHA MCQUOWN: For years now, as an organization, I feel like we've been able to be a little more prepared for some of these things and get ahead. We started trying to centralize as much as we could going back five-plus years. From an operations standpoint, we've been looking for efficiencies at our properties.
Like almost every organization today, we're trying to figure out how to regionalize our sales team, how to bring more scale and how we can best utilize our internal labor force to be more efficient. From a service side, we have a robust facilities team that helps with our maintenance.
The service team is looking for efficiencies every day within our regions to help each other because the labor shortage is definitely the name of the game right now, especially in the maintenance industry.
You're dealing with centralization and staffing issues as you continue to add large amounts of units to your portfolio. How do you handle that?
We did expand to new states and new regions. We acquired new companies and acquired new regional corporate offices. So I think we've been prepared for how we can centralize and standardize some of these things.
You recently announced a partnership with Jetty, which provides financial services to renters, and Wilshire Capital, a venture capital that focuses on technology and real estate. What interested you in these initiatives?
We've definitely moved into the proptech space pretty significantly. That comes from my desire to keep improving, to be innovative and to be forward-thinking and look at how we can use technology to help us improve.
We're focused on our resident experience — from prospect to resident — and how we are interacting, communicating and engaging across all of those statuses. So that is looking at different technologies to drive home our commitment to resident engagement and how we communicate with our teams. Some of the partners that we've engaged with are in that space with us.
We continue to streamline our processes and workflows for our on-site employees and how we help make them feel successful every day. Employee engagement is just as important as our resident engagement. As we've expanded, our stable of talent has also increased. So we're taking on all of this new talent that comes with experiences across different regions and different companies. We've been working internally to utilize our own resources and help drive some of our improvement.
I know you're still seeing rents increase. Do you feel like there will soon be a cap on those increases?
The guidance on the housing market changes a little bit every month. We hear people say, 'We're finally going to see housing prices fall.' Then, month over month, they still increase. So every time you think one thing, it goes the other way.
For us, from a renewal standpoint, we are still very cognizant when we talk about rental rates increasing. It's obviously new lease rents increasing and new customers coming in. With our current customers, we are really cognizant of what we're doing there. We're not pushing renewal rates 13% to 18%, like we're seeing with new lease rents. That's definitely something that we take into consideration. It is so important to keep our customers happy. It's important to keep our customers in place.
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