Rent.com.au is shining a light on how Australia’s property management industry has been adapting to the changing working environment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
This series will feature key property managers and agency principals across the country in a bid to see precisely how COVID-19 has impacted their business, the strategic changes made to operate in a new environment and the positive change that has come about as a result.
This week, we talk to Graeme Sharp, CEO of Queensland-based agency, Rental HQ.
“We made a lot of changes to our business last year around technology, virtual assistants and staff structure, and those changes paid off throughout COVID-19,” Graeme said.
Q: Since the start of COVID-19, what are three significant changes you made to your business?
- Work from home flexibility:
“This was well received by our property managers because it gives them some flexibility. To do it, you need to have set KPIs in place and systems to allow it. It’s also crucial to trust your team. During the lockdown, our team met twice a day remotely to set goals and discuss any issues that had come up during the day. Our staff said it made them more efficient and ensured there was less downtime. The one thing our staff did miss while working remotely was the team vibe and environment. A balance between working from home some days and others in the office seems to be best.”
- Virtual routines:
“Virtual routines have been a great option – it has saved our routines instructor a lot of travel time. It also allows tenants who might be unwell to do their inspection. With our set up, we didn’t just ask tenants to send through photos of their property, as this would allow them to take shots around specific spots. Our system is like FaceTime but enables us to walk through the house virtually with the tenant and asks them to stop so we can take photos. This way, nothing gets missed! Now that we’re past lockdown, we offer tenants either option, but at least two inspections must be done in person each year.”
- Virtual sign-ups
“Virtual sign-ups have saved our team (and our tenants) a lot of time. This way, all the tenant needs to do is pop in and pick up the keys. We do still have a short in-person meeting with the new tenants, even if they’ve signed everything off virtually when they pick up their keys.”
“We will continue with these changes, even as restrictions ease.”
Q: What impact have you seen around rental pricing and demand in your area?
“Our area has several major universities within it. As they’ve closed and overseas students have returned home, this has increased vacancies in the area and made rental prices in some suburbs drop. Our leasing team has had to work extremely hard to keep our properties tenanted.”
Q: What was your process for managing rent reduction requests?
“From the outset of COVID-19, when our tenants started losing their jobs, we were very empathetic. We said that if they were able to prove hardship, we’d talk to the landlord,” Graeme said. “At all times, we made it clear that they’re on a lease and are responsible for paying the rent. Our property managers worked hard to ensure our landlords were protected as much as possible, even with the Labour Government laws proposed.”
Q: What aspect of your property management procedures was most impacted?
“Leasing slowed with restrictions on viewings. We got around this by doing walk-through videos for every property,” Graeme said. “This helped prospective tenants to lease the property and feel comfortable. When it came to routine inspections, we had to change our technology and run them remotely throughout COVID-19.”
Q: Did your agency use remote tech to manage routine inspections?
“We use the OurProperty system. OurProperty is a cloud-based property management process automation system.”
Q: What steps did you take to make your tenants/team feel safe during an on-premises routine inspection?
“We stopped doing in-person routines during the height of lockdown and ran them virtually. For the in-person routines, we asked all tenants whether they had been overseas or interstate, been sick in any way, or had contact with anyone with COVID-19. We also asked tenants to stay away from our team while we were on their property. For our staff, we supplied masks and hand gel.”
How did your team manage during COVID-19? If you would like to be featured in our series, email email@example.com