Tustin, California–based Common Areas, which creates collaborative operations software that helps property- and facility-management teams and outside contractors work better together, recently released its first Property Management Technology Sentiment Report. The report showed that technology can be both a blessing and a curse in property management.
SoCal Real Estate spoke with Casey Rue, CEO and founder of Common Areas, about how technology has changed property-management processes, which aspects still need improvement, and how he sees the use of technology changing in the future.
SoCal Real Estate: How has technology changed the way property management is executed?
Rue: Thinking back, there were SO many things that we as property managers did manually it is very easy to take for granted how technology has changed our work. Not long ago, it was paper files, hand-coding bills, adjusting the parking-lot lighting, time clocks by hand — and going to the “photo shop” after a site visit had nothing to do with Adobe™.
Continuous advances in technology have had a tremendous impact on increasing the speed and workload capacity of property managers. By leveraging the right technologies, we are all able to do more with less while also better meeting the ever-rising expectations of standards and compliance in our industry.
What aspects of property management has technology failed to improve?
While technology has made it much easier to accomplish certain parts of property management work, it has had an equal, if not greater, impact of increasing the level of responsibilities associated with the role. Since we have automated certain parts of our work, it is only natural that the extra available time can be used in other more-meaningful areas.
However, learning and keeping up to speed with the new and always-changing regulations in our industry (e.g., ADA, utility efficiencies/retrofits, storm-water mitigation plans) can be daunting, and they don’t teach this stuff in college. While technology has helped in certain areas, it has not replaced the essential need for on-the-job training and business experience.
Over time, I think technology will get smarter and better in helping in these areas and in a way that is inclusive and widely accessible to everyone in our industry. This is one of the areas where we will see the most dramatic impacts of future technologies.
What can be done to improve these aspects?
Until recently, property management–related technology has been almost entirely focused on solving problems business by business. This may be appropriate when thinking of accounting and record storage; however, property management is a highly collaborative industry. Many businesses and individuals intersect in property management, such as tenants, vendors, and property owners. Historically very little attention has been placed on providing solutions between organizations and individuals.
I believe there are incredible possibilities to be realized by combining widely inclusive collaborative solutions with real-life industry know-how.
How do you see the role of technology in property management changing over the next several years?
I think we are in for an exciting ride over the next few years. There are so many areas where technology is evolving and will provide solutions that until now were unimaginable.
Through advances in technology related to property management, CRE will achieve greater efficiency, optimize process, reduce risks, and ultimately, improve the rates of return in a meaningful way. We are at the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we can go and what we can accomplish. We’ll see greater mobility — being able to accomplish tasks in real time from hand-held devices. And communication across entire teams will be faster and more comprehensive — not just a notice that a task has been accomplished, but extensive reporting and dashboards that elevate the level of information that can be provided.
What else should our readers know about this report?
While a central focus of this report was technology, we also sought to identify the three greatest business and operational concerns for property-management businesses. Not surprisingly, increasing labor costs, not enough time and resources, and a shortage of trained staff — each were identified by nearly 50 percent of survey participants.
The Great Recession has had a lasting, far-reaching impact on the way management firms view labor issues, according to participants. Today’s thin labor pool is due in part to the fact that management firms limited hiring practices. They did this to remain as lean as possible, but in the process missed out on eight to 10 years of hiring and training a sufficient number of people who could move up the ranks and satisfy today’s needs.
Finding well-qualified, experienced individuals to take on the challenges of property management is becoming more and more difficult. Technology needs to help bridge that gap to help provide solutions that can raise efficiency and productivity to a whole new level. Whether we like it or not, our industry needs to rise to meet these challenges, and by increasing our focus on technologies that are widely inclusive, integral, and collaborative, a lot can be accomplished.