The Edge of Innovation at NMHC OpTech


The multifamily housing industry, traditionally a step or two away from the cutting edge, is learning to embrace innovation at a time when the globe isn’t sitting still.

Today, world leaders and innovators are asking “why not?” and willing to push advancement to the brink, sometimes for the unimaginable and often with risk. Many are beginning to look far down the road and into the next cycle.

Nurturing a breakthrough mentality through collaboration and singular achievement, no matter where, was on the minds of leaders at November’s National Multifamily Housing Council OpTech Conference & Exposition in Orlando.

From the opening keynote, where New York University scholar and innovation expert Melissa A. Schilling dissected the minds of the world’s greatest innovators, to marketplace chats and breakout sessions, the message was strong: The only way to get better is defy potential – and sometimes inevitable – failure and aspire to improve.

“We should nurture breakthrough innovation in the people around us,” said Schilling, who has intensely studied the likes of Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Marie Curie and Dean Kamen and authored “Strategic Management of Technological Innovation” (now in its fifth edition), the top innovation strategy textbook in the world.

Creating innovation by talking about it

Apartment leaders are creating innovation programs and teams to establish strategies for future success, motivated to not only positioning their companies to avoid disruption, but to ride the next wave of innovation.

Moderator  Kristy Simonette, CIO & SVP/Strategic Services at Camden Property Trust and speakers Jeffrey Brodsky, Vice Chairman, Related Companies; Stephanie Fuhrman, Managing Director, Global Innovation, Greystar; and Joanna Zabriskie, President, BH Management provided insights into their thinking and how trends in other industries, no matter how far-fetched they may sound, warrant a closer look.

Could the concept of pop-up retail, the trend of opening short-term retail business, be applied in multifamily, to capitalize on spaces in and around apartment communities? The appeal is ever-changing retail and with it comes short-term leases, which are very viable in large urban markets, the panel said.

But what might work in Los Angeles or New York City might not fit in the Heartland, like in Kansas City or St. Louis, leaders agreed.

Nonetheless, the conversation popped.

Making the best out of the mounds of data

So did the one at a breakout session on what to do with the mounds of data derived from lease transactions and how to create better business intelligence that drives operational efficiencies. The wealth of data keeps coming, and owners and operators are learning how to filter it to get the most out of the numbers, said a panel led by RealPage Vice President of Asset Optimization Jay Parsons.

It’s important to look at the micro and the macro data to get the whole picture, Hamilton Zanze Senior Director Asset Management Tim Bruss said. Downsizing metrics to generate manageable, consolidated reporting quickly cuts through the fat and keeps business in motion.

Taking advantage of what the market is bearing

In a quick take on the Expo Hall floor, Kigo Senior Vice President Matthew Hoffman encouraged multifamily operators to look far into the opportunities of short-term rentals that await. Travel has changed, he says, and vacant apartments can be marketed to pick up five or six nights of rent, whereas they would otherwise sit empty and put a drain on the rent roll.

“That is the real opportunity that’s on the table today,” he said. “We have to define what we’re going to do and not do.”

But define. Ask. Explore. And innovate.

Multifamily is learning to reach the light ahead.

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