Student housing is unlike other types in one very important way: once a year, at the very same time, most of the residents vacate. And around two weeks later, the rooms are rented again. This “turn” is a short period in which an awful lot has to happen – the most significant being the inspection, repair, cleaning and preparation of the vacant units.
These days, automation has made what has traditionally been a stressful transition so much easier that it’s a wonder there are still properties relying on paper.
Creating a streamlined process
If you own or manage student housing, you’re aware that the following factors and more will come into play during the turn. It’s quite obviously a situation computers are ideal for: juggling multiple time-sensitive criteria to enable a streamlined, tightly controlled process.
- Move-in and move-out scheduling
- Move-out inspections (cleaning/repair assessment)
- Service vendor sourcing and estimates
- Service vendor insurance
- Product vendor sourcing and estimates
- Product delivery and storage
- Job progress and completion tracking
- Final inspections
- Vendor payments
- Deposit deductions
- Deposit returns
The advantages of automation start long before the turn, assuming like most properties you plan well ahead. This is the time for sourcing and selecting vendors of the products and services you’ll need during those critical weeks, and a mish-mash of documents, contact managers, Rolodex’s and sticky notes is no match for a neatly organized electronic vendor management system. Software solutions for student housing now enable vendor sourcing, estimates, insurance verification, invoice management and payments.
During move-out or even pre-move-out inspections, portable devices become the heroes. Staff can use cell phones, tablets or other devices to enter cleaning and repair assessments directly into the property management system while viewing the unit. This not only eliminates duplicate data entry, but also the oversights and discrepancies that come with it. And because there’s no time gap in collecting information, there’s also no risk of returning a deposit to someone whose room damage simply hasn’t shown up in the system yet.
What’s more, the same mobile devices can be used to snap photos of damage as backup when angry parents call to ask why they’re not getting their money back.
You can even give vendors access to the system, letting them adjust status themselves as they complete jobs, alerting staff that they’re ready for inspection and sign-off.
A bird’s-eye view
Automation now provides a birds-eye view of the status of every unit in the property. RealPage’s solution uses color-coding to communicate status at a glance. Instant access to status allows staff to assign and shift vendors depending on priority, and to quickly answer requests concerning move-in dates.
Visibility into progress at the properties, along with the ability to view vendor, purchasing and other information, also benefits the corporate office – eliminating the need for phone calls or laborious reports. And it enables consistency across properties, with standardization of things like damage charges and policies.
Going vertical with vendors
Certain big-box vendors such as Home Depot have now integrated their catalogs and service offerings with solutions providers including RealPage. This means you can now source and schedule products and services all with one vendor – even have the vendor store and deliver products as needed to avoid storage problems.
The biggest advantage of having an integrated single vendor, of course (as with RealPage in the rental housing software business) is that a single entity handles everything from top to bottom, and takes responsibility. This can be big advantage over cobbling together multiple vendors, trying to coordinate them and dealing with finger-pointing when, say, the painter arrives before the carpenter is finished.
Of course, many properties have their favorite vendors, or wish to invite competitive bidding between entities rather than use a single source.
For many student living properties, technology has transformed the turn from a dreaded annual nightmare into a seamless and elegant process that unfolds smoothly through its stages until the final room is checked off as ready for move-in. Today’s solutions will save you time, money and innumerable headaches, so check into them if you haven’t already.
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(Editor’s note- we have updated and republished this article to benefit readers new to Property Management Insider.)