Knock Talk: Ep. 15 – Multifamily Metrics that Matter with Western Wealth Communities’ Jennifer Staciokas

Does it feel like you’re drowning in metrics? Is it hard to decide what data to focus on to show the results you and your teams are driving?

In our latest Knock Talk, Lucas Bourgeois, Knock VP, chats with Jennifer Staciokas, Executive Managing Director, Property Management, Western Wealth Communities, about how you can find and interpret the metrics that matter – and so much more.

Jennifer, an industry veteran with 20+ years of experience in third party property management, marketing and operations, recently joined owner/manager Western Wealth Communities to build their property management company from the ground up. 

To stay ahead in a rapidly-changing industry, multifamily professionals need to master the “pivot”, she shares. Something she did with her own work this year building a team and a business in the middle of a pandemic.

It’s also advice she shares with professionals in the multifamily industry – especially as technology adoption has moved into hyperdrive – and with it comes more the need for people to analyze and interpret data. 

“What we were hiring for is completely different now,” Jennifer shares. “I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to adapt and reinvent myself as those trends and those things are changing. I hope everybody that’s listening is able to do that and continues to educate themself and adapt and realign how their role can be critical in their organization.”

You can watch the entire episode at the top of this article, and view the highlights and full transcript below. 

Episode Highlights

What are some differences between fee managers and owner investors?

What is something that you’ve learned since you’ve been at Western Wealth Communities?

Are there any metrics that you’re focused on now, that you weren’t before COVID?

Working with so many vendors, how do you intake all the important data and find the metrics you need?

How can you ensure your data is trustworthy?

What is important for hiring in 2021?

What is keeping you awake?

What are you excited about?

Where does Knock fit into your tech stack?

Full Transcript

Lucas Bourgois: Hi, all. Welcome to Knock Talk. My name is Lucas. We’re here to talk about all things multifamily intelligent front office. I have the pleasure today to talk to my good friend and partner in crime, Jennifer Staciokas from Western Wealth Communities. She’s the Executive Managing Director of property management. Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer Staciokas: Thank you so much, Lucas, so happy to be here today.

Lucas: Well, obviously, this is not the first time we’ve spoken, but I’m super excited to share with our audience today what we have and what you’ve been up to over the past couple of months at Western Wealth Communities. Why don’t we start out and just give the audience a quick intro and what you’ve been up to the last couple of months?

Jennifer: Sure, I’d be happy to. That’s a loaded question. What haven’t I been up to these last couple of months? I ended up making a career change at the end of March, I ended up giving notice on what I would say is the peak of COVID in the middle of March and joined Western Wealth Communities at the end of March. I work for the parent company, also, which is Western Wealth Capital.

We own buildings all across Arizona, Texas, and Georgia. They hired me to come in and build out the property management company and take a lot of those assets in-house. That has really kept me busy over these last several months, not only layering, on top of it, COVID as well.

Lucas: Yes, what a time to make a change, right? It felt like it was exactly the month that you moved is when COVID hit. I know that you’ve been running fast to keep up with everything. Now, let’s just quickly talk, you were on the fee management side before this. What is it like and what’s different being on the owner-operator/investor side?

Jennifer: Absolutely. There are quite a few differences. I’ve spent over 20 years of my career on the fee management side of the business. Making this leap to an owner-manager, owner-operator was definitely a big step and a welcome one, I would say. Some of the biggest differences I’ve seen is that when we came in to build Western Wealth Communities, we were able to say what our tech stack was going to be.

In the fee management world, for any of you listening to this, you know that you’re at the mercy of what your owner wants you to roll out. We’re able to have a consistent approach to how we manage property management and how we really look at metrics and results of our portfolio because we can have consistency across the entire portfolio. Another big difference is that the fee managers, you’re on a 30-day contract.

You’re always on edge, not knowing what’s coming and going. That’s definitely different with the owner-manager. It’s not to say that deals don’t transact because they do, but we normally have a heads-up a lot sooner than somebody would on the fee management side. I think another big difference is that you have less bosses, I guess you could say. On the fee management side, you not only have your property management company, you may have an asset management team, and then there also may be an investor group. That’s part of it where here, we have more just our own internal asset management and our own ownership that’s looking at things, so a little bit different, but it’s also great.

Lucas: A lot different but a lot of perks and a lot of pros.

Jennifer: That’s right.

Lucas: You’ve been at Western Wealth, how long now? Almost 9, 10 months?

Jennifer: Gosh, since the end of March. What are we? Nine months, no, eight months.

Lucas: Eight months, give or take a couple of weeks. I would love to hear, I know that we’ve had this conversation, but for our audience today, what is something that you’ve learned since you’ve been at Western Wealth Communities?

Jennifer: Yes, I think it’s a great question. I would say it’s not only what I learned from joining Western Wealth Communities but also what I learned through COVID. I would say the biggest word that sticks out in my mind is the “pivot.” I took this job thinking we were going to have one schedule of how we were going to roll out the portfolio, and really, we should have been almost done at this point, but COVID happened, and things changed, so the pivot happens, and that means you have to be nimble, and you have to adjust.

We’ve been a lot slower on our rollout schedule, but at the same time, we’ve also been acquiring deals, which has been really fun. It has allowed us to set up what our full tech stack is going to look like, what metrics we’re going to review, and how we’re going to hold people accountable.

Again, just going back to that word “pivot,” I think it’s really critical for everybody to understand, “Okay, I can not only have a Plan A,” but throughout all of this, we’ve had to have a Plan B, a Plan C, and in certain cases, even a Plan D. Having that flexibility to be able to make a change and make a pivot when you need to has been really critical.

Lucas: Yes. Well, working with you over the past couple of months, you’ve definitely pivoted and adapted and really operated quickly to make these changes work for Western Wealth. It’s been a joy to watch. […] You had mentioned a lot of the items that you’re focusing on is metrics, especially during COVID.  Are there any metrics that you weren’t focusing on before COVID that really have surfaced and helped you operate, over the past several months?

Jennifer: I think really every decision that you make as a business owner, as part of a team needs to be data-driven. It’s so easy to let your emotions get tied into decisions that you make, but you really need to always go back to, “What does the data have to say, and how am I going to move forward based on what I know with the data?”

I’m always a big believer that you have to inspect what you expect, and you have to hold people accountable. If we decide as a group, “These are the metrics we’re going to look at,” for instance, we have reporting that’s pretty standard. Every day, we have something called the daily activity report. In a lot of cases, they’re reporting all of their leasing activity, all of their collections activity, pretty much anything that’s taking place at the property.

We have to ensure that the data that goes in is what the data that comes out is accurate and that we’re really looking at the data. There’s nothing worse, in my mind, as having all these reports and requiring people to put a lot of effort into something if nobody’s looking at it. Our team, for instance, on those daily activity reports, we’re reviewing those daily.

I personally review every daily activity report. If they’ve had a phenomenal day, we give shoutouts and kudos, and it’s multiple people in our organization highlighting those positives that are happening each day, encouraging and motivating people to want to do better. That’s how you can hold people accountable and keep people motivated to want to do well.

Lucas: Great answer. I think that our audience can really take that, and they’re probably doing something similar on their end. I feel like one thing that our audience may want to know is, let’s talk about the metrics that you look at from maybe a fee management perspective, have those shifted now that you’re […], or do they remain consistent?

Jennifer: I think it remains consistent, but what I will say is during COVID, what we’re having our discussions around have been uber-focused on collections, and I’m sure everybody in the audience would say the same thing. Number one concern is, how are we doing on collections? We are constantly doing reports, month over month, on that day, what’s the percent collected of the rent?

Are we falling behind? Are we actually ahead of schedule from where we were, month over month? That’s been the primary focus. We’re also looking at what we call our adjusted ATR, available to rent, so thinking about not just what’s available to rent but also our adjusted ATR is. How many skips and evictions are we intending that we’re going to have due to COVID? How many CDC declarations were input? How many people are in the process of either being evicted or haven’t paid and we know that they’re ultimately going to skip?

That adjusted ATR is something that we’re looking at on a daily basis, and then also just overall leasing velocity. I think those are the three things from the ownership group that we’re getting a lot of questions on. Again, just to recap it, collections, adjusted ATR, and leasing velocity, and all of that’s included in that daily activity report that I mentioned. That’s something that goes to our ownership team, as well as our property management team.

Then I think, in comparison to that, I’m not only looking at those metrics, but it’s really important to have more of a comprehensive view of all of the data that’s out there. I’m looking at, for instance, our Knock reports. I’m not sure if we’re going to get to this, but I’ll just go ahead and say it anyway, but there’s a lot of providers in the space that just overkill it with reports.

You’ll log into the system, and there’s 50 or 60 different reports, and honestly, it’s overwhelming to somebody when they’re logging in to try and figure out what information they need to get to. The one thing that I really appreciate about Knock is you guys keep it Fisher-Price easy. I log into Analytics, and I know I’m going to look at my ad spend report, I’m going to look at my conversions report, and I’m going to look at my engagement report.

I think it’s key too when you’re thinking about data and metrics is, how are you going to consume data and make decisions, and what’s the easiest way for you? For me, I went through when we were setting up Knock and automated all of those reports, and I knew I don’t want to see my ad spend on a weekly basis, but I certainly do want to see it on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.

Make sure that you put the time in on the front end when you roll out a new technology to figure out what the reporting looks like, who needs to see it, and how often they need to get it because if you rely on people logging into a system to pull the data they need, it oftentimes doesn’t happen.

Lucas: That’s pivotal for launching any kind of new technology, whether in multifamily or not, is really taking the time to understand reporting and metrics and those that are going to help you operate a business.

Jennifer: That’s right.

Lucas: Thank you for sharing that.

Jennifer: I would say, too, Lucas, just to tie on that, so many times, people will think about reports and, what’s the data that you really need to look at? I think you need to– Sometimes I’m very tech-savvy, but I also can go old-school. I sit down with a pen and paper and write down, “What are the problems that I’m trying to solve, or what are the answers to questions that I have that would be critical for me?”

Then when I either whiteboard it out or put it on a sheet of paper, then I can say, “Where do I need to go to get that information so then I can make actionable decisions for the portfolio?

If it’s, “Hey, I really need to know what my conversion is from visit to lease, what’s the report that I need to pull that?” If I need to know, how much am I spending on an ad source over a certain amount of time to make appropriate decisions, again, what’s that report to get me to that information?

So many times people get overwhelmed because there are so many reports out there. When I think just of our tech stack, I probably have 25 different providers that we’re working with. How can I consolidate that information and get the critical information that I really need to run a business instead of getting caught up in all the noise that can happen?

Lucas: That’s something I’d love to tune in on that a little bit more is you have so many different platforms that you’re partnering with and that you’re getting their data and their reports. How do you really take that information, digest it, and pull out the metrics that you need to operate your business?

Jennifer: I think something that’s critical is definitely a business intelligence platform that you can utilize. Because I’m such a new company, we’re still in the process of getting that set up. One of my critical hires for 2021 is somebody that is focused on that, somebody that’s looking at revenue optimization, somebody that’s looking at business intelligence, overall reporting so we can consolidate all of that source of data into one central location.

Another thing in my past life at other fee management companies that have really been critical is understanding, again, to, the whole Knock mentality of Fisher-Price easy. When I’m looking at a report, if I see green, yellow, or red, that allows me to know where I need to put my attention. I’m really going to focus on the red, I want my team to really be focusing on that yellow to make sure we don’t get to red, and then I want all of us to focus on the green and celebrate the people that are performing to the standards that we’re holding them to.

Lucas: I love that you brought that up because, at Knock, we do want to make it Fisher-Price easy like you said. Do you feel like, using the Knock platform, it allows you to make actionable decisions quickly so you can just quickly log in there and know, “Hey, this is red. I need to take action right away” and then take action, maybe reach out to that regional or that manager? Do you find that that’s been simple at Knock or easier to do than previous platforms?

Jennifer: A 100%. A perfect example of that was yesterday. We have our Monday team meeting where we discuss everything property management, HR, recruiting, marketing, training operations, you name it, everything’s on the table. We were talking about some of her focus properties and where we really needed resources to lean in and provide additional guidance.

Before my Director of Real Estate could even ask a particular question, Lindsey, who is my Director of Marketing, said, “Well, I’ve already pulled the Knock report, and this is what it says.” We’re looking, on a weekly basis, at those engagement scores to make sure that they’re actually utilizing the system the way they should be. If we see leasing numbers are starting to dip, the first place we’re going to go is to look at engagement and see what’s happening.

The next step then is to look at those conversions and to run it by the leasing professional, also to run it by the source to see, are we spending money somewhere, or are we having issues so we can make those changes quickly? Then on a monthly basis, we’re looking at that ad spend report to see, are we actually allocating the right dollars to the right sources?

Lucas: Well, You know the Knock reporting like the back of your hand. I really appreciate [unintelligible] audience. I do want to touch on a new subject, and it’s data integrity and trusting the data, right? I feel like there’s so much data out there and so many platforms that are giving you their numbers. How do you comb through [unintelligible] trust and have you ever been in a situation where you don’t trust your data?

Jennifer: I think you have to trust but verify. We have a lot of great partnerships in our industry, and you have to trust what they’re telling you is true, but then you need to dig into your own data and verify it. If, for instance, an internet listing service is saying that their monthly report shows they generated over 300 leads for you in the last month but your CRM only shows you having 50 leads that were generated, there is some disconnect.

I think those are the types of data points that can create conversations. Again, it’s not something that you have to accuse a vendor, but it starts a conversation of, “Hey, I received this report that showed X number. When I reviewed my internal data, this is what I showed. Can we talk about where the gap is and how we can overcome that to make sure that we’re getting good data, that I feel comfortable reporting up if I need to?”

Lucas: Exactly. I feel like good data is where– that’s where you make your decisions. You want to trust the data, but you also want to spot-check and you have to [unintelligible] data. Another question I’d love to ask is, I think the multifamily industry has really evolved over the last several years in hiring strategic positions as far as the business intelligence analysts and data scientists.

Do you think that multifamily is going to continue on that trajectory? You had mentioned even at Western Wealth, you’re going to hire a strategic decision or strategic [unintelligible] an analyst. Is that something that you think multifamily– Is that the direction we’re going even further?

Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s really critical, too. I started in this industry well over 20 years ago, and what we were hiring for then is completely different for what we are hiring for now. I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to adapt and reinvent myself as those trends and those things are changing. I hope everybody that’s listening is able to do that and continues to educate themself and adapt and realign how their role can be critical in their organization.

Yes, I think it’s important that we have started hiring a lot of these roles that are analysts, data scientists, that type of thing. My advice to anybody, especially in a marketing role even in an operations role, is that you should always have that mindset. If you’re just a marketer, that’s creative and doing branding, you need to start educating yourself on data and metrics, and you need to be the full package.

It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert at everything, but you definitely need to either align yourself with the person in your organization that can get you the information that you need or start digging in yourself and figuring out what that information is to propel you even further in your career and really propel your company to greater success because that is definitely where the industry is growing and where it’s going.

It’s critical that everybody doesn’t just say, “Well, we have somebody at the organization that does business intelligence, so I don’t need to worry about that.” You still need to have that in your tool belt to be able to pull out at any given time as well.

Lucas: It’s not going anywhere, and we see it more and more, people making informed business decisions off of data. In multifamily, for many years, it’s been relational, right? I feel like it still is, and there’s still [unintelligible] but now that the decisions are shifting to a more data-driven, informed decision, rather than a relational decision. I’ve got another question for you. Multifamily, we have a lot of data. Do you think there’s any data sets that are missing, anything that you’re missing really to help make your business decisions at Western Wealth Communities?

Jennifer: I wouldn’t say that there’s anything that’s missing because I think you’re able to get your fingers on everything that you would need. It just comes down to timing. How much time does it take if I have to manually create something that I’m really looking for? I think the other concern is there are a lot of great BI platforms out in the industry, but sometimes they don’t bring in all the different data sets that are coming from these other vendors that we’re using in our tech stack.

If you’re using one of the verticals, they’re certainly trying to push you to use all of their products to make it easier. I think it’s really critical that we have that open architecture so there is more information that can be pushed through that still allows those smaller vendors to service our industry but, still, give visibility into what’s happening in the portfolios as well.

I think that really when I think about COVID and everything that’s hit, you see companies like Walmart and Amazon just killing it right now. You see these small businesses really struggling. I think it’s important on all of us in multifamily to make sure that we’re taking care of the small vendors as well and pushing them along and not stifling innovation in our industry by only using just a hand-selected large vendor or a few.

Lucas: Differentiating your technology, we have so much new technology in this industry, and I think we’re going to continue to see more and more PropTech companies pop up, which we want to support those startups, as Knock was years ago. Shifting gears, is there anything that keeps you up at night as far as it regards to Western Wealth Communities that you just lie awake thinking about?

Jennifer: I’d say there’s a couple of things. Definitely, rent collections, I think, continue to keep all of us up at night, not knowing what’s happening with the stimulus plan. Hopefully, we’ll have some more clarity on that, but that certainly is something that keeps all of us stuff at night. Another thing too is, with that leasing velocity, we haven’t seen a die-down in our leasing activity.

We found that traffic numbers have actually increased. Visits have decreased, but our conversions from visit, the actual conversion from visit to lease has actually increased. People have a high intent. There’s a lot of noise and a lot of traffic. A lot of that is not converting into actual visits, but once we get people to a visit, when I say “visit,” that can be a self-guided tour, it can be a virtual tour, whatever it may be.

Once it gets to that visit, the conversion is actually pretty high. We’re finding intent is definitely there that people, if they’re looking, they truly are looking to move. I think the next component to that is what resident screening is going to look like in the future because there have been so many hardships and people that have had to adjust due to COVID. That certainly keeps me up.

We’ve already made some adjustments to our resident screening guidelines, and I think we’ll continue to look at that as the pandemic continues. Then the other big thing that keeps me up is, as a brand new management company, I’m looking at the growth, and now we’re going into markets in other states. There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of change that’s about to happen. That certainly keeps me up at night, but I think in a positive way and in a way that I’m really excited about what lies ahead for our organization.

Lucas: I think that there’s a lot of things in there that we can digest and really take away from, but it sounds like you’ve really got a plan in place for those things that keep you up at night. At least you’re able to strategize and put a plan [unintelligible] technology there is on top. Our last question, we always ask all of our panelists and those that join us on the Knock Talks, what are you most excited for the future of multifamily?

Jennifer: I would say, there’s been a couple of glowing lights. I guess, with COVID, it’s been such a negative around so many people’s lives, but I do think the positive for industry is that it’s put us in warp speed as it relates to embracing technology and having to, again, pivot to be able to run our businesses efficiently. I’m just hopeful that the embrace of technology continues and that people look to innovate in new ways and really readjust how our business runs.

I think it’s really critical to understand, what are the problems that you’re trying to solve. So many times people get down this rabbit hole of “There’s all this new technology and I want to try it,” but they don’t understand, is it actually going to help lease more apartments, and is it going to solve a problem or remove an obstacle that team members have to efficiently and effectively do their jobs?

It’s really easy to chase the shiny new penny, but it’s really important, and especially now working on the owner side of the business, to understand, what is it, how are we going to be good stewards of our money? How are we going to invest our money to really increase leasing velocity, increase our renewal rates, and really look at least trade-out and how we’re exchanging leases at a much higher velocity than maybe we had in the past?

Lucas: Well, thank you so much, Jennifer, today for giving us all this insightful information and tapping into your wealth of knowledge. Here at Knock, we really appreciate you. Hopefully, your audience is able to take away some pointers today. Thank you so much.

Jennifer: Thank you so much, Lucas.

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