Finding Top Talent in a Tight Market

Strategies for recruiting and retaining team members with the right stuff, even in the face of stiff competition.
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The 3.7 percent unemployment rate posted in October was the lowest since 1969. That’s both great news for the economy and a challenge for small and emerging real estate firms. With more job openings than job hunters, the competition for quality staff is increasing. So, as a small multifamily firm, how can you best attract and retain the talent you need?

Part of the answer may simply come down to paying your people more. “There are so many opportunities for team members to jump ship for more money, and the reality is that the rate of pay, especially for maintenance, has increased,” said Libby Ekre, a principal at MEB Management Services in Phoenix. The cost of filling a vacancy is almost always more expensive than granting a raise.

Competitive pay and benefits are key to employee retention, advise the owners of Sierra Property Management. Headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif., the firm handles a diversified portfolio of office, retail, flex and multifamily assets. “We have increased our insurance offerings to include vision, dental, and company matched 401k,” reported Michelle Roberson, who serves as company president and supervises the residential side of Sierra’s business. To keep up with its larger competitors, Sierra has boosted its labor rates across the board, added Kevin Roberson, who runs the firm’s commercial services.

More Motivation

Compensation is always crucial, but so is thinking outside the box in the search for talent. “We tend to look for people that are not so tenured in the industry, but well educated, bright, talented people that we can help train,” said Barry Blanton, who holds the title of principal & chief problem solver at Seattle-based Blanton Turner. The firm provides the resources for employees to earn the Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM). “The trick is to create an environment that they don’t want to leave once they get their professional designation,” said Blanton.

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Talented, motivated employees do a better job of generating leads or recruiting new team members. “The energy it takes to move an organization to the next level takes every team member to be clear on their mission and excited about their career,” said Ekre. “This will help ignite industry recognition needed for your employees to refer their friends and share their excitement about the company for which they work.”

Finding a good maintenance team may be the biggest current challenge for smaller multifamily firms; low unemployment in the trades and more competitive wages in construction are pulling maintenance techs into those fields and out of management. Providing a strong insurance plan is a great way to fill these positions.

“Try to have the best coverage for their families. Pay them a good industry wage, especially if they have skills they can share and help reduce property costs,” said Ekre. “Make sure you are having them train and gain new skills and increased knowledge to be more valuable in their roles. They will feel valued and in return, loyal.” Offering operations teams the same broad benefits as the rest of the staff goes a long way to retaining good team members, Kevin Roberson noted.

Even in the midst of an historically tight labor market, smaller firms have many strategies to compete with their larger counterparts.  Identifying the strengths that you offer and using them to your advantage is the key to success.

“The advantages of a smaller company are that you don’t have to play to the rules that apply to bigger firms,” said Blanton. “What we’re able to do is craft an exceptional experience for everyone that works here. We need to live up to the expectations of everyone that works with us, and if we can do that, then they will stay,” he said.