Lease.com.au is shining a light on how Australia’s property management industry has been adapting to the changing working environment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This series will feature key property managers and agency principals across the country in a bid to see precisely how COVID-19 has impacted their business, the strategic changes made to operate in a new environment and the positive change that has come about as a result.

This week, we talk to Anthony D’Ambros, Director of Victorian-based agency, Stockdale & Leggo Epping.

Q: Since the start of COVID-19, what are three significant changes you made to your business?

1.     “Revisit expenditure: Get rid of the ‘fat’ spending. Focus on necessity.”

2.     “Be aware of the team’s mental state with regular one-on-ones, open, honest feedback with their performance, management’s performance, and the business’ financial position. Keep them all involved in the decision-making process.”

3.     “Remember to find the humour in as many ways as possible.”

Q: What impact have you seen around rental pricing and demand in your area?

“Things have stabilised. Commercial factories and shops are in demand,” Anthony said.  “Commercial leasing is a barometer of the market; if the public is optimistic in opening a new business / expanding, it shows confidence is back. Otherwise, offices are hard to move and residential is stable.”

Q: What was your process for managing rent reduction requests?

“We invented new standard letters. After an initial enquiry from a tenant, we email a letter requesting more information from the commercial tenant, with a list of what we require. For residential tenants, we issue a hardship application. Then, once fully completed, we discuss with the landlord and negotiate a solution.”

Q: What aspect of your property management procedures was most impacted?

Commercial management went into hypo drive. We had 64 requests for rent relief from our commercial tenants. Arrears blew out, and tenants put outgoings on the back burner. We spent a solid six weeks working out what to do without direction from government. Then, when we were given snippets of info (and then fed and state fractions doing different things), we had to learn new code and invent systems to wade through genuine tenants who needed relief among those simply trying it on,” Anthony said.

“We were in before 8AM and leaving to go home just before 9PM – it was horrible. However, we worked through it, and our inside joke is that we’re working twice as hard for half the money.”

“Residential was easier, but still hard work. We had over 50 requests for relief. Once the tenants received the hardship application and realised it required a lot more evidence/information they did not try. We were left with just five on new payment options, whereas we have 50 commercial tenants on payment plans, plus a potential nine going to mediation as we cannot come to a resolution!”

Q: What three changes made during COVID-19 will you continue with, even as restrictions are eased?

1.     Streamlined our standard letters

2.     Revisited our tradesman list with new systems/checks and balances for compliance

3.     Changed the structure of our team

Q: If your agency used virtual tours, what system did you use?

“Early in the piece when we all thought we would be in total lockdown, we went out and bought a Gimbal at Officeworks and videoed all properties for sale/lease. We started to experiment – we would talk through them, or just use video. Fast forward, no voices, no team members, add different music with pop-ups, and a bit comical became the agreed norm. We’re still doing it today! I edit them at night while drinking a red wine. It has been very positive with vacant commercial properties.

Q: Did your agency use remote tech to manage routine inspections?

“We do, on average, over 70 general inspections a month for our residential portfolio. We coordinated a plan with Corporate Office to have tenants send in images for these inspections of where we told them to, and we would formulate our reports to our investors. We won’t be continuing them because we want to get through all properties ourselves.”

Q: Do you have an interesting COVID story/incident either you of one of your staff would like to share?

“An Australia-wide government-funded tenant requested 30% off their rent for an office they lease from us. They received JobKeeper, so they figured they would be entitled to rent relief. We sent them a letter requesting more information, and they called, emailed, chastised, and bullied us on how we didn’t understand the new code when “all other agents across Australia have agreed to this!” They threatened binding arbitration. They were horrible to deal with, refusing to provide any documentation.”

“One of the head office accounts managers from Sydney got on the phone intending to educate us on the error in our ways when we finally got the opportunity to be heard.”

“We politely reminded them that JobKeeper was one of two parts to be eligible for rent relief discussions to start. The second was to prove COVID-19 had caused financial hardship. Their lease was only two years young. Their application showed that they had a five-year fixed government grant and that they would take on the second option if they were awarded the grant. It also showed that this not-for-profit organisation had a bank balance exceeding $8 million! We will be more than happy to bring this record into any mediation. They have paid in full and on time for the last two months.”

Anything else?

Our team has embraced the anarchy of it all. The more that gets thrown our way, the more we laugh. We believe we have all grown closer to one another. We have a culture to speak up, be heard, work through a problem with others, have moral arguments; standing in both our landlords and tenants’ shoes to negotiate a solution.

The team feel management are doing all they can to keep everyone included, involved and employed and have lifted because of this.

We are all dealing with the extra workload, emotions and understanding that we are happy, healthy, employed and focused on our collective goal in getting you to a better place.  

How did your team manage during COVID-19? If you would like to be featured in our series, email davidb@lease.com.au