In this episode of the Deconstructed: The Future of CRE podcast, host Vivek Kartha of WorkSpace is joined by Jessica Partington, Senior Property Manager at Daniel Corporation. They talk about her career in the property management industry, the state of the industry after the pandemic, and about one of her areas of expertise, the retail sector.

Booming Birmingham

Jessica is currently based in Birmingham, Alabama, a city that she sees thriving with industry and corporate headquarters moving to the region. The 2022 World Games are being held in Birmingham, which is a catalyst for further interest in the vibrancy of the area. Jessica sees that interest continuing to grow into the future. 

She also sees more people heading back to work, putting an end to what she calls a “dismal time” in the property management industry as a whole due to the pandemic. The industry relies on foot traffic, and she is encouraged to see it picking up and having property management get back to normal. Commercial property needs people and people are back, which is exciting. 

Pandemic Reflection

Jessica and her team took time during the slow days of the Covid crisis to do some reflecting on their operations, their processes, and generally how they run their properties and their business. During the deepest part of the pandemic, they made sure to keep the lines of communication open with their tenants, and they made the office as safe and inviting as possible if those tenants needed to come in for any reason. 

Now that the crisis is lifting, they have made a concerted effort as a team to welcome people back in, and their newly streamlined processes are in place to make sure that anyone they interact with has a positive experience. As she says, they have discovered a lot of processes that were done just because they have always been done that way, and some of them were not necessary and have been eliminated. 

As an observer of other industries, she is curious to see which services return post-lockdown, and which services never come back. As she points out, living without certain services that you’ve always had sometimes makes you realize you never really needed that service to begin with, and living without it has a minimal impact on your business. Even cutting back on some services, like reducing the frequency or duration, can have a positive impact on how you spend budgeted money on your properties.

Retail Rising

One area of expertise that Jessica has is managing retail properties, and retail faced some big challenges during the lockdown. Many retail businesses did not survive through the pandemic, and many that did survive were severely wounded, especially service industry businesses. 

But Jessica sees a silver lining as the lockdown is lifted. She saw a trend where consumers were actually saving money during the pandemic, but now that things are getting back to normal, she sees a reaction to the cabin fever many consumers are feeling. 

Furniture spending was up during Covid, but now she sees people vacationing, dining out and engaging with many of the service industries that were hit so hard. She says that overall, the retail sector is in a much better place than she anticipated during the lockdown, and many management companies were able to negotiate favorable lease adjustments, which has the industry in a strong position. As she says, during the pandemic the weak didn’t survive but the strong businesses came out stronger.

Inevitable Change

Jessica points out some changes that have taken place in the retail landscape, but she is not ready to point to the pandemic as the reason for all these changes. She thinks it is a collection of reasons, and not just Covid, that are responsible for the changes. As she says, “It pushes the agenda to a place where only the strong survive. So if something was trending in a negative manner, it was going to magnify it in that direction. But it does give some teams an opportunity to rebrand or rethink how they’re operating and moving on to something that’s really positive.”

She also sees the trend of people wanting to locate in smaller cities like Birmingham as part of an age-old trend where people gravitate toward cities, then it shifts to the suburbs and eventually back to cities. She thinks that Birmingham is positioned to absorb an influx of new people who want to take advantage of the city’s location, history and charm that many cities the same size don’t have. 

The Future is Bright

In the podcast, Vivek asked Jessica what advice she would give to aspiring professionals who are new to the industry, and more specifically, what her dream assignment would be if she were just starting out.

Jessica says her dream assignment for anyone coming into the industry would be to manage an account that is well established. Property management has a lot of moving parts, and one of the biggest goals in the industry is to have consistency. An established account usually comes with consistency already built in. That consistency allows a new manager to build relationships with staff and tenants, and to really learn a building without having to create a whole new structure.

She also wants new property managers to know that the job is really fun, and it is perfect for people who don’t like to check the same boxes day in and day out. There are no two days that are the same, and that’s what makes the job interesting. 

She says the industry is in a great place right now, and for someone just starting out it pays to realize that the industry relies on people. Keeping your ducks in a row as far as property maintenance and occupancy go is important, but without the people who occupy the buildings there would be no industry. So she encourages newcomers to be personable, to be human and to respect people. As she says, in property management, you are responsible for keeping everyone happy, from owners, tenants and vendors, to customers in a retail setting. 

Make that human connection to your work in property management and, as Jessica says, the work is very rewarding.