COVID Driven Risk Management featuring Rachael Kish

Rachel Kish has been busy through the pandemic. She says she’s working on growing her team while focusing on acquisitions for Asset Living, all on top of dealing with things like evictions. Kish joined the Shelton Residential team in 2017, and Asset Living acquired that company in 2020.


“The joining of those two families has been a huge success for everybody,” said Kish. “Watching two different worlds collide and watching all of the success that comes out of that has been really fun to be a part of.”

Kish says she’s proud of how Multifamily has responded to the pandemic. Companies made adjustments and tested new ideas extremely rapidly, and were largely successful.

“I think the pandemic emboldened us to take risks and actions that we just – we wouldn’t have tip-toed around prior to that. And I think moving forward, as we come to a post-pandemic era, we can continue with that same boldness.”

Kish says it’s important to analyze the priorities for each client and see where there’s overlap so you can work efficiently.

“I feel like the most success comes in hiring great teams. Just this morning, I was texting with my managers, and I just thanked them, saying, ‘I couldn’t do what I do without you and the way that you pour into your people on-site.’ When you can find the right leaders, the execs at each of those sites, you can grow properties, you can grow portfolios. For me, that’s the biggest challenge and the great reward, also.”

For a while, Kish was working on ways to try to be open, rather than figure out ways to work through closure. The response was focused on keeping people safe and keeping the virus from spreading. Now, Kish thinks people should shift the focus to making sure things stay open in a safe way.

“We have to be very nimble in the way that we create policy in that environment. Really, it’s just, how do we be open, how do we do it really well, make people feel safe and also create the community that our people really desire,” said Kish.

Kish says face-to-face interaction doesn’t have to be prioritized in the same way it is now. For instance, self-guided and virtual tours have been extremely successful. However, that’s not to say face-to-face interaction is no longer important.

“Moving forward, we should continue to engage the technology to the degree that we have and look for new ways to utilize that platform. I also think we need to reevaluate how we deploy resources. In the COVID environment, we all had money set aside for social activities and then social activities got nixed. So how can we take that funding and re-deploy it so that we can still create community or be open on some level and just repurpose that money?”

At one property, Asset Living used the money it saved by not having community events to hire someone to oversee the fitness center, making sure it’s regularly sanitized, and that people wear their masks. At another property, the site had an on-site housekeeper; she was repurposed to focus on amenities, and the property brought in another third-party company to take on her old role.

Kish says there are some ways she thinks people’s decision-making and habits may forever be changed. For instance, she thinks people will always keep hand sanitizer in their cars. However, when it comes to residents, people still want the same things for the most part. Properties still have to deliver on those expectations. Communication and even over-communication encouraging people that they should get out and be active, but they need to do so safely has also been important. Choosing the right staff can help with that messaging.

“You need the CDC guidance, you need the person who’s highly driven and motivated by all the rules and dotting every I and crossing every T. You need that person in the conversation. But you also need site-level people, because they’re operating within the constraints that some high-level office is feeding down to them. How practically is that working? If we don’t involve those people in the conversations, I think we run the risk of making policy for the sake of policy, which for me, doesn’t work in real life.”

The client should also be a part of that conversation. Some property owners might feel differently about how to handle things than others. Remember, everyone is just trying to get through this.

Kish also believes it’s important to make things as simple as possible, especially for property owners and managers.

“‘What are my priorities? What do I value, first and foremost – not just as a business but as a person? What do I truly value?’ And then let that inform some of the policy. You have to remain energized. A lot of it is just your mindset. If we look at this challenge as an opportunity to find success in new ways, we’re going to find success in new ways. But if we understand the challenge to just be a barrier to success, I don’t think we pursue solutions with the same energy or vigor,” said Kish.

Things like that are lessons you learn over time. For Kish, she remembers learning it as a young kid telling herself, “I can do this!” when she was faced with a difficult task.

Kish also thinks sometimes it’s important to be stubborn.

“Maybe I buck the system by bucking the challenge and finding ways around it. But what keeps me going is just remembering to look back. When I find myself somewhat road-blocked or stalled, I can think to myself, ‘Okay, Rachael, what other disasters have you come through and what wins did you find in those opportunities?’ And I just let those prior victories, big and small, some of them no one else would recognize or even know about, but I draw them as experiences to fuel me through the next challenge.”

Kish became a Regional Portfolio Director right at the start of the pandemic, and obviously, she faced a lot of challenges. She says that amassing small victories helped other challenges to seem less daunting.

When it comes to evictions, Kish says talking to legal experts early and often has been crucial.

“As far as evictions go, they are really very necessary. And I don’t want to sound like a big, bad, evil landlord, because that’s certainly the reputation we’re getting. But the right eviction can save a lot of people and can make people safe. In a 300+ unit building or even a 100-unit building, one bad resident who’s behaving like a criminal, treating people poorly, making a lot of noise, making the property unstable – by removing that individual from that environment, we’ve made a lot of other households far more comfortable and probably more safe. So I think we need to remember what the eviction tool does for Multifamily and for the households that remain on the property after that eviction is complete.”

When it comes to evictions in the pandemic, Kish says it’s important to be stubborn. You have to protect the asset, the staff, and the residents. But this isn’t about evicting people willy-nilly.

“Don’t just think that because there’s a CDC moratorium that your hands are tied, because they’re certainly not tied. If you feel like they are, get an attorney – or get a better one,” said Kish.

Kish says a lot of these issues come down to whether you’re comfortable having hard conversations. Some of those conversations can be friendly but are still difficult. For instance, talking with someone who lost their job and now owes $10,000 in rent can be challenging, but doesn’t have to be adversarial; just discuss with people what’s about to happen. Offer up some ways to help or talk about potential solutions. Keep engaging people in conversation. That helps lower delinquency, because people will pay what they can, even if it isn’t the whole amount.

When you’ve hired good managers and leasing agents, that takes care of a lot of problems.

Communicate with your staff and figure out what sorts of conversations people are having repeatedly, then write a script for how to deal with that conversation in the future. Once you practice it a few times, it becomes effortless.

Kish says the Phoenix market is exploding. People are buying up properties left and right. A lot of people are coming in from out of state, too.

“The growth is very exciting, it’s very encouraging. It tells me that the growth we’re in is going to be sustainable, it’s not crazy-growth, it’s exciting. There’s a lot happening.”

Kish has about 2,000 units in her portfolio currently and expects that to go up by the hundreds soon.

She says she loves site teams and thinks having a great team can make an enormous difference. The more buildings she works with, the more teams she’s able to develop.

When your investor or asset manager isn’t local, it’s important to communicate often. Kish recommends taking videos rather than pictures. For instance, she might send a video of a manager or leasing agent talking about their successes and send that to the client, so they feel like they’re part of that environment.

“It’s not just about the performance metric, it’s about the people getting the job done and bringing those groups together from very far places.”

The operators are juggling both the emotional and technical side. The investor should be made aware of challenges those operators face, and staff should be made aware of investor priorities.

“When we link arms and we make our industry more whole and more strong, we can fight the very real battles that we face. With the change in administration, certainly the dynamics in Arizona are changing very quickly with the rent control issue in Arizona that we’ve had some success in abating, but again, is resurrecting. We have to stay sharp, we have to stay connected, and it has to be bigger than our individual management companies,” said Kish. “Make your friends. Stay connected to others, get involved in the AMA or your local association. Look up from your portfolio, look up from the technical side of what you do and really identify, ‘How can I add some value to the industry so that I can leave a legacy, so that our work is sustainable, moving into the future?’ Because if we don’t, we’re going to take some hits, and they’re going to be big ones.”

Connect with Rachael and Asset Living:

Instagram: @assetliving

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