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Strong Partnerships are an Undervalued Key to Organizational Success

New IREM President Chip Watts lays out his vision for how commercial real estate associations can work together and with stakeholders in meaningful partnerships.

Industry associations and many practicing companies in real estate like talking about partnerships, relationships and networks. And typically, these are couched in vague, touchy-feely terms, without reflecting the critical importance of these relationships on their business. 

In truth, every organization, for-profit and not-for-profit alike, lives and dies by its partnerships. There’s no IREM, or for that matter, no BOMA, SIOR or fill in the blank that exists separately from its relationships with others. 

I see IREM’s partnerships in three tiers--those we have with other associations, those we have with our residents, tenants and ownership constituents and--most important--those we have with our members. While this is not a column about the ongoing trials of the pandemic, we’ve certainly seen these partnerships mobilized in meaningful ways over the past eight months. 

Associations banding together

Our coalition with other organizations includes (on the residential side) NAR, NAA and NMHC, and (on the commercial side) BOMA and BOMI, NAIOP and SIOR, to name just a few. In the early days of the lockdown, and continuing even now, these are critical alliances in our efforts to make clear to our congressional leaders the needs of the industry and those of our other partners--our residents and tenants. 

Nowhere is the old saying about unity in strength stronger than when our coalitions come together to advocate for rental assistance and the lifting of the eviction moratorium. The more voices advocating for a particular issue, the louder those voices become, and the more our congressional representatives listen.

In harmony with owners, residents, tenants

Outsiders to the industry might see lifting the moratorium as a draconian measure, but in fact, landlords want and need someone in their spaces, as much as a resident or tenant wants to occupy that space. Our responsibility in the resident/manager relationship is to provide as much informational support as is necessary, and to guide our occupants to all the resources they need to find help and meet their rental obligations. 

There’s an educational aspect to that assistance in that most occupants would not know many of the programs available to them through such organizations as HUD, or how to navigate through the Paycheck Protection Program, created by Congress at the start of the pandemic. It’s incumbent upon property managers to provide as much assistance here as possible. In most cases, the property manager works for a third party--the landlord--and to make that partnership work, property managers need to collaborate with tenants as well. 

In turn, the resident or commercial tenant fulfills their part of the obligation by helping us keep the lights on and meet our mortgage, insurance and tax responsibilities. No one wants to face an eviction, neither the resident nor the manager. And with that now off the table by Executive Order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it requires both partners in this relationship to assist each other in fulfilling their responsibilities. 

A foundation of professional support

The challenges this responsibility presents to property managers is huge, made even more so this year in the face of shifting protocols and directives of the COVID-19 pandemic. IREM leadership and membership alike pivoted to support each other where needed most, especially during the early days of the lockdown. The only way to keep membership informed was through education, communication, and by maintaining an open dialog with CPMs around the world. 

One of the most impactful ways this has been accomplished is through IREM’s “From the Front Lines” podcast series, in which members talk with other members about their shared frustrations and solutions. As an example of the breadth of issues covered, titles from season one included:

  • Legislation for emergency coronavirus aid (with IREM Government Affairs Director Ted Thurn);
  • Rent abatement and concessions (with Mindy Gronbeck, CPM and myself);
  • Employee morale (with Debbie Phillips, PhD, CPM); and 
  • Force majeure lease provisions (with Ralph Amicucci, Esq., CPM).

The series is now launching its second season, but it makes up just one part of an overall campaign to ensure membership is up-to-speed with best practices in this ever-changing environment. 

That campaign also includes webinars, pandemic guides and online courses. All told, in the past eight months, IREM created more than $500,000 in educational materials specific to the pandemic, at no expense to membership. I am very proud of that accomplishment. 

No organization succeeds on its own. IREM is not IREM without its members, or without its partnerships. But, taken together, we are much more than the sum of our parts. 

Chip Watts, CPM, CCIM, is the 2021 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he serves as president and executive CPM for Watts Realty Co. Inc., AMO, in Birmingham, Ala. 

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