How to Survey Move-Outs for Tips on Improving Site Management
In the November 2012 Special Issue, we covered move-in procedures that make good first impressions on new residents. In this issue, we’ll cover an important step to perform when good residents move out, so you can assess the effectiveness of your management practices.
Maybe they were perfectly satisfied and moved out for reasons unrelated to your tax credit site—because they were relocating, for example. But maybe the residents were dissatisfied with the way you run your site.
You should survey the residents who move out to learn why. A move-out survey can be a reality check. You may have high occupancy and think things are running smoothly. But survey responses can alert you to problems that might otherwise come to light only when inspectors from your state housing agency visit your site. By taking care of the problems, you can head off damage to your business—and your reputation with your state housing agency.
We’ll discuss how to create an effective move-out survey that gets you detailed information. And we’ll give you a Model Form: Use Form to Survey Move-Outs, that you can adapt and use alone, or use to supplement your existing survey.
When to Send Survey
To get more and better information about your site, survey residents when they move out. Move-outs generally give you a more honest appraisal than current residents. And residents who were reluctant to complain while living at the site may be more willing to give you their opinions when they move out.
Some managers send move-out surveys (also called “exit interview forms”) as soon as they get move-out notices. These managers use information gathered from surveys to try to persuade residents to stay. But other managers send surveys to residents with their security deposits, thinking that they’ll get more forthright answers at that time. If you really want the plain truth, that’s the best time to get it, says marketing expert Lisa Trosien.
How to Set Up Survey
Your survey should cover all the bases without being too long. Residents busy with a move may not have time to fill out a multipage survey, so try to keep it to one page, says Trosien. If you can fit it onto a postcard, you can cut down on the hassle and save postage. Have the survey printed on a postage-prepaid card, or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the return of the survey.
Don’t overdo the number of questions. Most experts recommend asking for a detailed response to each one. One of the biggest mistakes managers make, Trosien says, is to have residents check boxes ranging, say, from “Excellent” to “Poor.” You’ll elicit much more information by asking residents to write a description of their experience, says Trosien. You may not get as many responses, she says, but you’ll more than make up for quantity in the quality of the responses.
What to Ask
Your form should begin by thanking residents for living at the site. Also thank residents for filling out the survey. These courtesies help put move-outs in a frame of mind to assist you. Also, it’s a good idea to have a central management office administer the survey, rather than the on-site manager’s office. Residents may not be as candid if they think the survey is likely to end up in the hands of a staff member they know.
Your survey should also cover the following topics:
1. Residents’ overall experience. Ask residents to describe their overall experience living at the site. Be sure to leave space here for a written response rather than using check boxes. You’ll learn little if a resident simply checks a box indicating that his or her experience was, for example, “Fair,” says Trosien.
2. Delivery on promises. Ask residents whether the site lived up to the promises your staff made when they moved in. Residents may leave, for example, because they were promised great service, but had a very different experience.
3. Response to service requests. Ask residents if you handled repair requests in a prompt and satisfactory manner, and ask for examples of what you did well or badly.
4. Quality of staff. Another important subject to cover is what residents thought of your staff—its efficiency, courteousness, friendliness, and so on. Ask specifically about the on-site manager and your leasing and maintenance staff.
You may learn that your staff hasn’t been courteous or that you’re understaffed in certain areas, says Trosien. For example, residents might tell you that they’ve been kept waiting for hours when they show up for scheduled recertification appointments.
5. Specific employees. Ask residents to point out particular employees who’ve been especially courteous, helpful, or attentive. You might reward employees who go out of their way to help residents, and you can use the surveys as part of your performance reviews.
6. Site security. Ask residents whether they were satisfied with site security. You may learn that you need to invest in additional security measures. But if most move-outs agree they were satisfied with site security, you can point to the surveys if you’re ever hit with a lawsuit claiming that security at your site is inadequate.
7. Site appearance. Ask residents whether they were pleased with the appearance of the site. If you get responses like “I was proud to bring guests here” or “very well maintained,” you know you’re doing something right, says Trosien. But if residents complain about garbage in the common areas, you’ll know where site management requires work.
8. Satisfaction with unit. Ask residents whether they were satisfied with their unit’s layout and design. You may be able to keep residents simply by offering them different units. Also, you may be able to use the information if you’re planning to renovate.
9. Reason for moving. Ask move-outs to tell you the reason they’re leaving. It’s okay to use check boxes in this case, since some answers are likely to come up frequently—but you should also leave room for detailed answers that expand on or differ from the reasons listed.
10. Could you have prevented the move? Asking whether you could have done anything to prevent the resident from leaving is the most important part of your survey, says Trosien. Even if you can’t prevent a move-out, you may be able to change policies at your site so that you retain more residents in the future.
11. Other comments. Always ask for other comments, says Trosien. It’s important for you to know if residents have strong feelings about anything that’s going on at the site, and it may be something you haven’t thought to ask about.
12. Name and new address. This way, you can get further information if you need it. If residents aren’t comfortable doing so, they don’t have to fill the information in, and they may still return the form.
Lisa Trosien: Owner, ApartmentExpert.com, Training and Seminars; www.apartmentexpert.com.
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