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Buying a New Property? Earn Residents’ Trust

By J.T. Engelhardt, NHT-Enterprise Assistant Vice President

Earlier this year, NHT-Enterprise purchased the Elms Apartments in West Hartford, CT, as part of NHT’s High Opportunity Strategy. NHT and NHT-Enterprise have been focusing on affordable housing developments in areas of opportunity so that low- and moderate-income families have access to great education and employment. Located in the heart of West Hartford, a nice inner-ring suburb with good schools, this 72-unit building was operated as naturally-occurring affordable housing, with no explicit restrictions or subsidies.

In partnership with Trout Brook Realty Advisors, a development subsidiary of the West Hartford Housing Authority, NHT-Enterprise purchased the Elms to improve and formally designate it as affordable housing, preserving the property as the neighborhood around it experiences a surge in rents and home values.

When acquiring a multifamily apartment community, there are many, many things to consider.  But once purchased, the most important thing, by far, is to earn the residents’ trust.

Meeting with residents is essential after acquiring a property. It is typically the first impression you make with your tenants and it can make or break the relationship you have with them.

Although it’s nearly impossible to predict how these meetings will unfold, here are some tips from the NHT-Enterprise team to move you in the right direction for earning your new tenants’ trust:

Survey a set of residents beforehand

We had spoken with a few residents during our site inspections prior to closing on the New Elms. They had many questions for us that reflected much anxiety about the plans of the new owner. Their concerns were valid. The property had been marketed by a broker as a “value-add” opportunity, which is typically broker-speak for: “do modest, mostly cosmetic, improvements and increase the rents significantly.” Thanks to these preliminary conversations we had with residents, we knew some residents, perhaps all, were concerned about potential rent hikes.

Sometimes, residents to have little faith in your promises

Our first meeting with the residents was six days after we purchased the property and the room was packed wall-to-wall. The residents had many questions about rent, work that was promised but hadn’t been done and the building superintendent of the previous owner. Our plan to renovate the building and set up a work order system but not raise rents was met with disbelief. By the end of the meeting, the residents were keenly interested and grateful, but still skeptical. Our actions would have to earn the residents’ trust rather than our words.

Follow-through on expectations

By the second resident meeting, it was clear that the residents, satisfied that there would be no rent hikes, had moved on to the habitability of their homes. The property management team received many more work orders due to the years of neglect by the previous building superintendent. Resident questions at this meeting were less skeptical and all about how and when we would address the many various building and unit deficiencies. 

Did we succeed in earning the residents’ trust? The answer is yes! But it’s important to remember that trust can be lost at the drop of a hat. We are working to fully renovate the entire property – a huge feat. Open communication and managing expectations will be key to maintaining the residents’ trust through this process. Stay tuned for the conclusion to the New Elms story!

For more information on the Elms Apartments, contact NHT-Enterprise Assistant Vice President J.T. Engelhardt.