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Multifamily Executive Magazine: Bozzuto Management's Julie Smith Talks Shop

April 09, 2009

The president of the award-winning multifamily property management firm offers an inside look at best-in-class operations and strategies for 2009 and beyond.

Double Time: Julie Smith, president of Greenbelt, Md.-based Bozzuto Management Co., led her firm to its second property management Company of the Year award.Fresh from winning the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) 2009 award for best property management company of the year, Bozzuto Management Co. President Julie Smith checks in with Multifamily Executive about the state of the industry. Based in Greenbelt, Md., Bozzuto Management Co.'s 650 employees manage 27,500 units in 97 properties across the Mid-Atlantic. The firm is a division of The Bozzuto Cos. Here, Smith shares her thoughts on awards, social media, employee recruitment, marketing, and more.

MFE: Congratulations on the award, an honor Bozzuto also received in 2000. How does it feel to garner that kind of repeat achievement?

JS: We were very excited but also a little surprised. I suppose you should always be modestly surprised when you win an award like that, but we were up against big, national property management companies that are doing great work. As a regional player, we did not go into it terribly confident.

MFE: Still, you know the relative strengths of the Bozzuto team. What do you think characterizes world-class property management?

JS: Speaking for Bozzuto, I know that we continue to have very strong metrics working for us in terms of employee retention, employee promotion, and internal employee referrals for recruiting. We are also seeing continued growth in repeat business from our existing clients. Virtually all of our growth has been powered organically from existing clients and through referrals from existing clients.

MFE: What are some of the challenges that Bozzuto is facing right now?

JS: It has certainly been a tough winter for everybody. We are in a challenging environment, and although we are lucky to be in property management, certainly the market conditions are difficult. A lot of our employees have never even seen a recession, and that requires some education on how to respond.

MFE: What would you say is a critical first-response area for property managers in 2009?

JS: Perhaps the biggest part of property operations right now is marketing. In the absence of job growth, you have to find a way to get more market share. There are a limited number of renters out there, and with job losses, you essentially have to get someone else's share. So we are working on casting our net even wider for more renters, and we are doing that with Internet-based marketing.

MFE: So what do you think of the social and viral media zeitgeist?

JS: You've got to do it. The Washington Post had a tagline for a while that said "If you don't get it, you don't get it." That's social networking. When we won the award, I was disappointed that I didn't really hear any buzz from our field people. Then I realized that all of that communication was happening via Facebook—that's how our leasing consultants keep in touch; it's how our residents keep in touch. We even offer some of our training modules through Facebook. When it comes to Twitter, certainly, if the politicians are using it, it must be effective. Social media is how people get their information today, and it is an efficient way to market.

MFE: Everyone is talking about distress as the opportunity of the future for the multifamily industry. But do you see any immediate opportunities?

JS: One of the things that will be good for our industry is that, for the first time in many years, the labor markets are working in our favor. We have access to top-notch people. We've always been a good employer, reaching for the cream of the crop, and there are many highly qualified people out there with extremely few options—people who would be excited to be with a company that is moving forward and growing. That helps the recruiting effort tremendously.

MFE: What would you have those new recruits—and the rest of the Bozzuto team—look forward to this year and into 2010?

JS: Good companies can get even better in recessions. It is a time to sharpen your operations, dig deep, and get creative. I think the Pillars award was a nice shot of energy to an already energized group. It's nice to have a springboard into more assertive attitudes: to work harder on our properties, get higher occupancies, push rents, and really win. Everyone loves winning, and it's great when people realize that they can win in a lot of different ways.