CHICAGO-Equity Residential is hiring Boston-based international strategy consulting firm Bain & Co., a company that helped do the groundwork for Equity Office Properties Trust’s EOPlus initiative. The largest US multifamily REIT is looking to improve tenant retention, pricing and saving on product procurement, company officials say.

“We are in the get-the-answer mode,” says president and chief executive officer David W. Duncan during his company’s earnings conference call. Objectivity and time are reasons for hiring an outside consultant to begin the corporate introspection, he adds.

“They’re very quantitative and very driven in terms of moving something forward,” Duncan says. “Our people are fully engaged. In order to get this done…I think they’ll be very helpful.”

Bain & Co.’s assignment, which could cost as much as $13 million this year, will include a survey of tenants. Equity Residential hopes the results will help fine-tune marketing efforts and operations.

While the multifamily industry is rebounding from a market that forced many operators to offer concessions, Equity Residential is mulling new ways to set rental rates.

“We’re studying various pricing management tools and comparing them to our current pricing models,” Duncan says. “To select the best approach, we will be performing tests in a number of markets over the next three to four months.”

Just as the largest US office REIT is using its size to its advantage in dealing with vendors, Equity Residential intends to employ the same strategy across its portfolio of nearly 1,000 properties.

“If we elect to proceed on all fronts with these initiatives, the 2004 third-party fees will be approximately $13 million,” Duncan reports. “We fully expect this investment will pay for itself many times over in the years to come.”

Equity Office Properties Trust’s EOPlus consolidated 169 management offices into 48, a vendor list of 950 down to 88, with expected annual savings of $75 million.

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