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WASHINGTON, DC-It is self evident that a bigger focus on tenant retention in these–and indeed all–real estate cycles is key to any building owner’s success. Surprisingly, though, not enough building owners are proactive in property management outreach as they should be, according to participants in a Building Owners and Managers Assoc.’s webinar, held Wednesday afternoon. Called “The Road to Renewals: Keep Tenants Happy in a Depressed Economy,” the event was the first in what will be a series this fall from BOMA.

Marc Fischer, director of management services at Transwestern and Jim Woidat, Principal of Kingsley Associates, led the discussion. Keeping tenants happy, of course, is a no-brainer, the two agreed.

The reduced cash flow resulting from just one departing tenant can be significant–and have a multiplier effect across an entire portfolio, they point out. At an average rental rate of $40 per square foot, a departing tenant that occupied 20,000 square feet could deliver an $800,000 hit, assuming it takes a year to replace it with another company. Commissions paid out for renewals–as opposed to new tenants–further erode a landlord’s bottom line; ditto for TIs, which can be as much as $35 per square foot for a new lease, compared to $10 per square foot for a renewal. Bottom line for that hypothetical 20,000 square foot tenant: a total of $1.4 million over the course of the year.

“Property management is one of the most closely correlated factors to tenant retention and satisfaction,” Woidat said. “You want to create such a good tenant experience that they will immediately think of the property management service when it comes time for the lease renewal.”

How exactly to do that, however, is less clear. Leaving aside the obvious–keeping on top of maintenance, responding to complaints, etc.–the duo suggested proactive outreach on an ongoing basis as a start. Surveys–conducted by third parties if possible–top the list of best practices in this area. “Don’t assume that because you never hear from your tenants that everything is okay,” Fischer said. “It may be that they have gotten so discouraged from the service they receive they don’t try anymore.”

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