Multicultural Resident Retention

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

by Vera Dordick


Every property manager knows that spending time and effort to retain residents is more cost effective than working to attract new ones: Each resident turnover is estimated to cost a property around $3,000. While much has been written about strategies for enticing residents to renew, little is said about the different challenges involved in working with residents from other cultures.

California has more foreign-born residents than any other state, putting its property managers in a unique position: Odds are quite good that they will be working with renters from other cultures. New York, Texas and Florida are the other states with high immigrant populations. According to the Public Policy Institute of California:

  • One out of four immigrants to the United States resides in California. (That’s more people than the entire population of Michigan!)
  • Of this population, more than half are Hispanic and 37 percent are Asian.
  • Asia has surpassed Latin America as the major source of immigrants to California.

Across the board, retention experts have identified good communication as a critical factor in keeping residents. The big challenge with multicultural renters comes when your communications style is not necessarily the same as theirs. Culturally based behaviors and styles affect communication and can impact every step of the property rental and management process, from leasing to maintenance.

Culture is a loaded word that means different things to different people.  It is based on your family history, your religion, your reality and your perceptions. For example, if you have never tried an ethnic cuisine, its ingredients, flavors and textures may seem strange.  Similarly, if you don’t understand why people from a different culture behave the way they do, their actions may also seem strange, unfamiliar, or even wrong.

They aren’t “wrong.” They’re just different. This is the key concept that will be most helpful in working with people from other countries.  In a world of cultures, there is no right or wrong culture, no one culture that is “better” than another. Approaching education in cultural sensitivity with an open mind, devoid of stereotypes can help you achieve the “cultural mind shift” that your perception may not be their reality.  This will help you work efficiently and effectively with any multicultural renter.

All residents of a community want to be valued and understood, and feel comfortable living in a community. By understanding the reasons that drive their behaviors – the “why” – you will be better prepared to handle various communication styles and achieve your goals without offending. Some countries have a fluid time culture that does not place significant value on punctuality. Others do not have a history of fixed-term or fixed-price leases. Cultural differences can also impact gender relations and issues of hierarchy on both sides of your business dealings, particularly during the initial leasing process. By taking into account these differences from your very fist meeting, you will set the stage for an open and welcoming atmosphere.

Helpful tactics

Accommodating cultural differences does not have to consume a great deal of time or money as long as you are prepared. Before showing units to any potential renters, it’s a good idea (and prudent legal practice) to ask if renters have any special needs or requirements. By asking everyone, you will not stumble into issues of stereotyping or run afoul of the Fair Housing Act.

Additional challenges may arise after renters join your community. Cultural differences can create concerns over safety and maintenance, which in turn can affect your entire property.

  • Some residents may not wear shoes in the home and pile them outside, creating a fire and safety hazard.
  • Renters from some cultures may remove closet doors and burn incense or candles inside.
  • Cooking smells can be distinctive and pervasive.
  • Maintenance in some areas of the unit may become a concern, such as grease build-up in the kitchen or water damage in the bathrooms.
  • Appliances may be damaged because of unintentional misuse.

In all of these cases, cultural differences are the root cause of the challenge.  Depending upon the culture of the renter, there are various ways that issues can be addressed to solve the problem without offending the client. Often, problems can be avoided by providing renters a list of leasing etiquette points that must be followed.  Essentially, it’s a list of do’s and don’ts, which can be useful for any renter.

Reminding renters that maintenance is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week can be critical.  In some countries, maintenance service – particularly without an extra charge – does not exist. Familiarizing residents with the availability of the service can save a bundle on repair costs when the situation is one that requires immediate attention.

Sometimes, communicating with non-native English speakers can be challenging. Be mindful of the language you use in speaking with multicultural renters. Speak slowly and avoid compound words and idioms, which can be difficult for them to understand. Don’t be afraid to say you are having trouble understanding and ask someone to repeat themselves.

Interacting with multicultural residents can be an exciting and personally rewarding experience. Their traditions, stories and perspectives can enrich the lives of the entire community.  Moreover, from a business perspective, they cannot be ignored. Most all ethnic communities have an informal network that newcomers use to find sources of goods and services.  It could be damaging to a property if it were to develop a reputation as being unwelcoming to foreign-born renters.

Progressively minded property management companies will seize the opportunity to attract and retain this sizeable market segment.  Educating and training staff members to effectively communicate with multicultural renters will have an immediate and tangible effect on a rental community’s bottom line.

TangibleDevLogo Vera Dordick | Company Website  |  LinkedIn Connect

Tangible Development helps companies thrive in a world of flux through cultural awareness training and improved global communication skills. It offers customized consulting with special industry expertise in property management, hospitality, higher education, science and technology, health care and financial services.

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