Need to have a tough conversation with a tenant? Alison Hatch explains how it’s done

Imagine waking up to find that carefully crafted email you recently sent a tenant has hit the mainstream news. It’s being commented upon, shared, and the sentiment’s not so favourable.

That’s the position an unlucky but unnamed property manager found themselves in recently, with their email about an upcoming owner inspection hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So, is this a situation hard-working property managers can avoid?

Can they still have the conversations they need to, but in a way that hits the right notes, has both the tenant and landlord feeling valued, and goes viral for all the right reasons?

Best Nest Property Management’s Alison Hatch says you can indeed strike that balance, but first you need to create the right relationship and, above all else, put yourself in both the tenant and landlord’s shoes.

The Transform XII winner explains the email currently making the rounds in the news and on social media isn’t necessarily wrong or even ‘rude’ as some claim.

She suggests where it gets itself into trouble is there appears to be no existing relationship, there’s an apparent misunderstanding about the tenant’s previous rental inspections, and little empathy for the inconvenience an owner visit might cause.

“When you’re communicating with people, you need strong relationships to have high-end communication,” Alison says.

“And you need to establish that relationship from the outset.”

Alison also ponders whether email was the right communication method to convey this particular message, explaining sometimes it’s better to simply pick up the phone and have a friendly, empathetic chat.

“There’s no tone in email,” she reflects.

“What I think is tough and what a tenant thinks is tough can differ, so sometimes it’s just better to pick up the phone.”

So how would Alison approach a scenario like this? Well, she says it starts with building a great working relationship with all parties in the rental process right from the outset.

Alison Hatch, of Best Nest Property Management.

You had me at hello

Long before you’re having tough conversations with tenants or landlords, Alison says you’ve got to start by building a great working relationship, built on empathy and appreciation.

She says it’s important to view all parties in the rental process as a client, so while you’re technically working for the landlord and protecting their investment, the reality is the tenant is also a current client and quite possibly a future customer too.

Not only are they part of your current rent roll, down the track they might be a buyer, a seller or an investor.

And to build a great working relationship with your clients, you need to know them and understand them, Alison says.

In the case of tenants, Alison says often this comes down to the little things, like acknowledging a property is being kept in great condition, that tenants are busy, and this is their home.

Personally, Alison sends a gift box to her tenants after a routine inspection where everything’s up to par.

It’s locally sourced and includes fruit and vegetables, along with a note to the tenants that indicates she loves what they do.

“This existing relationship means when you have to have a sensitive conversation, they’re happy to work with you,” she explains.

Great expectations

Building a great working relationship also involves setting the right expectations from the outset, Alison continues.

And again, this applies to both tenants and landlords.

Alison notes she’s crystal clear with tenants on what’s involved in a routine inspection and how often they will occur.

But there’s also some thought in the way this is phrased.

Alison explains, as a property manager she looks at the role she plays for the tenant from this perspective: her job is to get their bond back.

She proactively tells them this from the outset and explains this means a reasonable clean will be required before a routine inspection, just to ensure all’s well.

Not only does this then make for easy inspections and vacates, she says it sets the tone that the property manager and tenant are working together.

And of course, ultimately setting this expectation will have benefits for the landlord too, ensuring a tenant takes great care of the home.

“I’ll say to a tenant ‘my job is to get your bond back and the only way to achieve that is if we work together’,” she notes.

From the beginning Alison also lets tenants know there may be occasions when an owner wishes to inspect the property in person.

“It’s basically about setting the tone at the start of the relationship that this could happen,” she says.

“I also explain owner visits are an opportunity for them to identify things around the home that could be improved and might be beneficial for the tenant.”

Meanwhile, similar expectations are laid out for the landlord.

She informs them routine inspections are conducted every three months, tenants are expected to ensure the home is in good condition when these occur, and any visits beyond that might mean the property isn’t as pristine.

A mile in another person’s shoes

Alison also notes empathy is key to all communication in property management, regardless of who you’re dealing with.

In an instance where an extra inspection is being requested, she says it’s important to appreciate essentially as a property manager you’re almost asking a favour of your tenant.

“The reality is it is an inconvenience for the tenant, so it’s important to acknowledge that, and work with them,” she says.

“Put yourselves in their shoes and come from the perspective, how can I work with you? Perhaps even ask them, ‘Is there anything I can do to make this easier?’.” she suggests.

That might involve seeking a time that suits them, rather than setting one or indicating it will be advised.

Change the narrative

As part of an empathetic approach, Alison says there’s a great opportunity to change the narrative when it comes to either written or verbal communication.

Instead of asking a tenant to ensure the home is clean, Alison might say she would ‘love to see the property shine’.

Or the conversation could go like this:

“I love the opportunity to show off great tenants like you, and I appreciate this is a bit of an inconvenience, but it’s also an opportunity for the landlord to see first-hand how well you’re caring for the home.”

Alison notes the intended outcome of a clean home remains the same but the communication is delivered with kindness, understanding and empathy, while valuing the role the tenant plays in property management.

One last takeaway

Alison concedes communication can be tricky, and it’s particularly challenging when property managers are pushed for time, or resources are stretched.

And even the most well-intended message can occasionally raise the hackles of a recipient who might be feeling sensitive.

But she stresses people will usually only take a polite message the wrong way if an empathetic, understanding relationship hasn’t been established in the first place.

At its simplest, that comes down to stepping into your client’s shoes, appreciating their position, and working with them to achieve the outcome that’s required.

“And when you indicate your on the same team and understand their needs, now you’re in a position to go viral for the right reasons,” she says.

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Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer for Elite Agent Magazine with over 15 years’ journalism experience in metropolitan and regional newsrooms. She has a specialist interest in real estate, tech disruption and a good old-fashioned “yarn”.