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The Little things: Ellayne Lim

It can be tricky to find balance when you're the middle party between two groups of people, who usually have very different objectives.

Little Real Estate’s Ellayne Lim is a rare gem who has mastered the art of organisation, fairness and communication to a point where her Net Promoter Scores® for both owners and tenants are on par with some of the world’s most admired companies.

Ellayne Lim has been in property management now for seven and a half years – all of them with Little Real Estate.

The only other career she’s ever known has been hospitality.

“I was working all those horrible hours,” recalls Ellayne, “and after speaking to a friend in property management I thought I would do the course and give it a go.”

Starting on reception as many do, when an assistant property manager role came up a supportive manager suggested she apply – and she hasn’t looked back.

“Just because tenants are renting rather than owning, it doesn’t mean it’s any less special. It’s their safe place.”

Does excellent service lead to fewer arrears?

Like many companies around the world, Little Real Estate uses Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to measure customer advocacy.

While NPS can be a great measure of loyalty and referability, the numbers always depend on who gets surveyed. For instance, if you only survey owners and not tenants or only survey completed transactions, the results may not completely reflect reality.

As Little Real Estate uses NPS as a training tool, everyone that touches the business is surveyed – even tenants who are ‘unhappily vacating,’ or owners who are taking their managements elsewhere.

Ellayne’s NPS scores over her portfolio of 200 to 210 properties for the past three months are nothing short of stunning: her overall NPS is 75, tenant NPS is 68 and her owner NPS is an incredible 95. Her average annual scores are not far behind that.

To put this into some kind of perspective, customermonitor.com believes the industry average in Australia1 for property managers is -6 and the overall industry score is +4.

At the same time, Ellayne’s seven days-plus arrears rate for the entire year varied between 0 and 1 per cent, with the average being around 0.5 per cent.

NPS in practice

While some property managers might find it confronting to be measured in this way, Ellayne says she appreciates that the system is there – and also tries not to focus on the numbers too much.

She agrees that it’s a great learning tool for both property managers and office managers because at Little NPS is measured by category; this could be maintenance, inspections, new leases, vacates plus other areas.

1* Australia NPS Industry Benchmarks 2018 (customermonitor.com), 2* High Australian industry score outside the real estate industry (customermonitor.com), 3* Indexnps.com (2018)

“When it was introduced, everyone was a little bit scared of being rated out of ten,” admits Ellayne.

But she also says it’s a great opportunity to improve the business in areas where you otherwise might be unaware something is wrong.

“When you read some comments or you have a tenant that’s just not happy with a situation, it’s hard not to take it personally.

“But then some of it is also quite constructive feedback and it makes you realise, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll do things differently next time’.”

Little has put systems in place that involve remediation when a survey results in a detractor score (between 0 and 6).

The manager will usually call the person in question to get further feedback – and this is also passed on to the property manager.

While the lower scores provide training opportunities within the company, Ellayne also says it’s great to read the comments when you get a 10.

“It’s a good confidence booster, and really nice to hear.”

Success equals organisation

Face to face, Ellayne is friendly, approachable and easy going – and along with that bubbly personality is someone who is super, super organised.

Her portfolio actually spans around 20 suburbs and has grown organically mostly through referrals.

“I have a lot of landlords with a number of properties, and over time they have been unhappy with the local agency and have asked me to manage them.”

As a result, Ellayne’s days are pretty full; with her widely spread portfolio, she says it’s being super-organised that is the key to her success.

“I’m a morning person and I like to get into the office before anyone else. I like to do my email straight away and organise my day,” she explains.

Then it’s out the door around lunchtime to visit properties and complete inspections.

“I like to do all my inspections together of an afternoon – and after that, I prefer to go straight home rather than back to the office.

“It saves me travel time, and I don’t like wasting time!”

Offshoring the non-essentials

Ellayne’s portfolio has grown in the last few years, and she puts her ability to take on more down to a few factors: the relationships she has built with her owners and tenants, efficiency in technology, and a helping hand from some the company’s own offshore employees.

She says the last two things give her the space to think more clearly about what her clients really need in terms of maintenance and their overall investment strategies.

“I try to show everyone I do care and want to help them. And I always put myself in the tenant’s shoes as well as the owner’s shoes.”

“With having our own offshore team, it means that we have more time [for] talking to our clients and completing higher value activities such as working out optimal maintenance needs, insurance, smoke alarm checks – that sort of thing.”

As well as, with the technology apps the company has in place (Agentplus), this brings productivity and efficiency.

“They save me so much time, particularly when I’m on the road. I’ve got access to everything.

“So much better than the days when we had to use pen and paper!”

Building relationships

In property management, there is always going to be conflict, and this can make it difficult to build relationships between parties on opposite sides of a transaction.

Ellayne says she has succeeded at this by approaching every interaction with fairness, empathy and trust.

“I try to show everyone I do care and want to help them. And I always put myself in the tenant’s shoes as well as the owner’s shoes.”

Ellayne also says that her hospitality background has helped in mastering this skill – and where she learned to be proactive rather than reactive, which is important for both parties.

“I make sure I follow up, rather than waiting for them to follow up.”

Over time, Ellayne has built strong relationships with her owners and that allows her to get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

“Because I’ve had the same portfolio for seven years, I’ve built that trust [to] where I just have to let my owners know what I’m doing and they trust me.

“But again, I put myself in their shoes and always try to preempt any questions or anything they might ask.

“I like to try to solve problems and suggest solutions, and I always let them know what’s happened – as I would want if it were my own property under management.”

Lastly, but probably most importantly, is Ellayne’s belief about the definition of ‘home’.

“Just because tenants are renting rather than owning, it doesn’t mean it’s any less special. It’s their safe place,” says Ellayne.

Moving forward

After more than seven years in the business, Ellayne says she really enjoys being in property management and “is not going anywhere” – but she does envisage some changes on the horizon, particularly with a few disruptive apps out there as well as the new legislation slated for Victoria in 2020.

“Re-educating owners is an ongoing process; I imagine there will be some frustration with the new legislation, but the key will be preparing our owners early.”

She says it will need to be a similar approach with the tech disruptors.

“We are all going to have to step up our service to owners and tenants, and remember that our role is to take the stress away from them.”

Even for someone like Ellayne, who clearly has excellent relationships with her clients, her advice to new property managers is simple: try not to take things personally – you are never going to make everyone happy.

She also recommends some good old-fashioned patience and taking care of the little things.

“It does take a long time to build trust and relationships, but you’ve got to hang in there – it will get easier!”

Ellayne’s top tips:

  1. Always look and plan ahead. Ellayne plans her inspections for the month in advance, organising them in the same area. “If you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re early, you’re on time!”
  2. Prepare keys and everything else the day before – don’t leave anything to the last minute
  3. Leave a good chunk of the day free to be in the office for emails, accounting and other admin.

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