Student Housing Business

MAY-JUN 2018

Student Housing Business is the voice of the student housing industry.

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SMARTER OPERATIONS May/June 2018 84 challenge of having residents be responsible for monthly bills beyond rent. Timely and effective communication of bills and con- sumption is key. "Residents expect to have their utility bills as quickly as possible and laid out in such a way they clearly see how their use compares to averages, how it compares to their previous months' bills and what their total payment will be when they include rent," notes Petersen. This is where having in-depth data analysis and transparent bill- ing practices come into play. Third-party vendors like RealPage, Conservice and SimpleBills offer the nationwide expertise and knowledge for com- prehensive utility and energy management, as well as the tools to help on-site management teams understand billing issues and the customer service to support any residential issues when they arise. Some vendors connect property operators with physical solutions to reduce energy consumption by integrating new products, intelli- gence-based services and analytics to create more efficient spaces. Although different approaches, both pathways lead to more trans- parent billings practices based on utilizing data, resulting in overall reductions of energy and utility consumption across properties. "In addition to potential cost savings, I believe residents drive demand and interest in energy and utility management," says Tienor. "Education of residents is key to ensuring awareness and opportunity for owners." Kevin Howe, vice president of operations with Athens, Georgia- based Landmark Properties, echoes Tienor remark, noting resi- dents are the main consumers of utilities with 60 to 90 percent of consumption flowing through the residential units. "How much residents use or potentially are abusing can be mit- igated by billing the residents for what they use, educating residents on what contributes to consump- tion and monitoring consumption of every utility even if residents don't get billed for it," Howe explains. To monitor consumption, Landmark Properties typically installs water sub-meters even though the company does not bill back for water in many mar- kets. With the sub-meters in place, Landmark Properties is able to monitor and catch potential main- tenance issues or abuse through its partnership with SimpleBills, a billing and utility management company. SimpleBills collects, manag- es and re-bills unit utility costs among roommates allowing resi- dents to pay for actual usage. Additionally, the company's portal enables residents to view consumption rates to understand their usage and gain helpful tips for conserving utilities. The Winning Team The combination of data analy- sis and review, for both property management teams and residents, helps to create the biggest impact on lowering utility costs and ener- gy consumption. Residents who are responsible for paying for their own usage, instead of flat rates or caps, become more aware of their con- sumption and overall costs, as it hits their wallets. And, property management teams who utilize data and analysis, whether in house or through third-party ven- dors, have a more realistic view of a property's energy and utility consumption, possible leaks and ways to reduce usage, as well as geographical and property size benchmarks, to name a few. "Utility management is not our main business, but it's a very important component of the con- trollable operating expenses that we want to be mindful to moni- tor," says Howe. "Service provid- ers who specialize in this area can do a better job at it than we can and keep us informed of advance- ments and improvements in tech- nology and management." Coupled with the assurance that third-party vendor expertise provides in locking in the best, and most accurate, utility rates, property management teams that actively engage residents in con- servation efforts and bill out for actual utility usage are more likely to see an overall reduction in ener- gy consumption and utility costs. Alperin notes that the current generation of students are look- ing to do the right thing for the environment and conserve, which makes efforts to reduce consump- tion even easier for operators. Residents' interest in energy conservation, as well as paying less for monthly bills, is a motiva- tion that property managers can use to their advantage, particular- ly if they're willing to be transpar- ent with utility costs and energy consumption. Many third-party vendors offer management- and resident- facing billing portals that offer data points on consumption, so if a management team replaces all shower heads and/or toilets with low-flow fixtures or all lighting with LED bulbs, residents will be able to see the reduction in usage, as well as monthly utility costs. And the results speak for them- selves. Landmark Properties completed a lighting audit and replaced 771 fluorescent light bulbs, which burn 24/7 in com- mon areas, with an LED equiva- lent in a high-rise building. The switch resulted in a monthly reduction of $1,200 for the proper- ty's electric bills and an estimated ROI over four years of greater than 400 percent. Additionally, through smart- technology devices, vendors are able to provide management teams and residents with hard data on why energy bills spike. For example, smart devices and monitors can alert Conservice, and the property management team, that an apartment's air condition- ing thermostat is set to 60 degrees, the unit's windows are open and it's 98 degrees outside — an ener- gy consumption nightmare. "When a student calls in asking us about the higher bill, we can give real examples of how they can reduce their monthly invoice, while also becoming environmen- tal stewards," explains MacInnes. "These are subtle, but impactful conservations." Partnering with expert utility and energy managers can provide impressive savings — Conservice's clients received slightly more than $14 million in refunds last year, and RealPage routinely helps cli- ents achieve 10 to 30 percent more in savings and reductions of up to 20 percent in energy consumption and usage through its combination of auditing, conservation projects and consumption monitoring. Property managers and opera- tors can strike a winning combina- tion in energy conservation and utilities savings via new technol- ogy and third-party expertise. The installation of newer technologies, like smart thermostats, low-flow fixtures, and LED lighting, helps residents to conserve resources. Further, leveraging the expertise of energy and utility management companies ensures the best and accurate rates and provides added insight through data analysis and continuous auditing. SHB KEVIN HOWE Vice President of Operations, Landmark Properties KIM MACINNES National Sales Manager, Conservice LINDA ALPERIN Senior Vice President, RealPage Utility Management

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