Episode 121: Not all Third-Party Management Companies are born equal with Alina Trigub – The Apartments Operators Podcast

Alina Trigub is the founder of SAMO Financial. She loves helping people! Her passion is to spread the word about the benefits of passive investing in various forms of real estate and to empower people to build wealth for themselves and for their families. Alina has MBA in Finance and Management from Rutgers and Bachelor of Business Administration in Accountancy from City University of New York.

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Show Transcript

Welcome to the Apartment Operators Podcast, where you can learn from experienced operators what it really means to be an apartment operator. No fluff, no sugarcoating, just the raw, unfiltered truth of the ups and downs of operating multifamily communities. Welcome everybody to the Apartments Operated podcast Today we have a fantastic friend of mine and a great operator.

We have Alina. Alina, how. I’m doing great, Joseph. Thanks so much for having me. Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to have you. After all this time we start the conversation with giving our guest a few minutes to just tell the audience a little bit about themselves and the background. So why won’t you take the steering wheel here for a second?

Sure I’ll try to give you the abbreviate version of who am I and where I come from. Started my journey many months ago as a tax account and switched to information technology. Worked in it for over 20 years, and while in it started investing in Syndications passively while doing that, realized they need to bring syndications up to market and share what I was doing and how I was generating income with the other community.

So I started my own company. Some financial about three and a half years ago while going through that journey. Last year as well know, COVID happened, so my full-time job was eliminated and I decided to go into real estate full-time. After I went into real estate full-time I was then introduced to the new partner of mine Mike Slotnik, and I joined his team TF Management.

That’s where I work currently as head of investor relations. We are a real estate fund management company. We invest in other people projects. That’s on a high level and nutshell my abbreviated version. Awesome. Congratulations on the move to a hundred percent real estate. Thank it’s a little bit scary, but also a little bit exciting, right?

Yeah. The sun, a lot of us made that move and so we bring operators, right? This is the operative podcast, and I know you have your own personal story about operating and dealing. Some of those challenges. Usually we start with just tell us a little bit about the portfolio that you are handling, right?

The stuff that is in your direct asset management. . Sure. It, our portfolio as Joseph mentioned, includes passive and active opportunities. In terms of the active opportunities, it’s mainly apartments. They are in a secondary to tertiary markets in general. So it figure, this is mostly workforce housing.

Type of projects. Okay, great. The question we ask all of our operators is third party or in-house management, unfortunately, third party . That’s a fantastic answer. . So why third party and why? Unfortunately. I’ve always wanted to have permanent partners and I’m now at the point where I joined CF management where I have the same group of people I’ll be working on moving forward.

But before that, when I originally started my journey I was working with different partners and there was no way to scale it because. Trying to work with various people to see who would I wanna work with long term down the road. And hence there was never an opportunity to establish that in-house property management company.

But otherwise, I’m a strong believer that if you have the same reliable partners, people you are planning to work with for very long time and planning to grow your portfolio, having your own in-house property management company is absolutely must. . Why is that? Because everyone does business in their own way.

When you are the one as they say, when you are the one ordering the orchestra, ordering the music, paying the bills, you are telling them how that music is supposed to be played and what did you want them to play? Same applies to the property management company. Depend. where the property is located.

And in our case, I’m talking about secondary market. You want people to number one, to be catering to that particular market. And you want them to know the local laws. You want them to operate the way people in that market are operating and catering to the tenants in your community.

And so that you are number one, attracting the right. and number two, retaining the right tenants and screening tenants in the way you want them to be screened. So these are the tenants that will stay with you for a long time. You don’t wanna be going through the revolving door and keep changing the tenants every single year.

Believe me, we had some cases where we had the months. Months. So six months leases, and it’s far from ideal, but when your vacancy rises and then goes above 10%, 12 and so forth, there’s nothing else you can do. You need to fill it in and even you do what you can. So you fill it in with temporary people with it’s month to month or six months something, so you can start generating income and payroll investors.

So it sounds like your insights come from experience, right? So tell us a little bit. The struggles that you’ve had working with third party and how you would address it otherwise when it’s your own. Just for my knowledge, does TF Management Group have. A property management division?

No. TF Management Group is a real estate fund management company, so yeah, they do pure fund funds. So we do purely fund funds. No they don’t have operation experience. I’ve done it myself through Sam Financial, when I was. Still up operating in partnering with other people to buy the profits.

Got it. So help us, give us a few stories or a few examples of what led you to those insights because we had the same insights, we took over management of our own properties in February of 2020, just before everything exploded with the coronavirus. And then in the first few months I had in my mind, , this must have been the worst timing in history for me to take over management, right?

But then hindsight, a year over a year later, I’m looking at, say, this was the absolute best time for me to take over. Because I don’t know if we would’ve survived the last year and a half under Covid terms with a third party property manager. We would just absolutely not survive it. So give us a little bit of your experience and your.

Sure. So I’ll concentrate on this one. Property where in, in the last in during three years, we had four property management companies. Our mistake was sticking to the residential property managers, the ones that used to manage single family houses or dos and triplexes. They just have No, no background on managing apartment complexes.

So when you have 20, 30, 50 units, you’re still much better off. Even though it might maybe more expensive, you’re much better off to switching to the commercial property management company. Number of reasons. First of all, I saw the difference in using. The software that was not suitable for apartments.

Number two, the approach when they were bringing people to do their renovations, again, they were concentrating on each individual unit rather than thi thinking in volumes. We need to renovate, for example. 2, 2, 3 units every so often. And we would tell them, here, there are three units. Let’s run away them in the next three, four weeks, and let’s do it in bulk.

They would bring this contractors that would drag it over a period of two, three months that would take forever to do it. And it was just absolutely insane to work with them. And then other examples typically, Commercial property management have their own bookkeepers. And while you still need to have your own bookkeeper to do the books, but at least the way they present you the information, is the report generated, let’s say through AppFolio or another commercial app where when it was with residential, oh, here.

Yeah. You have pieces of information here, pieces there, and you have to manually combine it and put it together. Capacity to your accountant. Really a nightmare for us to manage all that. And granted, they were good people, but good people is not a profession you don’t need, you need a professional property manager to deal with the tenants.

The tenants plus on top of it. The tenants in the apartment complex are typically not the tenants you get in a single family house. Single family houses, for the most part are families that stay in there for a very long term, either because of the school system or because of the jobs that people get.

When it’s apartments, again, depending on the size of our apartments, in our case it’s one to two bedrooms. So we were attracting a lot of singles and a lot of couples or maybe. With one kid. So these are, again, people working in a neighborhood that they need decently and they need access to highways and they would stay longer in your community if they know that the maintenance requests are taken care on time.

They know that the neighbors, they have the ones that they wanna leave next to. With the residential property manager, I noticed that they didn’t pay much attention. Screening, screening in the detail to the level of details who wanna be screened. And they were also not coming on premises often enough.

Even before Covid, for instance, while we had one of this residential PMs, we ended up having someone live in the attic of one of the buildings. He probably lived there for at least six months. You know how we found. I hope you’re sitting down. Yeah. . He fell through the ceiling into someone’s apartment.

Thank God nobody was killed. Touch, nothing happened. But this would mean what, how in the world this could have happened. How he got into the attic. Why the attic was open. Why nobody heard him. Why none of the maintenance people ever men noticed him. I have no idea. But he was leaving there for six months, so you can only imagine how much trash was lifted out from the place.

And, he got nothing happened to him. We were able to, just call the police and escort him out. But stories like this, they’re incredible. And they only come when you have the property management not paying enough attention to your property. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And what I’ve noticed is cuz I, now that I have my property management company, I also talked to a lot of other property management owners and I noticed that even the ones that have hundreds of single family properties under their umbrella, They still don’t have exactly what you said, the infrastructure that the multi-family owners really need.

We need the right accounting system. We need the follow ups. We need the system for renewals, right? And the and make credit cannot take. a month and make credit cannot be at retail prices. We can’t afford having an ac retail AC technician come out every time one of our ACS is down, right?

It’s insane. It’s very expensive. So they just don’t have that same infrastructure even when they go very big. The best example I help people get the difference is if you have a single family house rent. and the tenant pays on time and you never get any complaint. , you don’t go there, right?

It’s quiet, right? Yeah. There’s no reason to go over there. It’s usually, it would mean that the person in that house, when they need to change a light bulb, they change a light bulb when they need to unclog a toilet. They unclog the toilet themselves. They don’t need to call you for this things, right?

, so it’s called quiet for a single family. Manager. This is a best tenant possible, right? For us in the multi-family world, we have to walk every unit, every three months for pest control to check the latest smoke detectors, change AC filters, right? There’s always we gotta check for squatters in vacant units or in addicts, right?

We have to check for. Pets that were not in the lease and then showed up. We do all these things as a routine thing. , while we can’t say, it’s oh, this guy paid rent on time. Never go into his apartment. Doesn’t work like that. For sure. Yeah. And, and examples like that go on forever.

Even a simple thing as advertising vacant units I remember when we had the residential pm it would take weeks literally to put it out there and then have it on social media. And in some cases I had to physically put it myself on social media where. They supposedly had a person dedicated to advertising where when we switched to the commercial property management company when I told them that, we have these units coming up that’s gonna be vacant.

They put the units up online the next day. And that’s the kind of service I wanna see and ideal. You wanna see, you have the expectations to have this kind of service in all of the areas, but again, when it’s not your property management company don’t expect that you know that the mountains are gonna be turned for you.

They will do what they can, but you are one of hundreds or maybe even thousands clients that they have. So they need to serve their clients. Bottom line is you always have to stay on top of their mind. And you always have to follow up. If it’s your property, you follow up and you find out when they, if they do things that you ask them to do.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a gold nugget right there, right? It’s it’s your property. Nobody would ever treat it the way you would, nobody would follow up the way you would. Just, it’s an opportunity for me to give a little tip from the way we do things, right? So we always. Units that are either available or coming up being available, right.

And unless you’re 99% occupied, you can leverage that tip. So instead of putting the unit J one or K three or unit 34, we just use the layouts. So we’ll put a unit. A or A one, A two B, one, B two C one, C two. And we’ll advertise the layouts. So when they come in and they say, I want a two. Okay, this is what I have available from a two.

So our marketing is constant without having to change anything. Now, every once in a while, we’ll, Special on a specific layout or special for a specific unit or whatever it is. Then we will target market those. But we have a constant marketing going on just based on the layout and the pictures are of our model units.

So that keeps things flowing. We’re also a brokers, so we put them on the mls and that propagates to hundreds of websites, like every MLS is in this in this time. So what we just continuously market the layouts instead of marketing a specific unit. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. And we’ve done it when we had a lot of vacancies when it was like five or six vacancies.

And we, what we would do is we would put put a representation of the unit type. So let’s say one was one bedroom, one was two bedroom. Yeah. The layout is the same. You as long as the same size, we would just put the unit. Up there without indicating which unit it was, one A, one B, or so forced. And just say, we have one bedrooms available and two bedrooms available.

And that also allowed us to keep that advertisement for a long time until we filled in the vacancy. Yep. In general, what I know test our case at least when we had higher vacancy, we implemented the tenant referral program by giving tenants Like gift cards, anywhere from $50 to 75 to a hundred dollars gift card for bringing their friends and family.

And that seemed to work well because number one, they were bringing someone who they know and they want to leave, and plus they, they were making this extra bucks on the site. So that was helpful as well. So for those that are maybe challenged with a higher vacancy given your tenants a little something in return for recommending your property always helps as.

Yeah. And I’ve read multiple industry researchers that show that someone that got referred both the person that referred them, and they usually stay longer and pay on time. Because again, if you brought your cousin you don’t want to be, or your cousin brought you here. You don’t want to be the one not paying, and your cousin is gonna look at you funky.

For sure . So a little peer pressure there as well. So it’s kind like we like referrals. We also have an ongoing referral program all the time and we appreciate that. The thing that, again, lesson learned in blood we only apply the credit or give the gift card after three. So when they move in, they have to be in the apartment three months later in order for the resident to get the gift card.

So yeah. So you have implemented, and I’m sure through TF management, you guys are always looking for ways to implement value add. Of course. We ask our guests to give us two, three methods where we’re gonna look at both sides of the No I, increased income and decreased expenses.

, two, three examples of each that are not the obvious one. So not raise rent and apply rubs. We’re looking for the more creative ones for the income side of things and on the expenses side of things. Whatever you guys come up with, right? , share a few ideas, a few things that you guys have done or you’ve seen other operators do that you thought, Ooh, that’s awesome.

in terms of the income. What I’ve seen was a great idea is adding a pet park, even though it did not directly increase rent but I saw it brought a different type of clientele. People that wanted to have their pets in the house so they would be paying for the pets. And that brought, of course, extra income without having that pad park.

People were that, that had the pet. Second thoughts, whether they wanna bring whether they wanna reside at their property or not, but bringing the pads into the place that has a pad park help to bring that extra income in house. So that was helpful overall. Out outside of the Robs, what else have I seen people do?

So what we did at our property, we actually. Had these storage compartments with, within each building that were filled with junk. So weed them out and we started renting them out for whatever people needed it. It was maybe one or two storage compartments in the building. So we emptied it out and started offering to folks that needed that extra space on the expense side for us personally, believe it or not, the future saving.

Switching to the commercial property management company. At first we didn’t realize, but then over time we, we saw the difference. Residential was just so much more, and not only the upfront cost, how much they were charging, but also in other charges that we mentioned contractors renovations, making the units run, ready doing the regular maintenance work.

The. The prices that the commercial property management company had already agreed upon with the companies that were doing the, these mass innovations or mass maintenance were so much better be because they were able to negotiate due to the volume and that was a huge saving for us in the long term for sure.

So that was really helpful. But even with that outside of saving an income and reducing the expenses, back to the topic. You asked initially why it’s better to have an in-house property management versus the out of house. I had a story where we had this extensive u utility bill.

It was extensive water bill on one of the properties, and I asked our property manager as to have they looked, what was happening, and I don’t know if you remember Joseph, we had a conversation about that, what can be done? And you recommended this creative method of buying the thermometers and to filling the temperature of the first floor, whether it’s reason or not, when it’s, if it’s hot water, to see whether there’s any water damage.

So I told them to do that. I also told the property management company to. The water meter every single week on the same day at the same time. So I’ve been getting weekly reports with that number and it hasn’t changed. So even though they weren’t able to determine where the water damage came from but I also told them to follow up with the water department and find out maybe there, there was a faulty water meter.

or something happened, the water company that, that caused such a tremendous increase. And increase was pretty high up. It was four digit numbers, which was big for that type of property. And they told me yes, we’re followed up. Water company didn’t notice any changes.

And when asked about this card, they said no, nothing was. . Guess what? I didn’t wanna leave it like that. It was, the bill was three times more than the typical bill. So I called the water company and asked for a manager. Manager was on vacation. I followed up couple of weeks later, and guess what?

After a conversation with the manager, our B bill was reduced by at least 50%. So they gave me the credit. Why? Because I followed up and I stayed on the case. because you cared. . Because I care. Yeah. Because it’s my money. I don’t wanna pay my money, my, my investor money for this property. But I stayed on top of it even though the PM told me yes, we called, we followed up, asked for credit, nothing happened.

Is there a way for me to find out if they called? I don’t know. Maybe they’ve called and just weren’t insisted enough to get that credit. Or maybe they didn’t call. I have no. But I know what I was capable of doing simply because I followed up and because I cared. Yeah. And this is one of our biggest changes when we took over management was we realized that.

What I basically did is I tightened up the leash, right? Nobody could spend a single dollar, not even a single dollar, without going through me in the first few months. And all of a sudden our expense rate dropped and I’m not kidding. 30, 35%, which is amazing. Huge. It is huge. And it just shows you just about waste a lot of waste because it’s not their, And it’s I need this part, and it’s like I can go to the shop and dig it up and figure out where that part is, or I can just go to the store and buy a new one.

I have a, yes, I have a store on that too. We needed a new washer, I think. So the pm this was back with the residential pm So the PM sends me the estimate and yes, we have this threshold. I think at the time it was maybe 500. So he said, we, we need the, a new washer or, I don’t remember what it was. So he says, when you one cost, let’s say 1100.

I don’t remember. and I said, why are we buying new? So I called the local stores in the area and I found the store that was selling refurbished, and they had not just one, they had three in the range between three and 500. I said, here is the store number. They have three units for less than 50% of your price, and they refurbished and they can deliver it to you tomorrow.

He’s oh, you know what? We’ve shot in that store before. I’m like, why didn’t you even think of calling them? Why? Why it’s supposed to be me? I have to call thousand miles away, not leaving in the area. I have to find, call these stores and find that out where it’s purely the job of the project property management company.

and this is where the rub is, right? Their job is to manage the property, not to make your money. And that is, I think, where our industry is really messed up. And I wish I had better mouse trap, right? Or a better way to compensate property management companies. They’re not compensated on the bottom line.

See some pe, some owners incentivize on increases in NOI and stuff like that, but as far as they’re concerned. If it’s a new refrigerator or refurbished refrigerator, I don’t care. Yeah, it’s gonna be extra $400 for you. It’s not gonna make a big difference for me. Because I collect. As a manager, I collect from what I the money that comes in on the top.

Yeah. I get percentage of that and that is really where things get really bad because and I think I told that story on, on the podcast before we had a few fees that were never charged to the resident and they accumulated into about $25,000. . So for us, when you look at a cap of a five, six, 7%, this is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But when you look at the property management company, it’s 80 bucks a month. , that’s not sure what can they do with 80 bucks a month? They definitely can’t afford, have a person go through all the ledger accounts of all the residents and all the leases to make sure that all the fees are charged correctly.

Yeah. Cause that. Financially makes no sense. It’ll take more than three hours worth of work and 80 bucks. Yeah. They don’t care. You’re right. So that’s really where it is. It’s kinda like, why go the extra mile? Because they’re not getting compensated for that. So that’s why we felt that we had to go to self-management.

And I can tell you, I will not buy another property with third party management. I just. . Sure. Okay. So that’s awesome. So I like what you said earlier about the pet park, and that is indirectly adding income to your property because people with pet pay, pay, pet rent and pet fees and so on.

And again I read industry research all the time. Pet friendly is one of the top two, top three amenities that people look for when they look for an apartment. and it has increased during Covid. Actually, there is statistics and I don’t remember the exact numbers, that there’s a significant increase in people buying pets.

Adopting pets. Yeah. Bringing pets to their home now. So yeah, that’s for sure is a huge trend. Yeah. Two things out of that one right is when I read that article two years ago I went back to our website designs. When you look at our amenities on our community amenities, pet friendly is top one, right?

Because that’s the first thing they’re looking for. But on the other side is, what it helps is with the stickiness of the tenant to the property, right? I like it here. My, I can take my doctor to this little park here, but if I go over there, they don’t have a. . , right? So all of a sudden I have one more reason not to leave the property.

One more reason. That helps you increase retention, which is super critical in the multifamily. . Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned that this is one of the top things that listed on your website because it is so popular now among not only millennials, but even families to, to get a path.

And so they’re always looking for whether the community is that family. Yep. Absolutely. I’m gonna be conscious of your time. If, and that’s another question we ask everybody. If you go back 10, 15, 20 years right? To younger Lina, right? What would you tell yourself, right? What advice would you give yourself?

And I tell everybody, you cannot tell yourself that 2009 was the bottom by everything. Okay. So other than that, what advice would you give? I would say to start educating yourself about real estate and start investing as early as possible. I wish I started much younger. Any real estate. I would say, yeah, because you need to figure out what’s the best thing for you.

And while for me now I believe in, long term buy and hold commercial real estate there are people that do really well with notes. There are people that do really well. with warehouses storage and so forth. So I think to each his own, but you need to find the niche that will work for you.

I personally believe in generating passive income, so that means you, you’re buying your repositioning and holding well performing property, whatever it is. But some people just wanted the access. So again, to each, for me, commercial is, But that’s, that’s my choice. Awesome. Yeah, I, no, you’re absolutely right.

Everybody have their own little niche and what they’re comfortable with and everything with you. I started with single family, right? I started with Rich Dad, poor dad, like everybody else. But I really fast learned that I’d rather be on the commercial side of things versus the residential side of things.

And then I heard you say passive, right? Operation is not passive in any way, shape or form. So for me it’s basically a full-time role on top of the other four full-time hats I have. But I love it. I enjoy it. Just like you, I have 17 years history in it career and I made the move and.

Like I said at the beginning of our conversation, it’s a little scary and a little exciting but it’s definitely, in my opinion, was worth the move. I agree. I think. Awesome. I wanna thank you for being on the show today, and if any of our listeners wants to reach out to you, find you invest with TF Management or same financials can they find you?

And obviously we’ll put everything in the. Sure they can find me either on LinkedIn or on tf management group.com or on semi financial.com. Awesome. Okay thank you so much for coming in, Alina. We definitely want to have more female operators on the podcast. You’re our second one and we’re excited to have you.

And for you, the listeners, if you wanna listen to more of our podcasts, just go to iTunes, teachers, Sam Cloud, Amazon, wherever you consumer podcast. We’re pretty much everywhere and we would really appreciate if you could leave us a feedback, one star, five star, whatever you feel our podcast is worth.

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