Surveillance Camera Case Study Will Make You Question Everything

Community wide video surveillance cameras typically sound like a high tech and quick fix to crime/nuisance issues for multifamily housing properties.

Our guest post comes to us today from Nathan Burnett and his team at Watchtower Security. His Multifamily Case Study blew me away. And, not just because we are a client or the fact we were part of the punch line. Nathan edified the true meaning of what I believe a partnership to be. He is not after business for the sake of business. I have seen him turn down huge revenue boosting contracts just because all interests were not aligned. His philosophy being that the relationships have to stay pure over the three to five years coming. So if there a hiccups or hard feelings at negotiation time – it is simply better to walk away. And with that being said, let me turn it over to Nathan and his team.

Surveillance Cameras – Quick Fix or Long Term Solution

Community wide video surveillance cameras typically sound like a high-tech and quick fix to crime/nuisance issues for multifamily housing properties.  For those that have tried it in the past, most have failed miserably or barely met any expectations for what they thought it would carry out for the price tag.  Primarily due to the fact that even with the best cameras out there, when the package is sold, there is never any mention to how incredibly time-consuming it is once installed.

Surveillance Cameras in Multifamily are Hard Work

It’s a shame that the sales people never mention that much like your personal computers, surveillance servers/cameras go offline during thunderstorms and don’t always come back up (or for the same reasons your desktop freezes up), cameras go out of focus, and that the systems are not the ‘turnkey’ products sold to you.  They take a ton of daily maintenance to make sure it’s all working right!  That’s just the tip of the iceberg too…They never explain to you that even when a minor event occurs, finding the culprits on your many confusing cameras, reviewing hours upon hours of mind numbing footage, and then working with the authorities to take action, can literally take up your entire work week!  Many times it would be cheaper to just pay the resident to replace the stolen items from their car than review the footage…especially when you add up what your time is worth (and that employees are not leasing/managing units during that time, which is what drives your business).  If a property were a typical business with a dedicated systems operator on site, this would be their job responsibility and very doable…but, unfortunately, in our property world we are short-staffed and could never dream of this.

Proof in the Numbers

So, after all this, why would anyone ever consider cameras on their property?  Well, because someone has actually figured it out for our industry and has proven it with authority’s crime statistics across the country.  We all want proof…

Here is a quick summary of an independent police study conducted at what was once considered one of the “roughest” properties in all of St. Louis.  This effort was performed in tandem with a change in management firms (Mills Properties was engaged as the turnaround expert) entering the picture and pushing an enormous shift (with limited funds) from the way business had been conducted at this property for years.  Mills Properties deserves a great deal of credit as they upgraded lighting, landscaping, and most importantly operation process/procedures.

The largest of their key initiatives (again stressing with limited funds) was scaling back the high cost of random patrol guard services and engaging a nationwide company (based out of St. Louis) called Watchtower Security.  The reason this worked so well, is because Watchtower is solely focused on the multi-family housing industry (and realizes the pitfalls/wasted money of the aforementioned typical camera systems).  Watchtower, with the help of Mills Properties and local law enforcement, were able to create a campus wide surveillance system covering all key areas including entry/exit points.  Mills Properties was able to engage them on a yearly contract with a set monthly rate far less than what they were paying for part-time patrols.  And unlike a typical camera system, Watchtower does everything from maintenance of the systems/cameras, monitoring of systems, repairs, and most importantly, reviews all the video crime footage to work directly with the local authorities to prosecute (even testifying on big court cases on their client’s behalf!).  Long story short, Mill’s was able to stay focused on leasing up the property (up over 76% from the previous year of 57%…another staggering stat) while virtually eliminating major crime that was plaguing the community.  The independent police study took the most common offense on property (burglaries) from the year before (March 2012) to current (March 2013) and the results are staggering:

Burglaries 2011-2012:  51 (door kick-ins were happening almost weekly)

Burglaries 2012-2013:  7

Those numbers were even hard for St. Louis County (the authorities conducting the study) to believe, but were verified.  Amazing results that show that with the right push from management along with the right tools (used intelligently), no property is a lost one…


My Take on Reputation Management

Can we get on to more compelling stuff in the multifamily space?

Reputation Management = All You Really Need to Know You Learned in Kindergarten:

Mike Brewer, Property Management, Reputation Management“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten) – Robert Fulghum (not an affiliate link)

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Boom Done

This seems like price of entry sort of stuff to me.

Can we get on to more compelling stuff in the multifamily space?

Your I’m sorry, please, thank you, excuse me, can I help you with that Multifamily Maniac,


Abolish Leasing Commissions


I am 100% convinced that leasing commissions need to go away.

They are a long survived sacred cow and serve no real purpose in the way of motivating people to lease more apartments or more importantly – serving people.

My solution – pay people a fair wage and tie 10% of that to your companies year over year same store revenue growth or some like kind metric.

Multifamily Five Years From Now….

My annual prediction post…of sorts. Just a few quick hitters…

Remembering last year before we look forward to the coming five….

Assume that: 

Predictive analytics point people to the perfect Experiential Apartment Community (EAC) for them. One stop shop – if you will. Marketing as we know it – even today – will be rendered uninteresting and borderline useless.

Experiential Apartment Community

Apartment prices are predicated on twenty times the metrics they are today – think big social data.

Interactive Digital Signage trumps the kiosk and does most of the heavy lifting as it relates to leasing and service after the sale.

People choosing to do business with you do so by telling Siri (or, any equal) what they need and she taps into your community IDS and together these two Digital Experiential Monitors take care of it all.

Personal Experience Agents pick up where the DEMs leave off. If there is anything left to do.

The term social media finally gives way to something deeper and more meaningful.

Business newcomers continue to fragment people’s attention by inventing 300 new variations of review sites, ILS’s and niche communities.

ILS’s, middlemen and other business newcomers stay in better contact with your residents than you do.

ILSs service after the sale.

ILSs create loyalty programs.

Middlemen reinvent themselves such that he comes back with a crushing vengeance.

The Nest finally prices for the masses.

The Internet of things is near saturation.

Smart appliances, mechanics and hardware schedule their own maintenance calls.

Those same appliances, mechanics and hardware, once repaired, follow-up via the preferred method of communication.

They also, order up the part used to repair the problem.

They also, order in bulk for your portfolio assuring you bottom dollar pricing.

Your current apartment related job is either gone or looks 100% different from today.

What then? 




Apartment Budgeting: Internet Income

Internet Income is the topic of our apartment budgeting series this week. Are you sharing in the revenue?

Continuing along with the Apartment Budgeting series today. The topic this week is Internet Income. This provides another opportunity to share in the revenues created by your allowance for exclusive marketing access.

Internet Income Defined

Internet Income can be defined in a very simple way –  it is revenue share from your local Internet Service Provider (ISP). Not unlike revenue share from cable companies – you have to give up some exclusivity. That is to suggest that you have to provide exclusive marketing opportunities to the provider in exchange for the share of revenue. Item of note: Don’t confuse exclusive marketing with exclusive access. In essence, the only thing you want to give up is the ability for one company to market their services exclusively. It will not mean that your resident is limited in their choice. And, choice is a good thing. Good for residents and good for owners.

For apartment owners, internet revenue share comes in a couple of different forms:

1. An upfront per door fee.

2. A percentage of monthly revenues generated from total collections on billable subscriptions. More simply said, collecting a percentage of every dollar that your resident base pays to the internet provider.

3. A combination of both. You may get a lower per door fee and a higher percentage of share. Or, a lower percentage share and a higher per door fee.

4. Bulk – you buy internet for every door in the community for a base rate and then resell it for a profit. For example: you buy it for $15 per door and sell it for $25 and keep the $10 margin for yourself.

When it comes to negotiating a deal – I would recommend consulting with a guy like Mike Whaling. He has the expertise to negotiate the best possible revenue sharing opportunities that first and foremost provide your resident base with the best possible choices in service.

*One item of note – I’ve not lived in a market where internet revenues were shared with property owners. Therefore, I don’t have a lot to share in the way of norms.

**Another item of note – As the internet becomes more ubiquitous sharing opportunities might move to smart phone carries in lieu of cable/internet providers.

Internet Income Budget Strategy

This is a math problem any way you look at it. And, it is all predicated on penetration otherwise known as subscriptions. One thing to consider is the economy as a whole. The reason being that people get behind on the their internet bills just like they get behind on their rent. Except in this case, internet is likely something that is easily sacrificed where a home is not.

My best advice is to call your ISP representative and ask him/her to run a twelve month trailing report for you property and like kind properties. Use that to look forward and consider any stop service percentages that might be included.


Your always looking for ancillary income multifamily maniac,