By Meghan Hall
As multifamily product has evolved, particularly in popular markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, amenities are often an important draw for tenants looking to make the most of their new home. However, conditions caused by the current pandemic have forced, in many cases, amenities to close and tenants and landlords to reevaluate their priorities when it comes to looking for or providing access to amenities. According to Jason Deppen, new COO of TFLiving, an amenity solution provider, tenants are looking for human interaction more than ever—a desire landlords are looking to fulfill through the use of technology.
Jason, please tell The Registry a little bit about your decision to join the TFLiving team. After time with Stubhub, what prompted you to jump into the multifamily and amenity solution space?
In terms of the decision to join, there were a few key ingredients that came together for me. First, I met with our CEO Devin Wirt and the rest of the team, and saw their vision for the TFLiving platform. Second, I looked at the industry and the tremendous growth potential for TFLiving, which I thought aligned very well with my cultural and operational approach. I’m also a fitness enthusiast with a massive love for health and wellness along with my wife, who is a wellness coach, so that was also a big draw. Lastly, I know that I thrive in start-up environments. I love guiding talented people and shaping processes and products to help them grow. It’s all very exciting to me, and I’m humbled to be on board.
How will you pull from your previous experiences at Stubhub in your role as COO at TFLiving?
The experience I had at StubHub was based on navigating a double-sided marketplace. A lot of my work was centered around figuring out trends in ticketing and events, and balancing customer needs with partnerships, and innovating in a rapidly changing industry based on technology. Things changed so quickly around the tech – from hard tickets to PDF, to mobile entry – there was a huge need to evolve and stay on your toes. That dynamic between markets, venues, and buyers translates very well to TFLiving’s model, which is between residents/tenants, talent providers, and property owners/managers. So that all spoke to me very directly. During my time at StubHub, I was able to help grow our department from inception to approximately $185 million in annual revenue. I’m very excited to be able to apply that experience to a new role and a new industry with TFLiving.
What is your perspective on the national multifamily market as a whole? Are fundamentals shifting at all, or are they remaining stable?
There’s a lot of focus right now on what the new social norms will be and how we are going to adapt as the pandemic goes on. At the moment, rents are down, budgets are tight and safety is everyone’s top priority. Operationally, I think things will evolve – there will be a significant shift in the way owners and off-site vendors approach everything from cleaning services to pool operations to amenity spaces so that residents can use them with a sense of safety and peace of mind. I also think we’ll see some rollups in the industry – at the property management level and also with vendors. There will be some consolidation of services just based on the fact that we’re coming out of a challenging time that is affecting every corner of the industry.
How are you seeing tenant and landlord expectations shift within the multifamily space as a result of the current pandemic?
Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, tenants are craving human connection more than ever, and landlords are challenged to find ways to provide it. Safety is the number one thing for all parties. Tenants are looking to landlords because most of them can’t use the traditional amenities or coordinate their own group gatherings in this climate. On the other hand, landlords are looking to engage with tenants to find ways to meet that demand, while coming to terms with the reality that we don’t know the lasting effects of COVID-19, along with the related budget and space constraints.
The good news is, we’re seeing a lot more attempts at partnership in hopes of solving that puzzle. I think there has actually been a positive shift in terms of communication between owners, property managers and vendors like TFLiving. We’re all in the same boat and working hard to solve the immediate challenges related to the pandemic.
Common amenities are often a huge draw for potential renters—are you seeing demand for in-person amenities change? Do you think on-demand amenities will become a standard moving forward? Why or why not?
Most amenity spaces are on the smaller side, so the traditional group experience is difficult right now. We’re seeing many of our partners go virtual, as it’s an easy-to-deploy solution to offer with on-demand programming. As we emerge from the pandemic, I think we’ll see more of a hybrid approach take hold, where residents will have the ability to choose either option based on their individual comfort level. I do think virtual programming is here to stay. You’ll see that supplemented with outdoor activities, whether that be yoga, 5k races, kickball, or other offerings where people can still enjoy that human connection. You may see in-person, on-demand amenities like personal training increase as well, as many people may decide that is the safest option for the foreseeable future.
How can apartment managers and owners still deliver on the convenience of physical, community-based amenities moving forward?
Communication from properties to tenants is more important than ever. There’s going to be a shift to more smaller-sized events where space can be reserved, with social distancing guidelines strongly enforced. There are a lot of new norms that will need to take hold so that convenience can be delivered while still ensuring everyone’s safety.
How is TFLiving well-poised to navigate these changes?
We have a broad base of customers across the entire country, and solid communication with all of them. Those conversations have allowed us to develop a large suite of virtual and on-demand amenities. We’re now entering the hybrid phase where some properties are balancing virtual offerings with traditional in-person activities. We have a whole new playbook in terms of how we are able to do that safely. Under this new normal, we’re offering not just virtual fitness, but things like cooking and mixology classes, bingo and trivia nights that allow residents to continue to form bonds.
The reality is that we have customers across the country, in regions that have had vastly different experiences with COVID-19. That means there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to this, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can be flexible and agile to give any one of our partners and their residents what they need.
What do you think virtual programming will look like in the future? Why?
Most importantly, I think it will need to be affordable so a wide variety of people can access it. It will also need to be, if it isn’t already, very creative. There will eventually be fatigue in terms of getting behind a phone or screen, and providers will need to adapt to make sure those personal bonds and connections keep growing. We need to make sure we’re focusing on the intimacy component – so that participants recognize the faces of their neighbors or other participants, and instructors. Virtual engagement is still a relatively new service, and it will need to evolve over time to make sure it offers a consistently unique experience to foster that feeling of community.
Is there anything else you would like to add that The Registry did not ask or mention?
I would add that even though there is a lot of negativity and uncertainty in the world- at-large right now, we do see a lot of positive developments in the real estate and amenity industries. While the challenges are certainly present, there is also a fast-growing level of communication between landlords, tenants, and vendors to ensure we are developing solutions together. We are all working to lend a hand to one another, and that is resulting in the kind of creativity that we will need to successfully adapt to this new era in a safe and exciting way.