Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 50

Surveillance Tools

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How do you make sure that your manager is doing a good job when you’re not around? With today’s high-tech world, there are some great options. In this second part of our five-part series on the “Top Five Tools of Mobile Home Park Owners”, we’re going to discuss the key tools to keeping your park and manager under constant surveillance to make sure that the business is running properly in the field. You’ll be amazed at how well you can stay on top of a property from hundreds and thousands of miles away – and at very low cost.

Episode 50: Surveillance Tools Transcript

In 1949, an author named George Orwell wrote a book called 1984. In the book, there's the concept of big brother that looks out over everyone who lives in the world at that time, and keeps constant contact and tracking of what they're doing. Now, in the book, the moral of the book is you don't really want to live necessarily in a world of big brother, but sometimes as a park owner, big brother's a pretty good thing to have, particularly when you're having to trust your investment on managers when you reside hundreds, even thousands of miles from your property.

The second in a five part series of the top five tools of mobile home park owners, we're going to talk about surveillance tools that park owners use today to keep track on their property, what the manager is doing and just making sure the property is providing the kind of living environment for the residents that they desire.

The first thing you think of when I talk about surveillance are of course cameras, live cameras that you can watch, and they're perfectly fine and dandy, the problem is those are still not quite one of the top tools of most park owners. Many people have them, and you certainly can. Some people put those inside the office because they trigger on motion, so it lets them know that the manager came in at the right time and left at the right time and there's no problem with that. And also you can place them in areas to see down streets or in the entry. The only problem with those cameras are they don't have very far line of sight in most parks, because most parks have lots of trees. So if you go with that kind of surveillance, what will happen is you only see little glimpses, little tiny niches of your property, but you don't really get a really good handle on it.

So really a better form of surveillance than those types of cameras is the use of HD video, so let me go over how that works because that's a really cool tool that we all use. The HD video camera, and our favorite is the Polaroid Cube. It only has one button on it and a viewfinder, so basically, the manager in taking these videos I'm going to describe really, really can't make a mistake on and what you do is you buy the Polaroid Cube and a suction cup mount and you place it on the roof of your car. And basically you then have the manager drive, and they don't start inside the park, start outside the park, they drive through the park with that little HD Cube video with suction cup mount on the roof of their car and then, after they've driven the entire property, they take the chip out and they mail it to you and you download that and you send them a replacement chip, so you'll need two chips to do this.

Then what you can do is you can look at the park just as though you were driving through it just then in beautiful HD video. The other cool thing you can do is you can then put that together in a Go To Meeting webinar format and you can drive the park with your manager who's sitting next to you side by side in the virtual car. And you can ask them questions as you go. You can say, "What's the deal with the skirting on number 19, I don't like the way it looks." "Is that a non-running car I see in the yard on lot 34?" Questions like that. It's awesome, because if you were to go out and drive your park with your manager or travel all the way out there and get in the car, you'll have tons and tons of time and cost in travel. The HD video, although not perfect, looks exactly like it would if you were to go out there. So why not use that. We do that on all of our properties, and we think it's one of the greatest inventions of all time as far as making sure your property condition is looking good.

It also helps to make sure that the manager is in fact doing their job, 'cause when you ask them all those questions, those what if questions on different mobile homes, the very fact that they can answer those accurately lets you know that they are staying right on top of things.

Another camera we use inside the parks is called a 360, it's made by a company called Ricoh and it's called a Theta camera. This thing is neat because what it does is it's just like those Google street view cameras that you use when you go to Google street view. It's a camera, it looks kind of like a pen, only four times wider. On the top of it is kind of a dome, and although it's not on the very top. It looks like a magical wand, it just looks like a stick with a dome about an inch down from the top of it. You turn that on and you walk through a mobile home, an empty mobile home. That allows you to go back, when you download that and look, you can scroll anywhere in that home, any corner, any spot. When you're having someone doing the renovations of the home, you can use that as your benchmark of what needed to be done.

If they say, "Well, I'm working on the home right now, but I noticed there's this water spot over here and therefore I think there's a problem with the seal around the window." You can get on your computer and you can look at that exact spot and say, "Oh my gosh you're right, I do see that and yes, I definitely want to get that corrected." So that's another great camera tool.

Now, there's a third camera tool which is so simple, but so necessary today if you really want to do a good job of staying on top of your mobile home park, and that is a thing called a smart phone. I know you have one right now in your pocket or sitting there on the desk. That smart phone has brought many, many success stories where it could have been disasters to park owners. Mainly in terms of hey, did the grass get mowed? Hey, did that home get remodeled? Hey, did they seal the roof of the clubhouse? Hey, was there really that big sewer leak and how did it turn out?

Always in the past, we had to trust what the manager said. The manager would say, "Here's what we're doing" but you had to rely on that. With the smart phone you can get real time immediate photo gratification and so when they say, "Yes, we've got a major sewer leak." You can say, "Okay, show me a picture of the sewer leak. Then show me them digging the hole. Then show me the broken line. Show me the line being fixed, show me there's no liquids coming out of the line, show me them putting the dirt back. Okay, now I'm going to pay you." It's awesome.

Let's say you hired a workman to go out and paint that mobile home tan, because it didn't look good, it was an old 1960s home and you wanted to make your park look much nicer. They call you up and say, "Hey, I got it done, I need my payment." You're 1000 miles away. Do you really want to trust them or better yet say, "Hey, take a picture with your smart phone right now and text it to me and then I'll pay you." That's what you want to do. You don't want to trust people.

Now, this is not saying you can't trust people, right? So there's nothing wrong with that, but we call this theory trust and verify. So you're not only trusting the person to do the work, we don't want to eliminate the trust, but we do want to verify just in case it's someone who we could not trust. But again, smart phone pictures are another excellent way to do it.

Now another way you want to surveil your park is what's going on with the phone, so let's go over that for a minute. Obviously, every call you get in your park is a precious commodity because it's either somebody calling to say there's a problem in the park or that they want to rent a lot and/or a mobile home. So you never want to waste those calls you want to stay totally on top of those. But how do you know that your manager is doing that? How do you know the manager's actually answering the phone, taking care of business. Well, here's some ideas of things you can do.

Number one, take your phone line and run it through Grasshopper. Grasshopper's a technology in which every time the phone rings, it's going to record that phone number. So now you have a number you can call, you can track, how many times has that person called. If they called more than once, there may be something going on. If someone wanted to rent a home, they've called five times, perhaps there probably is a manager who's not answering the phone. Or the manager doesn't show up at the showings, so you've got to make sure that you capture those numbers, see what's going on.

Also, we love to use the concept of 931, nine calls equals three showings, which means one occupied home. This allows you to finally get a grasp beyond just asking the manager, "Hey, how many calls did you get?" And they say whatever number, you never know if that's true. This actually tracks it for you. If they got 20 calls on your Grasshopper, and they didn't fill any homes, they're either not showing up for the showings or the homes look terrible or your pricing is wrong, but you know there's a problem, and now you can get that addressed.

Another cool thing you can do is to port that Grasshopper number through something called WhosCalling. Now this is something that we've been experimenting with for about the last year, and we really think it's really neat and more and more park owners should definitely be doing that. The way WhosCalling works is it goes ahead, the number goes through and then it records what happens when the manager answers the phone. So the manager answers the phone and says, "Hi, Big Pine Estates, how can I help you today?" And you can hear the whole conversation between the resident and the manager. That's a very awesome tool indeed. You can hear if the manager is talking professionally, you can hear if they are doing anything which would even suggest discrimination, like possibly trying to steer people to different parts of the park or turn away people with kids or whatever have you. You can hear it all.

You can judge if the manager has good sales skills or not, and even better, you can use it as a training device to go back and tell them, "Hey, I listened in on your recording, and I know you're trying hard and I know you have your best interests at heart, but here's some things we need to improve on." When you answer the phone, answer it with a smile, answer with enthusiasm. Don't try and prescreen the resident by giving them all kinds of negatives on the front end. Things like that, so we think WhosCalling's a great tool. Now, WhosCalling is not free, you do have to pay per the minute to get those recordings, but if you really look at it, typically it's a good value because the cost of doing it is not that much in most parks, and what's the cost to you if that home goes unsold one more month? $600? $800? Obviously it way pays for itself.

Now another thing that ties to that which is not really technology, but ties to the technology itself a little, is mystery shopping. Now, what mystery shopping is, it's been around forever. What you do is you call as the customer to your resident to see what happens. So you go in and you call and the manager answers and you say, "Hey, do you have any mobile homes for rent, mobile homes for sale, lots available? Can I bring in my RV?" Questions like that and you see how they handle the call. It's very realistic, it's 100% real, it's happening in real time with you, you're the customer, how is their sales pitch? What are they telling you? What's going on when they answer the phone. Very, very telling.

Now let's say it's not a phone issue. Let's say they're answering the phone professionally and they're saying, "Yeah, come on by, look at the home." Yet over and over again, nothing seems to get sold. Another mystery shopping concept is you go on Craigslist and you can hire someone, it may cost you $50 to have them go mystery shop your park. They'll drive over in their own car, say, "Hey, you have any mobile homes for rent? Hey, let me look at it." And then when they're done, call you and tell you about their experience. Did they say yes, the manager showed up promptly? The home is clean and sightly and smelled well, they seemed to do a very good job, or do they say, "Well I went over there and the guy was supposed to show me and meet me at 3:00 and they never showed up." Or "Yeah, the guy met me at 3:00, but he was all disheveled and he said, "Oh you don't want to live in this pigsty of a park, it's not a good place to live." So those are the things you need to know as the owner.

Now another thing you can do which again ties back, this time tying back to the Grasshopper technology is doing an exit interview. Now how does that work? Well, what you do is you call the phone number that showed up on Grasshopper and you say, "Hey, so what did you think? You went over there, I see your number when you went there, but you didn't apparently rent or buy. What was the problem?" This could be a very, very important tool to really get a handle on what's going on in real life with your own customers. It's one thing when you mystery shop, but it's a whole nother thing when you're talking to the actual people that you serve, your own customers, and get their feedback on what is really going on.

Did they say "I looked at your mobile home for rent and although I thought it was okay, I don't know if you know this, there's this park down the street that's got this incredible special going on." Or requires less of a deposit or has a lower rent. That's the kind of competitive information you really, really need to help steer your business in the right path, and you really can only get that through exit interviews, and you can only get the numbers to call for exit interviews if you use a service such as Grasshopper that records the numbers so you know who to call.

We've gotten lots of great information over the years from doing exit interviews, and you do it yourself, right? All the time, every time I get my car serviced, I immediately get a call wanting to know how was the service, what's going on. Even at Taco Bell in the drive-thru, it'll give you a little slip, "Hey you can win up to $500 if you'll call Taco Bell and review your service." It's becoming a very big part of American business today, and rightfully so in a very competitive America. Super duper important that you stay at the top of your game, and that you satisfy the customer and this gives you that ability to satisfy the customer as much as you can.

Again, those are the great surveillance tools that park owners are using today. There's always new ideas coming out, so I'm not going to suggest the entire list. The technologies are changing so very rapidly that park owners are hopefully embracing those technologies and there's new, great ideas happening all the time. This is one area where nobody can say, "Oh yeah, we're state of the art." We're so far ahead of where park owners used to be, but I'm not going to say for a minute there won't be a new, great idea coming out tomorrow that we should all take advantage of.

Again, one of the great things about mobile home parks has always been from a management perspective, you can manage the average park in roughly about four hours of time a week. One problem people have, one hill that they have to climb over is the very concept of owning an asset that's not right in their backyard, that's sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles away. These tools give you the ability to do just that, to manage from far away and to feel very, very comfortable about what you're doing, and that's one of the key parts of owning any mobile home park is being happy knowing that it's running efficiently and effectively when you're not there.

This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast, and we're talking about different surveillance things today and the great tools that park owners use in this five part series. Part number three coming up next, we're going to talk all about virtual assistants, getting people to help you manage the properties without being full time on your payroll, using all kinds of new technology. You don't want to miss that one, so we'll talk to you again next week, this is Frank Rolfe again with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast, thanks for being here.