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A very exciting episode of our Company Spotlight with Elisa Schunatz of Alpha & Omega Real Estate Group as she talks about her business experience after considering a virtual staff member and how it impacted her business to her advantage.
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Welcome to HireSmart Virtual Assistants newest edition of Company Spotlight. We celebrate the best in our clients and want to recognize them for the leaders that they are. We hope you enjoy listening in, and that you're able to pick up some words of wisdom that you can apply in your own business. Welcome to the show.
Good morning, everybody. My name is Anne Lackey. I am the co-founder of HireSmart VAs. And today we have got an amazing guest that's going to be joining with us. I have Elisa Schunatz and she established Alpha and Omega Real Estate Group in 2015. And that's kind of where her story began. You see, in 1998, she had two young kids, jumped into real estate investing, and man, that fire is still going today. One of the things I love about her, she has a strong belief that family, friends, and community are all one together. She lives in the Mansfield, Ohio area since 1997 and she raised her three children there and she never plans to leave. She loves it there. So, if you are looking for property management services, I hope you will reach out to Elisa and we are super excited, so welcome to the show.
Hello. Thanks for having me.
It is my pleasure. So, we have been co-workers or together for a while now. And so, what I wanted to do is ask you to talk with people a little bit about some of the aha moments you had in hiring your wonderful VA.
Okay. Then it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to get virtual. So, I was really worried about, am I going to be able to make sure they had enough to do? How do I put this policy and procedures into place? Because we didn't have one. We all just kind of did the work. So, it's been very good for my company to be able to put those procedures in place and everybody has their own jobs now. And so, after doing that I'm like, "Oh, maybe we should have done this a long time ago."
I always say, it makes you a better business, but not everybody can appreciate that until they've gone through that process. So, talk with me a little bit about, how big are you? How many people do you have on staff? A little bit about your structure, if you don't mind.
Sure. So, we currently have just over 600 units that we manage. I have a full time front office admin, an office manager, and then we have our VA. She's our maintenance coordinator and myself. Occasionally I have been hiring in different people to help me with the social media and different things like that, but I'm finding the more I work with, the less I need actual other people because it's freeing up my time to do what I need to be getting done.
What is it that you like to do? What have you gotten back to because of your hiring Mela to assist?
Reading. Reading books. It has nothing to do with work. Honestly, it's been, it's been a blessing because now that we have the procedures in place, everybody in the office is like, "Oh, we're going to do this over." There's not been as many questions for me or how do I do this? Or I don't have to approve every little step. This is what you do. So, it's just freed me up to not be in my office until eight o'clock at night or to have to worry about working the weekend because I have to get everything set up for Monday. So it's just freed up me not being in the office as much.
So, she gave you your life back.
A little bit.
It's a wonderful... That's why I did it, too. I wasn't necessary wanting to grow any bigger, but certainly, that's a strategy for some people, too. If they want to grow or scale, it's a great way to do that. But for me it was just like you, I just want my time to do what I want to do. Now, what I want to do is hire smart. So, I've kind of transitioned from one business to another, but we still have a property management business. And that is because of VAs and policies and procedures and guidelines. So I love that, that's been the result. So, what are you reading right now?
I actually just finished a book last night and I'll be honest with you, I don't know the title of it. About a year ago, I've completely switched to online reading. And so it's just kind of like a clip, you just, okay, that looks good and you read it, but I actually enjoy fantasy, urban fantasy mostly.
That's a new one for me. I'm not familiar with that genre. I'm a fantasy like Sidetrack fantasy.
Okay, yeah. No.
That's kind of my thing. I'm a live long and prosper kind of girl.
Yes. I watch all of those. My husband and my son are both into all of that fun stuff.
Yeah. Actually, I was Tasha Yar for Halloween a few years ago.
That's how bad we are, but anyway. So, tell me a little bit about your journey. Obviously I introduced you and you got into investment properties, which of course means that you then have to manage them because you have them, or you hire a manager. So, why did you choose to pick up the torch of property management versus partnering with a property manager? Share with me a little bit about that thought process.
Sure, so I'm actually third generation landlord. So I was raised in the business and we jumped in. I was 19 when we bought our first rental property. And when you only have one or two, it's very easy to self-manage. I worked with my grandfather and his company and he did some property management for some people, but he really just did it for himself. And so, I learned the business and then found out that he really shouldn't be doing property management.
So, in Ohio you're supposed to be licensed. So, when we found that out, I got licensed and then it just snowballed from there. So, our area does not have a lot of property managers or legitimate property managers. So once I kind of got my shingle out there, so to speak, it just snowballed. And I went from taking on his handful of clients that he was doing it for to make sure it was all done legitimately, to well over 200 in less than a first year, and it's only gotten bigger. I probably wouldn't have to work based on our investments, but I've got to do something. I had little kids and we needed money and this is all I've known. So, I basically just went from having a boss, doing property management, to doing property management on my own.
That's awesome. I love this. I love hearing people's stories. I started in the investment world myself. That's how I got roped into this. And so, I love always hearing people's journey because I think it's amazing how different opportunities show up and you take advantage of them and you find, you either really love that or you don't, and how you can maneuver your career path, wherever it takes you. If you said this, I'm sorry, I don't remember, but how many people do you have on staff for your 600 units?
So, there's four of us full-time.
Including our VA and myself. So, I have two other full-time people.
Which is very good. That's actually very nice and compact, which is great.
150 units to me, means I need to hire somebody else.
Okay, average is 75 to 100 per property manager. And I think when you have VA support and you're structured right... I actually have one employee. We could actually go up, and one full-time VA and one VA that splits between HireSmart and my property management business, so I have seven days a week coverage, but I actually think that we could do 250 doors in our area. We're at that capacity based on where we are. So we’re - you have systems in place.
Yeah. I think that's a big part of it. So, you had no policies and procedures when you started.
What kind of timeframe did it take for you to work with Mela, who is your VA, and get some of those foundation things put together? What would be the timeline you would share with someone?
So, after I spoke with you, I think there was a little bit of a lag before I said, "Okay, I'm ready," because I read what you sent me, and I said, "We don't have any of this in place. We are not ready to bring somebody in virtually who I can't just sit here and be like, do this, do this." So, my office manager actually used to work with big corporate, so I said, "Make a policies and procedures manual for me." And so she did, and then we just tweaked it and things like that. So, we had it in place, but we had not implemented it until Mela came on and she spent a week working with it. We've asked her a few times if there was anything she thought we needed to change, and she hasn't said anything. So, we're hoping that, that means it's working well.
We really tried to sit down and as we were doing any particular item, these are the steps. So, she's done really well. We gave her a whole week of going through our policies and our procedures. And then we use Ffolio. So, we had her do all of the training videos, even if it was not maintenance, which is what she was hired for. We wanted her to understand the whole system. So, after her week with you, she had a whole week of nothing but watching videos and asking questions and different things like that. So, we still obviously, just like with the people in the office, there's always things that come up. They're like, "Oh, how do I take care of that?" But really she's done an amazing job of being able to just go, just do what needs to be done.
So, how was her role handled before her? Did you have an inside person doing maintenance? Did you outsource? What was your position?
So really, my office manager took care of it. And one of the reasons we decided to hire a VA was that, I didn't feel like things were being taken care of, either as quickly or as follow up. Follow up was our biggest thing. We would take the call and we would send it to the vendor, but then we wouldn't know what happened or whether the vendor got anything done. So, that was my big thing, is I want our activities and I want our maintenance touched every day. Even if it's just a note in there waiting on this, or followed up on this, because we can't force people to do things any faster than they get them done, but we can have notes of what we've done. So if there's ever a question later, we can follow up. So, Jennifer was taking care of that with me as backup, and she wasn't getting her other things done either because maintenance is a full-time job. It just-
Especially for 600 units. I mean, that's a huge, huge thing.
Yeah. Yeah. She does a very good job.
I love that. And so, one of the things that people are always a little nervous about, is their English or their ability to communicate or how will tenants feel if they feel like they're not from the U.S. So, have you had any pushback or have you had anything that has come up or how did you address that or?
No. So, that was important to me as well and it's one of the things that we took into account when we were doing our interviews, was their speech patterns and their fluency and things like that. My only issue, and I think that it's a cultural thing, I don't think that it's a Mela thing, is that she's too nice.
Well, that's true. They are too nice.
It's like, no, just tell them... and sometimes I have to be like, "Word it exactly like this," because she wants to please everybody. So that's probably our only thing, is sometimes you have to be very stern with, especially with tenants, "No, we're not doing that," or whatever. And I had to explain to her the other day, too, that our maintenance guys don't work for the tenants. They work for the owners. So, I think that's my biggest thing. She's too nice and I don't want to change that but-
Right. Well, so it had nothing to do with language. You've never had anybody complain about that. I definitely agree with you. They're very much programmed through their BPO experience, through just their culture in general, to always accommodate the person on the other line, whoever it is. That's just their wallet. I think you're absolutely right, that we as business owners and I've had this with in-house people, too, that's just not feasible. And so, I love that. I'd actually rather err on that side than on the other side, personally.
Well, if you ever read any of our reviews, most of them are because we can be too harsh, because I personally have a no nonsense, I'm not dealing with that crap. So, people take that the wrong way. That has been my only experience as far as cultural, language, her fluency is perfect so, that's not a problem.
Well, I love that because again, that question comes up literally every day about, well, I'm just not sure they could speak well enough. And so, I'm glad you talked about the fact that that was never an issue. Certainly, accommodation is kind of the key, and we've got clients that love the fact that they're accommodating and some that are like me, and no nonsense like you. This is the rules. If you get to a point where you feel like you can't take it any further, then that's fine. I'll come in as the manager and do the email and just say we're done. And that's so, very, very rarely, but that is our policy.
I have found and I do think, just for our area, we're still probably 25 years behind some of the cities. So, I wasn't really concerned. The language was a humongous thing for me, but I think with technology and so much emphasis on not being racial, that people are not... if someone has an accent, they're not pointing it out. So, you can tell that English may not be her first language, but it doesn't affect her speech patterns and you can understand her.
I think for me, I always say this, and again, it just comes down to the way I run my business, but I would take somebody who is happy to talk to me, that answers the phone live, and that gets me an answer or result, regardless of where they're from. To me, I want somebody that's friendly and nice and addresses my concern.
If they have a little bit of an accent one way or the other, I don't care. Even when I call some of the All States or the larger companies, Home Depot, Chase, whatever it is, all of those big companies have call centers down in the Philippines, and some of those reps are better than others, and that comes down to the vetting process. And I think one of the things that we do really well at HireSmart is in that whole vetting process. Probably in the last year alone, I have evaluated over 17,000 applications and tests, and I don't have 17,000 VA's working. So, it's interesting to watch those numbers and see the progression of how picky we are for our clients to make sure that we're only getting the people that are the very best.
What was been the biggest just the thing you weren't expecting that kind of happened as part of hiring Mela? What would you say like, "Wow, I wasn't expecting that, but that's a nice bonus."?
The flow in my office. So, because we hired her, we had to have these policies and procedures. Nobody had a real definition. So, we had to create this role. And so by doing that, we created everybody else's and I just feel, had we not gone with a VA, we would still be where we were, with everybody taking care of everything. And by having her in place, it's changed the last... It's been what, about nine months, has just changed the way everything works in my office, for the better. I mean, way better. So I wasn't expecting that. I figured she would be in the background, doing her thing, and it would probably free up Jennifer's time a little bit, but it's completely changed how we've done things and how we see things. So, I'm glad that we took that step.
We're doing this interview in May of 2020. So, we've been dealing with COVID for a couple of months now and I find that, in talking to most of my clients, other than their regional regulations, it really hasn't affected them much. Their business because they have that remote component, was very easy to transition, to comply with the shelter in place guidelines, even if we're essential business. Would you say that you were better prepared or you would have expected it? Tell me how that worked for you.
So much more prepared. Google docs and all of those things were already in place, but the communication between all of the different parties, we really don't need to be here anymore. So, the last piece of our property management is self showing boxes. If we had had that in place, we really would not have had to come into the office at all. We could have all worked from home. Now, we closed to the public and a lot of us chose to be here because it's just easier to work where your stuff is, but especially in the beginning, there were several days, and I sat on my porch and did my work, and I felt I got as much done into one or two hours I put into work because I would just jump on every couple of hours and be like, okay, what needs to be taken care of? And I know that my office staff did the same thing.
So, Mela's job was consistent because she does the maintenance for 600 people. But everybody else's had slowed down so much since we didn't have the walk-in and the phone calls and different things like that. Had we not started this process, we would have not been as prepared and would not have been as ready for this to happen.
I love it. And so, what do you use for communication amongst your team? What platform do you like to use? What tools do you have?
We're very Apple here. So, we do a lot of the instant messaging between us. With Mela, we have group chats and individual chats with her, so if it's something that affects all of us, we do it there, and then our property management software has activities that... and I like that the best personally, because then it's on whichever property or person or owner that it needs to be taken care of and to have that log. But then, unless it's an emergency situation, you can just add those notes, send it to whoever it needs to go to, and it just sits there until they can respond back.
That's great. You're actually one of the first people I've heard of that uses Apple products for this, so that's kind of interesting to me.
Oh yeah, no, I am totally 100% Apple at work and at home.
Well, we will agree to be friends otherwise. I know Appel are like, oh, I'm a person.
No, no. You're a person.
Android, but we'll still be friends. We'll still have a cup of coffee when we can get together in person, which God only knows when that's going to be.
What else would you share to somebody that's maybe considering it or thinking about it or worried about it? What would you share with them? If you could go back to talk to yourself, knowing what you know now back when you were getting started, what advice would you share with yourself or what would you tell yourself
To probably jump in sooner? Isn't that how we all... when something goes well, we're like, "Oh man, why didn't I do that six months before?" For me, my biggest concern was the communication and making sure that things were getting taken care of. So, I'm personally glad that we went with HireSmart versus some of the other companies that we spoke with, because I feel the people you offered up for interview were best qualified. So, had we not won this route with you, I'm not sure that we would have had the same experience and then it would have turned me off to the whole thing.
In our area, we're not saving that much money by having a VA versus what we can have locally. The difference is that our VA's are... She's very well educated, and so she has a very good background. I'm not hiring some 19 year old kid off the street. I was worried about that. I was worried about what kind of education and understanding of the business, of the communication, English as a second language, that type of thing. And so, I worried about it for six months and I didn't need to.
I guess I kind of look at it as like, go ahead and take that plunge and if you follow those steps that HireSmart offers, and all of the other people that you're in all the different groups with offer, if you do that and you put in the work, then it will run smoothly. If you just hire them and expect them to be able to do the job like with anybody else, you're going to have frustration. They are a new employee and you have to train them.
I think that's a good distinction. So, what we do is we offer virtual employees. We really don't have VAs. I mean, we call them that because that's kind of the term, but truly what I provide is, as a recruiter level person, somebody that's totally vetted, totally screened, background check, all of the things that if I was hiring regardless of local or otherwise, that I would want to have done, done for you, and trained in property management. A lot of people go, "Well, I want somebody who's had property management experience." Well, I have hired people again locally, as well as virtually, that have had it and have not had it. And I can tell you that a lot of times not having some of those bad habits or that bad information is sometimes easier. The only thing I think it consistently helps with is the terminology. That part is, if they've had the experience and they have some of the background and the terminology, but honestly I can train that up pretty quick, and we actually provide a glossary to all of our VAs in certification, so that they can reference that.
We also have a maintenance guide that we teach them and how to reference. Even though maintenance in your area is different than maintenance in my area, the heating and air conditioning is different, those types of things are going to be different, but there is a process. So, even though people are coming in and maybe they don't have everything detailed out, we're going to give you the key components, the cornerstones, of what you need to be successful. We're going to teach you methods to quickly get to where you want to be by the time your VA is there, but you have to treat them like employees. And the other good thing is because you're paying a staffing company and you're not paying your VA directly, it's never construed that they're an employee.
The IRS is pretty picky on what is an employee and what's not, what's an independent contractor. And I think, some people are pushing the envelope with that. And I would say, IRS does not care that your person is located in a different state, city, country. It doesn't matter. They want their taxes. But when it's been proven over and over again, we are paying a staffing company, there is no employment guidelines. And of course, that also saves you from other employee claims as well. And so, that's I think, a big thing that we offer our clients, too, is that safety of, "Okay, I'm not going to have that issue." Plus, we offer health care, which I think is another big differentiator between us and the marketplace, because we want to take care of our people. It's important to us to have that connection and that type of relationship. Anything else you would share before we end?
I guess I would just say, if you're new to this, try it. It's not going to be for everybody, but I think that if you try it and you put in the work, that you'll find that it is for you and you just have to take that step and trust the process and work through the process. And you know what, at the end of the day, if you hate it, it's going to be like anything else, you just stop doing it. But I have found that, some things in our office are changing in the next few months and in my head I'm like, okay, how do I make this work? Because I love having a VA, and to be able to make sure that everybody is still able to work here and locally, and virtually.
Yeah. I love the fact that my VAs support my internal, my one employee, but it allows her to do a lot more. It's not about reducing head count. It's about getting the very best. Being able to save, I mean again, it a cost saving. In my area it is, for the same caliber of person, but I'm able to support and take some of that savings and pour it into my local staff and give them bonuses based on performance and giving them the opportunity to win when I win to make more, more money as well, because I have those resources now available to me. And so, it's changed our compensation plan. It's changed the caliber of people that we can attract in our market because honestly, a lot of things that my VAs do are things that I could not. I would be a revolving door here because nobody wants to do that type of work. But it's very well suited for VAs.
Well, Elisa, thank you so much for your time today. If you're looking for property management services in the Mansfield area of Ohio, her contact information is below and is going to be on the next slide. So, make sure you reach out to her. She's amazing, and we are very, very thankful to have her as a part of our HireSmart family, so thank you again.
Thank you for having me.