Lisa Doud Principal Broker of Doud Realty Services shares her experience and knowledge of how she is able to grow and scale her business. She started hiring a virtual employee and found them to be an amazing way to leverage her internal staff.
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ANNE: Good morning. My name is Anne Lackey. I'm the co-founder of Hire Smart VA's and today we have a very special treat. We have Lisa Doud with Doud Realty services. She services in Virginia, the Hampton Roads area. One of the things I really love about Lisa, first of all, she's a really go-getter, and when you get to hear a little bit about her, kind of her story of how she got here, which we're going to be talking about, you'll just be amazed, and can see how her background has really helped her become an amazing property manager.
ANNE: She was in the Navy right after high school and she became, like most of us, she couldn't afford a house immediately, so she became a renter and had that experience of what it's like and what it's not supposed to be like. She then decided that she needed to purchase her first home, which she did at the age of 19, which kind of blows me away, but when you get to know Lisa, you see that when she gets focused on something, she is laser focused, and that's one of the things I really love about her. She got married at the age of 25 and now she had a home, he had a home, and so they decided neither one of those homes really worked for them and their situation, so they put them in rental service and bought a new home. And voila, property management kind of got started. So Lisa, why don't you tell us the rest of this story about kind of your catalyst into property management, if you will, and welcome to the show.
LISA: So as Ann was saying, my husband and I both had our own rental property, and at the time my husband was raised with his father, who was building their rental properties on their one acre lot in El Cajon, California, so he actually helped build those four houses that they use as rental properties, so for him, rental properties was no big deal. Repair and remodel was no big deal, and for me the electrical, because I was an electrician, interior communication electrician, I did all the electrical stuff anyways, so we became the renovating team. We bought homes, we fixed them up, and refinanced them and put renters in. We were able to do that for quite a bit of houses. We typically, right now we have more portfolio of single family rentals that we personally own, we have also two six-unit apartment buildings and then our office, which has three apartments above it that we all personally own.
ANNE: That's a great way to get started. It's funny, because I find that people are either in two camps in property management, they either are investors like yourself and myself and they get into the business because there's nobody better to manage those assets than ourselves, and by the way, we might as well manage other people that are like-minded, or there are people that actually chose property management as a profession, but have never really owned income-producing assets. So how do you think owning an income producing asset has made you be a better property manager?
LISA: Well, a lot of times when people ask me, "What can I get for my house for rent?" I can look at them and say, "Well, it doesn't matter what you want to get, this is what the market is," and then I explain to them as an owner you need to understand, get your accountant to do your depreciation schedule and things like that, because at the end of the day you're going to be able to deduct things you never were able to deduct before. Sometimes I can get my owners to calm down if they're having to come out-of-pocket monthly just by explaining to them the tax benefit situation, and I can personally speak from, I have to do this every year, make sure our accountant has the right information so that she depreciates what she needs to depreciate.
LISA: But, a lot of times if you don't know that, most property managers that don't ever have property of their own, they wouldn't know what the depreciation schedule is, or they wouldn't have any clue as to, "Hey, your LLC's need to be filed by March 15th, don't forget that." Because a lot of my owners are like, "Really?" Yes, trust me on that one. Personal tax returns are April 15, but LLC's are a month before, because obviously your schedule K's have to go onto your personal return. And then, people just look at me like, you really do know what you're talking about. I have to do it personally every year.
ANNE: Well, that's so true, and the other thing that I think a lot of people don't think about either, and this is something that we teach a lot is, so not only do you have the tax benefit, the appreciation, but you also have principal pay down, which if somebody else is paying that payment for you and adding a little bit to your savings account as the mortgage continues to get chunked down. And you know, that is kind of was mind blowing to me when I got started, I hadn't even thought about the fact that we're paying down a mortgage that has that equity in it, in addition to the cashflow, the tax benefits, and the appreciation, so that's awesome. So kind of fast forward into 2009 and tell us kind of a little bit more of your story.
LISA: Well, 2009 I actually got my real estate license, because a lot of my husband's friends that were active duty as well at the time figured out that we had rental property. They were leaving the area and they needed somebody to manage their property. Legally, here in Virginia, you have to be a licensed real estate agent in order to manage property, so that's what I had to do. And don't get me wrong, I had to be an independent contractor under a broker for a while, but as soon as I did that, 2012 I was able to open Doud Realty.
LISA: And then, again, we already had about 150 units at the time when I opened Doud Realty, so the idea of starting from scratch, we really weren't. But we opened, and then right now we're roughly around 400 units. I've done, how should I say, a divesting of some owners that are not performing, or properties that are not performing, so we're probably less than 400 right now, but we're kind of right there. I think it's really important that you don't, if your, I guess, management style and your owner are not on the same page, I think it's important to sever that relationship before it goes south.
ANNE: Yeah, that's true, too. There's an owner for everybody, but it may not be me is kind of the way I look at it. Well, that's great. Let's kind of get into your structure, your staff structure. You manage approximately 400 doors at this point, a combination of single family and multifamily. What does your staff look like? Tell us a little bit about how you do the work.
LISA: I kind of pull from my military experience, the idea is everybody can do everything. We focus on primary jobs, but everybody knows how to do everything and we work as a team, because if I'm gone or somebody else is gone, the phone still needs to be answered. The application still needs to be processed. The lease still needs to be put out for signature, all that kind of stuff. Things have to be done. But I do have ... We all work as a team, but we have focuses, which we kind of our primary focus is in here. All emails come into a team account. We all look at what they're doing, and we help out accordingly.
ANNE: Okay. So for managing 400 doors, how many staff members do you have internally and how many virtual staff do you have?
LISA: So here in the office we have myself, plus there's, we have Priscilla, which is the office manager and accounting manager, we have Amanda, which I kind of call her my leasing/front office manager, and then Brittany and John are up there with her. And then Belinda as our virtual, and she actually fits up front with them because she does all the stuff that they do up front. Then on the accounting side, Clarissa sits in the accounting with Priscilla, and she puts all the bills in and she pays owners. She closes work orders out when the work order comes in, so that's more where Clarissa sits as a virtual employee.
LISA: And then, Nina has been a blessing to us because she's really been able to take hold of the maintenance coordinating. She obviously takes work orders over the phone, she routes the work order, she follows up with the work orders, makes sure they get finished. She makes sure to do an audit every month to make sure that the work orders are completed, or what's the status of this, and so it really has helped us a lot because we are able to focus the three people that are here in the office to be able to go out to meet new clients, we are able to go out to do these pest control things, run lock boxes. We don't have to worry about who's answering the phone. We don't have to worry about if work is not getting done because we're out doing all these pictures or whatever we're doing. So it really has helped quite a bit.
ANNE: How has your customer service and your life balance changed by bringing in ... because you're relatively new, or young, as a client of ours. I think we've been doing business probably right around about six months, I think, at this point, and so you've had enough experience that you know what works and then, of course, you've hopefully seen some benefits, so kind of share with us a little bit about what that looked like for you.
LISA: The biggest thing for us, and this is just crazy because you don't think about needing a communication tool when you're sitting here and you can yell at the person up front, "Hey, do this, do this." But the one thing I've found out is we use a communication tool called Basecamp, and it just puts your to-do list together and keeps track of who's doing what. But the one thing that was really shocking to me is, that not just for the virtual assistants, but for my entire staff, now we know what everybody's working on. We also can see who gets it done, and then there's also stuff in our, I guess, to-do lists that anybody can just pick and finish and do it and just check off and say it's done. But it has made it to where we can integrate very easily, see who's doing what, so we're not trying to do something somebody else has already done.
ANNE: So not wasting as much time.
ANNE: Fantastic. And so what kind of made you decide that virtual staff was something that you wanted to try? Because I have a lot of clients that are like, "I don't know. I just, I just, I'm not there yet. I just don't feel like I can." What was kind of that tipping point for you?
LISA: Well, as I had the conversation with you in the, I think it was ... Where are we at? Oh, San Diego at the NARPM conference. I said, "You know, I don't think I could just let that go." But the funny part to me is, I haven't let anything go. Once you can get past ... I mean, like I said with the communication tool, I mean, even if I didn't have virtual assistants, I would recommend the communication tool because now instead of me saying, "Hey, did you do this? Did you do this?", I have a written document where they can just check it and tell me it's done. I guess in a way, it doesn't matter whether you're virtual or you're right here in the office, we still have a record of what's being done.
LISA: And then the hard part for me was not being able to know what the virtual assistant was doing, but like I said, with the communication tool, I mean, in fact, I'm being pinged right now and I can see we have a group chat going on, and I can see that they're actively working and answering questions between everybody in the office right now. It's not like we're yelling down the hall, but we're still communicating as if we're all together, and I know that doesn't sound like a real big deal, but at the end of the day you have to communicate as a group and you have to be able to do it seamlessly, and to be honest with you, the communication tools work so much better because now I don't get, "What did you say?" from down the hall.
ANNE: That's funny. So I definitely think the Basecamp is one of your tools in your tool belt that you've utilized very, very effectively. I also heard you were, kind of interpreting what you're saying, is that your virtual staff and your internal staff really there's no difference. You're trying to treat everybody the same, they're very integrated into your business, and that is because of the Basecamp platform. What was kind of some of the things that you were hesitant about before you met me about using virtual staff, and how did you overcome that?
LISA: Well, like I said, the big thing was is not being able to see whether the stuff was getting done, not being able to make sure that it was being done the right way. How do you instruct somebody when you need to show them how to do something? How do you, you know, the physical? But like I said, we use Google, we use that Google Meet, and we can share screens and I can show anybody exactly what I want them to do, how to do it. I guess that two-way communication where you actually point to things and show them, that was one of the things that I was like, "Well, they're never going to be able to get it unless they can see what I'm doing." Well, they can see what I'm doing. So that part was a big thing for me to get over, but I think it was just not knowing what they were doing, and like I said, I have much better idea of what my staff is doing now then I did ever before.
ANNE: Yeah, I always say that when you bring on a virtual team member, it does force you to look at your policies, your processes, the way you work, and for me it made it a much more strong communication, because then it doesn't matter as much who's in the seat, as long as that that role is getting done and you know it's getting done. So, kudos to you for figuring that out earlier than later. Kind of, how has the dynamics in your office changed by having some of those tasks taken off of your in-house people? Have you seen any benefit to them by bringing in virtual staff?
LISA: Well, yeah, I guess the workload has lightened on them so that they can be out doing pictures, listings, whatever they need to be doing out of the office, and they don't have to worry about running back to get this done or that then, because I'll be honest with you right now, if John goes out and does a listing, he emails them or puts them on the Google drive, Belinda gets them and uploads them, and lists the property before he even gets back to the office. That's how the communication is working between our office, and that's really, I mean, we can get listings done, I mean from taking pictures to putting them on up, we can get listings done in probably two hours versus going to get the pictures, come back, put them in, write the writeup. It's amazing to me how it's working much more seamlessly now.
ANNE: How's that benefited your clients?
LISA: Well, again, things go a lot faster. We are able to make sure we ... just to the point where we can follow up with things. We can remember to, "Hey, we need to do this, we need to do this." And again, we can put timelines in our Basecamp so that we know to come back to certain things. It's been really a positive experience for everybody, and I'll be honest with you, most of my employees do not know if they're calling us speaking to somebody in the Philippines or if they're calling to speak to us here in the office. They cannot tell.
ANNE: And that's what I always ... You know, everybody's always nervous about that, and I said, "You can't tell in my world either." I think that comes to making sure that you have a good hiring partner to make sure you've got good people. Let's kind of talk a little bit, if you don't mind, about kind of your experience with Hire Smart, and of course how that worked for you, and how easy was it or hard was it and what was your experience working with us?
LISA: Well, like I said, we came onboard immediately with two absolutely wonderful virtual employees, and I was so impressed and I just knew I needed a maintenance coordinator, so I did go ahead and ask for the maintenance coordinator, and it's great how you went ahead and got the people that you think would be the right for the job, vetted them, made sure they could speak English pretty well, made sure they could communicate and stuff like that, but you know, some people have skills that some people lack, and just a resume does not show you that. I remember for the one person that we did hire first for the maintenance coordinator position, she looked like she was going to be right on Johnny-on-the-spot. She had been a maintenance coordinator before, or maybe not quite a maintenance coordinator, but she had done maintenance before. Again, the resume looked better, and instead of going with what we felt we went with what the resume was.
LISA: Both the first two times we weren't exactly hiring two employees when we first called you, but we liked the way Belinda, just immediately she was our first interview, and the way she communicated, the way she spoke, the response she gave it was like, "Wow, that would be perfect to speak to people in the front office." And again, she is today speaking to ... people are asking leasing questions, owners are calling, she's taking that information, she's putting out the information that they need. And then like I said, Belinda was ... Sorry, Belinda was the first one we definitely hired. But then when we started looking, we were really hiring for the accounting assistant, and Clarissa, obviously, didn't have any experience in property management, but you she had a great resume. She was a very hard charger, she spoke very well. Just her presence was very professional, and again she's done nothing but amazing things since she's been here.
LISA: I will have to say that, when the third VA came on, I went to both of the two, and they were able to tell me, "No, the step by step instructions you gave were correct." So I was kind of confused as to maybe that third VA wasn't ... Maybe I did something, I didn't provide the information like I did for the first two. I said, "What is the disconnect?" And they said, "No, everything seems to be there." And I was like all right. I don't like to give up on people, but I just thought to myself that this is just not working. But then when we got our new VA, Nina, she is just on the spot. She communicates very well, and it's just amazing, because we didn't go with somebody that had property manager experience, we went with somebody who had organizational function. We went with somebody who was very detailed oriented, and that was the whole idea.
LISA: Don't get me wrong, we interviewed the three people that you provided, but again, Nina was the only one that stuck out as being super organizational, functional, attention to detail, and in the maintenance coordinator position, that's what we need. Learning the property management software, that's the easy part. It's just knowing how to make sure to stay in front of it, knowing how to anticipate what's going on. You can't teach that. That's something that somebody has to already has to know.
ANNE: Well, it's so interesting to me because I get lots of requests like, "Do they have property management experience?" and, "I only want somebody that has property management experience." Of course, you didn't ask for that. And of course, we looked at kind of a wide variety of things when we put a placement in front of a client. But I've gone back and looked at my numbers, and I am confident to say it makes absolutely no difference whether someone has property management experience or not. The only area that it helps, of course, is in the glossary and the terminology, which we provide to the VA's. But again, it still takes a little bit of time to kind of absorb some of that just because it's kind of a different language. I mean, a lot of things that we talk about, not necessarily normal, but some of my best hires have had nothing to do with property management. I always tell people don't let that kind of shine or not.
ANNE: And sometimes, I think personalities come into this. I mean, I know I've hired people in my organization that I thought I could get along with, but when push came to shove it just didn't meet my, kind of my communication tool, too. You're always going to have some of those things. Of course, we replaced the failed candidate for you at no additional charge, because that is part of our guarantee, provided that our clients fulfill a certain obligation, which of course you did. I'm grateful that we have finally found you somebody to help in that role and to be a blessing to you and the company. On a scale from one to 10 though, one being, "Man, it couldn't get any easier than this," versus 10 being, "It couldn't get any harder than this," how would you say the ease of use of our services was? I mean, how difficult was it for you to hire?
LISA: Oh, I would say it's definitely one, is the easiest possible, because I really didn't have to do anything except fill out the initial questionnaire what I was looking for, and then you guys took it from there. For me, it wasn't a stress of having to read all these resumes, because if I post a job anywhere I have 50 to 60 resumes and, now I've got to weed through them and I'm just overwhelmed because how do you find the needle in the haystack? Well, if you're bringing only three to me then that means I can read through them, and figure out what's the best one for me, instead of going through the needle in the haystack.
ANNE: Sure. What's the one advice you would give to someone who's either considering hiring virtually, or maybe is struggling or has had struggles in the past? Not somebody that maybe not used our services, but has been struggling with whether they should move forward with a virtual staff member?
LISA: Well, I would say look at your policies and procedures first. If you don't have a good structure and you don't have good step-by-step instructions, it doesn't matter whether you hire somebody in the office or virtually, you're not going to be able to get anybody to be on board. But, if you're on the fence about hiring virtually, the biggest thing that I can say to you is look at your dollars and cents, because when you look back at your budget, I am paying for virtually three people, but I'm paying what, I think it's about 6% of what worker's comp and everything else costs, less per person, than what I would have to pay, and again, truthfully I'm not trying to say anything negative, but a lot of people here in the United States feel entitled, and they feel entitled to a higher paycheck, which they do not have the qualification for it. So, the professional virtual assistant you're getting is college educated, they speak well, they can communicate well, and you have to look at the pricing. I mean, you can't get that anywhere in the United States.
ANNE: It was definitely a key component for me, too, five years ago when I got started. I think people are a little amazed that ... I mean I've been doing this in my own property management business now almost five years, and helping other people find talent for over four and a half, and we have a kind of a proven system and track record. Is there anything that you would want to add about what makes you ... How virtual staff has made you better in servicing your owners or attracting more business, kind of the secret sauce behind it for you?
LISA: I just think that communication-wise, I think we're doing a whole lot better. I know that that communication tool has been a huge help, but I think we all use it and we're all very conscious about who's doing what now. Even before that, before I had virtual employees, I had a rough idea of what was happening when I wasn't here, but I didn't, all at the same time. I knew certain things were getting done, but I couldn't see exactly what was getting done when, and it's really amazing to me now to see all these items being checked off the to do list during the day, whether they're here virtually, whether they're in the office. I am getting constant updates of what's going on and I really do like that.
ANNE: Well, that sounds great. For those of you who are interested in property management services in the Virginia Hampton Roads area, I certainly encourage you to get in touch with Lisa. Her contact information is down below. Lisa, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate having you on the show, and certainly appreciate having you as a client. So thank you so much, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.
LISA: All right, take care.