Online shopping is a convenience few of us could do without. But for many apartment building landlords, America’s favorite 21st century pastime has created a monster situation. Unattended packages are an easy target for thieves, and apartment complexes are prime hunting ground.
Just ask Austin, Texas, apartment dweller John Egan. “I recently had several packages stolen from in front of my apartment door while I was out of town,” he says. “It turns out that the thief was making her living by snatching packages that had been left at the recipients’ apartments or homes.”
Egan solved the problem on his own by having most of his packages shipped to his office. For the occasional home delivery, he now leaves a note for the delivery person to take the package to the apartment complex office. Several of his neighbors have also adopted this practice.
Egan is lucky. His landlord is willing to accommodate this type of request. But increasingly, apartment landlords are becoming unwilling to take responsibility for package deliveries on behalf of tenants.
For some, space is an issue. The sheer volume of packages can overwhelm an apartment office. For others, the time it takes to check packages in and out can prove costly and overwhelming to staff. Camden Property Trust, for example, estimates that each package requires 10 minutes of employee productivity, which for them adds up to a loss of $3.3 million per year.
Unfortunately, tenants often describe policies that make it difficult to receive package deliveries as “harsh” and “callous.” This is understandable, especially when a package may contain medical supplies or other critical items.
What can property managers do about package delivery?
Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of SparkRental.com, offers the following suggestions:
1. Encourage residents to send their mail elsewhere. Some options include a P.O. box or a private mail service at a nearby facility—one that offers a package signing service. If possible, arranging a discount for residents can help take the sting out of the inconvenience.
2. Beef up security. In many areas, the additional security of cameras in hallways can be a powerful theft deterrent, enabling packages to be left at the foot of a resident’s door. Hiring a security guard to roam the premises can also be an effective option for some properties. In fact, boosting security can be a selling point: Many tenants might be glad to pay a little more per month for heightened security. However, it’s important to be clear that security measures are not a no-theft guarantee.
3. Install package lockers on-site. Special lockers or storage units can keep packages secure with minimal effort from management. Before installing such devices, it’s wise to check with package-delivery companies to be sure they are willing to deliver to them.
4. Offer package handling as an add-on service. If sufficient storage space is available, landlords can charge to accept, sign for and hold packages. “For a monthly fee—usually in the neighborhood of $10 per month—[these landlords will] do everything and leave either a physical note on the door of the resident or email or phone them,” Davis says. “They’ll keep the package in a secure room and assume legal liability for it.”
Using technology to facilitate package delivery
While technology precipitated the package delivery problem for apartment managers, it can also be part of the solution. For example, Chicago’s Hubbard Place texts a secret code to residents when they have a package. Residents can then use the code to open a custom drawer built into the lobby wall to retrieve packages.
The system, affectionately called “James Bond,” allows residents to have continuous and secure access to their deliveries, and it frees up the staff to focus on other priorities, says Sheila Byrne, executive vice president of property management for The Habitat Company, which manages Hubbard Place.
RMK Management also uses technology to facilitate package handling and delivery. The Chicago-based real estate company has implemented a scan-and-notify electronic package management system at nearly 27 rental properties it manages throughout the Midwest.
Diana Pittro, the company’s executive vice president, says the success of this system depends on efficient management to stay on top of the volume of packages. “That starts with notifying residents nearly instantly when an item has arrived so they can collect it.”
Outsourced package handling for apartment properties
Nearly every problem has an entrepreneurial solution. Several companies are now offering services to help alleviate the package crunch in ways that are acceptable to both property managers and residents.
One example is Doorman, a package delivery and returns solution that works by providing residents with a personal shipping address at an off-site location. The service signs for the delivery on behalf of the tenant and sends the tenant a notification. The tenant can then schedule a convenient date and time for the company to deliver the package.
Doorman is currently available in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, with plans to expand to additional U.S. cities. Similar companies have sprung up in different locations, for example, the Dallas-based Fetch Package.
In addition to improving leasing agent productivity and relieving buildings of package storage, these services promise a long-term, scalable solution to keep pace with e-commerce growth and the resulting uptick in apartment package volume. Many of them also offer opportunities to create ancillary income to the property.
Has package delivery been an issue for your apartment property? Which solutions have worked for you?
Be sure to join the Lowe’s ProServices LinkedIn Group to read additional content and interact with other Construction/Trade and MRO professionals.