2020 has been a wild ride for nearly every industry, and real estate is no exception. As one of the largest commercial and residential companies in South Puget Sound, The Rants Group has been figuring out ways to support its tenants while adapting to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and reconsidering social justice issues raised by widespread local and national protests. In a recent interview, President and CEO Pat Rants discussed the importance of communication, continuing to grow an understanding of other perspectives, and what the re-opening of the economy has meant for the company’s clients.
Once the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent, communication was critical to dispel uncertainty and calm any fears tenants might have. “Early on, we started sending out letters and talking to tenants, letting them know that our goal is to keep them in their homes and businesses,” says Rants. “We knew that a lot of people might be out of work or laid off and we wanted to make sure that we were in contact in case they needed help. We can’t help people if we don’t know what they need.”
Aside from maintaining communication, The Rants Group also sent out information about how to apply for unemployment and updates on when to expect the government stimulus checks. As landlord/tenant laws have continued to change, the company kept both parties apprised of current policies. “Most of what’s happening is temporary,” says Rants. “We study the laws and have access to attorneys who interpret them, so we’re able to keep ourselves and our landlords out of trouble and make sure we’re not asking our tenants something that isn’t legal today.”
The combination of regular communication and sharing information has paid off, he notes. Most tenants have been able to pay their rent in the month it was due and the feedback from landlords has been positive. Almost all the company’s residential properties are full and while few people are moving out, many are still moving into the region. “One home in June had 11 applications submitted on the first day.”
Of course, COVID-19 is not the only crisis that has been making headlines lately. Decades of systemic violence and oppression against communities of color have exploded into global protests and civil unrest, bringing conversations about equity and social justice to the forefront. Those issues have also been on everyone’s mind at The Rants Group.
“When it comes to racial justice and minority issues, I will say we’ve got a lot of learning to do,” Rants says. “We live in a fairly Caucasian community here in Thurston County. Our company has primarily white employees, not by design, but that’s where we are right now. I think we can do much better at understanding people from different backgrounds, and we’ll serve our clients better through that understanding. I want to learn more and change for the better.” To that end, he will be participating in several training sessions to heighten awareness and develop a better understanding of other perspectives.
Meanwhile, the company’s commercial tenants are experiencing the re-opening of the economy very differently, depending on their industry. Some businesses were considered essential and therefore never closed, while others have still not been able to re-open after five months. Even those who are operating may not have any staff there in person.
In a close-to-home example, the building that serves as The Rants Group headquarters near the Olympia Farmers Market remains mostly empty as employees from the dozens of businesses housed there continue to work from home. But 100 yards away, on the other side of the market, another building the group owns operates much closer to normal. “It’s back to almost full force,” says Rants. “The retailers and offices are open.”
It may take some time for life to return to any semblance of normalcy but when it does, some of the changes instituted during COVID-19 will remain, according to Marketing Manager Billy Christensen. “We’re doing a lot of paperless transactions,” he says. “We’re also seeing a lot more rentals or homes being rented through photos or virtual tours. People who live out of state or even out of the country will see them online and sign the paperwork.”
The emphasis on virtual tours has meant an increased need for detailed descriptions and videos, he explains. “It’s broadened our scope of how we market these properties. That’s another one of the new norms we’re starting to see.”
In the face of an uncertain future, the Rants Group plans to continue adapting and staying in close communication with clients, both commercial and residential. “We’re going to be patient,” says Rants. “Overall, we have very good relationships with our tenants.”