Low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) asset managers are, at our core, problem solvers. We identify potential issues with our properties and quickly seek to find solutions with our partners. Though our primary concern is in the development and maintenance of our portfolios, our profession makes us part-time contractors, real estate agents, and property managers.
But, as our business grows and we build more properties, we are increasingly adding data entry specialist to our list of responsibilities, spending more time compiling property information while trying to manage our assets.
As LIHTC developers and owners, we have a responsibility to several different stakeholders. At The Pacific Cos. (TPC), a leading affordable housing owner and developer in the West, building and maintaining good relationships with our partners is most important, but as we spent more time assembling our data, we had less time to connect with our stakeholders.
This year, we decided to transform and streamline our internal processes to be a better partner with our investors and lenders, property managers, and residents. There are a number of options in the marketplace, but we began working with Lexington Solutions and its product Fusion, a comprehensive LIHTC asset management database and analysis software, in order to spend less time on data management and more time on asset management.
TPC is consistently growing, and we have added five properties in the past seven months alone. We know we are not alone in this industry and that there are many other LIHTC housing developers and owners who are seeking an end to the Excel spreadsheets and disparate databases that slow us down. TPC began implementing Fusion in February, and as we enter the fall almost all of our financial data from the past three years has been uploaded into the database, and we are already seeing the benefits of using the software.
If it seems daunting to try to move your entire portfolio onto a new system, you're right. But the benefits, even in the process of making the transfer, were enormous. And we didn't do it alone. The Lexington Solutions team gave us in-person trainings and helped us along to the way to ensure we were doing it correctly and in accordance with our own specific needs. Going through and inputting the data has allowed us to re-familiarize ourselves with each property, reassess its financials, and identify deficiencies in our data collection process that we now can correct.
Using Fusion, TPC has been able to re-evaluate our practices and procedures when collecting data from property managers and how we then store that information. We realized that so much of our effort was spent sifting through differently formatted data provided by property managers.
Taking the time to reanalyze our portfolios has resulted in the standardization of our asset management processes that will have a lasting effect on our business.
All of our property managers are now using the same templates, which can easily be transferred into our database.
As a result, TPC is able to:
- ”¢ Check and balance management companies, holding them accountable to us. Providing a data collection template empowers our property managers to be better with their own accounting, having a positive ripple effect on their own businesses. With the resources and knowledge provided by Fusion at our fingertips, all of our questions and those of our investors can be answered in just a few clicks.
- ”¢ Look at each property, portfolio, and our entire business in a more efficient and holistic way. A single process for each of our property managers streamlines the way we work internally, from collection to reporting. Because we can concentrate on identifying issues, rather than just searching for data and making educated inferences, we are able to solve property issues faster and ensure that properties are performing month to month, not just year to year.
- ”¢ Improve all of our relationships with stakeholders, including property managers, residents, partners, and investors. We have more time to meet with management companies and more opportunities to act as owners—visit properties and show our partners and residents that we care. Knowing exactly where a property is financially and physically creates a good partnership, and being a good partner with a wellrun, viable portfolio is our No. 1 goal.
Before Fusion, it was not uncommon for our asset managers to regularly spend two to three hours a day each imputing data into spreadsheets to generate a single report or to answer a single question for our investors. Not only did we need to create new worksheets at every turn, but we often had to go back for extra data from property managers that could only be discovered after starting the process. Getting data from spreadsheets is brutal, time consuming, ineffi- cient, and not where our asset managers want to be spending their time. We are problem solvers, not data collectors.
With Fusion, we have transformed our business workflow internally and externally. The improved visibility on all of our properties is making us better partners and more effective and compassionate LIHTC housing owners. While we initiated work with Lexington Solutions to bring our properties into a place that is feasible and financially stable, the unintended effects of streamlining our internal business processes and improving our external relationships will allow TPC to grow and thrive for many years to come.
Denise Carter is vice president of asset management and public finance at Eagle, Idaho-based TPC, with responsibility for overseeing the asset management division that includes 110 developments. She has worked for TPC for 14 years.