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When Does the Sale End?
by Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC
MHI Director of Training and Community Resources

Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC,

has been involved in Community Management for over 16 years. She managed communities from 200 sites in size up to over 800 sites. Chrissy is the current Director of Training and Community Resources for MHI. In this capacity, she is the principal trainer for the Manufactured Housing Educational Institute's programs and seminars, and provides professional resources for MHI's National Communities Council Chrissy also provides property management and sales training to state association conventions and private companies. She is also recognized as a nationally published author with several publications currently on the market.

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he trend for the last several years has been leaning toward community managers selling homes within their communities. Sometimes this decision involves brokered listings only on homes owned by residents or repossessions for a finance company. However, it may also involve new home sales and ordering custom-designed homes with exterior packages. This is not just another hat for the community manager to wear. This hat needs a little defining to eliminate problems before they occur.

Being a housing consultant (sales person) requires a different focus and different type of attention than is required when you are in the role of a community manager. A housing consultant - in order to establish that special relationship where a customer relates to you - becomes interested in the family, the wants, the needs, the desires, and the dreams. The housing consultant then works to make all of those come true when ordering or selling a home. The housing consultant is flexible when it comes to meeting the customer's demands and adaptable when it comes to fulfilling the customer's needs.

A community manager generally cannot be flexible in the enforcing of guidelines. Nor can a community manager "give in" when the resident doesn't want to pay late fees that may be due. And, since the manager has a responsibility to maintain the physical asset (the community) they really can't be too accommodating when lawns need to be mowed or homesites need to be cleaned.

That means that the manager - who up until this point has been the homeowner's best friend - is now faced with changing hats! And - it must be done without alienating the resident. Yes, the resident is still your customer. Yes, it is definitely in your best interest as a manager to still continue to be friendly, but the focus is now a bit different. How do you deal with the changing of the hats? How do you go from an accommodating housing consultant to a manager who must now be an enforcer of sorts?

Obviously, communication is a key ingredient in this plan if it is to be successful. Usually, the paperwork to finance the home and the documents required to move into the community are completed and signed at the same time. The new homeowner is signing a retail installment contract, then reading and signing a least, a set of guidelines, and perhaps more documents. Don't skimp during this time. Be sure to go over everything completely and clearly.

Outline the responsibilities of the homeowner as a resident. And, be just as frank when discussing your responsibilities as a manager. Part of your responsibilities is to the residents - to assure them that the guidelines will be enforced consistently and fairly. Reinforce the necessity of strict adherence to the terms of the lease and guidelines during this sign-up visit.

Plan to visit your customers as a housing consultant during the first few weeks of their residency. Ask if everything is OK - if they are settling in; if they need anything; if there are any issues they can't resolve; if you can help at all. Tell them that as their housing consultant you want to make sure they are happy with their decision to purchase a home from you.

If at any time you must visit them with regard to a violation of a guideline or a complaint you have received from a neighbor, be sure to preface your conversation with the phrase, "As your community manager, I would like to discuss something with you." That way, you are setting a clear-cut direction for the conversation. They should then understand right up front that you are fulfilling your responsibility as a community manager, and are not able to continue being accommodating as you were during the sale.

One community manager has a five-step plan for following up on her sales. She plans five separate visits to her customer's home over the course of a month. Each time, she just pops in, asks if things are going OK, and takes stock of where they are in the process of getting settled. If they say they are doing all right, but she senses tension, she asks more questions until she gets to the bottom of their irritation. Then, she proposes a solution.

One of her recent sales was to an elderly couple who retired to Florida and after buying a home, purchased a rather expensive satellite television system. They could not understand the installation manual, became totally frustrated, and had almost decided they need to go back north to be near their kids where someone could help them with things. In comes the manager wearing the hat of a housing consultant who was following up with her customer.

Within 24 hours, she had a qualified person on site to hook up their television, computer, and web TV. The homeowners negotiated the price with the installer prior to him coming. They now feel they made the right decision to retire to Florida, and that they will be able to survive without family living close - because their housing consultant made it clear she cared.

When does the sale end? In the role of housing consultant, the sale never ends. You are always looking for an opportunity to sell another home to your customers, their friends, family, or co-workers. In the role of community manager, your "sale" happens when the homeowner "buys" into your community and the lifestyle you are selling. It ends when they move out.

Make sure you know which hat you are wearing when you interact with your residents. Share your position (manager, housing consultant, etc.) with them by communicating clearly.

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