Trends are a tricky animal to tame. With new ones coming and going seemingly every day, one can be hard-pressed to know how, when or if to act on them.
But even though Bob Renshaw may seem like a trend-setter, he is more apt to consider himself someone who has been in the right place at the right time.
“Moving into the area (of property management) was not economically or market-driven at the time,” Renshaw, owner of Renshaw Property Management, says.
Rather, he simply took a fondness for property management and turned it into his namesake business in 2007, after owning a real estate brokerage with his wife that managed just a few rental properties. As Renshaw explains, however, the timing was crucial.
“It just happened to be about six months before the market turned south,” he says.
Shortly after forming the company with just a few dozen properties under its thumb, Renshaw found that the company was fast outgrowing the confines of his home office and he needed to find appropriate space. So, with a work force of an agent and himself, Renshaw eventually set up shop in Ridgeway Center. And though the single-family housing market in Memphis eventually crumbled under the pressure of too much supply, Renshaw has since found himself positioned to help himself, distressed property owners and local Realtors.
“I hit the market at a time when so many agents just couldn’t sell listings and they needed the help of someone who could come in and help owners make a decision,” Renshaw says. “Sometimes, the best decision is to rent.”
Nationally, the trend to rentals has exploded over the past decade. In the 2000s alone, the number of renters grew by 5.1 million, according to The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. That growth is the largest decade-long increase since World War II.
With a staff of 11 employees and two real estate agents working as independent contractors, Renshaw has captured that trend locally. He estimates his company now manages between 750 and 800 properties.
But while that kind of growth may look attractive in a ledger, the challenges of such a meteoric ascent can grow with a company. That’s why Renshaw decided early on not to allocate his managed properties into portfolios operated by individual employees.
By structuring his company’s management style to get all employees involved with each property, owner and tenant, Renshaw has ensured that each of his customers has a knowledgeable contact at all times. It’s a strategy that has paid off — especially through the turbulent times of the post-housing crash.
Many homeowners listing properties as rentals right now, he notes, are more or less “forced to be landlords” for the first time, and the business of renting single-family homes has changed with the economy.
“We see a vast majority of the landlords that are leasing their homes now doing so for economic reasons, not because they’re investors,” Renshaw says.
In addition, the way his managed properties are listed has also changed with the times. Employing the expertise of Memphis-based Prime Notion Technologies, a mobile application development firm, Renshaw tasked Daniel Smith’s team to develop a smartphone app so prospective tenants could search and sort all of Renshaw’s properties.
“It was an exciting project for us because it was the first opportunity to dive into the real estate-property management industry,” Smith, president and COO, says.
The product went live in April and cost about $20,000, Renshaw estimates. He says it has led to fewer calls being placed to the office since potential tenants now have all the information about a specific property at their fingertips.
Again, Renshaw finds himself at the front end of what is becoming a massive market. A summer 2011 study by mobile app research firm Flurry Analytics found consumers were already spending more time each day using mobile apps than they were surfing the web. More recently, market researcher Strategy Analytics expects the global market for consumer spending on mobile content, apps and services to approach $140 billion in 2012.
That’s good news for both Renshaw, who predicts the entire industry will eventually adopt similar practices, and for Prime Notion’s Smith, who began receiving calls from companies similar to Renshaw’s as soon as the app went live.
“(Property management) is not one of our main, defined markets, but it is something that shows a lot of potential,” Smith says.