How We’re Designing Online Property Management Tools for Investors

We started Great Jones because we believe status quo property management options don’t work. To us, this is a very human problem, and it stems from an industry built on misaligned incentives. 

Property managers have historically been motivated to keep residents and property owners just happy enough while putting in as little effort as possible. And with a culture of up-charging for extras, sometimes they’re even incentivized to get owners and tenants to spend more than necessary on expenses like repairs.

Additionally, property management has typically been an industry serviced by inefficient, manual processes. Many companies rely purely on the memory of their team and records kept on paper to keep your properties cared for — these are processes that are ripe for human error. Communication with owners and residents is very manual and happens haphazardly via phone, text, or email only during business hours even though many of the issues that arise with homes occur outside of business hours.

This lack of technology actually results in a real lack of transparency for property owners. Even when a property manager is cost-conscious, an owner has no way of knowing whether they’re getting charged a fair amount,  and understandably can’t trust that decisions are being made in their best interest.

At Great Jones we talk a lot about how to build trust. Finding opportunities for increased transparency is a huge part of this, in fact, it is the central focus for our Design and Technology Teams. 

We have a team of dedicated designers and software engineers on our core team in New York City, whose job is to design, build and maintain the tools that our owners use, so they can see what’s going on with their properties.

By applying design thinking to how we reimagine property management as a service, we put all of the humans we design for (that’s you!) at the center of our decisions for what we build. This encourages us to make decisions based on what owners really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence.

It’s a no-ego philosophy that encourages objective problem solving. This may feel obvious, but the truth is that even as well-intentioned humans, we are inherently biased. The real magic, we think, is in the methodologies that keep us honest and hold us accountable for keeping our owners’ interests and needs (instead of our own) at the forefront of our service and product decisions.

What does the design process look like at Great Jones?

  1. We always start with understanding the problem, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative information.

    Ex. After speaking to a few owners, we found that many were creating their own P&L’s from bills and statements that were sent via email on a monthly basis (this is hours of work that we are uniquely positioned to help with). Additionally, we had gotten feedback that our automatically generated monthly statements were difficult to read and digest, causing owners to want to double check the math.

  2. We then develop hypotheses based on those learnings.

    Ex. A simple and clear breakdown of expenses with all third-party invoices exposed at the same time will aide an owner’s ability to trust the information they are looking at.

  3. We then prototype a solution to test with a few different people. Prototypes are usually semi-functional experiences that take a really short time to produce but allow us to test our hypothesis to make sure our solution is actually useful (and our assessment of the problem was right). Through these tests, we discover things that cause unintended confusion, and these things are a lot easier to fix before we build the infrastructure around them and launch them into the world. 

    Ex. We reworked the Financials section of our online Owner Portal to show a high-level P&L with filterable data. We learned after showing this to a few owners that they found this view very helpful but still wanted a way to print out these statements for posterity. So we added a feature that would allow a user to take a snapshot of the summary data and print it in a clean and readable format.

  4. We also prioritize the most critical aspects of this solution — to deliver value to our owners in the quickest way possible without jeopardizing quality or reliability. We’d rather be optimizing an owners experience every couple of weeks with smaller wins than making a huge change every 6 months. This process has the added benefit of really forcing us to focus on what’s important, and allows us to pivot more quickly as needs change (which in today’s world, they almost always will).

    Ex. We have a very long list of capabilities we’d love to add to our financial reporting tool (ie. delinquency dashboards), but we needed to draw the line at a place that would allow us to release these features in a matter of weeks. 

  5. Then we’re ready to build and launch. Our Design and Technology Team works collaboratively to bring the solution to life, connect it to all the right places and test it thoroughly, catching edge cases where things might break, before finally launching it into the world.

  6. Then we let it live and collect feedback from our real users over a period of time.

  7. With that feedback, we can start this process all over again, and keep improving. 

Tools that solve real problems for our Owners

Here are two more examples of how we are continuously evolving the customer experience at Great Jones:

  1. Our Management Agreement: If you are a customer or a prospective customer, you’ll notice our management agreement is written in plain language, not the typical legal jargon you find with many other Property Management contracts. We want our prospective owners to have 100% clarity on what they are signing up for when choosing to work with us.

  2. Customer support systems: You may have experienced a frustrating back and forth with your property manager in the past. Your request falls into an abyss if they’re away from their desk or out of office. We think the right approach to support is never to rely on a single human, but on a robust system of humans and record-keeping software, so we can deliver consistent and reliable service. We’ve built a team and a system around this approach, where every request from anyone who contacts us is recorded and routed directly to the best person to solve the issue. The entire evolution of this request will be recorded and easily viewable in our system, so anyone on our team will be able to know exactly what’s been happening with an owner’s portfolio at any given time. 

But there’s so much more to come…

We are proud of what exists today at Great Jones, but this is just the beginning. We believe by leveraging technology for our online property management tools and services we can create a more transparent and frictionless experience to rental property investors. 

As a clear example of this, we envision a future where owning rental properties across multiple states is as simple as logging in to your Owner Portal to see the performance of your homes managed and monitored in one place. If we allow you to spend less time tracking down the details of your current portfolio, we open you up to the possibility of expanding your investment strategy. 

We’re on a mission to rebuild Property Management, and by joining Great Jones, you can be a part of this shift in the rental investment industry. Our core customers are the fundamental input to how we will continue to evolve our business. We would be thrilled to have you as part of the Great Jones community and are eager to hear your ideas and feedback.

Fiona Greenwood

Fiona is a visual communication & product designer who builds intuitive and delightful experiences for both property investors and residents at Great Jones.

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