It’s a privilege to speak with a longtime housing provider who’s passionate about what they do and has deep familiarity with property management software. Raven Cerny, director of Petra Management Group, is a property manager with a lot of wisdom and experience to share.
In our conversation, we discussed website design, tips for faster invoice processing, accounting features she can’t live without and much more. This is a great interview for any housing provider interested in what their peers are doing to stay ahead.
Thanks for being with us, Raven. To start, please tell us a little about your background as a housing provider.
This will be my 16th year in property management. I think it’s one of the most amazing careers. You see so many different things in property management. You deal with people’s lives — their whole lives — and you can really make a difference.
I started as a part-time leasing agent at my uncle’s property management company. I was in college at the time, and I didn’t like the direction my life was going. So, I ended my career in culinary arts, picked up property management full-time and never looked back.
Now I’m the director of Petra Management Group, a brand-new company. We hit one year in July 2021. We’ve spent that time buying C and D-class properties, renovating or remodeling them, and turning them into A-class properties. Hopefully, we’ll be managing these properties for 20-plus years.
Let’s talk about your marketing. It was really cool to see that Yardi built your website. Were you part of that process?
Absolutely. I was part of all of the decision-making and all the design elements from start to finish. There were interview questions in the beginning, and that probably was the most difficult part about it, just going through and making sure the RentCafe team had all the right information. It was a really enjoyable process.
I’ve used RentCafe before, so I was already familiar with how that system works and operates. Our previous website was pretty basic: You could look at property photos, and that was really it. Once it came time to kick off a new website, it was a no-brainer to have Yardi do it. They were able to tie in our property websites and add links back and forth to our corporate website.
See the benefits of letting Yardi make a professional website for your property management business.
When did your office decide to switch to Breeze, and how was the transition?
We switched to Yardi Breeze as we were forming the management side of Petra. We decided to go with Breeze for a few reasons. It was more cost-effective for the size of the properties that we have so far, and it’s very easy to learn, even with minimal training.
In fact, I like to call myself a Yardi master. I’ve used Yardi Voyager, and it’s great. I’ve been on it for many, many years. Petra just wasn’t big enough for it at the time. Breeze made sense because I was able to find my way through it with very little setup and very little need for assistance. And the online Help Center is readily available, which is great.
All of the reps, onboarding and transition teams were truly phenomenal. I could shoot an email if I couldn’t figure something out, and they were right there with me, step by step. They’re still updating some things, making little changes and tweaks that have made Breeze even better than it was a year ago.
You recently added affordable housing functionality, correct?
Yes. We’re very much in the affordable game. Most of our properties have a voucher tenant of some capacity, and we’re actually in the process of closing on a tax credit property. We recently moved over from Breeze to Breeze Premier for the affordable housing piece.
Which features in Breeze Premier make working as a housing provider especially easy or efficient?
The split ledgers have made work much easier for us. That was the last little bit we needed to be the best management company we could be for our residents.
We encourage our residents to stop bringing in their rent payments to the office. I like that we can set up payments for our residents in Breeze because a lot of them are older, a little bit lower income, and they don’t necessarily have the resources others have. All they have to do is bring us their checkbook or bank card information, and we’ll get them set up.
It’s been nice to have that kind of fluid process to help out our residents, which ultimately makes us better property managers
And those communications, you do all those through the Breeze system?
We use Breeze first to reach out to residents for most communications, notices, statements or anything like that. We also make sure our residents submit everything through the resident portal, such as maintenance requests or office communications, so we can truly track everything. Especially with maintenance issues, the documentation prevents a lot of miscommunication.
How have residents taken to making maintenance requests and payments online?
It’s going along nicely. We might get a phone call from a resident, but everybody knows how to go to the resident portal, so we’ll send them there to submit their work order online.
What about vendors and any owners you work with? Has property management software helped those relationships?
Owners basically live off the monthly reports, which are very easy. With vendors, Breeze is great because it’s a really simple process to get them in the system. It tracks when insurance and contracts expire. When I put a bill in Breeze, it will notify me that the insurance has expired and prompt something like, “Are you sure you want to pay this bill?”
Can you talk about Yardi Bill Pay?
I love how Bill Pay works. When we get a bill, we’re able to create an invoice from it, so it shows up as a downloadable copy. I input everything into Breeze, so I have the invoice right there in front of me and don’t have to print anything. Plus, we’re trying to go green, so we do a lot of invoices electronically to reduce paper.
The invoice goes through my workflow, and once I’m ready to pay the bill, I just go to my page, make the payments and check off which invoices I want to pay. The checks are already set up with signatures preloaded. The system prints them, we mail them and vendors typically get them within a week from when I click the button to pay the bill.
Bill Pay saves me an enormous amount of time. I used to have to bring up a PDF, print the invoice on a check, stuff it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and go to the post office. I’m now able to pay a lot more invoices a lot quicker. Vendors get paid on time, which is huge for the relationship with our vendors.
Yardi Bill Pay is an optional service housing providers can add to Breeze and Breeze Premier to speed up the invoice payment process. Check out this article on why Bill Pay is the future of property management. (It’s also one of our most-read pieces of 2021.)
With the ability to do so much online, do you work remotely?
As the director of the management company, I don’t work in the on-site offices. I’m 100% remote. But I like Breeze because it lets me feel like I’m in the office with the rest of the team. It’s just a quick phone call and we’re able to look at everything together in real time, so Breeze is an important part of letting me stay remote.
Please share your wisdom with our readers. What does every property manager and housing provider need to do in order to be successful today?
Just keep trying new things. If there is a new feature, technique or gimmick out there, give it a shot. You never know what’s truly going to work until you put in the effort and listen to your residents. Get to know who you’re actually leasing to, hear what they need, then try your hardest to make sure that you’re delivering what they want.
Property management software is going to help you give your residents what they need. The better the system works for your residents and your team, the better it’s going to work for your business. Likewise, the better we run our properties, the better the relationships are going to be with our clients and owners.
We’d like to thank Raven Cerny for giving us her time as well as the opportunity to share her professional expertise as a housing provider.