NMHC Annual Meeting Review: The Next Chapter Starts
by Donald Davidoff | June 14, 2021
I just returned from the 2021 NMHC Annual Meeting in San Diego (six months deferred from its customary time). I can't help but reflect on our industry's resilience and the rapid changes happening as we now have more than 62% of the eligible US population (12 and older) with at least one vaccination.
First, we must congratulate Doug Bibby and the entire NMHC team for pulling off an amazingly successful conference. To my knowledge, it was the first face-to-face meeting of its kind since the pandemic started. The necessity of limiting this to 2,500 people became a strength as several veterans commented on how it felt much more intimate, much like the conferences in Palm Springs and Boca Raton before the event outgrew those venues.
Having decided to put the event on long before we knew how few new cases would be coming each day, NMHC had strong protocols in place. In particular, there was a requirement to either validate vaccination status ahead of the conference or submit to daily testing. It led me to two observations about the post-pandemic world:
- If you're wondering whether the fear of breakthrough infections or other unknown variants will affect behavior, the answer for the moment is a resounding no. Once in the NMHC bubble, there were few masks in sight, other than on Hyatt and NMHC staff. Personally, I have been very risk-averse in the past 16 months, but I wasn't really bothered by this at all. Given my vaccination status and knowledge of NMHC's protocols, I felt safe and gained confidence that we will see a quick return to normalcy.
- Will we return to handshakes and hugs or stick with fist bumps and elbow touches? Score this one for handshakes and hugs. I recall one fist bump over the three days and didn't try to count the handshakes and hugs. Western societal social norms are simply strong enough to last through 16 months and reappear on the other side!
Turning to the conference content and what I heard during a variety of meetings, several items stood out to me:
- Not surprisingly, proptech is on everyone's minds. Much of it is focused on prospect and resident experience. And while most executives don't want to scare their employees, it's as clear as day that most communities will employ fewer associates 3-5 years from now than they currently do. I don't think there will ever be mass layoffs from this; rather, as companies implement more self-serve and other labor-saving technology and processes, they simply will rehire fewer positions upon associate turnover.
- NMHC's efforts on diversity and inclusion are beginning to pay off, at least when it comes to gender equity. I met with more senior executive women at this conference than ever before. That said, increased racial diversity in senior ranks of our industry continues to lag far behind gender diversity.
- There was a lively discussion about returning to offices. While there was a wide variety of specific opinions, the general consensus was that the biggest challenge with work-from-home is developing and maintaining culture, especially with new associates. Most panel participants were already having a partial return to the office, expecting a major return in the fall. Some will go hybrid (3 office/2 home) as the norm, while others will expect full office attendance.
- The session finished with a discussion of the hottest topic in rental housing this year: single-family rentals (SFR) and the growing build to rent (BTR) market. Capital is flowing into this space in record numbers, and many multifamily operators and funds are more than dipping their toes into the space. It will be very interesting to see how this evolves over the next year, especially as we expect multifamily to return to more normal trends.
Finishing on a personal note, I will just say that it was great to get out of my house and see so many colleagues and friends. Hopefully, this trend will continue as we enter what is expected to be a much busier summer and fall conference season!