Reinventing Real Estate podcast: Harris Associates talks to Dandara Living

In the second episode of the ‘Reinventing Real Estate’ podcast by Harris Associates, MD of Dandara Living discuss the company’s marketing campaigns and how to deliver customer satisfaction.

Dandara Living's Paul Borrmann sits down with Harris Associates for the second episode of the 'Reinventing Real Estate' podcast | BTR News
Dandara Living's Paul Borrmann sits down with Harris Associates for the second episode of the 'Reinventing Real Estate' podcast.

The resident experience reimagined: key lessons from the front lines

Managing Director at Dandara Living, Paul Borrmann, joins host Jenna Harris, Head of Co-Living, and Alex Matthews, Head of BTR at Harris Associates, on the second interview episode of ‘Reinventing Real Estate’ – the podcast brought to you by innovative investment agency, Harris Associates. In this illuminating discussion, Paul dives deep into pivotal strategies. He shares insights on reinventing the resident experience and standing out in a crowded marketplace.

A core insight is the power of word-of-mouth over traditional marketing. By providing exceptional experiences, properties can cultivate “invisible branding” through organic reviews and referrals. Paul explains how hyper-focusing on service quality drives growth more than flashy campaigns ever could.

Drawing inspiration from other industries also emerges as a key tactic. Paul describes how his team’s customer service approach makes residents feel valued, through specific personal touches and thoughtful surprises to demonstrate extra care.

Additionally, he discusses the importance of not over-promising in marketing campaigns and delivering on your brand promises and customer proposition to ensure surprise and delight throughout the customer journey.

Packed with actionable tips, this episode is a must listen for anyone seeking to reach the next level in resident satisfaction. By implementing these resident-centric strategies, property managers can reinvent the renter experience and build lasting brand loyalty.

Highlight 1

Jenna: What you said was so important about that invisible brand piece and the idea that what are people saying about you as a company and you as a person when you’re not in the room is so powerful. Is that one of the things that you think led to the integrity of the Dandara Living brand?

Paul: When there are big decisions to be made, like staff restructuring, different marketing campaigns, tone of voice, HR policies – everything you do has an impact. So, a lot of what we have done and what we continue to do is determine how to empower the teams to effectively solve problems and do first-time fixes for people. What I’ve come to realise is the framework is probably 80 percent of what they must do, and the 20% is the personnel.

For example, one of our senior members of staff in Manchester, she used to call one of our students every morning at half past eight to wake her up for university because she had promised the student’s mum, she wouldn’t miss class. So, I was in this situation where I had senior staff doing small admin tasks on site, and I thought about how I could engineer that out, so she stays on task.

But the other side of me absolutely loved it because it showed the heart of that person. I can’t make her want to do that – that’s just who she is, and that’s why she’s fantastic in that role. So, with that 80/20 split, if the rule was she can’t do that, we’d lose something.

Highlight 2

Alex: Obviously I looked at your Homeview scores and they’re startlingly high. It’d be interesting to understand how important your staffing is, in terms of the day-to-day contact with customers, and how you’ve really focused on building up such a strong score.

Paul: I think when I say ‘we’, I mean the site staff. So, the process, as I said earlier, is probably an 80/20 split. You have a framework they work within – how do we surprise and delight people throughout the journey? That’s something we can engineer, budget for, research, try, and change.

And then the other 20% is getting the right people having those daily interactions. Finding the right staff, letting them create that culture themselves, us saying “we love that culture, let’s do more of it,” and then making them accountable to not ruin it.

I still read every single review that comes through the business, just because it keeps me relevant, and I love it. The teams hate it because there’s always a question on Homeviews that flags things. It asks, “What do you wish you knew before you moved in?” That’s not negative, but in Birmingham we heard “I wish I knew the construction times of Paradise (a development across the road) before I moved in – I may have chosen a different apartment.”

So right away, 20 minutes later that info was on the Rightmove listings and website, so people are aware. And we told that person, if they want to move, we can switch their apartment. I don’t think they did, but that’s the power of feedback – if someone gives it openly and honestly, especially when we own the journey, we can do most things.

Highlight 3

Paul: In Manchester, we’ve got an ex-Disney person who’s the customer experience lead there. We’ve also got ex-Costa and Starbucks staff. They train well and provide good customer service. So, in terms of recruitment strategy for each role, we look at sectors with transferable skills.

Jenna: You’ve brought in customer experience talent from Disney – that’s brilliant. Because it’s not just about looking within [Build to Rent] to find people, but thinking broader – how can we take brands with the incredible customer experience and apply that in a new way to inject innovation into our brand?

Paul: Exactly. I remember about 4 years ago, speaking to Lee Hill at Greengate Manchester – two of his concierge people were from Butlins. I’d never thought to recruit there, but when you consider what Butlins does – accommodation, customer service, that performative aspect – it makes sense.

I’m the first to admit I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of good ideas out there to leverage from others. You don’t always have to be the cleverest person – take advantage of what people have already learned. Historically I looked more at candidates’ last two roles, but now I look further back for formative experiences, like working in a fish and chip shop in 2001. As a leader, it’s best not to come up with ideas, but to leverage your team.

Highlight 4

Jenna: How important is branding and marketing?

Paul: The standard answer is it’s becoming more important, which I think still holds. We recently rebranded and are rolling it out now. 5 years ago, like most operators, we thought “oh it’s like living in a hotel” – Build to Rent, so great.

Then we realised, who wants to live in a hotel? You don’t actively want that. So the new brand is more subtle, laid back, homely – an unmade bed, cooked chicken on the counter. Trying to be the M&S of property advertising that you can see yourself in.

It’s that emotive sell. We’re avoiding the amenities war like in the US – “We’ve got a bowling alley and laser tag!” We focus on well-managed properties with amenities that truly matter, and we probably won’t even list as bullet points.

It’s about conveying the Dandara Living feel. We’d rather people move in and think “wow better than I expected” versus “exactly as I thought.” Hopefully, our reputation and reviews speak for themselves.

Jenna: Funnily enough Adam Brockley at Scape echoed that we’re careful about claims because we must deliver. Grand statements that fall short damage more than help. You’ve established that as well – impress without shouting it.