First National Financial LP

Borrower Perspectives: Danny Iannuzziello on coping with COVID

  • First National Financial LP

In 1989, Danny Iannuzziello started Skyview Realty Ltd., a full-service brokerage firm specializing in the sale of multi-residential properties. In the 30+ years since founding Skyview, Danny, President, and his team have shepherded the company into a leadership position in Ontario’s multi-residential real estate market. During the past three decades, Danny also diversified the real estate brokerage business by acquiring and repositioning properties, in addition to brokering sales for clients. Faithful to the values of trust, integrity and professionalism, Danny and his team are committed service providers, offering full spectrum expertise from internal professionals and a network of partners. Regardless of the client or deal, they have a priority focus – helping clients sell their properties at the right price, as quickly as possible, with minimal issues.

For Danny Iannuzziello and his team, 2020 started off with a lot of optimism and plans for continued growth and innovation. Then Covid happened. Like every company in every industry, Skyview had to shift gears. Danny shares his company’s experience coping with the crisis, how his team rallied to service residents, what he sees for the future, which innovations Skyview will maintain and how First National stepped up with support.

Q: Based on the nature of your business, what effects did you see as a result of Covid?

 DI: What we were expecting to see, and what we saw were completely different. We were prepared for the worst-case scenario. An obvious concern was our ability to collect rents. We thought it would be substantially lower. But our priority focus, right from the start, was our front line staff and residents.

Q: What strategies did you put in place?

DI: Right away, we set up a Covid task force. We had a team of four people, including internal staff and Resident Managers. There was a lot of uncertainty at the beginning, so we wanted people dedicated to collecting current information and advising on what we should be doing as a company to protect and care for our staff, front line resources, residents and suppliers. It was also very important to me to reassure our staff that nobody would be losing his or her job. I wanted everyone to feel confident that Skyview was stable and in a good position to weather this storm.

Q: How did service delivery change?

DI: We modified a few people’s roles with the goal of upping our service levels. Nine team members were tasked with calling residents within our portfolio to find out if people needed help. We were available to help in any way, whether it was rent relief, payment plans for April or supplies. By reaching out in such a human way, we found out that many residents were unsure about how to access the government assistance programs. Once we discovered that, we dedicated one person to do research on every government program. We were then able to assist people through the process, so they could secure funding. We put that in place two weeks before April 1 to eliminate people’s worries about covering their April bills. Communication underpinned everything we did. We put up a lot of notices in buildings and wrote memos, which were sent out to residents, staff and suppliers. Overall, we raised the bar in terms of service levels, so residents knew they could rely on us for anything, at any time. Both staff and residents acknowledged and appreciated our efforts.

Q: What did you do operationally in your properties?

DI: Masks, gloves and sanitizer pumps were made available to our Resident Managers. Anyone visiting the buildings, whether it was contractors, suppliers, visitors or prospective tenants, had to answer medical screening questions prior to entering. We hired additional cleaning staff, and we gave residents an open invitation to participate, if they wanted to see the procedures for themselves. It was really important to us that each resident felt comfortable with our cleanliness and sanitization protocols. In addition to the increased frequency of cleaning, Resident Managers also stepped up to help anyone who needed groceries, assistance down the stairs or even disposing of garbage. For vacancies, Property Managers transitioned to virtual showings or they would leave vacant units open, and prospective tenants could view the suites unaccompanied. Any deliveries to the buildings were left at the front curb entrance to limit the number of people entering the buildings. I also wanted to manage the portfolio in real time, in case there were any financial issues that required immediate attention. Our staff really stepped up and opened up frequent lines of communication between front-line resources, Property Managers and our Director of Operations. We had a daily snapshot of our financial performance.

Q: What is your outlook on the future?

DI: We are still actively buying. So in that sense, we remain positive and optimistic and are continuing to look for opportunities. The impacts of unemployment are still unclear. We are seeing more people coming through our buildings trying to secure rentals. I think the federal and provincial governments have done a great job in building support mechanisms for Canadians. I believe wholeheartedly that our economy and industry will prevail. As a team, we are very aware that other industries haven’t been as fortunate as ours. So our team mandate is to support the community and businesses that have been affected. We are working on the specifics of that plan now.

Q: Are there any innovations that you will take forward in your business?

DI: We are always challenging ourselves to think of ways to do things differently. Prior to Covid, we had started to embrace technology more. We are aiming to showcase our suites more comprehensively online, with videos and photos of furnished suites. That way, people can get a sense of what a lived-in space looks like. We are also focusing on virtual showings with prospective residents to limit human interactions as much as possible.

Q: Is there any experience from the past few months that really resonates with you?

DI: The unity of our team was incredible. During the greatest uncertainty in March, we were still unsure of whether we would be collecting rents at the same percentage. We asked everyone to come in to the office on a Saturday, taking into account social distancing and everyone’s safety. In all the years I’ve been in business, I’ve never called a team in on Saturday. Every single person showed up. In the past few months, we have really come together as a team and are much tighter as a group. It was important to me that everyone felt confident right from the start about job security. I made a decision 20 years ago when I started building the business to account for hard times, so we could operate effectively. Our whole team dedicated itself to making sure tenants were ok. While this is undoubtedly a hard time, I’ve seen so many positive and uplifting things from our team and residents.

Q: Did you receive any support from First National?

DI: We reached out in the beginning to find out what to do in case we did run into any trouble. Thankfully we didn’t. Dru is a close friend, and he called frequently to check in to see how we were doing and if we needed any help with anything. He even offered to set up a call with Jeremy and Moray, but fortunately our business situation didn’t warrant that level of escalation. The constant interaction with First National was comforting because I felt like Dru was still there as a partner as we were going through the experience.