Steve Bardack of Fidus Pet Concierge Communities: Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry
An Interview With Jason Hartman
In terms of real estate, try using the old Wayne Gretzky adage: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.” When you’re thinking about where you want to build or acquire your next location, you want to look ahead five years to understand why this location is going to be more attractive than it is today. For example, a new highway could be coming, businesses are relocating to the area or mass transit options are in the works. Think not only about what’s super attractive today, but what’s going to be even more attractive in the coming years.
As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Bardack.
Steve Bardack is the founder and principal of Fidus Pet Concierge Communities, the creator of the first and only pet-centric luxury apartment communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Catering to all friendly dogs of all breeds and sizes, each of which is temperament tested during the application process, the garden-style communities are designed to meet all the needs of discerning dog owners through a combination of unique features in every apartment, canine-focused amenities, and an array of on-site pet services and community events.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
My family has worked as real estate investors and operators for over five decades and I essentially grew up in the multifamily real estate investment industry. During my 20s, I began to learn how to manage properties, lead operations, and read income statements. As I began to branch out to other industries and develop business acumen, I kept abreast of multifamily trends in order to maintain my perspective on the industry and refine my skill set.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
In 2014, I bought a low-income workforce housing tax credit property called Stonebrook Village Apartments in Frisco, Texas. There were two drug dealers living on the property, along with 600 adults and 100 children. I have zero tolerance for this kind of business, and as I was doing my due diligence, I learned that the apartment community was the number one source of crime in Frisco.
This property happens to be located next to the Frisco Police Department. So I told the officers that I was buying the property from a charity board and would like for them to show up the day after I closed to back the play I was planning. When I arrived at the drug dealers’ apartment with the Frisco police behind me, I told them that I was their new landlord and they had two options: either we would search their apartment every day, which would ultimately lead to their arrests, or they could vacate the apartment immediately. Needless to say, they chose the second option, and as a result, crime and violence in the community fell dramatically. In fact, this property is up 28 percentage points for annual retention from the day that I bought it and a few years later, the City Manager personally thanked me for being a good partner to the Frisco community.
The most important lesson I took away from this experience is that as a property owner, if you see a problem that’s impacting more than one resident or the community at large, it’s an opportunity to change the game, whether that’s repositioning the property, improving tenant-staff relationships, or finding another way to make a positive change.
Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you’re going to be in a consumer facing business, you should be obsessed with consumer satisfaction.”
At all of our properties, we have found that soliciting customer surveys and hosting resident meetings are excellent ways to glean direct insight into how satisfied our tenants — aka our customers — are with their living experiences. I make sure that all of the residents know that I own the property. And when I walk around the buildings, I always ask, “What can we do better? How can we improve?” If you take the perspective that you want to create what is referred to as the “Disneyland experience”, where everything that a customer sees, touches and experiences reinforces a positive value proposition, then you’ve solved a large part of the challenge associated with building customer satisfaction.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My family and I have always been animal lovers. And because of this, I remember the challenges associated with owning dogs when living in apartments, whether it’s navigating schedule constraints to care for your pet during work hours or nights out, or finding a building that doesn’t impose breed or weight restrictions. When I observed the dramatic spike in dog adoptions during the pandemic, I began to investigate if we could develop a materially better approach to multifamily housing to better meet the needs of both dog owner residents and their dogs.
We began by identifying all of the practical and emotional pain points that dog owners encounter when living in apartment buildings. We then set out to design a comprehensive solution that not only addresses and solves these pain points, but is hyper focused on creating the best place on the planet for dog owners to live. By incorporating innovative and dog-focused features and technology within every apartment, alongside a collection of shared pet amenities and services that promote convenience at each property, Fidus Pet Concierge Communities solves the need for more hands-on pet care. We are currently operating two Fidus locations — Cross Creek at Grapevine Ranch in Grapevine, TX and Equinox on the Park in Garland, TX. Additionally, we plan to acquire and renovate four to six more properties in the Dallas area over the next 24 months in advance of a larger market rollout across the Sunbelt.
At Fidus, we’re able to provide our residents with schedule independence, so they don’t feel the need to rush back to their apartments to care for their dogs — we meet these needs for them while they’re away. Every apartment features a doggy door that directly leads to either a private fenced yard or a dog-safe balcony/patio with a porch relief system, as well as a pet-focused tech package to help address pet parents’ concerns when away from the apartment. Additionally, we’ll soon open the first Fidus Care Center, an on-site pet concierge that does not exist anywhere else in the multifamily sector. These centers — the first of which will open at Equinox on the Park — offer services that include onsite doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, dog walking and in-unit feeding, all of which can be requested via the Fidus mobile app.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Fidus Pet Concierge Communities solves one of the biggest dilemmas for dog owners in multifamily housing, which is the issue of breed and size restrictions that unnecessarily discriminate against certain dogs. Our apartments do not have any blanket breed or weight restrictions. Instead, the new resident application process includes in-person temperament tests for each dog, ensuring that every pet resident is friendly. Aggressive dogs are not permitted, regardless of breed or size.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person who’s made the greatest impact on my mindset and approach to business is my father. He was raised by a single mother and grew up economically disadvantaged. In the 1950s, the way to get out of this type of situation, especially in Brooklyn, New York, was to become a lawyer, doctor, or dentist. And so my father became a dentist, before he was drafted during the Vietnam War and stationed in San Diego.
My father recognized California’s potential for growth and took this opportunity to grow dental practices by cutting bulk volume deals with unions. By keeping his dental practices open until 10 p.m., he developed a business model that caters to union workers. This way, union workers didn’t need to take time off from the workday for appointments. My father built these dental practices and would then sell them. By keeping the land beneath the practices, he was able to expand into multifamily. In my opinion, this is an incredible example of recognizing a customer segment that isn’t having their needs met, envisioning a better alternative, and leveraging it into a very successful business.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.
- Customer expectations are very low. In this industry, it’s expected that you’re going to lose half of your customers every year. When you start digging into that annual churn, you’ll find that 50% of residents leave because they’re unhappy. They don’t see value or a solid reason to stay. The multifamily industry is one of the largest industries in the U.S., and it still hasn’t successfully differentiated customer segments through a variety of targeted service and product offerings. The opportunities that exist here are very compelling.
- Bringing tech to the real estate industry is exciting. I believe that bringing technology to the real estate industry presents an incredible opportunity to change the business. We have incorporated artificial intelligence within every one of the Fidus apartment units. If a resident is away and their dog is barking or in distress, they’ll receive a text alert. Being able to use technology to drive higher customer satisfaction through the reduction of worry and anxiety is a massive opportunity in the industry right now.
- Rebuilding “community”. As a country, we are polarized between the right and the left, and it’s become extremely difficult to find common ground between the two parties. However, one of the topics that nearly everyone loves and can converse about is dogs — they’re social icebreakers. Being able to use the strength of our customer segment and their love of animals to build communities and relationships among residents is quite rewarding.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.
- Most of the industry is undifferentiated. It’s strategic analysis 101. In order to generate superior returns, you must either have the lowest operating cost in the industry or you must have a differentiated product and service offering that targets a well-defined customer segment. Since the vast majority of the industry is undifferentiated, owners attempt to generate returns by cutting costs and reducing services. This is the main reason the multifamily industry has poor customer satisfaction.
- Gather customer feedback more frequently. We’re starting to see some of the hospitality industry’s best practices come into play in multifamily. Conducting regular surveys and check-ins with customers and asking what they would improve and why, is critical to success. I would suggest conducting these surveys anonymously, as people are usually more willing to divulge their true feelings this way. Finding new opportunities to source customer feedback is a very powerful tool that the industry would benefit from adopting.
- Be current/understanding of how trends are changing, especially among Gen Z and Millennials. Recognize how trends are changing. Consider the Gen Z and Millennial segments in terms of the ways they live, socialize and how they want to be serviced. Design compelling solutions for the current renter, don’t be complacent and resort to using your same strategy and playbook from 2002.
What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?
It’s important to have a well-defined culture and to set expectations for what this culture is going to be from day one. If the culture is data-driven, where people prefer to make decisions based on data and available information, it’s important to communicate this approach during the interview process and to be able to demonstrate its effectiveness.
It’s also imperative to promote work/life balance to ensure that your company’s employees remain effective, productive and efficient. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to work seven days a week or after hours on a regular basis — that’s not a sustainable culture. Encouraging a “work hard while on the clock” and “unplug when off the clock” approach is key to creating a culture that your employees will embrace.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Be sure to look at the overall trends when considering a real estate investment — what you’re buying and why you’re buying it. I look for structurally attractive locations, which is usually dictated by growth. This can be determined by a location’s net migration data and understanding what is driving that growth. One of the things that I like to track is business relocations and understanding if something is a fad or a trend. For the launch of Fidus Pet Concierge Communities, Dallas was a very attractive business environment for us, as there has been a steady stream of corporate relocations to the city.
- In terms of real estate, you need to understand the financials. Don’t just look at an income statement, you need to move beyond the what to get into the why. For example, why did you outperform on certain lines? Why did you underperform on certain lines? Which ones are manageable and which ones are unmanageable?
- Get to know your customers. For some reason, there’s not a ton of contact between property owners and residents in this industry. There is usually a property management company that sits in the middle and as an owner, you hear things second or third hand. This is problematic because you often don’t know there’s a problem until an online review surfaces, typically for an issue that could have been avoided all together. This is why we prefer to interact with our customers directly and receive their feedback without any filters.
- In terms of real estate, try using the old Wayne Gretzky adage: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.” When you’re thinking about where you want to build or acquire your next location, you want to look ahead five years to understand why this location is going to be more attractive than it is today. For example, a new highway could be coming, businesses are relocating to the area or mass transit options are in the works. Think not only about what’s super attractive today, but what’s going to be even more attractive in the coming years.
- Dogs are good! Did you know that over 50% of apartment residents in their 30s own dogs and this figure is expected to increase? The industry would benefit from not only tolerating residents with dogs, but actually supporting them by incorporating more supportive services and amenities.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want to demonstrate that there’s a win-win for building owners and residents who own dogs. This would enable the opening of hundreds of thousands of more units that cater to dog owners, preventing many animals from being forced into shelters unnecessarily, and effectively decreasing the euthanasia rates.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: Jason Hartman is the Founder and CEO of Empowered Investor. Jason has been involved in several thousand real estate transactions and has owned income properties in 11 states and 17 cities. Empowered Investor helps people achieve The American Dream of financial freedom by purchasing income property in prudent markets nationwide. Jason’s Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ is a comprehensive system providing real estate investors with education, research, resources and technology to deal with all areas of their income property investment needs. Through Jason’s podcasts, educational events, referrals, mentoring and software to track your investments, investors can easily locate, finance and purchase properties in these exceptional markets with confidence and peace of mind.
Starting with very little, Jason, while still in college at the age of 19, embarked on a career in real estate. While brokering properties for clients, he was investing in his own portfolio along the way. Through creativity, persistence and hard work, he earned a number of prestigious industry awards and became a young multi-millionaire. Jason purchased a California real estate brokerage firm that was later acquired by Coldwell Banker. He combined his dedication and business talents to become a successful entrepreneur, public speaker, author, and media personality. Over the years he developed his Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ where his innovative firm educates and assists investors in acquiring prudent investments nationwide for their portfolio. Jason’s sought after educational events, speaking engagements, and his popular “Creating Wealth Podcast” inspire and empower hundreds of thousands of people in 189 countries worldwide.
While running his successful real estate and media businesses, Jason also believes that giving back to the community plays an important role in building strong personal relationships. He established The Jason Hartman Foundation in 2005 to provide financial literacy education to young adults providing the all-important real world skills not taught in school which are the key to the financial stability and success of future generations. We’re in a global monetary crisis caused by decades of misguided policies and the cycle of financial dependence has to be broken, literacy and self-reliance are a good start. Visit JasonHartman.com for free materials and resources.