US Property Managers Make Clean Sweep to Combat Pandemic
Published Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Adding facial tissue in the restrooms. Using proven disinfectants rather than just environmentally sensitive products. Repeatedly cleaning elevator buttons, door handles and other frequently touched building fixtures.

Two major U.S. commercial real estate property managers say they’re operating under a new set of guidelines as health officials struggle to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, officially known as COVID-19, which has led to more than 4,200 deaths across the globe as of mid-Wednesday, according to the World Health Organization.

“This is outside the normal property management playbook,” Cary Fronstin, a principal at Foundry Commercial, said in an interview, “but it has become the new priority in property management.”

Foundry, of Orlando, Florida, and Houston-based Transwestern say they’re making sure to use appropriate disinfectants. Fronstin said Foundry, which manages about 35 million square feet of properties across the country, has suspended its "green-cleaning" in which workers use products that are environmentally sensitive but not necessarily tough on germs.

The firms also are increasing the cleaning frequency for elevator buttons, door handles, bathroom faucets and other common-area fixtures. Transwestern, with a property management portfolio of 220 million square feet in nearly 800 properties, is stocking restrooms with facial tissue, which traditionally has been supplied inside offices by individual employers.

“Simple measures like this can go a long way toward minimizing the spread of germs in an office building,” Blake Peterson, a senior vice president of Transwestern, said in an email to CoStar News. “Managers should also ask the hard questions, such as how long has it been since phone handsets, keyboards, copy/coffee machine buttons and light switches have been sanitized? In cash-sensitive properties, managers and tenants can consider diverting some stone-polishing funds toward sanitizing items humans touch.”

Fronstin said some of Foundry’s tenants have temporarily closed their offices and required employees to work from home. The burden on property managers is minimal, other than the occasional requests to assist with logistics or to help lost visitors, according to Fronstin.

Peterson said she expects telecommuting to become an even more accepted practice than it already is.

“As health concerns make public transit and travel less desirable, there will certainly be impacts,” she said. She added that a decision by social media platform provider Facebook to cancel a San Francisco conference because of coronavirus concerns in favor of teleconferencing options may become more common.

At the same time, Peterson said she can’t think of an equal substitute for in-person collaboration.

“If we can stay healthy and confident that our workspace is a safe place, I don’t anticipate a mass exodus from gathering around the water cooler – or is it kombucha now?” she added.

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