Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Competition: The Answer to a Successful Conservation Program

It seems everyone is looking for a way to reduce their energy footprint.  The EPA’s Energy Star program provides many tools to assist individuals and companies develop energy saving programs.  One of the most effective ways to reduce energy usage does not require an expensive new system, advisor, or hardware.  In fact, it is simply in promoting healthy competition across your organization.

Businesses Drastically Reduce Consumption
The EPA recently completed their Energy Star National Building Competition for 2012, which focused on schools, retail stores, and office buildings.  Approximately 3,000 groups participated in that competition, which lasted a year.  By the end of the year, those 3,000 businesses cut their overall energy expense by $50 million.  This reduction included reducing their natural gas consumption by more than 3 billion BTUs.

Simple Measures Yield Biggest Results
Many of the buildings involved did perform some capital improvements, but most of the changes included simple conservation steps, such as turning off computers, monitors, radios, lights, and other non-essential electronics when leaving the office, and lowering temperatures when people were out of the office (many installed programmable thermostats to bring the temperature to a comfortable level before employees showed up for work).

Easy Fixes – Identifying Unnecessary Waste
It turns out that when these groups started competing, they began to look closer at their behavior and their buildings.  They found lights, air conditioning, and heat left on overnight in buildings that were empty.  Merely paying attention can make all the difference.  These competitions did not set requirements that contestants needed to implement to reduce their energy usage. Instead, each building found innovative ways to collectively reduce their energy consumption, producing amazing results.

For the Multifamily Industry
For owners of an apartment community, promoting conservation in a building or across leasing offices can result in very real savings.  Two suggested types of competitions include:

Competition across communities – who can reduce their prior year’s consumption by the largest percentage?

 Resident Competitions – which unit can use the least amount per person?

Track your Data
Tracking this data can show what conservation opportunities are available.  This is especially valuable as it helps educate leasing office staff and residents on ways to reduce their energy impact, while reducing operating costs.

Energy Star
Energy Star is looking at multifamily buildings as a prime target for participating in competitions like these.  These competitions can be a fun way to bring the focus of how to reduce energy expenses to the people that matter most at multifamily communities - the community staff and residents.  Each effort made will better prepare communities for the 1-100 score that the EPA is planning to release later this year, currently estimated in December. 

Tell us your stories and successes; we would love to hear what you do and how it impacts your business.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tax Season Just Ended - But Conservice Continues to Find Tax Savings for Clients

One of the products that Conservice offers is our SyNTAX (Synergy+Tax) program.  Through this program, Conservice has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax over-payments on behalf of our clients.

Why are Communities Eligible for Tax Savings?
Some states (including Texas, Missouri, Florida, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and others) have enacted legislation permitting exemptions on sales tax for the residential use of electricity, natural gas, and other utilities.  However, in most cases these exemptions must be claimed before they can be applied.  Our SyNTAX team members research tax laws, and notify our clients when opportunities exist for savings in their portfolios.

Getting Started
Once a client has signed on for this service, SyNTAX auditors identify which properties and accounts have been paying sales tax.  They then check with the property manager to ensure that any accounts which are not eligible are removed from the application.  This is because many states require accounts to be exclusively or predominantly used for residential purposes.

SyNTAX Experts Apply for Refunds
Once the necessary information is obtained, our agents can then apply for an exemption and refund of sales taxes previously paid.  The amount of sales tax that can be recovered depends on the length of the statute of limitations in that state (normally three or four years) as well as how long a property has been paying sales tax during that period.  For properties with large utility bills, refunds can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars!

Overcoming Obstacles for our Clients
Complications and setbacks inevitably arise in the process of claiming and receiving refunds, but our agents are well-experienced in handling and overcoming these issues.  We work with state departments of revenue, service providers, account managers and clients to ensure that our clients receive the exemptions and refunds to which they are entitled.  We even obtain refunds for properties which might have been sold within the statute of limitations.  We also follow up periodically to make sure that any newly acquired properties also receive sales tax exemptions.

What Makes us Utility Sales Tax Experts
SyNTAX agents also monitor changes in tax laws and their interpretations.  In January of this year, for example, the Supreme Court of the state of Missouri reinterpreted a line of tax code in an advantageous way for our clients.  This opened up a new field of opportunity for us to pursue exemptions and refunds on behalf of our clients who have properties in that state.

Conservice is pleased to offer SyNTAX as one more service to better fulfill the needs of our clients while saving them money

Syntax Refund and Exemption Process

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Purchasing a Multifamily Community can be Complicated - Make an Informed Decision

When investing in a new apartment community, there is a lot to consider before making a final investment decision. Because utilities make up such a large portion of an apartment community's total expenses, they must be carefully analyzed and assessed so the potential new owner can fully understand the financial impact of utilities on the investment. Performing this kind of extensive research and analysis on a community prior to acquisition can be incredibly time-consuming and complicated.

Because Conservice specializes in utilities, we have the ability to provide a complete utility assessment for property owners looking to acquire additional residential communities. Evan Glickman, a financial analyst for Resource Real Estate, uses the CONFIRM Utility Assessment service provided by Conservice to gain an understanding of the aggregate historical utility usage at multifamily communities that Resource is looking to purchase. "It is very helpful when we are looking to understand a property with numerous utility accounts that would be very time consuming to analyze in-house." 

The CONFIRM Utility Assessment includes extensive analysis:
  • Breakdown of current utility costs and recovery rates, including vacant costs
  • Assessment of existing sub-meter equipment and possible capital improvements
  • Extensive expert regulatory review
  • Analysis of current utility billing program
  • Recommendations for conservation measures 
  • Consumption analysis and solutions to lower usage
  • Utility rates review
  • Budgeting
  • Comparison to other communities in the area.
A Kentucky community was recently assessed and it was estimated that utilities would account for over $365,000 in annual expenses. Here is a sample breakdown:

At this particular community, there was not currently a program in place to recapture the water expense from the residents. Conservice was able to provide valuable information to the client to demonstrate how a utility billing program could greatly improve NOI.

Because Conservice has access to utility data across the country, we are even able to provide benchmarking reports, comparing similar communities in the area to the community that our client is looking to acquire. This can help a client determine how energy efficient and cost effective the utilities are at the community, and it provides a useful target cost per unit for each utility.

The CONFIRM Utility Assessment report has been incredibly beneficial to Conservice clients. If you're looking to acquire any communities, consider a CONFIRM Report. Email for more information.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Conservice Infographic: Conservation Tips & Facts

When Dave Jenkins founded Conservice in 2000, he wanted to give the company a name that represented one of the company's main goals: provide a service that helps multifamily communities conserve utility expenses. Conserve + Service = Conservice

Conservation is important for a lot of reasons. I've noticed, however, that a HUGE incentive that encourages people to conserve is the money-factor. Everyone loves it when their utility bills go down, and conservation plays a huge role in keeping utility bills low.

I've created the below infographic on water conservation with some of the most helpful (in my opinion) conservation tips and interesting facts. Take a look and find out how you can reduce your next water bill.