Category: Property Management
Air Date: 8/2/2021

In todays episode of #RitterOnRealEstate, we sit down with Debra Wyatte, Chief Experience Officer at Cecilian Partners. 

Debra brings well over a decade of customer experience expertise working with community developers, production home builders, and Homeowner Associations. 

Having worked with over 100 MPC’s across the country, Debra leverages trends in design, operations, and programming that improve resident engagement. Through strategic social programming and planning she brings to life community pillars and/or developer visions like health and wellness 

Debra holds a Bachelor of Science in Park and Recreation and Tourism Management from Indiana University. She is an active member of the Urban Land Institute on a national and local level. She is a member of the Community Development Council (CDC) Green, ULI’s Health Leader Network, and Building Healthy Places Committee in Colorado. 

Key Topics In This Episode: 

  • Debra’s background planning events and creating experiences.
  • How Debra Wyatte got into community development
  • Connecting with consumers and understanding their journey. 
  • Creating interactive experiences for potential tenants.
  • How to capture and understand consumer insights.
  • Technologies impact and role on Real Estate in the future.
  • Developing Humanistic approaches to dealing with the consumer. 



DW [0:00] 

Because if you’ve created a good experience, you know that hype of all the marketing that’s been there, you know, the experience of living there has created this value to them and they see it, they’re more than likely going to move with you and through their, you know, Home Buying and where they live process. 

KR [0:17] 

Welcome to Ritter on Real Estate, the show about how to passively invest like a pro. On each episode, I interview real estate experts to give their top investing advice, strategies and tools, they break down insights into practical steps to avoid the pitfalls and make better investments. I want to help you passively invest like a pro. This is Ritter On Real Estate. I’m your host, Kent Ritter. 

Hello fellow investors, welcome to another episode of Ritter on Real Estate where we teach you how to passively invest like a pro. Today, my guest is Debra Wyatte. Debra is the chief experience officer at Cecilian partners, Debra brings well over a decade of customer experience expertise, working with community developers, production home builders, and homeowner’s associations. Debra, thank you so much for being here today. 

DW [1:05] 

Yeah, thanks, Ken. I appreciate it. And looking forward to our conversation. 

KR [1:09] 

Yeah, absolutely. So, Debra, you know, I understand, you know, your background kind of coming into this, you know, you’re at the forefront of Prop tech and kind of  this buzzword that’s exploring the industry and all these different applications of technology. And I definitely want to dig into those. But before we do that, give our listeners a little understanding of where you come from and your background and how you’ve gotten to where you are today. 

DW [1:37] 

Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m born and raised, I am a Hoosier at heart. But my background really started in kind of creating experiences and memories for people. So got my degree from Indiana, and Parks and Recreation with the focus of tourism and just kind of happened to land into the real estate realm, mainly for planning events, and that social fabric, help people engage in communities, leverage the amenities and packages that are there to essentially have a better life and live their lives to the fullest. And so, join Cecilian Partners to really kind of lead the charge as their chief experience officer and helping community development across the country, whether it’s single family from a master plan community side or in your listeners case, kind of that multifamily aspect of how-to kind of identify ways to connect consumers to their property from a storytelling aspect. So that customer journey, how to make sure that all of those various aspects are connected throughout the whole process, as well as identifying ways to really use technology to benefit not only you as the investor or the developer of that project, but also from the consumer side to create that better experience. 

KR [2:53]

Gotcha. Sounds fascinating. So, when you talk about from a storytelling standpoint, like, what does that mean? Can you give us an example? 

DW [3:03] 

Yeah, so if you think about the memories you create, there’s typically a story around it. And when you’re looking for a place to live, or a place to kind of set up your office and kind of have that aspect. 

Storytelling really is connecting those elements of the emotional piece to it. And so, if there’s particular elements of you know, your project that you’re really trying to kind of set yourself apart from so whether it maybe it’s the from a sustainability side that you’re trying to kind of lure consumers in, in your efforts there, or you’re promoting health and wellness or that social connection, options of amenities that you’re offering. You know, you have gyms, you have a cafe, you have concierge services, connecting that into the consumer through storytelling and leveraging that dynamic of creating a story of how they’re going to live once they’re there. 

So really trying to connect all of the various elements of your project to consumer based, how they’re going to experience post purchase, or post lease up. 

KR [4:07] 

Gotcha. So okay, so the way I’m thinking about this is, instead of just having on your website, like, like, we typically do, like, hey, we have a pool, we have a fitness center, we have a dog park, right? 

You’re hey talking about actually, like, are you creating a story around those so that the person can kind of visualize themselves there or, or how do you create that story around like, the fitness center, for example?

DW [4:36] 

Yeah, so great, great question. If we think about, you know, a picture’s worth 1000 words, how, how impactful is, you know, being able to explore and navigate something that actually interacts with you and video content, right. 

So, if we think from the aspect of like a gym, and let’s say you’re in a multifamily project, And there’s multiple buildings. But you know that there’s a gym. If I were looking at multifamily, I love gyms. I work out just about every day. So, I’m gonna want to pick a unit or pick the building that actually has the gym in it. So, it’s more convenient for me. So, I don’t have to walk out in the rain at five in the morning. Sutter Show is able to help that consumer identify within that project, through storytelling through interactive tools, like a map, for example of how they’re actually going to get from one place to the other? What is that? What’s that going to feel like, maybe I don’t, maybe gyms aren’t for me, and I’m good with just some images and kind of like a virtual tour, that’s still important for the from the consumer aspect from the, you know, I can have it at some point when I’m ready, it’s there, right. 

But if there is a consumer that’s really trying to make those efforts, and that’s an alert to them, having them be able to figure out how that’s going to actually interact in their day to day is really important. 

KR [6:01] 

Gotcha. So. So the idea is that as we’re so from marketing our properties, for example, right to prospects, not just not just as I said, kind of just stating the facts that like, we have a fitness center, and like here, here’s a picture of it. But you’re, actually the goal is to create kind of an interactive experience. So, they can, I don’t know whether it’s a 3d tour, maybe is one way to do that. Right? And there’s probably other ways. 

DW [6:30] 

Yeah. So, if you think about, you know, having kind of the project on paper, right? How can you kind of bring those various elements to life, the nice thing is, if you kind of have that be an interactive tool, you can actually track where consumers are going and what they’re looking at. And so, if you’re making a big push on, you know, that your dog friendly, are consumers really going and checking out where that dog park is? Or is it just kind of a hit or miss. So that way, you kind of take those insights from what consumers are actually looking at, from your current project and identifying, you know, maybe we should in our next building have another area because everybody seems to be targeted towards this, like, small little pocket, pocket park or amenity outdoor grill section. And we’re seeing that consumers are using it really, really heavily. So, to continue building on that momentum, let’s add another one versus, you know, another thing that you think you need, right, because you aren’t necessarily gravitating towards it when they’re looking right. 

KR [7:35] 

So this is not about just advertising what you have, it’s also about deciding what amenities you should have on your property right, using this consumer data? I think that’s really interesting. Because right, using oftentimes, you know, we try to, like we’ll do it, we’ll do a survey of residents for right, for example, like, like we have ideas going in. But when you’re first looking at a property, you don’t really understand the demographics of the people who live there, you’re looking at the building and the condition of the building and things. And it’s not really until you get in too much later in the process that you really start to, like, see the leases and understand, you know, even just ages of people, number of families, things like that pet number of pets, things like that. 

So, so we’re often guessing, I guess, on the front end of like, these are like the common types of things we do, whether it’s, you know, fitness center, dog park playground, right, but right, using you’re talking about really using, like, customer data to drive those decisions. So how do you? How do you go about capturing that type of information? 

DW [8:43] 

So there’s various organizations out there that will help you kind of get a sense for the market if you’re new to it, right. But I think for a local developer investor, that kind of can pull from their other markets, or from their other projects is really where that kind of those real grasp of consumer insights can come into play. And then once you’re getting ready to launch, you can kind of track obviously, on your website, who’s actually looking where they’re coming from, are you seeing a big flux of people from a particular market that you weren’t even trying to target? You know, why is that? Or are they coming from a particular suburb of let’s say, in Indianapolis, there’s this migration from Greenwood up north or what have you? Why, like what kind of marketing efforts can you do to help kind of continue to push those trends from a consumer side, as well as identifying, you know, let’s say you’ve got a particular market that you’re trying to go after, and you’re just not connecting with them. You know, or it’s you know, you’re trying to focus more on empty nesters, you know, kind of that older demographic, but they’re just not there. 

So, identifying why that’s the case and leveraging you know, those information from Kind of a holistically from a market standpoint and really comparing it to your real information? time data that you’re capturing through various platforms of technology. 

KR [10:12] 

Yeah, no, I love the idea of because I feel like we, when we are looking to acquire a property, we are, we’re looking at all those things, right, we’re looking at, because we want to find, like the markets, and then the sub markets, and then the property in those sub markets that that we think are going to perform the best. So, we’re doing all of this, this market survey data, right? We’re looking at all these things, we’re looking at migration trends, and demographic patterns and things but so, when we’re actually marketing the properties, once we have the property that we’re actually setting out to, like, attract people to the property, I feel like it’s so it’s so much less sophisticated, right? 

You know, and, and it’s really just okay, we’re going to create, we’re creating the website that’s going to have, again, these things listed on it, we’re going to talk about them. And we’re going to do, you know, kind of standard advertising practices and things. But I think what you’re describing is taking that same level of sophistication that we are doing to acquire, right? And using that to attract residents to your property and create leads for your property, right? 

DW [11:18] 

Yeah. And in really kind of leveraging that in the initial phase, but then using that kind of as your base. Right? So, we decided to create these various elements and amenities for a particular demographic, and make sure that you’re actually attracting that demographic. And if you’re not, what demographic? Are you attracted? What are they interested in? And so, the idea of, you know, there’s always upfront and excitement and having all that information to actually decide which projects you’re going to go with. And like you said, you start it and you kind of like, was that marketing effort worth it? Or is it just a hot market? And we just can’t keep up, period? But you know, what we really try to encourage is yes, especially right now, the market is hot, right? Like, anybody can sell just about anything anywhere. 

However, if the market starts to tick down, what data and what information is out there? You know, how have you empowered those sales reps or leasing agents to kind of really connect with the consumer. So, you can keep that momentum, if there is a downshift? At some point, which we know there will be? 

KR [12:27] 

Right, right, exactly. Right. Yeah. Like you said, when everything’s going great, it’s fine. But you’re talking about how you are? Yeah, kind of how are you being really thoughtful about your marketing activities, right, and your advertising activities And I guess more generally, like, how are you interacting with, with your prospects? And I also take that to the residence on site, right? Because you’re creating, you’re always should always be creating an experience for them right. 

It’s not a and I guess the way I think about that is it’s not I mean, like signing up for a lease is a transaction, but it shouldn’t feel transactional, it should feel like they’re bought in your whole thing you bought it, you said at the beginning was like, you want them to be bought in emotionally to the property, right. And the way you bring them in emotionally is through storytelling. Right. Well, great, hey, I think I get it, yeah, we’ll talk more about how we start to implement some of these aspects because I really liked that idea. 

I just feel like this is something we’ve been looking a lot at is kind of, you know, marketing and gathering customer data. But I feel like the sophistication on the acquisition side is so great. And then as you go to actually market the property, there’s really a drop off there. So, I think there’s a lot of room to run. 

DW [13:39] 

Yeah, absolutely. And I think especially, you know, from a multifamily investor that has multiple projects, you know, if you think that you’re tailoring one to particular demographic, and that, you know, person that’s living there, or, you know, handful of people start to get older, and you’re actually trying to do, you know, a nicer, more luxury boutique, why not leverage those consumers based on the information that you know, on them to try to attract them to your next project. Because if you’ve created a good experience, you know, that hype of all of the marketing that’s been there, you know, the experience of living there has created this value to them, and they see it, they’re more than likely going to move with you, through their, you know, Home Buying and where they live process. 

KR [14:26] 

Gotcha. Yeah, I love that even if you have, for example, like multiple properties in a market that are maybe their different tiers or different classes, right, and kind of, but using all that data coming together, looking at that, you know, to be able to make decisions and there i think that could also impact feature acquisition decisions, right? If you’re saying okay, you know, what are because if you’ve got that data, you’ve got great data on the demographics in the market, you know, what’s working well, what’s not, you know, which locations are performing which are not and using that to drive like a data driven decision. 

Even for their next acquisition. So no, I think that I love what you’re talking about, I think it makes a lot of sense. And so, at. So, add Cecilia and I know you guys are kind of at the forefront of a lot of this, this prop tech that we talked about right. And I know that you in particular, Debra have written a few articles related to kind of where we’re going with prop tech, what does the future look like? So, I would love to get your perspective on it. Just, you know, what? Like, where do you see, I guess we’ll start at the top, where do you see? How do you see technology impacting real estate over the next several years? 

DW [15:39] 

Yeah. So, it’s interesting. And it’s, it’s a very big question. So, I’ll try not to just ramble on forever. But, you know, really, where I see technology coming into play, and new construction of real estate is, you know, from So, the aspect of being able to connect with consumers and leveraging data in real time, we’ve leveraged technology for a long time, you know, having websites having a social media presence, having, you know, various things and forms that people can fill out, that’s all been there. But if we think of technology, overall, holistically, the real estate industry is definitely lagging versus hospitality, versus travel, versus other big markets, retail, for example. And so, I think from a technology standpoint, and real estate, we need to leverage and look at what those other markets have been doing for a very long time, well over a decade, and kind of get up to speed. And I think from a prop tech and technology standpoint, in real estate, the last year has really pushed us as an industry to kind of get there faster, whether it’s for tours, or having people be able to go do a tour on their own via code to kind of check in that type of thing. 

But really, where we need to kind of connect the dots is on that experience side of technology and not miss out the human aspect of when somebody actually comes in to connect to Lisa, to make that purchase to find more information. You know, we still need to have that aspect, especially, you know, if we think of all the emotions that come into where you live. And so, I think from a bigger perspective, to answer your question, where do I think technology is going? I think it’s a tool. Honestly, that’s not going to replace all of the emotional elements and human interaction that happens. 

But I think it’s a tool that can actually enhance it, and make it more enjoyable, not only from the consumer aspect, but also from the individual that’s working with that transaction all the way through the person that’s investing in it to make better decisions. 

KR [17:46] 

Yeah, I completely agree with you. I think that human aspect doesn’t go away. But the hope is that the technology allows us to spend more time there, right, more of a humanistic approach, if you will, right. And because you’re removing a lot of the mundane, a lot of a lot of the repetitive tasks and things. So, what I mean, what are some of the ways, I think there’s, like you said, there’s a lot of room to run in real estate with different types of technology. But what are some areas where you see, maybe we’re getting it right, or we’re leveraging technology in a way, like you said over the last year, that has made that experience better for the customers. 

DW [18:28] 

So, one thing that I think has allowed it to kind of exponentially move forward is the idea of being able to tour without someone, you think of the aspect of, you know, finding a place to live, whether it be an apartment, a condo, or single-family home, you know, walking through with somebody is can be very uneasy, right, either, like constantly watching you and all that stuff. 

So, I think the virtual tour component, as well as being able to just kind of have the opportunity to look at items, figure out where you want to live from your couch. So, identifying ways that people can connect with you virtually first is really important, especially if you think of people who can work remotely. Now, there’s a lot more flexibility than there was even two years ago. 

And so, people have that ability, but that also means that they might be moving from across the country. So how are they going to find your property? How are they going to identify themselves there and see themselves there first, before they even walk into the door? And I think that’s where the industry has, has started to take steps towards. And I think over the next you know, two, three years, it’s gonna go leaps and bounds for those that are the true innovators, the ones that actually want to try to leverage this aspect and take it to the next level. 

KR [19:48] 

Yeah, I totally agree with you. So, we’ve implemented self-guided tours at self-guided several of our properties. Now we’re starting to expand out through the portfolio but I mean, the feedback has been great. And it is really, it’s probably the technology. I’m most excited about it. Because you see the ability to do a really good tour without having to have that person-to-person contact, right? It’s all curated through the phone, it’s similar to what you were talking about where are like to show up to the fitness center. And because there’s geolocation beacons in the building, it knows they’re at the fitness center. 

And so, you know, on the app, it’ll come up, and welcome to the fitness center. Here’s all the great things about the fitness center. And I just, I think that’s such a cool, one cool process. I think it helps people like you said, kind of, it removes some of that friction of the process. Like just like feeling awkward feeling like you’ve got to be with somebody being able to do it on your own schedule, like, both from scheduling, like when you want to go but also just the pace of the tour and spend time where you want to and not on the things that don’t really matter to you. I mean, maybe you love to swim, but you don’t ever use the fitness center. Right. But yeah, I think that’s had a huge impact. And I think it gets to allowing people to really like, visualize themselves living in the space, right. And I think those virtual tours have also been used like a Matterport, or like a Reiko ryko, or something. And you’re, you’re able to actually walk through and click through the property, or click through the apartment, you know, in standard, a different position and see the perspective from those different positions. I mean, those are things I think that have really helped, really helped, really made an impact on us and our leasing process. 

DW [21:39] 

Yeah, absolutely. And think of all the consumer information that you’re collecting on that, right. And so being able to know who’s, who’s doing those virtual tours remotely, where they are reaching out, when you can kind of care that message and their follow up, based on they looked at, I think that’s where that human element comes into play your employees to go, okay, we had somebody fill out all this information, here’s everything that they did from a journey so far that we’re aware of, they clicked on the gym, they’re interested in a two bedroom, two bath, they want to be on a higher floor, you know, and it looks like they’re coming from, you know, California. 

So, when you reach out to that consumer, you can be like, oh, I saw that you were interested and kind of connected with them. So that way, when they travel to your market to check it out, or what have you, they kind of feel like they already have a friend there. Because if you think about moving, yeah, It’s a big kind of appeal of all of the things that you’re used to where your grocery store is, where your local amenities are your friends, your family, etc. And so, to feel that comfort, kind of helps that emotional process of finding out where you’re going to live and where you choose to live. A little more joyful and a little bit. Yeah. 

KR [22:52] 

Yeah, I love that. I mean, I think it’s about making it like, you’re just able to add that kind of the human element to it, right, you’re tailoring the message to the individual. Like, I love the example, I think one of the one of the folks as we were setting up the self-guided tour technology, one at one of the folks from self-guided the company use this example of like, you know, in the process, they’re capturing pet information, you know, and then able to lead the follow up with, you know, how, you know, I hope you and Sparky are doing well. Right and, and enjoy the, you know, the time at the dog park, things like that. Like, I think that I think that that just adds a whole another element that’s going to set you apart. You know, if you maybe have toured several apartments and have everybody reaching out to you, the one that can be the more personal is probably the one that’s going to win out. And so, I think that’s so important. I think I like the idea of and I think this is where we have, we have room to still run I think some people probably naturally do it well have like, you know, read the notes and understand and tailor it to the person about but definitely not doing that in a systematic way, right to make sure that every time we’re connecting, where we’re using all the information that we’re taking in, you know, and really being thoughtful about how we how we reach out. I really liked that idea. 

DW [24:14] 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s important, right, if we think about, you know, moving forward at the, like we mentioned, the market is so insanely hot right now. And a lot of there’s just not enough time, there’s not enough time to respond. You know, you’re trying to hit deadlines and everything else. And so, a lot of that human aspect is, you know, kind of being pushed to the wayside. And I think that’s really where you know, those more successful projects and properties are really going to thrive is being able to just capture that and make sure that it is a good experience moving forward. 

KR [24:48] 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s awesome. Debra, I love your perspective and the idea of just focusing on the customer experience making it more humanistic using Storytelling to really build an emotional connection with the property from afar. Right? I think that’s so critical to differentiate yourself. But that’s great. Before I let you go, I want to move into our keys to success. got four questions, I’d like to ask you. The first one, which is a little, it’ll be a little different from your perspective. But I’m interested to hear your answer is, what is one question that every investor should ask their deal sponsor? So, the person that’s kind of, they’re investing with kind of running their deal? What’s one question that investors should be asking? 

DW [25:36] 

So one question that I think would be interesting is, you know, speaking of this topic of technology, right, what information what technology sources from a data standpoint, can that, you know, sponsor help you as far as to make your project successful. You know, can they leverage what they’ve seen in the industry as far as best practices and those types of things to really help you set up for success leverage technology and data to kind of make your project be the best that it can be! 

KR [26:07] 

Yeah, I really like that answer. I think that’s a clear way to differentiate in a market that is just more and more, just more, more and more competitive, right? And I think that technology piece is going to be a clear way to differentiate. So, what are you most proud of in your career? 

DW [26:29]

You know, I would say what I’m most proud of is that at my core, which is really, you know, bringing people together, I’ve always kind of found a way to do that, and kind of grown throughout the whole project. And so, for me, it’s always about, you know, creating these memorable moments and inspiring people to do so as well. And so being able to do that for 10 years, kind of on the master plan, community side, working through various elements of bringing that to life and seeing people interact, and now being able to kind of take it even to a bigger scale, you know, and leveraging technology to do that. And keeping the human element I’d say, is probably the most proud that I’ve been in and look forward to still being proud years to come So 

KR [27:14] 

Awesome. What books should everybody be reading? 

DW [27:16] 

So one that I’ve read recently is that the future is faster than you think. And it’s by Peter Dimittis, I believe I probably butchered his last name, but it’s really interesting, because he talks about various ways technology has, you know, impacted our day to days that we don’t even think about and how much it has over the last, like, even 20 years, and what the next 20 years is gonna look like. And so, it’s very interesting, from transportation to healthcare, to, you know, energy to housing and real estate, specifically, a whole bunch of good nuggets in there. So, I would highly recommend people read it, because it’s interesting. 

KR [28:02]

Very cool. Yeah, we’ll definitely check that out. And last, but not least, what is your number one key to success. 

DW [28:09] 

Um, I would say my number one key is consistency compounds. So, you know, if you think about what you’re trying to do, and goals that you want to achieve, I’m sure they’re pretty lofty. But if you can make small increment steps every single day, the ball will continue to roll. So, whether it’s on a personal level, where you’re trying to, you know, run your first 5k, half marathon or health from a health perspective, what you’re trying to do, every little action that you make every day, just kind of compounds on what is on each other. So, when you wake up in your living great, or you finally get to that goal of X amount in savings or having a bigger portfolio, you’re not just gonna wake up and it’s magically there 10 years from now. So, trying to keep those goals front of mind and make small consistent, consistent steps every day to kind of achieve those. 

KR [29:02] 

I mean, I think that’s fantastic advice. And often, those huge goals can feel overwhelming, right, as you said, but breaking it down into bite sized chunks can really help you just take action. And, and it also just sounds like I think about it as falling in love with the process. And not the outcome, not the outcome, right. And if you’re doing the right things, the outcome will come. Right, but so, it’s just about making sure you’re doing the right things every day. So yeah, I really appreciate that message. 

DW [29:29] 

Yup. Absolutely. 

KR [29:32] 

Awesome. Deborah, thank you so much for coming on the show today. If people want to reach out to you. They want to learn more about Cecilian Partners. How can they get a hold of you? 

DW [29:41] 

Yeah, so if you want to reach out to me, by all means I’m on LinkedIn so you can connect with me there. You can also learn more about Cecilian Partners that and there’s great resources and tools out there for you to either see our technology or just learn more about our approach to the customer experience. 

KR [30:00] 

Fantastic. Well make sure all that’s listed below. So, folks go down and click and get in touch with you and Debra Wyatte, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your knowledge with us today. 

DW [30:10] 

Thanks so much Kent. I appreciate it. 

KR [30:12]

Have a good one. 

Thanks for listening to another great episode of Ritter On Real Estate. Hit the subscribe button to make sure you don’t miss out on the content that will make you a better investor. Also visit for articles, videos and tools curated just for passive investors from next time. This is Kent Ritter with Ritter on Real Estate and go out and invest like a pro.