As condo and single-family sales stall out, the only people smiling seem to be apartment owners. The rental sector fought through a few tough years at the beginning of the decade. Now, with diminished competition from for-sale housing in many markets, the apartment business is enjoying a resurgence.

Higher demand has a downside, though. Apartment executives are searching far and wide to find talented employees to develop and manage properties as their business grows. In the past, apartment REITs and large private players usually stole talent from within the industry. But now they're venturing into other industries, including the single-family and hotel businesses, in search of labor.

“Access to people is a challenge,” said Tom Toomey, president and CEO of United Dominion Realty Trust, a REIT headquartered in Denver., at the MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE Conference in Las Vegas in October. “Companies are bidding up the price of talent.”

Toomey specifically points to a need for development talent, which could lead them directly to home builders' staff. “We didn't do a lot of development for 10 years,” he said. “There's young and old [development talent], but no middle group.”

Apartment execs could alleviate some of the need for on-site and administrative personnel by looking to technology. With more renters going online to find and lease units, the Internet provides one avenue to cut payroll costs. That could minimize the number of leasing agents needed on site, according to Toomey and Connie Moore, president and CEO of BRE Properties, a REIT headquartered in San Francisco.

Those employees who remain will have to be prepared with the round-the-clock demands of today's renters. “People will have to be on site 24/7,” Moore said.