The webinar with Jackie Ramstedt and our co-host Grace Hill was such a success that we had record high attendance and hit our maximum capacity of attendees! Jackie is an energetic presenter who offered many great ideas on what you can do to increase resident retention in your portfolio.   Some highlights from the webinar polling questions included an almost unanimous response from attendees that when it comes to monthly increases in rent, residents think that $25 (max) is still affordable and that residents consider same day service a quick and appropriate response to service requests.

And, of course we ran out of time so Jackie was gracious enough to answer questions from the audience:

How often should you send out resident surveys, and when should you send them out?
You should definitely survey people within the first 30 days to see if their “expectations” were met during move-in. Then, I recommend a “touch point” after 90 days to call the resident and ask how things are going.

If they have made a service request, it is important to confirm that the problem was fixed and that everything is good. About 120 days before your renewal goes out, you should send a “How Do You Like Living Here?” survey which asks them to rank their experience so that there are no surprises at renewal time. This also allows you to correct a problem well in advance of asking for that renewal increase.

Also post the results in your newsletters and with your company to show the performance of your on site efforts. CAUTION: Make sure that what you are posting for the world to see IS “improvement” and positive. If you receive negative feedback, this is your opportunity to correct it FAST!

Do you have any ideas on how to get the residents to respond to the surveys and return them back to us?
Have an incentive for them to send the survey back! Even if it is a discount or a “BOGO (buy one get one) coupon or a $5.00 gift card for gas, people want to be rewarded for taking time from their already busy schedule to fill it out. Also remember that the survey shouldn’t be more than 6 to 10 questions “tops” and can be done easily through a scale method of satisfaction, i.e “1 for worst, 5 for best”. Make sure to leave room for comments for those who DO want to tell you more than just a quick “score”.

How do you make things easier for the residents and keep them happy?
You need to know your residents, but reducing stress and increasing convenience is really the key. If you manage student housing or cater to a younger audience, then it is very important to make things fast and easy for them to access information as they prefer to communicate via email and be able to pay their rent online. If you manage housing for seniors, they may want some “face time” with you.

Having systems in place with a variety of options by which your residents can communicate and conduct their business with you when “you” aren’t around is VERY important to them. AppFolio’s resident portals gives your residents that advantage by allowing them to pay their rent on line even after your office is closed and it’s the last day to pay.

Everyone is on a “tight schedule” these days so you really have to balance between “too much contact” and people complaining that they never hear from you. Utilizing the “tools that are available” in our industry will help keep your residents happy!

How should we handle a resident that is paying $200 above current market rates and wants a rent reduction? We are focusing on moving forward from a down economy.
This is a real problem and difficult to actually answer without more specific information. With the economy the way it has been the past few years, our market rates have been all over the map! Obviously we don’t want to give the resident a $200.00 cut in their renewal, so start by researching just what was going on at the time they signed their current lease to be paying so much above the current market rate now. Sometimes it was because they had a longer lease term holding their rent amount “higher” all through the “bottom falling out of your local market area”. If you can’t reduce their rent…you might have to “increase” another floor plan to offset the pricing. You have to ask yourself….”Can I afford to lose this resident and gain another vacancy?”

How do you deal with a renewal that had a great concession from last year due to the recession?
This is much like the question on the rent being $200 ABOVE market rent. You need to educate your residents during the year. If you think that the rent is below market price, show them the market increases and offer to go a “percentage” on the difference in price from what they are paying now and what the current market rate is for their floorplan. Don’t forget about Fair Housing perceptions! Whatever you decide on should be based on “supply and demand” of a particular floor plan, NOT on the resident themselves. The key is to give the residents plenty of notice and remind them of the value in their current living situation in your market and document your monthly policies of why you are charging what you do for your renewals.

We are a new management company that has taken over a property that didn’t charge pet fees. On our renewal we are going to now charge $25 per pet. This is upsetting to current residents. What is the best way to explain it to them?

Anytime there is ANY change with a community, the residents will begin to complain about many things opening with the line, “But the old management didn’t do it this way!”

Question: Is this a “one time charge” or an added amount per month? Explaining just “why” you are charging for these pets now and what the money is going for while reminding them of the “costs” the company is incurring due to pet excrement removal, etc. Find out what is going on in your market area and what other properties are charging; typically it is higher than just the $25.00 you are charging, so they are actually saving money by living at your property.

We supply a maintenance survey with each work order. Is this to many times?
Not really, many companies even add a “fake invoice” stating that if you had to pay an outside person to do this service request it would cost “X” amount of dollars! But because you live here, it is part of what your rent pays for. Reminding your residents of the “value” of the service you provide is what gives credibility to your rental amounts AND to the professionalism of your service team.

However as with anything, if your response isn’t getting better, then maybe you should hold off a while, and start again in a month or so. Too much of anything regardless of its purpose, can have a negative impact.

Is there a time of year that is typically slow for most properties as far as leasing is concerned?
Sure, however trends vary from state to state especially when bad weather sets in…i.e. snow and blizzards in the northern states. Also depending on your resident profile, traffic and leasing can be very different from a normal conventional community to a student housing property. Overall, here is what most properties experience:

  1. Most trends follow the school year, meaning June, July and August seem to be the “most active” months for people.
  2. Once September comes and people settle in to their routines and school starts, traffic begins to slightly slow down and continues right through the end of the year with all the holidays.
  3. However, January, February, and March are typically the slowest times of year, again, depending what type of property you have and where you are located in the country. Talk with other properties in your market area.

My renewal notice looks as boring as your example! How do I make it look more inviting?
Think of it this way. This is the most important form of communication to your residents that shows your professionalism and pride. Purchasing really “good” stationary to print the letter on is a must. Even adding in a handwritten note with that “official” letter to give it an “individual” more personal touch is good.

What you say about them as a resident and how much you enjoy having them at your property is crucial. They want to know you “want them to stay” besides giving them the “official information” needed per your lease contract stipulations. Lastly, the “way” you send this letter makes a huge impact too. Of course, depending on how large your property is and how many you have on your staff makes a difference in your method. If possible, deliver the letter in person with a beautiful token of appreciation “gift” (one that your budget can afford). If you have been keeping in touch with them throughout their lease term, the “increase” should not be a surprise, and much easier of them to adjust to.

What is a good way to get residents involved in activities?
Make them plan it! There are always residents that want to be involved, so make good use of that, “Can I help?” offer from them. If possible try and find a “representative” from each building or floor (in high rises), to be the “go to” for resident activities. Build a “team effort approach” with the residents. After all they know what’s going on with their neighbors more than we do! Get them to spread the word and the excitement AND the volunteering to do things needed for the event. Residents helping residents…great way to get people involved!