Last modified on July 13th, 2020
By Brittany Benz
In the residential leasing world, May through September are known as leasing season—with July and August typically seeing the most volume. To make the most of leasing season, property managers, leasing teams, and marketing managers need to be ready for increased demand and commit resources to encourage lease renewals. Of course, the pandemic has changed the way the 2020 leasing season is operating, but the best practices for successful leasing remain the same. Here are some leasing season strategies that will give your team an edge, before and during leasing season.
Before Leasing Season
1. Prep Your Team
A well-prepared team can make all the difference during the busy months. If you’re short staffed, then invest in hiring or cross-training new team members well before leasing season, so they’ll have plenty of time to get ramped up and ready. One way you can optimize the onboarding process for new hires and ensure consistency is to implement a software with built-in training. Guided workflows standardize each step of the process, reducing the associate’s ramping time and ensuring company standards are followed every time.
Leasing season isn’t the time to cut back on your training budget. According to the Center for American Progress, the direct cost associated with replacing an employee is roughly 20% of the employee’s salary. Protect your human assets. Make certain that all team members have access to technology and training before the surge.
Whether you have on-site maintenance teams or work with third-party vendors, review procedures to ensure tools, supplies, and adequate staff members are available to respond to every situation. Also, consider extending leasing agents’ hours during peak rental season — the extra investment can really pay off in leads.
In addition, if your team is working remotely or distributed across a large region, check out these strategies for improving engagement, boosting productivity, and reducing turnover.
2. Put Your Property’s Best Foot Forward
You’ve heard it a hundred times, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” After rent price and apartment features, 54% of renters said the community’s appearance played a role in their decision to visit a community, according to the NMHC / Kingsley Associates Renter Preference Report. Before leasing season, be sure to spruce up your property since traffic from prospective residents should increase significantly.
Invest in a property-wide deep cleaning, and address any maintenance issues that have been put off.
Walk the property from a prospective resident’s point of view. Check for small cosmetic improvements that make a big difference in curb appeal.
Right before leasing season might be the time for that overdue paint job. In addition, you should take care of landscaping chores, preventive maintenance, and check your roofing, gutters, and downspouts. If you have a pool or barbeque, make sure they are clean and maintained. Overall, you want to ensure a great overall first impression for your property.
Prior to leasing season is also a good time to consider creating some new spaces to add value. For instance, based on the NMHC / Kingsley Report, 79% of renters are interested in having a recycling area and 72% are interested in having an outdoor barbecue space when it comes to community amenities.
3. Prepare Descriptive, Enticing Listings
Great listings lead to more prospects and increase the likelihood that you’ll fill your vacancies as quickly as possible. It’s important to be very thorough with unit descriptions, photos, and videos to achieve success.
Consider hiring a professional photographer to capture your spaces and deliver high-quality images. If writing isn’t your strong suit, seek the assistance of a freelancer or marketing agency to ensure your properties’ messages are informative and compelling.
All of this information should be available to prospective renters on your own professional and modern website, in addition to third party listing sites.
Put technology to work for you to reduce the amount of time (and potential errors) you’d spend if you were to upload all of your images to various third-party sites. AppFolio’s One-Click Vacancy Posting is a tool that allows you to maintain consistency across all listing sites, saving you time and minimizing negative customer experiences on the other side of the screen.
4. Embrace Virtual Leasing Tools
In today’s era, you need to be prepared to meet prospective renters’ expectations for convenience and self-service. Technology that enables virtual leasing is more than just a nice-to-have — it’s an absolute essential.
You can reach more prospective renters by providing self-guided, virtual tours they can access on their own time and from the comfort of their own environments. You can also take advantage of virtual showings to show properties to interested renters without meeting in person.
For qualified renters, offering self-guided tours with access to the property via a lockbox is another great option. Check out these tips to make sure that self-guided showings are a win-win for both your and your leads.
5. Check Up On Your Application Process
If you don’t currently offer the ability to apply for your vacancies using an online application, it’s time to seriously consider it; more than half of rental property managers report an expectation by renters that they can fill their applications out online. Most renters expect to be able to apply online and prefer not to drive all the way to your property to turn in a piece of paper.
Besides offering a more convenient application situation for future renters, online leasing solutions streamline the rental process from beginning to end. When you utilize technology, you can access online tenant screening, e-applications, and digital signature options that allow residents to sign the lease immediately after viewing.
The more upgraded your leasing technology, the better the process will be for everyone involved. You’ll be able to screen residents and attract more qualified leads, and your renters will enjoy a seamless, convenient online experience.
6. Review Your Screening Process
When you’re screening a prospective new resident, it’s important to look at them objectively not subjectively. In order to comply with Fair Housing laws, it is best to create an objective criteria that defines a new applicant as acceptable or not. This criteria can include credit score or previous rent payment history, but cannot include protected statuses like race, gender, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, or religion.
The turnaround on tenant screening is faster than ever before, and results come with much more detail than they did previously. Credit, eviction, and/or criminal screening packages are available depending on your needs.
By using an objective criteria to qualify new renters, you can protect yourself from potentially bad renters as well as lawsuits. Keeping a record of the data used to make leasing decisions will show that you do not discriminate or are in violation of Fair Housing laws.
7. Review Your Leasing and Addenda Language
Every year, state and federal regulations for housing change, and these amendments can have a dramatic impact on how you run your business. You might need to adjust your leasing and addenda language to account for new Fair Housing laws or updates to local or state requirements. Failure to comply with these new changes can result in a possible lawsuit, so it’s important to stay up to date on all rental requirements. Be sure to check federal and state resources online or consult an attorney if you’re unsure about what needs to be updated.
During Leasing Season
8. Stay on Top of Pricing
A smart pricing strategy is one of the best ways you can fill vacancies faster. If your properties are priced too high, you run the risk of losing to the competition. Too low, and your ROI will suffer.
Many property managers still call around for rental comparisons within their area to find an accurate price. A revenue management system with a sophisticated pricing algorithm can do this for you (and give you more accurate data). By pairing your rental units against comparable units in the area, these tools will tell you if you should raise or lower your rent for your properties.
If you’re comparing your property to others on the market, make sure you only compare your units to those that are similar. Additionally, your pricing should reflect property amenities, nearby attractions, and any updates you’ve made in the past year — and of course, current market conditions.
9. Don’t Forget About Renewals
During leasing season, you should be focusing on your current residents, too.
The nationwide average cost to a property owner for every resident that chooses to leave is about $3,900. Check out the Multifamily Insiders Apartment Turnover Cost Calculator to determine your actual resident loss costs. Resident retention should be your number one priority, especially during leasing season since it has a major impact on your cash flow and property asset value.
Resident retention is very dependent on resident satisfaction. Residents who are satisfied with your property management company will be likely to renew their lease and stay with your community, but maintaining resident satisfaction is a year-round effort. Review service requests to determine patterns or areas of constant concern that you can address. Listen to resident feedback, keep the lines of communication open, and work at building a healthy community environment. Staying responsive to issues reported by current residents builds stronger relationships, which will hopefully encourage higher retention rates.
In a study conducted by AppFolio and John Burns Real Estate Consulting, respondents revealed that 84% of property managers say they communicate effectively with their residents, yet only 38% of residents agree. This gap leaves a huge window of opportunity, especially when you’re trying to reduce turnover rates in your properties.
Effective communication can help you retain your best residents and attract better prospects. Today’s renters want to communicate with their property management company through online and mobile tools. In fact, when asked how renters would prefer to contact management, 60% said via mobile app, based on the NMHC / Kingsley Associates Report. One way you can rise to meet their needs is to offer an online resident portal, where renters can submit maintenance requests, pay rent, and ask questions. In addition, you can send out monthly surveys to gain valuable insights and feedback from your residents on areas where you can improve. By listening to your renters you can decrease resident churn, boost your ROI, and improve your customer experience.
10. Keep an Eye on Your Marketing ROI
Knowing which advertising channels bring in the most renters can set you well ahead of the competition and help you fill vacancies faster.
When considering how to spend your marketing budget for each property, be intentional about where you spend your money and track whether or not those marketing channels attract renters. Accurate lead source attribution is absolutely critical for understanding this.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to invest more heavily in the marketing channels that have led to more signed leases in the past, and cut down on your spend in channels that haven’t yielded as many conversions.
11. Respond Quickly to Incoming Leads
Leasing season can leave your team feeling overwhelmed with emails and calls, but if you don’t respond to renters as quickly as they expect, you’re likely to lose them to your competition. This is why it’s important to streamline your workflow to ensure your team is as responsive as possible. According to a study by Zillow, 71% of renters who ask property managers about a listing expect to hear back within 24 hours.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an excellent way to improve response time and free up your team to focus on providing higher levels of service to more serious leads. AppFolio’s AI Leasing Agent, Lisa works around the clock to thoughtfully respond to each and every renter and automatically book showings so you can fill vacancies faster.
With these tips, your rental properties will be prepared for leasing season and your prospective residents will soon be knocking at your door.