Last modified on May 22nd, 2020
By Brittany Benz
COVID-19 has rapidly sped up the property management industry’s shift towards digital technology. With social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the industry has reached a tipping point, in which technology is now a requirement to carry out leasing processes safely and effectively.
According to a recent industry-wide survey, property management companies reported leasing as one of the most challenging workflows to complete remotely. While some markets may have recovered from the initial reduction in lead volume experienced in March, demand remains significantly below prior year levels, which means it’s even more important for property managers to make the most of every opportunity. Here are 5 ways you can leverage technology to optimize your leasing flow for the new normal:
1.) Use an AI Leasing Assistant
Attracting qualified residents and ensuring that leasing agents are following up in a timely manner is critical to the success of any leasing strategy. Based on research by AppFolio, a 1-1.5 minute response converts leads to showings 80% better than a 30 minute response. Now with 82.3% of property management businesses having at least some staff working remotely, responding to leads quickly and effectively has proven to be even more difficult.
An AI leasing assistant, like AppFolio’s Lisa, can fill in these operational gaps and allow leasing agents and prospective renters to continue with business as usual, while reducing in-person contact. From automatically scheduling showings and collecting guest cards, to responding to inquiries and pre-qualifying leads, Lisa ensures none of your leads go unanswered. Krickett Alexander, CEO of Minnix Property Management shared her team’s experience with Lisa during the pandemic, “Because of Lisa, which is the artificial intelligence brought to us by AppFolio, we’ve been able to transition to self-guided tours. And we still have full schedules.”
Here are some other ways our customers are leveraging technology to maintain their leasing operations:
2.) Maximize Your Listings
The majority of renters are no longer casually scheduling tours, which means those who reach out to you are probably more serious about renting an apartment and will want to see a lot more detail from your online listing. It’s imperative you create listings that cater to these serious prospects by capturing high-quality photos, videos, and writing specific and detailed descriptions to encourage as much interest as possible. For customers using AppFolio-powered websites, AppFolio has recently released a feature that enables property managers to embed interactive 3D models, making it easy for prospective residents to engage with available units and self-qualify at a distance.
Your listings should not only be visually appealing, they should also be priced appropriately. Consider using a rent comparison tool like RentMatch, which is built into AppFolio, that helps you quickly analyze your rental prices compared to other units of similar size and bedroom count in the same geographical area.
Once you have compelling images, video clips, and a description, you’ll have to upload everything to third-party listing sites. However, manually uploading each one of your listings can lead to errors, broken links, and ultimately a poor customer experience. Digital tools like AppFolio’s One-Click Vacancy Posting can allow you to post to hundreds of listing sites with a click of a button. Not only does this maintain consistency, it saves your team time, so they can focus on providing better quality service to more serious leads. Brian Hartsell of Key Property Management said his team has had great success in using this technology, “The service to deploy properties to various rental advertising sites has assisted in keeping our vacancy rates at less than 2% annually.”
3.) Embrace Virtual Showings
As COVID-19 continues to require people to maintain physical distancing, finding safe ways to show available units is a top priority for property managers. According to an AppFolio survey, 71% of respondents said virtual showings have increased in priority as a result of COVID-19. In response to this need, AppFolio has developed a new Virtual Showings feature, so customers can continue to show their properties and sign leases without meeting in-person. Virtual Showings enable property managers to complete live video walkthroughs of available units and to meet with prospective residents via video chat.
Virtual showings can be set up directly within AppFolio, so users don’t have to use their personal accounts to host the video or log into another tool like Zoom to set up the meeting and send an invite to the prospect. AppFolio’s AI Leasing Assistant, Lisa can automatically respond to interested prospects, schedule the Virtual Showing, and add it to both parties’ calendars, saving time and improving efficiency. Cambridge Management Group has already seen success in using this new innovation, “With Virtual Showings, it creates that seamless experience all the way through to prospects applying virtually. We’ve been, thankfully, really busy during and are still getting units rented. Having all of these options available [within AppFolio] has been key to managing it all during this time,” noted Chief Operating Officer, Kayla Röeder.
4.) Offer Self-Guided Tours
Once a prospect views the unit virtually and is serious about renting, you can offer them a self-guided tour as a final step before the lease signing. Self-guided tours are a great way to let prospective residents see the space, while limiting in-person interaction. Be sure to clean and disinfect the unit before and after each self-guided showing, and also provide safety gear, such as masks and gloves for prospects to wear while touring the unit. This way your customers will know you prioritize their safety and can view your property with ease.
AppFolio’s AI Leasing Assistant, Lisa can automatically schedule leads for self-guided tours, and you can either leave the unit open during business hours or incorporate digital lockboxes, like CodeBox, which creates a unique code for each prospect — only valid for a specific time.
5.) Complete the Process Online
If prospects can tour the unit virtually and ask questions via text message, it’s only logical they would prefer to fill out an application and sign their lease online. AppFolio’s cloud-based technology allows you to do all of this and more from the first touchpoint. With online rental applications and leases, property managers can create customized lease agreements and automatically merge renter information in a few clicks. Prospects can safely and easily pay their application fee online and e-sign their lease from anywhere, on any mobile device. “With prospects being able to rent online right from our website,” noted Jennifer Fischer of Skyline Property Management, “Our apartments are getting renters quicker.”
With the right technology you can optimize your leasing flow and provide an excellent customer experience, while keeping prospective residents and team members safe. Going forward residents will want self-service, no-touch digital options, even after the pandemic subsides. In fact, 64% of property managers believe virtual showings are here to stay (AppFolio survey). Those who embrace an entirely online leasing experience will be able to generate and convert leads into residents better than those who don’t. Invest in mobile technology now, and you’ll be better prepared for what comes next.
Comments by Brittany Benz