Last modified on May 21st, 2021
By Paul Bergeron
Wow. Things have really changed over the past 15 months. The world has changed. Our personal lives have changed. The apartment industry has changed. And the way we lease apartments has changed.
Will these changes stick? What new changes are on the way and what should we do about them?
Apartment expert Lisa Trosien presented insight into multifamily marketing and operations during AppFolio’s recent webinar, The future of leasing.
She offered advice about virtual and self-guided touring, spoke to resident trends that will impact leasing in 2021, provided tips for adopting new leasing technology, and shared why apartment communities must focus on personalization and building trust with prospective renters.
Virtual and in-person apartment touring options
Virtual touring is one thing that most apartment companies have adopted and continue to nuance to meet their prospective residents’ needs.
“You have to offer it,” Trosien says. “We’re finding that consumers (and residents) want choices. So, if you’re going to lease to them, you have to offer all methods: Virtual, live in-person, and self-guided touring.
“You can’t say, ‘Covid is over. I don’t have to do this anymore.’”
An AppFolio survey revealed that going forward, it’s likely renters will continue to expect to have a blend of both virtual and in-person leasing options.
However, you cannot underestimate consumers’ quest for social activity after more than a year of inflicted inactivity. Trosien says her sense is that renters are having tech fatigue from their daily lives and soon will want to break free.
“As we continue to come out of the pandemic, face-to-face touring is going to explode this year,” she said.
Trosien says, obviously, there will be some prospective residents who were hit particularly hard by the pandemic: They lost a loved one, a close friend became sick, they became sick. “And they will still act with the greatest caution when it comes to social settings. So, you must offer all touring options.”
Creating a great experience for prospective renters
Trosien emphasized the importance of training and strategy when it comes to these new types of tours.
“Don’t say you have self-guided tours if you are just handing off a key and a map to a prospect and saying, ‘Here. Go check it out.’ Don’t say you have virtual tours if all you’ve done is just given your leasing professional a phone and told them to go out and shoot something at your property without any training or guidance.”
When hiring for this new era, “make sure your leasing team members are comfortable in front of a camera,” she said. “They’ll need to be, as well as being well-versed in all social media channels.”
Touring options must be promoted on all your social channels and sent with links via emails, “but don’t attach a video to an email. The file will be too large and they’ll never get it,” she said.
(An aside, on the topic of social media, Trosien says, “TikTok’s use and popularity is really rising – and I’m not just talking about young people. Everyone’s on it. And Facebook is falling out of favor a bit.”)
Personalizing the tour experience
Personalizing tours is always a winning strategy.
Trosien stresses that it’s important to make sure you have high-value questions prepared to ask prospects during their virtual or in-person tour, based on what they have told you they are most interested in.
“If they tell you that the kitchen is top priority for them, begin the tour in the kitchen,” Trosien says. “Don’t simply follow the same tour path for every resident by starting with the front-door entrance.”
Then, during the tour, ask specifically about how the prospect likes the features that they said they are interested in. This way, the resident is selling your apartment to themselves through their own (hopefully positive) responses.
For self-guided tours, she mentions to be sure to include signage in the apartment home, and make QR codes visible so they can learn more, in other words, “Make it the ultimate experience.”
Trosien also offered more advice, including the following:
- Recorded virtual tours should not last more than two minutes. In fact, about 90 seconds might be the sweet spot, she said.
- When recording, make sure the toilet seat is down.
- Be sure the apartment is well-lit.
- Don’t wear shoes because they create noise distractions during the walk-through.
- Don’t wear a mask while recording the video. You’re in an apartment alone and wearing a mask will make it difficult for the prospect to understand what you are saying.
- Avoid wearing any clanking jewelry that could create noise and distract from the tour itself
- Include captions on your videos for ADA compliance.
- Post a visible “equal opportunity” Fair Housing poster on an apartment wall.
- Let them know that they can call you at the leasing office while taking their self-guided tours.
- And remember: the apartment is the star of the show, not the staff. There’s no need for a bunch of cameos from your onsite team in the video. If you want to introduce your staff in a video, that’s fine. Do it separately.
Finally, she says to focus on building trust with renters: “The rent payment is the biggest check these people will write each month. Make sure they feel smart about the decision they made to rent with you.”
Trends that will influence leasing in 2021
- Recent surveys indicate that renters are more interested in dishwashers, garbage disposals, the pantry, and the balcony. Make sure you point those features out. (FYI: Searches for outdoor decks are up 191%.)
- More and more residents are asking if they can have their TVs mounted to the wall.
- Talk about your management company. Describe them and the great things they will do to make residents’ lives in your community better.
- Social events today are mostly outdoor with social distance restrictions in place. People will gravitate towards outdoor activities, such as yoga classes and cocktail mixers.
- Communities that put caps on crowd size, interestingly, are seeing greater demand.
Adopting leasing technology
The C-suite doesn’t work onsite, yet often they are making the decisions about onsite technology, Trosien says.
“In some cases, I’ve heard of them choosing a platform that requires the same data to be inputted three different times,” she says. “Staff won’t like that and probably won’t do it. The technology your company has invested in will fail them. I spoke to one person who said their new technology needed 23 key strokes just to print a report. No.”
Trosien says the C-suite needs to get buy-in from the regional directors who can get it from the onsite staff.
Here’s some more advice Lisa shared about technology:
- When choosing software, ask your peers for testimonials.
- Let your boss know if your technology is not working.
- Stay away from “Flavor of the Month” technology. If it doesn’t solve a core business need, it’s not worth implementing.
A lot of change is coming. AI and automation are here to make your jobs easier, and not to take them from you. “The past 15 months has shown that this industry can pivot, and pivot quickly,” Trosien says. “You have to be nimble. It’s not just you that has changed, the industry and your customers have changed, too.”