10 Practices for Protecting Occupancy in a Down Market

Last modified on April 2nd, 2021

The past year has seen a dramatic change in living preferences that has left many multifamily properties with higher vacancy rates. It’s times like these that require operators to double down on efforts to protect occupancy. Here are 10 ways to do so. 

Increase marketing 

One of the most obvious ways to increase leasing is to increase leads. There are many ways to do this. Here are five quick ways to generate more leads:

  • PPC (pay per click): While not inexpensive, increasing paid search will get more clicks, and more clicks will generate more leads.
  • Social: Increasing your social media presence, with both paid advertising and by posting more often to your social media channels, will drive additional traffic to your website and thus increase conversions.
  • ILS (especially local): Internet listing services offer premium packages. Pay particular attention to ILSs that provide local information, like market trends and neighborhood observations.


This activity expends more “calories” than “dollars,” which may be why so few operators engage in it; but outreach is worth the time and energy. Reach out to local employers and other organizations to increase awareness of your community. Make a good impression and you will be on top of their minds for a referral should they come across someone looking for housing.

Resident referrals 

There’s no one better equipped to help you find new residents than your existing ones. Increase your resident referral incentives and/or increase promotion to residents about your resident referral program.

Shop your own website (and compare to your competitors)

Do you have great pictures? Is it easy for prospects to navigate and find availability and pricing? Is it easy to schedule a tour online? Do you have videos available? How about a YouTube channel with video tours of each available unit? A simple one minute tour using your phone’s camera can have tremendous impact! Look for ways to spruce up your website. It will pay dividends, especially in attracting younger residents.

Scrub up on sales skills 

Sales skills need constant “resharpening.” Send your team weekly tips and give your managers something to talk about in daily huddles. 

Review unit amenities 

We often find that unit amenity configurations are not accurate, or individual amenity prices are too high for the current market . This can make a unit much harder to lease. Also, keep in mind that in down times, prospects are often less willing to pay for the “nice extras.” So that walk-in closet that was worth $50 in the bull market may only be $25 today.

Make your tour path and empties sparkle 

Walk your tour path, model units, and vacant available homes every day. Do they sparkle?


One of the best tactics to help lease units is to mini-model some of them. For less than $100, you can bring the space to life with simple extras in the kitchen, bathroom or elsewhere. As an added incentive, tell prospects they can keep those items as a move-in gift should they lease.

Extend hold times 

Extend your hold time on vacant units to 14, 21 or even 30 days if you have enough vacancies to justify that. This allows a larger portion of the prospect pool to consider those homes without displacing future demand.

Offer value-added amenities 

Free parking, free gym membership, or free access to any other property amenity  can sweeten your offer while protecting the rent roll for both valuation and next-year renewal purposes. Offering free restaurant gift cards is also a great way to support struggling local businesses.

Second-to-last resort: offer targeted concessions 

Of course you’d prefer not to reduce the price, so before you try that, consider providing concessions on unit types with higher availability or your least-amenitized homes to expand the range of prospects who might consider you. Upfront concessions also protect the top-line rent roll for both valuation and next-year renewal purposes.

Last resort: reduce rent 

Sometimes there is no other choice. Reducing rents will increase both lead and lease flow. Though it obviously should be the last resort, too often operators use this as a first resort. So work the other nine ideas (and more of your own) before you do this.

Bonus #11: Email drip campaigns 

Surprisingly few operators have a standardized, automated email drip campaign to send to current (and past) prospects. Unless they unsubscribe, all prospects should get a series of at least six emails notifying them of what you have to offer. It also pays to email prospects from 8-10 months ago, as they’re now coming up on their renewals!

Many rent rolls have seen better days, and these 10 practices will help mitigate the pressures of this — and any — down market.   

Donald Davidoff is President of industry consultants D2 Demand Solutions (www.d2demand.com). He can be reached at donald@d2demand.com.

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