As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve in the United States, social distancing and shelter in place mandates have been created in numerous states and localities to help combat the spread of the virus. Many residents are working from home and spending most of their time indoors, which means property managers are having to work harder to streamline communications and carry out their normal processes effectively.
With all of this happening at a time when we’d normally see leasing season begin, it’s understandable that property management businesses are starting to pivot their leasing and retention strategies. Similar to the strategies that were used in 2007, businesses will have to shift their goals away from signing new leases and towards keeping existing residents. Here are four ways property managers can retain their residents in these challenging times:
1.) Foster a Sense of Community
Residents are more likely to renew when they feel a sense of community and belonging. However, with everyone being indoors due to COVID-19, many feel isolated and cut off from their community. In Europe, several creative solutions have been shared on maintaining community during the crisis. For instance, one resident decided to sing opera on her patio, another community had a fitness instructor teach a class with residents participating from their balconies.
Some property management businesses have even offered to shop for groceries and cleaning supplies for their residents, so they can stay at home. Doing something to support your residents — even if it’s a small gesture — can increase their level of satisfaction and happiness, and in turn, increase the likelihood they’ll stay in your community after this passes.
2.) Provide Financial Resources
As more and more businesses close their doors and the number of unemployment claims rise in the United States, many residents are feeling financially stressed when it comes to paying their bills and rent. To ease the situation, you can provide your residents with a list of financial resources to help them through this difficult time.
In addition, it’s a good idea to start looking at revising your delinquency and renewal policies. Based on the results from our recent survey, 22% of property managers have voluntarily relaxed their delinquency policy, while 48% are actively considering it. In regards to renewal policies, 32% of respondents reported they are now handling all renewals remotely, and 16% are holding off on price increases.
3.) Offer Flexible Payment & Lease Options
Along with changing your delinquency and renewal policies, consider offering flexible payment and lease options. If a resident is unable to pay the rent at this time, try talking to them (over a video chat service) to understand their personal situation, and ask for documentation regarding their hardship. This is important to ensure you are providing assistance to those who need it most.
Once you determine their needs, draft up a new resident agreement with a payment plan that has the missed rent averaged into the remaining term of the lease. You could also offer more flexible lease terms, like month-to-month, to those who are up for renewal. One point of caution: Be cognizant of the number of leases moving month-to-month, and make sure your community isn’t taking on too much short-term risk.
4.) Move to Virtual Communications
While you may not be able to physically go and interact with your residents, you can still communicate in other ways. The next best thing to being there in-person is video chatting. Based on a survey by Businesswire, respondents reported that video calling creates a more personal experience compared to other channels. During these stressful times seeing a familiar face can be comforting to your residents and make it easier for your associates to all stay on the same page.
Popular video conferencing tools like GotoMeeting and Zoom can help you stay connected to your teams while working remotely, and other video chat services such as FaceTime and Skype can help you stay connected to your residents. Consider hosting a virtual community meeting once a week for your residents where you can go over the COVID-19 safety measures your business is taking, provide the latest updates, and hear how everyone is doing.
These are unprecedented times. It’s important to let your current residents know you care and are here for them. By fostering a sense of community, providing financial resources, offering flexible payment and lease options, and maintaining communication virtually, you can retain your residents and come out of this situation stronger than ever.