Advancements in technology are dramatically changing the apartment rental category —and for the better.
Wow. Has it really been one full year? That’s how long the country—and apartment leasing—has endured the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing it to rethink how many parts of our businesses and daily lives are done.
Now, as the world emerges from the pandemic’s restrictions, apartment renters eager to move on and explore new adventures, or to take advantage of the freedom that comes from being able to “work from anywhere,” are experiencing how technology has helped apartment touring change for the better.
When the first shelter-in-place lockdowns nationwide began late last March, most companies immediately shifted to virtual operations. Resourceful leasing teams used smartphones to both create and real-time guide prospects. Controlled-access systems enabled self-guided touring. Many had some infrastructure to accommodate this new reality already in place: they weren’t forced to start from scratch.
And their adaptive pace accelerated—it had to given the circumstances—and leasing teams are now well positioned for the 2021 spring rental season.
Today, all markets have restored some in-person, guided tours. And the popularity of face-to-face, er, mask-to-mask meetings is building along with soaring vaccination rates and steadily improving overall consumer confidence. Businesses and their customers are going at their own pace to reopen and re-engage based on personal comfort levels. Several states—starting with Texas on March 2—have lifted mandatory mask-wearing policies. More will follow.
But even with a slow return to “normal,” we shouldn’t abandon the changes and advancements in technology that have taken place over the last year. Instead, we should build on them.
A Greater Role for Artificial Intelligence
Technology and innovation have given apartment operators new opportunities to improve the resident experience. Forward-thinking companies, for example, are beginning to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to save time, improve customer experience, and improve lead conversions.
In March Zumper introduced PowerLeads AI™—a tool that leverages the power of AI in order to analyze the behavior of renters and confidently predict the likelihood of a renter signing a specific apartment lease.
Zumper has found that 78 percent of leasing staff believe having more data on prospects would help them convert more leads. By using cutting edge machine learning to provide predictive insights and data, AI not only provides higher-quality leads, it enables a faster leasing process.
The new technology identifies and flags renters statistically proven to be up to 2 times more likely to lease immediately. Additionally, the system can provide leasing agents more than 50 renter characteristics that will help them better meet renter needs. This technology satisfies the growing demand for access to real-time information that allows leasing teams to see a prospect’s interests, which helps them better understand the needs of a prospective renter. The information helps leasing professionals to better understand what their customers’ preferences and pain points might be.
One key to the process is highlighting the most desirable amenities and accommodations. Zumper has analyzed search trends to determine which features leasing teams should pay attention to. The top amenities searched for show that in-unit laundry, air-conditioning, assigned parking, balconies, and garage parking top the list. Apartments that come furnished is another top priority.
Operators can take note that the average value added to the listing for laundry amenities can be as much as $170, while parking amenities might bring an additional $149 and gardens $144. So, be sure to highlight all these amenities in marketing and during tours.
The pandemic’s stay-at-home limitations made outdoor community spaces one of the most sought-after housing characteristics in 2020. According to Zumper data, searches for “outdoor spaces” increased by a whopping 143 percent while searches for “balconies” and “gardens” increased by 87 percent and 86 percent, respectively.
The Rise of Self-Service
Another growing consumer trend since the pandemic is a preference for “self-serve” functionality and contactless service. The apartment industry is taking advantage of these as well.
Self-guided or virtual tours means prospective residents are able to view apartments and take the time they need to open up cabinets, furniture plan, etc., which can often provide a more flexible, personal experience.
Most property management software programs offer self-scheduling, whereby prospects have the convenience of reserving tour times. For those companies with less budget, they can rely on Office 365 tools to accommodate scheduling.
Taking the visual experience to a higher level, many communities are making available online brochures produced with the help of marketing partners, who shoot high-quality 3-D packages, including Matterport tours. Leasing teams can forward them to interested renters or post them to their websites.
For those on a budget, some properties sent leasing consultants out with their smartphones and tablets to shoot and edit homemade virtual tours, which our research shows received 2 times the number of views as listings without videos.
Omni-Present Bots Create Convenience
Property-resident communications have been getting a huge boost from bots lately. The language of apartment marketing information is evolving into more of a conversational mode, again, created by technology. Bots have been developed that can be served up onto apartment communities’ websites, as well as their Yelp and Google My Business listings and social channels Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Done right this provides instant information ‘round the clock.
In some cases, interested renters will come to an apartment community website to learn, but don’t want to pick up the phone and call, and don’t want to fill out lead forms. Therefore, a bot widget becomes a third point of contact. The bot guides these prospects’ path so that when they’re ready and they have the information they want, they will schedule a tour appointment. Much like while using many consumer mobile apps, prospective residents who engage through their smartphone just swipe and tap, swipe and tap. There’s no typing.
For leasing professionals, the off-hours online engagements that were had through the bots enable them to start their next office shift by reviewing conversation transcripts. By following those “conversations,” they can see what needs to be addressed first when following up with those prospects.
For example, reading that a prospect’s primary concern during her bot engagement was covered parking spots, the leasing agent can address that first when reaching out to that potential resident.
Technology has been at the forefront in the enabling of 24-7 apartment leasing. That customer convenience has required competitive communities to be present and available on all of their communications channels all the time. That’s hardly possible with how things have been done in the past. But with the advancement of technology—and a commitment by all sides of the industry to proactively embrace this new technology—we can build a new system for apartment rentals that not only reduces friction, but drives efficiency and value for both the renter and supply side as well.Read more on Marketing