The low-down on self-showings: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Amanda Maher
Amanda Maher | 8 min. read

Published on February 6, 2019

The real estate market has been flooded with new technologies as of late. All sorts of companies (including Buildium) have sprung up to make it easier to own, rent, or manage rental properties. Who doesn’t want that?!

One subset of the real estate tech market we’ve been watching is around products that enable “self-service showings.” This includes 3D property tours; smart locks; and now, even robots!

However, while self-showings are a promising technology, they may not work for everyone. Let’s take a closer look.

What Are Self-Showings?

Traditionally, whenever a prospective renter wanted to see a rental, the property manager, landlord, or leasing agent would need to schedule an in-person showing. This often required a lot of back-and-forth communication: When is the rental available for a showing? Can you meet me there at 5 PM on Friday? Whoops, my roommate wants to come—can we move this to 11 AM on Sunday?

There are so many logistics to coordinate when it comes to showing rentals. Even if a leasing agent uses software like Buildium’s Showings Coordinator to automate scheduling, the leasing agent might need to make 15 trips to the rental before it’s finally leased. The traditional leasing process isn’t convenient for anyone—the owner, agent, or renter.

Buildium’s Showings Coordinator is intended to help with that. Instead of showing the unit in-person, the owner or property manager leverages technology to allow prospective renters to tour the property on their own, at their own convenience.

The Self-Showing Process

In the simplest form of a self-showing, the leasing agent will leave a set of keys in a lockbox. He or she will give the code to the prospect, who can get the keys and tour the property on their own schedule. After touring the property, they just put the keys back into the lockbox.

Naturally, property owners have concerns about just handing over the keys. What if someone damages the unit? What if they take off with the keys? What recourse do you have? These are all completely valid concerns.

That’s where new technologies come into play. A combination of new software and smart lockbox technologies have made self-showings safer than ever. Scheduling solutions like Tenant Turner offer software that integrates with electronic lockboxes and keyless smart locks. The devices are controlled remotely by Tenant Turner, which sends a unique access code to anyone scheduled to view the property.

There are safety features built in. For instance, leads interested in seeing a property secured by Tenant Turner are required to submit personal information to confirm who they are, and they must upload a photo ID. Tenant Turner runs each tenant lead through a series of fraud detection checks to weed out Nigerian princes and folks with burner phones.

Once security checks are passed, a tenant lead specifies when they’d like to see the property. The owner or property manager can set restrictions, such as limiting showings to certain hours of the day. Generally speaking, however, self-showings enable a prospect to tour properties 12 hours a day, 365 days per year.

The process of accessing the unit is straightforward for the tenant lead. When the lead arrives at the rental, they are texted a unique, one-time-use code that will expire after a certain period of time. They’ll use this code to open the lockbox. This process automatically notifies the property manager, landlord, or leasing agent that the tenant lead has arrived at the rental. This is also logged in the Tenant Turner access reports so that you have a history of all access by team members, tenant leads, and even vendors.

Once inside the unit, the prospect can tour the rental at his or her own pace. When the tour is complete, the person just pops the key back into the lockbox and provides feedback on their showing.

Pros and Cons of Self-Showings

Property managers, landlords, and leasing agents often have mixed opinions about self-showings.

The pros of self-showings include:

  • Less coordination is needed between the property manager, landlord, leasing agent, and prospective renter. Time wasted coordinating and conducting showings can instead be spent on other responsibilities.
  • It becomes significantly easier to show rentals that are geographically spread out. No more driving across town or dealing with no-shows.
  • Self-showings help to shorten the leasing cycle by giving your tenant leads more flexibility to pick showing times in the evening or on weekends.
  • Property managers can grow their portfolios more easily. This is because each leasing agent can oversee more units, since each vacant unit requires less hands-on management.
  • Renters get instant gratification by touring properties as soon as they want.

However, as we mentioned before, not everyone is thrilled with the self-showing concept. Here are some of the downsides of self-showings:

  • Self-showings are really only appropriate for leasing vacant rentals. When a rental is occupied, the prospect should be accompanied during the showing to protect the interests of the existing tenant.
  • Prospects may have questions during the self-showing, and it can be tough to get answers if they’re touring the property on their own.
  • You may have to pay monthly fees depending on your software provider, which can start to add up. It’s important for property managers and landlords to do the math on whether they should rent or own smart lockboxes. This will depend on how many units they manage, how many of those are vacant at any given time, and for how long (on average).
  • Not all renters are technologically adept. Older renters, in particular, may not feel comfortable utilizing self-showing technology.
  • Self-showings are not 100% foolproof. There is always a risk that a person will cause damage to the unit, lose the keys, etc. Safeguards can be put into place, but there’s still some level of risk involved.

Other Ways to Improve Rental Showings

Self-showings can be useful as part of a larger strategy to deliver a better rental experience. A hybrid approachone that includes both self-showings and traditional in-person property tourscan alleviate some of the coordination pressures, while still providing high-quality service to prospective tenants.

In addition, tools like Buildium’s Showing’s Coordinator, powered by Tenant Turner, can help property managers, landlords, and leasing agents to more easily coordinate rental showingswithout leaving prospective residents to fend for themselves. Showings Coordinator offers showing scheduling software to better manage prospective tenants. Their robust platform works for you 24/7/365, whether you have a dozen rentals or thousands. All of your prospective tenants are ushered through a Fair Housing-compliant pre-qualification process. It scores each candidate based on your criteria and lets only qualified prospects schedule a viewing. You can show the rental yourself; assign the showing to someone else; and use electronic lockboxes, combo lockboxes, smart locks, or key checkout—it’s your choice!

Interested in learning more? Check out this blog post: Announcing Showings Coordinator, Powered by Tenant Turner.

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Would you consider conducting self-showings for your rental units? Let us know in the comments!

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Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. She holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a master's in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.

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