2024 Spring Leasing Preview

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Fully interactive leasing processes are now live, giving residents the ability to see their units without ever stepping a foot inside. Reybold Group is using 3D floor plans and high-resolution videos in their leasing efforts. “With these tools, our leasing team can readily walk customers through any floor plan over the phone,” says Christina Hunt, Director of Leasing Operations at Reybold Group. “Many prospective residents do not have the time to tour every community they are interested in. Multifamily owners and managers must offer virtual tours in 2024 if they want to attract new residents.”

There’s also an interactive touchscreen to show the entire community and clubhouse. “Prospective residents visiting one of our leasing offices can view the entire neighborhood, amenities and available units with a swipe of a finger, which saves both our visitors and the leasing team valuable time,” she says.

Chamberlin + Associates Real Estate Management is also using 3D and video walkthroughs as part of the leasing process. “Virtual tours have continued to be popular even after the pandemic,” says Christina Valencia, Senior Regional Manager with Chamberlin + Associates. “They offer a convenient and efficient way for prospects to explore our properties remotely. The technology has improved, providing a more realistic and interactive viewing experience.”

Chamberlin + Associates has implemented a digital leasing process with applications, document submission and lease signings. “This has significantly reduced paperwork, improved efficiency and provided a more convenient experience for both prospects and our team,” says Valencia.

While automation and certain technologies were around prior to the pandemic, the need for them was sped up because of COVID. “There are software solutions being deployed to assist in all areas of the leasing process: Search, touring, follow-up, application process, screening, signing and move-in,” says Ronda Puryear, President, Management Services Corporation and 2023 NAA Chair of the Board. “Many companies are eliminating front office leasing staff, repositioning them to traffic management roles. As the new generation moves into the leasing market and Baby Boomers move out, automation will rise in demand.”

Virtual tours are still an important tool for many, especially for those who are unable to visit the community. Jessica Gillis, Vice President, Property Management with Metropolitan Holdings, says about 20% of tours are still done virtually. As the world eased back to normalcy, so did traditional apartment touring, but virtual touring remains an integral part of the leasing process. “All markets saw a decline of virtual and self-guided tours after the pandemic, but in most markets, they remain a core component of the leasing process,” says Puryear. “We predict a blend of in-person, self-guided and virtual tours to continue with in-person declining in the future.”

Prospective residents now expect virtual touring to be an option, especially post-pandemic. “In the past eight months, we saw 300,000 views on just eight community tours,” says Michelle Tomassetti, Senior Director of New Development Marketing for WinnResidential. “These analytics prove that customers are curious and interested in visualizing spaces before scheduling an in-person tour.”

According to Tour24, flexibility is key. Data shows prospective residents are still visiting properties outside of normal business hours -- 53% are going when the leasing office is closed, according to Tour24’s internal Q4 data. The most popular day to tour is Saturday, and the most popular time to tour is between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Prospective residents also want to give limited notice before touring. Nearly three out of five visits are made within an hour, and 80% are same-day tours.

Being more effective has been helpful for organizations to keep their residents satisfied. So, processes are not always forward-facing to the resident.

Western National Property Management has more than 23,000 units in its portfolio, so centralizing made sense to help teams at all different levels of operations. “…[C]entralized communications are an essential element of our operations practice that directly impacts the bottom line in a positive way,” says Laura Khouri, President of Western National Property Management.

“At the site level, our office, leasing and maintenance teams need to be solely focused on their asset and our residents,” she adds. “In order to help them keep that focus, we have centralized operations at the corporate level and provide support through a credentialed risk management department, certified training department… These support departments are invaluable to site level employees who do not have to be a ‘jack of all trades’ but rather intensely skilled at resident relations, leasing and the ever-present maintenance items.”

The role of the leasing professional is changing. “Leasing professionals are spending an increasing amount of time on the customer experience rather than ‘selling’ an apartment home,” says Puryear.

Bob Freeman, President, Freeman Webb Company, says he’s seen virtual tour usage decline, but it is still a very handy tool. “The virtual tours are still beneficial and being utilized in most communities. We will continue to monitor the utilization rate within our portfolio to see which type of assets most benefit from this type of service.”

Prospect follow-up has also been automated, says Freeman. “With the new follow-up automation, we are modifying our manual follow-up procedures to enhance and personalize the customer experience that complements the automation process.”

Artificial Intelligence

Renting an apartment will never be the same with artificial intelligence now involved in the leasing process. “AI has transformed the leasing process,” says Hunt. “Reybold Group’s unique AI assistant, Jasmine, can secure an application or move the conversation to an onsite team member if the customer needs additional assistance. AI is here to stay and will continue to revolutionize the way we attract and assist prospective residents.”

Derek Graham, Principal and Founder at Odyssey Properties Group, says AI is typically at the property level right now, and it is streamlining processes such as chat- bots and lead nurturing. “Through current and prospective [resident] interactions, our systems strategically nurture and funnel leads to designated contact centers, enhance the prospect experience through faster response times and follow-ups, and schedule virtual or self-guided tours. Since rolling out the new AI features, our metrics have been outperforming our competitors and alleviating the backlog of regular onsite challenges.”

Freeman says they are using AI to their advantage -- both chat- and email bots. “The email bot can answer over 50 percent of the incoming email without our teams even seeing the questions,” he says. “We see the benefit of decreased missed calls and an increase in appointments scheduled. We will continue to increase the utilization of AI chatbots and email bots, especially on our smaller communities of 150 units and less.”

AI is important for the rental housing industry but it’s not the end all, be all of services. “AI leasing tools can help craft initial investment thesis narratives, marketing materials, advertising copy, etc.,” says Elie Rieder, Founder and CEO of Castle Lanterra. “But the key in any investment will always be a unique market knowledge, industry relationships and integrity that is hard to replicate via AI.”

The implementation of AI has helped smooth some aspects of the industry including prospect communications and relationships, but AI has only come so far in 2024.

“While AI has the potential to be used effectively in all segments of the industry, it will never replace human interaction where it really matters,” says Khouri. “Stakeholders can rely on AI for the more rote or mundane tasks of multifamily ownership and management, such as market research, ordering supplies, generating leases, handling rental payments… However, building and maintaining relationships is an in-person, face-to-face process that takes time and individualized attention. Our goal with AI is to use it where it makes sense, allowing us to maximize efficiencies while we work to nurture the relationships that are so important in this industry.”

AI is here, and here to stay for the foreseeable future, and it will continue to evolve and need to be tweaked and worked to assist the industry in the best way possible. “However, regardless of advancement in AI, we believe resident satisfaction starts with superior onsite management and customer service, and while AI will improve operations, we plan not to lose sight of in-person customer service,” says Ryan Swingruber, Principal with Heyday.

“I think that effective AI tools for leasing still have a way to go; currently, they supplement workflows, but one day I am sure they will truly revolutionize the industry while maintaining prospect experience,” says Jered Lerum, Director of Business Development with Edison47.

Michael Miller is NAA’s Managing Editor.

Upgrading Your CRM

We are using a robust customer relationship management (CRM) platform to centralize our leasing process at every community. This enables our teams to seamlessly move leads from prospect through move-in and beyond. The new AI advancements in CRM and leasing technology make it easier for leasing teams to convert even more qualified leads with advanced voice and chat features. This ultimately helps scale leasing performance, which is saving our teams time and money.

- Michelle Tomassetti, Senior Director of New Development Marketing, WinnResidential

What Residents Want

Residents continue to look for apartment homes where they can spend more of their time. Since the pandemic, residents are doing more things from home like working, so why not live in a place where working and playing are also possible? “Reybold Group is focused on development opportunities where we can incorporate multiple uses at one site,” says Christina Hunt, Director of Leasing Operations at Reybold Group. “Bringing a retail center to a residential community adds value for our residents, and we are focused on trying to execute these unique features in some of our 2024 projects.”

It’s more cost effective to keep current residents happy and in their homes instead of having them move away unhappy, potentially leaving a bad review and a higher unit turn cost. According to the 2023 Resident Experience Management Report from Zego, resident turnover costs are more than $3,800 in total unit outlays.

For Freeman Webb Company, turns cost about three times as much as a renewal. “We have reduced the renewal increases to incentivize current residents to stay,” says Bob Freeman, President of the company. “Renewal increases have stabilized to long-term historical trends from 1 to 7 percent, and we are also offering longer-term leases up to 24 months on select communities to lower turnover expenses.”

Concessions are also a factor for residents, but they vary by location—even within specific markets. Freeman says he is seeing concessions mainly downtown and with new construction surrounding Nashville, Tenn., and they are just trying to keep pace with the competition, which is offering up to three months of free rent.

WinnResidential is also seeing rental concessions in more urban and competitive markets, says Michelle Tomassetti, Senior Director of New Development Marketing. “Upward of one month free and other perks to reserve early.”

What Students Want

Student housing is at the forefront of trending platforms. Trends either quickly disappear or stick. The challenge is determining which will remain and provide them to the resident. Students care. Smart apartments, use of AI, green initiatives and pet ownership are trends in the student market that are gaining traction. Students continue to be fitness-focused looking for robust fitness centers, fitness facilities and outdoor adventures. Student housing residents are becoming more interested in green initiatives. While this is not new, it is increasing. All markets are concerned about smart home technology and security.

- Ronda Puryear, President,
Management Services Corporation