The New Apartment Playbook
The unprecedented change that Covid-19 has brought to apartment leasing has led marketing professionals at companies of all sizes to embrace new techniques (some of which you might not have even heard of).
“The New Apartment Playbook,” a webinar produced as part of the AIM Conference webinar series, sponsored by Yardi and Rent Café, discussed strategy with Daryl Smith, Chief Marketing Officer, Kettler; Kelley Shannon, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Customer Engagement, Bozzuto; and Jamin Harkness, Executive Vice President, The Management Group (TMG).
It’s no surprise that virtual tours, self-guided tours and an increase in photos and videos are dominating marketing plans since March.
“Visualization and interaction with a live person are still important,” Smith says. “We had to figure out how to provide it. It can be through chatbots and AI, but it also includes an emphasis on self-service options for our prospects.”
Shannon says that while a community’s website has always been a key component of the renter journey, it’s taken on an expanded role this year, serving as the front door to the community.
“It’s not just curb appeal, it’s what prospects experience when they come inside,” she says. “Our onsite staff walks the property every day to tidy it up and make it look beautiful. Well, the same mentality and attention to detail has to be done for the website – checking it out and updating it, as needed, each day.
“Make sure your pricing is right and the photos best tell the story about living at your community. It’s not just a photo of a beautiful pool or your amenities. Those are not necessarily the things that prospects are looking for at this time. Does it convey your community’s personality? Are you demonstrating the steps you are taking as far as safety and sanitation? Did you think to show and promote the number of local food establishments that Grub Hub delivers from?”
Smaller companies such as TMG have become more resourceful, and Harkness took the opportunity way back in March to begin retooling his experience. He’s had his leasing staff take photos and “authentic” video tours (uploaded to YouTube) of available and ready apartment homes and uploads them to his site. He presents them based on the floor plan. His staff talks the prospect through the apartment on these recorded tours.
Harkness’s secret weapon has been fiverr.com, a site that provides affordable graphic design, video and marketing ideas (most priced at about $5).
For one graphic idea, his team devised an interactive property map with “pins” indicating the location of each unit. Hover over them, and a message pops up about whether it is available, and if so, when. It also helps to indicate what direction the balcony is showing, a pointer that he says his prospects often ask about.
Self-guided tours continue to rev-up in popularity for all three panelists’ companies. Smith says he offers an automated tour and a self-service tour option, giving the prospect their choice. “The important thing is that you map out the tour from A to Z, about where the prospect should go to optimize their experience,” he says. “You then measure the tours’ performance much like you would if you did a ‘secret shop’ of the community.”
Yardi’s Esther Bonardi said a recent of 3,500 prospects survey showed that 83 percent would be willing to take a self-guided tour, for the primary reasons of wanting to go at their own pace, to have a contact-less experience and to observe social distancing.
“Given that ‘moving at their own pace’ is the No. 1 reason, there’s no reason why self-guided tours won’t continue to be popular even after the pandemic,” Smith says.
Harkness was a bit cautious in March, but jumped on the SGT bandwagon. In the first three-and-a-half weeks, he did 26 tours, had 14 applications and 13 signed leases. He created (through fiverr.com) a video that explained the SGT process.
“It was a bit surprising that so many prospects still wanted to come out and see us during those early months,” he says. “At first, we only allowed them during office hours, and monitored them with makeshift door sensors our maintenance team installed for us. Then, we expanded it to 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. We tried to make it like a rental car pick-up process, where all the customer has to do is show their card and go take the tour (like they would at a rental car company, bypassing the counter.)”
Bonardi emphasized that it’s important for operators to not make the SGT experience “a mystery to solve for the prospect. “Make it as easy as you can for them,” she says.
Harkness says his leasing team creates pre-tour and post-tour videos that are sent to the prospect. The leasing professional who sends the pre-tour video for a prospect who shows up and leases earns the commission. (video in presentation and replay below).
Shannon creates a gift-bag for those taking SGTs to help reinforce Bozzuto’s brand experience. She also creates a “pageantry of safety” by ensuring that cleanliness is enforced, and personalizes the tour based on a pre-tour questionnaire that is sent to the prospect, asking for their favorite beverage and type of music, for example. And she tries to have that music playing in the apartment home so the prospect can feel ‘right at home.’
Shannon’s words of wisdom for today’s leasing environment is, “Don’t fight the technological changes that Covid has created, but still keep it human.”
Here is the replay: