Pandemic or not, apartment communities continue to experience momentum around virtual touring. Surveys show that the opportunity to view apartments in this way is favorable among many renters.
Virtual touring benefits property managers because it allows them to cast a wider net, appealing to those prospects who don’t live in the immediate area. From that reach, they find prospects whose employers might allow a “work-from-anywhere” policy and therefore are perhaps seeking to live in less-crowded parts of the country.
“Meeting Renters’ Expectations with Virtual Leasing,” a webinar produced as part of the AIM Conference webinar series discussed strategy with Stacy Holden, Senior Director and Industry Principal, AppFolio.
A recent Marketplace-Edison Research Poll showed that 22 percent of Americans have moved or permanently relocated during the past six months – or are considering doing so in the next six months; and one-third of those say COVID-19 was the primary reason for that decision.
This year, higher population states saw the most outbound migration – San Francisco and NYC, for example, had 80 percent more people leave than move in. Florida, Idaho and Arizona all saw more move-ins.
The AIM presentation included many statistics from AppFolio’s October Renter Survey. AppFolio discovered then that the top reasons for wanting to move were to find a “less populated region” and “change of scenery.”
Holden said when renters who signed a lease for a new apartment home during the pandemic were asked if they viewed the unit in-person or virtually, 44.5 percent said in-person; 24.1 percent virtually; and 31.4 percent used both methods.
When asked, if in the future – once the pandemic is no longer a threat – what touring option they would prefer, 46.7 percent say in-person; 13 percent say virtually; and 40.3 percent say they would use both methods.
“This indicates that virtual touring is here to stay,” she said.
According to an April AppFolio survey of property management clients, when asked, “What technology have you increased your dependence on during this time?” Virtual Showings was the top answer at 53 percent.
Its October survey noted that 53 percent of renters who have signed a new lease did a virtual showing and that 80 percent of those were satisfied with the virtual showing.
Technology is Here to Make it Easy
However, one sticking point for residents in the survey was that less than half (47 percent) of renters said the application process was “easy.” And when asked what renting tasks they would prefer doing online or via mobile, 46.4 percent say they would want to apply for a rental; 48.5 percent say they would want to sign or renew their lease; and 31 percent say they would prefer viewing details of the unit.
Technology is in place to improve on all aspects of the resident experience, Holden said. For one, AI has really arrived in the real estate space, she said.
For example, “AI in the form of a front-end tool that captures the interest of your prospective residents and gives them that ‘personal touch,’ answering all their questions and guiding them to schedule a showing (whether self-guided, virtual or personal) and provides the proper follow-up along the way” is an upgrade to the way we do leasing, she said.
“Ideally, this tool communicates in a more comfortable tone than a standard bot. How an AI tool such as this really stands out is that the tool can be aware of all of your organization’s vacancies and can cross-sell immediately if the initial unit type is not available at the original location of interest.”
“If a prospect wants a specific type of unit, but your one property doesn’t have it available, systems are available that can re-target that prospect to another property in a portfolio that does – instantly,” she said.
She says marketers can start at the top of the funnel to create demand. “Make sure you have the right presence and the right draw,” she said. “Take advantage of technology that not only puts your best foot forward but uses search-engine optimization and automation to keep your draw-through websites relevant and on top of the demands of the moment.”
Like always, you’ll need to generate demand, she said.
“To do so, keep a close eye on comps and make sure pricing is tuned to the market,” Holden said. “Consider just how quickly the rental market changed over the past six months in places such as San Francisco and New York – this is why revenue management pricing optimization automation is important.”
Finding Stability in a Stressful Market
Additionally, technology-driven leasing-assistant automation powered by AI allows for the virtual prospective resident to thoughtfully communicate with an “expert” 365 24/7, going as far as having the ability to schedule showings.
“AI systems all can adapt in times of distress….no matter what is going on the world...AI tools in this way provide an immense amount of stability for operators,” Holden said, “and continue to give customers an excellent experience.”
Most interesting is that tools such as this capture every conversation, and learns from them.
“Not only does this give customers a better experience, that data can be used to make more efficient decisions down the road,” she said.
Interactive Sitemaps and 3D Tours increase engagement and boost interest pre-tour, leading to more qualified tour appointments.
“3D Tours are a great way to help prospects solidify interest and shortcut some of the leasing process,” she said. “With a 3D tour, prospects can get a sense for the apartment home’s layout and decide with a higher level of confidence if that unit is a good fit for their needs. This cuts down the time needed for an in-person showing and can even eliminate that need altogether.”
Closing the deal doesn’t look much different. “You want to make sure your rental app and lease are online and easily accessible for your prospective renters,” Holden said. Having the ability to attach the various needed addenda and welcome packets is helpful. “It adds to the whole contactless leasing processes,” she said.
Keeping Up the Momentum
There is no need to lose momentum when in-person showings aren’t an option. Live video tours are a great way to maintain and even accelerate your leasing operation.
Having a self-scheduling tool built into the property management system adds to the efficiency. It allows prospects to self-schedule from a vacancy listing or your website and eliminates the back-and-forth often required during scheduling. Prospects may self-schedule a virtual showing via web listing of a vacant unit. Agents set their “Showing Availability,” then prospects are able to choose when to view a unit based on these times.
Having this as a seamless setup, a built-in video conferencing tool allows agents to connect without the hassle of downloads or logins, Holden said.
Interactive site maps lead to a 2 to 3x an increase in conversions when prospects see and understand the unit’s location within the community, she said. They provide more context for prospects about the location and availability of units before they visit the property. They also work with self-guided showings and/or virtual showings to support virtual leasing efforts.
Another technology boost that Holden described was a digital leasing assistant, which communicates with prospective residents and follows up on leads via text and email, answers property FAQs; pre-qualify prospects; schedules, confirms, and reschedule showings; and cross-sells leads to other properties in your portfolio.
Embedding 3D Virtual Tours on AppFolio-powered websites makes it easy for prospective residents to engage with available units and self-qualify so leasing teams focus their time on filling vacancies with serious leads.
See all the research findings here: https://www.appfolio.com/blog/new-data-renters-leasing/
Here is the replay: