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AIM 2019 Session Recap: Will Automation End Leasing Agents?

Will Automation End Leasing Agents?

Automated self-guided tours were the talk of the 14th Annual Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference (AIM 2019), which took place at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach on May 5-8, 2019. Moderated by Jim Kjolhede, President, Satteron Enterprises, a panel of property owners and innovators, featuring: 

  • David Seiler, Executive Vice President, Trinity Property Consultants
  • K. David Meit, CPM®, Principal, Oculus Realty LLC
  • Steve Lefkovitz, Executive Producer, Joshua Tree Conference Group

They convened to discuss what promises to a pivotal technology for multifamily leasing. “This is a Golden Age,” announced Kjolhede. “Everything is maturing and coming together at a very good time. Particularly automated leasing,” he added. “That’s on the verge of a very large tsunami.”


Oculus’ Meit, which launched a pilot program with Tour24 on a 165-unit property in Washington DC, was very optimistic about the future. “Tour24 was the first of its kind in the market,” he said. “We’d been looking for a cost-effective way to automate and still maintain that high-touch application.” After running the hurdles of infrastructure challenges, scripting and more, Meit is happy to say, “In the first four months, we ran 30 tours and closed on 11 leases.”


What’s more, they learned something else: “We thought it would be used by Millennials. But in this particular market, mostly Boomers are using it.”


Trinity’s Seiler also thinks the future of self-guided tours is rosy but, among other issues, is waiting for more products to come on the market, saying, “I don’t want to make a decision based on an option of one.” Still, the sophistication of the ILSs is in itself an eye-opener: “We’re experiencing 14 percent of people leasing sight-unseen. That’s just an enormous number.”


These conversions from proptech lead management to wonder: Is having full-time leasing employees worth it? “The largest line item after taxes is labor,” noted Meit. Also, in some cases, mentioned Seiler, only 35 percent of the live staff was delivering “the full leasing experience.” Joshua Tree’s Lefkovitz added, “I’ve talked to one company that said they did 30 percent better with automation because they had poor live leasing; and I’ve talked to the CEO of another company who said, ‘We’re only doing 15 percent with automatic leasing.’ That still seems significant to me.”


Lefkovitz speculated that some leasing agents may not be not be part of the generation that’s enjoying tech amenities. “Technology is something that’s being done to them.”


In spite of this, the panel sees automated self-guided tours not just as an opportunity to capture business outside of office hours, but as a method to simultaneously train live employees while delivering a brand message. Said Meit, “Being able to deliver the same story, ensuring you’re putting your best foot forward all the time, is great from a risk management perspective.” Lefkovitz agreed: “Even if you just look at it as a supplement of what you’re doing, the consistency of the message is a great continuous training opportunity. Seiler concurred, noting it’s an opportunity to have “100 percent deliverability of your message.” 


Talking about further down the road, Lefkovitz proffered VR tours, saying, “We’re so focused right now on ‘time on site’; the higher value might be speeding the velocity leasing for people who don’t have the time to come at all.”


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