When the COVID-19 pandemic forced multi-family rental offices across the country to suddenly close their doors and move most of their operations online, rental professionals and their management companies or owner/operators took notice. the challenge. They have embraced new technologies, in many cases for the first time, and found ways to connect with prospects while focusing on the best ways to market their properties.
Multi-Accommodation News reached out to some of the top leasing specialists in the country and asked them to discuss the challenges and share some of the secrets to their success.
- Devin Dowling, Leasing Manager, The Apartments at Bonnie Ridge, Baltimore, Westminster Management
- Rebecca Fox, Senior Leasing Manager, Morgan Properties
- Isabella Horne, Assistant Community Manager, Brea Wendell Falls, Wendell, NC, Bell Partners
- Conny Matos, General Manager, Gio Midtown, Miami, Bozzuto Management Co.
- Ivonne McNeese, property manager at The Marq, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and former rental agent at Red Knot in Edinburgh, Chesapeake, Virginia, The Breeden Co.
- Heather Sims, Senior Leasing Professional, Optima Sonoran Village, Scottsdale, Arizona, Optima Realty Inc.
What were the challenges faced at the start of the pandemic and how did you overcome them to continue to market your property or properties?
Fox: Before the pandemic, we mainly sent photos and brochures online with the occasional use of FaceTime. We’ve added the use of Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Matterport tours. By using these tools, we are able to continue to personalize our online tours so that potential tenants can physically feel with us without leaving the comfort of their own home. We’ve also digitized our online brochure to include community links, videos, photos, Matterport, floor plans and online rentals.
Dowling: Once Westminster added the virtual tour and showed us how to do a split screen, we could actually take a tour with someone, a virtual tour with side-by-side screens, so they felt like s they were here with us. It helped tremendously. In the very first year of virtual tours, occupancy went from 93% to 97%, amid the pandemic.
Horn: The pandemic has allowed us to be proactive in implementing technological innovations that are still in use across the company. Some of these innovations include self-guided tours, virtual tours, and enhanced videography. We also learned that people like to have information at their fingertips and in real time. We introduced two AI formats—Meet Elise and Better Bot, allowing our prospects and residents to have access to immediate communications and information.
Gear: (Gio Midtown opened in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.) Building relationships was key to knowing our customers and understanding their needs. We had people coming from out of state due to the pandemic or for work who had concerns not knowing the area and also renting on sight.
The tour tool we use allows for live tour sessions, so it’s pre-recorded, but you can do it live and take clients on that journey. We invited them for a cup of coffee even if it was virtually. “Have your favorite drink, let’s sit down, and walk through that floor plan that interests you.”
Can you give examples of thinking outside the box when marketing to potential tenants?
Fox: Add personal touches to their visit. Do they bring a pet with them? Have dog or cat bowls and toys and say the pet’s name during the visit. Does their child really like Peppa Pig right now? Include a coloring sheet to send to them. Find out what will make your apartment theirs.
Dowling: We have good relationships with hospitals here like Johns Hopkins and Sinai Hospital and Travelers Haven, which is one of our corporate tenants. If we don’t hear from them for a while, we’ll contact you and say, “We’ve done some renovations if you have any customers who might be interested.”
Gear: As part of our welcome home commitment, we seal our apartments after they have been sanitized and cleaned. We’re so confident in our system, our checklist, and making sure everything exceeds expectations for move-in that we offer a 30-day guarantee if they’re not satisfied.
McNeese: We have a large military population in this area. In some cases, many were on ships and unable to use FaceTime. If the videos were too large, they couldn’t open them. But we could send emails. We could send photos and adapt it to the needs of the potential resident. I also made several videos in Spanish. At Red Knot, we also did furniture rentals because we could do six-month leases. People were asking about renting furniture. We hadn’t implemented it then, and we said why not. People were between houses or waiting for their houses to be built, so we started assembling packages. It is now permanent and extended to other properties.
Can you cite a few examples of how your establishment’s reputation has been enhanced?
Horn: We have increased our content on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to not only meet the needs of our current residents, but also to interact with and engage potential new residents. Prospects got to see different sides of the community and really imagine us being their new home. Google scores are also vitally important, as prospects will often go online to seek reviews from current residents.
Gear: We have placed more emphasis on building brand awareness to help convey who we are and where we stand in the market relative to our competitors. So we went further in training our team to understand the product more than ever, because you answer so many questions during a virtual tour.
We are very aware of what we post (on social media). We want to generate interest, and we understand and are all trained to focus on the audience I’m targeting with what I post. What kind of reaction am I looking for? How do I want to involve residents and potential residents more in what I post? We’ve found it useful for promoting local areas and events, which makes the community all the more appealing.
Sims: We have always had professional photos and we continue to refresh the images on the website or virtual tour. Last year Optima purchased all new outdoor furniture for the pool and rooftop terrace. They came and did all the new photos and will also if we did any upgrades or renovations.
We will organize marketing meetings and choose an apartment to present in a digital brochure. Today we picked our latest three-bedroom, two-bathroom in one of our towers to blast through a blast of emails or text messages. We do this five days a week.
Fox: At Morgan Properties, we pride ourselves on a client-centric approach where all clients ‘experience more with Morgan’. The journey begins when our potential residents are in the rental awareness phase and continues throughout residency. Our rental success is based on three factors: making great first impressions, building relationships, and customizing our tours to show that we truly care about their needs.
What are some of your key qualities that led to your success as a rental agent?
Horn: The best tool one can have is friendliness, which helps in building relationships and relationships with customers. Next is product knowledge, which not only allows you to connect with your prospect, but also takes complete ownership of what you offer.
Sims: I am very accessible and very human. I provide first class service and take the time to listen to the prospect and understand them. My knowledge of good goes with it.
Dowling: I’m just trying to make that connection and try to put the prospect at ease and see exactly what they want. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t ask me a question, and I’ll be as honest with you as possible.
Read the April 2022 issue of MHN.