5 Tips for Successfully Renaming Apartment Communities

Looking to rebrand your latest multifamily acquisition? Here’s how to choose the right name and why that matters.

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What’s in a name? Plenty, if you’re about to purchase an existing apartment community.

Should you keep the name or change it? If you decide to change it, how do you choose the right name? And why does it matter?

Each acquisition presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities—and apartment operators differ widely in their approaches.

“Sometimes you can leverage a great name and reputation of a community that’s been a longstanding, highly reputable housing option,” said Frankie Pane, executive vice president of Omaha-based Essex Communities, which develops and operates rental housing for people aged 55 and older. “There are other times when communities have not been given the love and attention they need, or need to be repositioned, and renaming and rebranding is a way to get the message out that there’s something new and exciting happening.”

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Experts say that renaming is more common for value-add projects that are being repositioned since new owners want to eliminate any negative history and give the project a fresh start. But even brand-new communities—luxury projects built and leased up by a developer—can benefit from renaming, particularly if the purchaser wants to tie it to existing company branding.

Here are five best practices for renaming an apartment community.

1. Consider Using a Consistent Brand Name Across Your Portfolio

Cortland, an Atlanta-based multifamily developer and acquisition firm, is pursuing a master brand strategy so that all of its communities are named “Cortland,” with additional wording that includes a local geographic reference so that potential tenants instantly recognize where the property is located.

“Multifamily is highly fragmented, and there are a lot of mom-and-pop operations as well as larger companies like ourselves,” Tim Hermeling, Cortland’s executive vice president of marketing, told Multi-Housing News. “In many cases, it’s so fragmented that nothing really stands out. We believe that having a singular master brand like Cortland allows us to differentiate ourselves in an otherwise sea of sameness.”

Some companies have sub-brands to differentiate different products, such as luxury, affordable or senior apartments. For example, according to Hermeling, Cortland uses the name “Attiva” for its 55+ communities.

Other companies choose unique names for each property but add a tag line to promote the brand. For example, Essex Communities adds “an Essex community” as a tag line on every project, Pane said.

2. Choose Your Words Carefully

When choosing a name, try to use words that evoke a subliminal message in the mind of your target audience. In other words, opt for words that would attract prospective tenants.

“Certain words create a feeling of comfort, peace, tranquility and security, and all of those things have a way of impacting the psyche of residents, staff and prospects,” said Pane. “Try to appeal to those.”

After purchasing The Reserve on Walnut Creek in October 2020, Essex Communities changed its name to The Arbordale, using the word “arbor”—a shelter created by a tree canopy—to evoke a feeling of shelter and security. Image courtesy of Essex Communities

Case in point: In October 2020, Essex Communities purchased a community called The Reserve on Walnut Creek and knew it wanted to change the name. The Reserve, located in Urbandale, Iowa, was originally a nonprofit, entrance fee-based community, but Essex planned to reposition it as 55+ rental housing. The firm ultimately renamed it “The Arbordale.” The name, which Pane said is multi-layered, comes from “arbor,” a shelter created by a tree canopy, and “dale,” a valley surrounded by natural beauty.

“We knew this was the home-run name,” Pane said. “We provide shelter, we provide security and we provide a lot of activities, so putting these words together created a fantastic sense of who we are.”

One helpful tip is to say the name out loud. “We take into consideration how people will say the name in normal conversation,” said Sara Wilson, executive vice president of client services at Smith Kroeger, a marketing agency in Omaha that was involved in the renaming and rebranding of The Reserve. “Will people find it hard to pronounce or spell? Will they shorten it? If so, does an abbreviated version work, or do the initials spell out a word like BOG or UGH?”

3. Include a Geographical Reference

Since most prospective tenants search online using a keyword referencing a geographical location, it’s a good practice to include a reference to location when renaming a project.

“From a marketing standpoint, SEO is your number one reason for tying a name to a locality,” said Stephanie Anderson, manager of industry operations for the National Apartment Association.

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After Alexandria, Va.-based real estate investment firm Bonaventure purchased The Edge at 450, a 156-unit apartment property in Norfolk, Va., executives realized that the name—a combination of the address and a reference to the fact that the community was on the edge of downtown—needed to be changed to better reflect the experience they offered residents.

“We felt it was located more in the heart of where the future of downtown was, so we wanted something that positioned the property as being in the center of where downtown is headed,” Dwight Dunton, Bonaventure’s founder & chief executive officer, told MHN.

Originally named The Edge at 450, the 156-unit Aura Downtown in Norfolk, Va., was renamed after its purchase by Bonaventure. The company felt that the name did not adequately reflect the community’s location in the heart of where the future of downtown would be. In addition, by using its “Aura” brand, Bonaventure targeted a younger demographic seeking a highly amenitized urban lifestyle. Image courtesy of Bonaventure

The highly amenitized project was targeted to a young demographic and Dunton wanted to reflect that through the name. So, he changed the name to Aura Downtown, using the firm’s Aura brand, which was consistent with a young demographic seeking an urban lifestyle complete with amenities and robust programming and services.

The result? “We did not invest significant capital into the asset, so we were able to see that the impact was more closely tied to the brand name and positioning of the property,” Dunton explained. “Our occupancies are up, our net effective rents are up, and that building is now recognizable downtown.”

4. Don’t Forget About Intellectual Property

When considering a new name, intellectual property rights are a crucial part of the rebranding process. Protect names and logos and make sure a domain name is available for the project’s website. Since most prospective tenants search for the project’s name online, they should be able to find it easily without being confused by similar-sounding names.

5. Add a Human Touch

One of the latest trends in apartment community names is humanization, or using a name inspired by a person or family member. These names are unique and help a project stand out from the competition. More importantly, a humanized name helps tell the community’s story—and gives it a “wow” factor that gets people talking.

Examples include The Catherine, in Austin, Texas, named after the developer’s daughter; and The George, in Wheaton, Md., named after the property owner’s dog, according to Anderson.

“It’s trendy and catchy to name an apartment building after a person, yet easily memorable,” she added. “These names spur word of mouth, and you really can’t put a price on that with marketing dollars.”

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