The Operations Factor: AIM Report, Day 3

Why marketing professionals and property managers should balance resident autonomy with prudent team-building.

A discussion between Lacy Jungman, Lindsay Duffy, Michelle Tate and Robert Gayle. Image by Gabriel Frank

Resident self service and lucrative opportunities in the single-family sector were among the topics discussed on the final day of the 2023 Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference.

Automated autonomy

Following extensive conversations on the use of automation in multifamily marketing, one scheduled discussion focused on self-service options for residents and prospective renters. In the era of e-commerce, renters want the ability to move at their own pace in their apartment searches. From the moment a self-guided tour at a community is scheduled up until the lease renewal process, innovative leasing teams oversee a renter’s ability to move at their own pace.

“If I have to go to a leasing office, it’s because I have to find something that I can’t find myself,” explained Tiffanie Byrd, managing director of operations at Sack Properties. “We have sites with no bodies on them. You walk up and stand a QR code, (where) you are sent building goals.”

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Byrd perceives the push for renter-self service as something that will make the lives of renters more convenient and reduce potential friction in the leasing process. This could mean personnel reductions, which Byrd conceded was something that happened at her company. “We didn’t want to cut head count, but we wanted to reduce our reliance on human capital. We have humans feeding the automation, but the warm body in the chair, especially in smaller communities, is archaic.”

At the same time, marketing professionals and property managers should only adopt technologies that allow for a degree of autonomy that is appropriate in a given community, said Hope Dunleavy, enterprise managing consultant for RealFoundations. “You want the applications that are being used onsite to be helpful and not a burden to associates.”  One way to test the waters is to roll out an initial program, ideally one developed with a given firm or community’s needs in mind.

In terms of what the adoption should actually look like, Carol Enoch, CEO of Enoch & Co. and the discussion moderator, sees the data dimension as directed by what works best for customers. “The numbers don’t have to be complicated, they just have to be clear,” she said. Additionally, the relationship-related component should not be discounted either. “It should be a coordinated effort between a marketing team and an IT team, (where) you make sure that the tech is doing what you want it to do.”

Hiring and retaining the best talent is a focus for many in multifamily marketing and property management. Echoing a sentiment from the previous day, one featured discussion addressed employee retention. “People want to be specific about what they can do, as well as areas they can grow into,” detailed Robert Gayle, senior vice president of operations at CARROLL.

Opportunity in single family

The conference’s final discussion covered a series of different investor relationships with single-family rental properties, and the impact of market trends, such as a shortage of ongoing housing development and the 417 percent increase of people working from home. “The value proposition is to address the housing shortage, where you are providing what the renter wants in that submarket,” said Sparkle Allen, senior vice president of marketing and brand experience at FirstKey Homes.

What do the renters want? “Two-story homes,” which Allen sees as a uniquely lucrative and sustainable investment opportunity. “We can build them with sustainable specifications, and have a really good product with really good renters.”

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