Spring Community Events That Attract Residents
As multifamily operators head into summer, virtual events will be supplemented with outdoor activities.
After the onset of COVID-19, the management team at FirstService Residential’s Port Liberte community in Jersey City, N.J., missed the face-to-face interaction with their residents. So they decided to have a parade.
Participants decorated their cars with signs displaying uplifting messages (hand- painted by Judith Vreeland, the property manager), lined up the vehicles and paraded around the community.
“They stopped on each street, waved, honked and even danced a bit in the streets,” said Michelle Kithcart, director of lifestyle programming at FirstService Residential. “Residents and their families watched from their patios, porches and balconies with their families while clanging pots and pans. It was definitely an event that will be remembered for years to come.”
The warm weather is back, and apartment residents are eager to get outside for some fun. Savvy property managers use spring fever to their advantage by organizing activities that build camaraderie and resident retention. The COVID-19 vaccine has made it safer to be out and about, but some restrictions still apply, depending on where you are operating. Before you plan your next event, remember to check local safety guidelines.
“People are missing interaction,” Maria Pietroforte, CPM, founder of Maria Pietroforte Consulting, told Multi-Housing News. “In that spirit, this is a fabulous opportunity to ask your residents for ideas.” Put it out there on social media, email blasts and posters, and reward the best ideas with a gift card. That lays the foundation for participation.
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Even before the pandemic, Related Cos. was offering a variety of resident programming through Related Life, a membership program with perks, benefits and activities, with an emphasis on fun, making connections and enrichment.
Virtual events have been tremendously important since the outbreak to keep residents engaged and happy, Amy Dell, Related’s director of events, programming and new amenities, told MHN.
“They have provided an escape from everything that’s been going on. In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a huge focus on self-improvement. People were learning how to make their own sourdough starters and they wanted to learn how to make bread and coffee and all those things, so we provided that content,” she noted.
The Related Life team is able to work with partners like Equinox, SoulCycle and Dog City to create programming for Related residents. In addition, they can leverage relationships with prominent Related-owned properties, like The Shops at Columbus Circle and The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
“We’re always on top of the trends and coming up with new content and fresh concepts to keep the residents happy and entertained and connected,” Dell said.
One day it might be making chicken gyros with the chef at Estiatorio Milos. “Last night we did a comedy show on Zoom with three different comedians for our residents. We had 150 people RSVP,” Dell reported. “We have done a recent event for our studio and one-bedroom residents called ‘Finding Love with The League,’ helping people meet each other, which is obviously challenging during this time.”
Related Life has also hosted astrologers and weekly STEM sessions for families where kids learn science and math. One-on-one sessions have been offered for pottery workshops and a 3D printing workshop where residents printed Christmas and Hanukkah ornaments.
FirstService Residential recognized that social isolation could have a significant impact on residents’ well-being. The company responded with initiatives designed to keep residents feeling connected. That included weekly manager videos to update residents on what was going on in their community, essential initiatives like “neighbors helping neighbors” check-in programs and the [email protected] program.
“We also conducted close to 50 webinars—at first around everything COVID-19 and now to more evergreen topics—all aimed at educating our constituents through this challenging and unprecedented time,” Kithcart said.
FirstService Residential’s [email protected] program provides access and discounts on virtual experiences and programming that aggregates free entertainment, education and health, fitness and wellness content, as well as content provided exclusively to FirstService Residential residents and associates.
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In addition to catering to residents’ needs, these companies are providing opportunities to give back.
“I also think heart-centered activities are attractive to people right now,” Pietroforte noted.
Small actions like “adopting” a street or organizing a one-time event where residents go and pick up trash from a park or beach can make a big difference. While using their own cars and keeping a safe distance, residents can do something to help the community.
At Ave Maria in Florida, one of FirstService Residential’s trophy multigenerational communities, the residents have been working together on various fundraising initiatives to support the local community. Most recently, they have donated more than 3,000 handmade masks to the neighboring town of Immokalee, a nearby hospital, the local fire department, the women’s shelter, the health department and a variety of local nonprofits.
Activating outdoor space safely this summer is everyone’s No. 1 goal. Outdoor concerts, movies in the park, scavenger hunts, walking challenges, fitness classes, holiday parades, food truck rallies and events around the pool deck are some of the activities residents would like to see.
Strategies for success
Planning a strategic mix of events is key to success, Pietroforte said. “You’ve got to have different things that attract different people at your community. If you’re only touching the same 10 percent every time, you’re really not successful and you won’t be successful in terms of retention either.”
Apartment communities can plan a robust social calendar with activities that work equally well on Zoom or as in-person outdoor gatherings—and socially distanced as necessary. Host a book club, wine or beer tasting, cooking lesson or charades/game night. There are lot of ways to have fun.
Or organize a school-supply drive for children in need, donate to a food bank or plan a clothes swap where residents bring gently used items from their household. Everybody at the community can come and take home something different.
“You just need to buy a few racks or have your maintenance team string something up,” Pietroforte pointed out. “A clothes swap can be done outdoors. Afterwards, donate everything left over to a local group, such as a shelter.”
Another popular event, the inaugural Homestead Resident Scarecrow-Making Contest, was born in one of FirstService Residential’s 55-and-better communities. Entrants were invited to register as a household, group of friends or as part of an association-chartered committee, club or group. Scarecrows were then strategically displayed around the amenity center from mid-October through Halloween, allowing residents to walk around and cast their votes.
“A little friendly competition is never a bad thing, either,” Kithcart said.
In the warmer weather, outdoor programming like rooftop yoga—in line with all of the COVID-19 guidelines and at a much-reduced capacity—always gets a thumbs up.
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Pietroforte also observed that people feel good when they’re connected to the earth and taking care of a garden.
“Instead of hiring the landscaper, you can have residents plant flowers. Or find an unused spot on the property for vegetables,” she suggested. “You could take that a step further and bring the flowers and produce to a shelter or senior center. There’s nothing (that feels) better than that. A lot of properties do community gardens for themselves, but I think the sharing is just so powerful.”
According to Dell, RSVPs are a good measure of engagement. Feedback from residents—via social media, direct emails or a comment to their building manager or lifestyle director—also helps measure ROI.
Tracking the details of every event, no matter how small, is a must—so make sure you record the budget, the actual cost and attendees so you can evaluate their success.
Some of the most successful events require the lowest investment. For examples, activities involving pets tend to be very popular.
“We know residents like to meet for coffee at the property,” Pietroforte told MHN. “You could have 10 or 20 ‘to-go’ cups set up. Residents pick up their coffee and go for a group dog walk together.”
Or you can arrange a barter with a local pet store for grooming or training, or host a petting zoo starring residents’ pets. For Easter, a Milk-Bone hunt (a variation on the traditional Easter egg hunt) is another way to bring four-legged and two-legged residents together for some playtime.
“Don’t skip the name badges because it gives you a reason to record their names; sometimes people can bring friends (these are prospects) and you don’t even know it,” Pietroforte suggested. “A lot of times properties will do big summer events at the pool, and you could spend $5,000 depending on your budget—then you have 20 people show up. That’s a very low ROI.”