How to Use Data to Create a Personal Connection With Residents

You can get a lot of information from your renters. Here are tips on what to do with it.

If you’re an apartment owner or manager, you’re no doubt collecting data on your residents. It could be basic information, such as birthdays, employer, children’s names and ages, pets or the make and model of their vehicles. Or, perhaps you’re accumulating data by tracking amenity usage or attendance at community events.

However you gather data, the more important issue is how you’re going to use it, and perhaps the best way to apply that data is to improve the resident experience. After all, the happier residents are and the more they love the place they live, the greater the likelihood they will renew.

“The longer a resident stays, the less exposure we have to vacancies,” said Elisha Wolstenholme, executive vice president of multifamily housing for Petrucci Residential in Willow Grove, Pa. “So, we want to collect quality data to figure out what residents like about living there and what we can do to keep them happy.”

Why Resident Satisfaction Matters

Brennen Degner, co-founder and chief executive officer of DB Capital Management, is currently seeing turnover rates in the 50 percent to 70 percent range, depending on submarket. “A lot depends on whether the asset is in a transient location, such as close to a university,” he said. “But historically, we’re seeing a higher turnover rate than we have in the last five to 10 years.”

Turnover costs money—in lost rent and the actual costs to get a unit ready for occupancy again. Chris Domino, associate vice president of ZRS Management in Dallas, said that turnover can run $600 to $4,000 or more, depending on the market.

As a result, landlords have a strong incentive to retain residents. One way to improve retention is to keep residents happy by providing programming and other services targeted to them that are based on the data you collect.

Christine Gustafson, vice president of marketing for The Breeden Co., uses data provided by residents during the leasing process to plan events and other initiatives designed to attract new residents and retain existing ones. Several years ago, after data indicated how many pet owners lived in its communities, the company loosened its pet restrictions to allow three animals per apartment at a time when the industry standard was just two. Breeden also launched pet-related programming, such as photographs with Santa and a “Paws and Pinot” cocktail party. “We found that people were more likely to renew because they’re happy where they live and they feel fulfilled,” she said. “We have the data to support it.”  

Meeting the Needs of Residents Through Data Capture

In addition to collecting resident data from the first point of contact—usually through a website chatbot—Wolstenholme said that Petrucci tracks amenity usage. The data is collected as residents access amenities through a fob or as they schedule use of the gym or movie theater via an app or  the community website.

“You’re able to see what the resident is actually looking for, what they need and how to better their living experience,” she said. “We also know who the actual resident is—where they come from, where they work, the demographics of their family. These things are important to target those people and their specific needs, with the overall goal to make sure we have high occupancy.”

Based on the demographic data it collected and analyzed, Petrucci knew that a large number of residents at its Station at Willow Grove community, a transit-oriented development in Willow Grove, Pa., were college students and healthcare workers. Since many healthcare workers came home late at night, the company ensured that the garage was secure. The data also showed the residents wanted more food options and events, so Petrucci brought in food trucks and established a book club and trivia night to create a sense of community by targeting the exact things the data showed were important to its residents.

Survey Away!

While Franklin, Tenn.-based Bristol Development Group captures certain resident data in its databases—birthdays, for example—the company limits its data collection to avoid violating residents’ privacy. Instead, the company focuses on getting feedback through human interaction and surveys to get a sense of what residents want. “It sometimes takes a few tries to get the engagement we want, and we refine along the way instead of just quantifying usage,” said Lisa Gunderson, Bristol’s vice president of asset management.

Domino said that ZRS, which manages over 76,000 apartments, collects basic information during the leasing process, but uses resident surveys as its primary source of data.  

“We have about 60 properties in Dallas, and you can see trends about what kinds of amenity programming is popular and well received,” he said. “Sometimes we take something that’s working well at one property and roll it over into another market.”

ZRS does surveys each time a work order is completed, after a resident moves in and during the renewal process—usually four or five surveys a year, Domino said. Surveys are sent by email or text, depending on the resident’s preference, and the feedback is used by the company for marketing, event planning and employee training.

Degner said that while DB Capital surveys its residents regularly, it also tracks amenity usage and uses that data to evaluate the types of amenities it will include in new developments. One example is Summit at TPC in San Antonio, where key fob data revealed that an infrared sauna was such a hit with residents that the company is planning to extend the concept to future projects.

But analyzing the data isn’t always easy because it’s often decentralized. For example, survey data is integrated into DB’s property management software and added to the basic demographic information captured during the application process, but fob data captured during amenity use goes into the company’s security-monitoring platform instead, Degner said. “The problem is that the data is in so many different places,” said Ellen Thompson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Respage, a multifamily provider of AI marketing and leasing solutions. “We’re still in the process of figuring out how to get all the data normalized and together—that’s the aspirational hope.”

Read the July 2024 issue of MHN.

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