By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor
Mobile and tablet technologies are helping to revolutionize the way property management companies market and lease apartments and collect rent from residents. Property managers are captivated by the rich potential such technology presents, and the reason is as close as the tips of their fingers.
“It’s exciting because very few of us are more than an arm’s length away from our phones, and that certainly applies to renters,” says Mike Whaling, president of 30 Lines, a Columbus, Ohio-based digital marketing consulting firm.
Jay Bhattacharya, CEO of New York City’s Zipmark, a mobile check payment application, agrees. “If you think about mobile technology, it’s the only thing you can be certain that renters will have in their pockets,” says Bhattacharya.
Communities are seeing a huge percentage of their traffic originating from mobile and tablet technologies. “Some companies are getting up to 30 percent of their traffic from mobile devices, and a large part of that is from iPads,” according to Lisa Trosien, president of Naperville, Ill.-based ApartmentExpert.com.
Indeed, mobile technology is ideally suited for property management because of its disproportionate adoption by the renting population. Citing a July 2011 survey entitled “Getting Inside the Head of Today’s Online Renter” that was conducted in cooperation with SatisFacts Research, Whaling reports that the percentage of renters with smart phones is twice that of the overall population.
According to the survey, more than 87 percent of renters surveyed have some type of smart phone. That compares to about 35 percent of the general populace, reported by some studies, Whaling says. “For the renting population, accessing the Internet and having data at their fingertips is not a luxury; it’s something that population expects,” he adds.
Mobile apartment searches
If a prospective resident is already conducting a search for an apartment on a mobile device, he or she is likely much further along in the purchasing process, Whaling says.
“The intent to buy is much higher when someone’s searching from a mobile device,” he says. Plenty of opportunities exist to tap into the numerous capabilities of the device. Prospects can respond by calling the property directly, text messaging, scanning a QR code, accessing a map or watching a video when they leverage the unique capabilities of the smartphone.
For property management companies, “putting that SMS or QR code on a print ad is an easy way of determining what everyone wants to know—what kind of bang for their buck they’re getting from the print ad,” Whaling says.
To ensure they leverage these capabilities, property management firms should have sites optimized for mobile phones. Yet, according to Trosien, this is a commodity many companies in the apartment industry lack.
“Many don’t know what a mobile website is,” she says. “They believe if it’s viewable on a tablet or a mobile phone, it’s a mobile website—and it’s not. A mobile website has about 75 percent of the efficiency of a typical website. It has four or five large buttons on the main page [and] is very easy to navigate, and typically you don’t have to zoom or really scroll. You want to talk to your web designer about responsive web design, which means the site recognizes what device is accessing it and presents the appropriate screen to that device.”
Tablets in leasing
Many companies are building leasing-specific applications for tablets considering that it’s far easier to display information on such a device. Thus, tablets are a better choice for entering information on guest cards or displaying a video, says Whaling.
Tablets bring greater efficiency to the leasing process, he adds. Agents can bring up property management software on their tablets, set up photo slideshows, host videos and show floor plans as they move about a property.
However, there are concerns connected to this leasing capability. One is the need to ensure leasing agents are well trained in using the devices.
“Property management companies I hear from say they don’t want iPads walking off the property in the possession of leasing agents or prospects,” Whaling adds. “That may be another concern.”
Overall, however, the advantages of using tablets in leasing far outweigh the negatives, Trosien says. “If you’re using the right property management software, you can have [prospects] lease apartments right there, when their buying temperature is highest,” she remarks. “You can seize that moment and opportunity. You can do it at poolside, in a model apartment or in the vacant apartment home itself.”
Paying rent with mobile phones
Use of mobile phones by residents to pay rent is another promising area. This advance helps address low adoption on tenant portals and the uncertainty as to whether residents have received a paper invoice by hand, says Bhattacharya, whose mobile payment app allows property managers to produce paper invoices enabled with a Zipmark QR code.
“With this application, you know for sure the resident has received that rent invoice,” he says. “Residents receive a push notification. When they click on the notification, it takes them into the Zipmark application. They’re presented with all the line items of the invoice and then can authorize electronic payment.”
Bhattacharya goes on to highlight what sets Zipmark’s system apart from the competition.
“What’s different is we authorize the payment in real time, instantly making sure there’s sufficient funds for the payment. We can settle payments to the property manager overnight, as opposed to the typical two to four days.”
The outcome of this is a treasury income opportunity for larger property management firms and a cash management tool for smaller landlords. In addition, this solution contributes to increasingly paperless offices. After the first time the paper bill is scanned by the smart phone, all subsequent bills come directly to the phone, streamlining both payment and communication.
As mobile technology evolves, opportunity will grow to present renters with more self-service tools. Once prospects enter an apartment, for instance, there may be a chance to show them a video or send them to a community blog or resident portal to offer a sense of the lifestyle of that community, says Whaling.
“Or you could have a poster at a bus stop with a QR code saying, ‘Scan this to find out more about your next apartment’,” he suggests. “That content can be specific to the bus stop where the prospect is standing. That’s the power of mobile.”