MHN Executive Council: How Leasing Has Evolved Over the Last 3 Years

Everything changed during COVID, and that includes appealing to prospective residents.

MHN Executive CouncilThe pandemic changed how we all do business. Leasing in particular has evolved to fit the needs of today’s renter. This month, the MHN Executive Council examines how leasing has adapted, and it gives examples of how to incorporate some of these changes.

Mary Cook

Mary Cook, president and founder, Mary Cook Associates. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates

Digital Experience…Or Not

The role of the leasing office changed dramatically with the pandemic and advances in technology. In the past, the leasing office was a back room where potential renters would be brought to complete a lease application and answer confidential financial questions. The process could be quite intimidating. Print sales material and floor plans displayed on the wall did the talking.

When the iPad entered the picture, leasing agents were free to get up out of their chair and talk through selling points supported by web-based images. Digital renderings and virtual walk-throughs jump-started pre-leasing promotions online. Now leasing applications, virtual tours of units and amenities, unit selection and questions can all be handled without ever visiting on-site.

Keep in mind that demographics play a key role in how a leasing office utilizes technology. A digital experience with renters in San Francisco’s Bay Area can quickly meet capacity while a Baby Boomer may still prefer an in-person connection with a leasing representative. During the pandemic, many leasing office personnel played a vital role in keeping a sense of community going by greeting residents, getting to know them personally and making them feel less isolated. Even with AI and chatbots, some renters will always want to interact with a person to get an authentic sense of the environment and the people who live there. —Mary Cook, President, Mary Cook Associates

Stephanie Anderson, Senior Director of Communication & Social Media, Grace Hill.

Stephanie Anderson, Senior Director of Communication & Social Media, Grace Hill. Image courtesy of Grace Hill

Three-Prong Approach

There are many changes in the leasing role that have evolved over the past three years. My top three shifts reflect the evolving needs and preferences of renters, as well as the broader trends in the real estate industry. Successful leasing professionals have adapted to these changes, embracing technology, prioritizing customer experience and leveraging data to excel in their role.

  1. Technology-driven processes: The advent of technology has significantly impacted the apartment leasing process. Online listings, virtual tours, and digital applications have become more prevalent, allowing prospective residents to explore and apply remotely. Leasing professionals now rely on various software tools and platforms to streamline operations and provide a seamless digital experience for potential renters.
  2. Enhanced customer experience: There has been a shift towards prioritizing the customer experience in apartment leasing. Leasing professionals now focus on creating personalized interactions, understanding resident needs, and providing exceptional (and memorable) service throughout the leasing journey. Building strong relationships and fostering trust have become crucial for success in this role.
  3. Data-driven decision-making: The use of data and analytics has become increasingly important in the leasing process. Property management companies leverage data to gain insights into market trends, pricing strategies, and resident preferences. This information helps leasing professionals make informed decisions to optimize occupancy rates, rental rates, and overall leasing strategies. —Stephanie Anderson, Senior Director, Grace Hill

Diana Pittro, Executive Vice President, RMK Management Corp.

Diana Pittro, Executive Vice President, RMK Management Corp.

People Pleaser

While technology continues to evolve and new apps are introduced, we have found face-to-face engagement and strong customer service skills are actually more valued than the latest proptech. Residents and prospects expect and appreciate this personal interaction, particularly as their needs and demands have increased since the pandemic years.

Something as important as putting down money on your apartment is a serious financial step, and new AI tools are no substitute for a real name, smile and voice to help you through the process—especially for first-time renters. Residents who have concerns or questions during their time at your property certainly demand a face-to-face interaction and usually become even more stressed if that response is not from an actual person.

In addition, a prospect’s first impression of a property is its leasing team, so we continue to enhance our training and mentoring for new leasing team members, such as a leasing trainer, which is a new role we’ve added in the last few years. —Diana Pittro, Executive Vice President, RMK Management

Lili Dunn, president & CEO of Bell Partners

Lili Dunn, president & CEO of Bell Partners. Image courtesy of Bell Partners

Customer Service

The pandemic accelerated changes already underway and introduced new challenges and opportunities for our leasing associates. Our technology needs accelerated as more of our prospect traffic demanded virtual and self-guided touring. Others continue to prefer human interaction, whether it’s speaking to a live person or doing an in-person tour. And with more people working from home, prospects today are looking to address new space and technology needs when shopping for an apartment. At the same time, the tight labor market has placed more demands on existing staff at our communities. By investing in digital, virtual and AI tools, we are addressing these challenges by providing on-demand responses and more consistency, and deploying our leasing teams more effectively by letting them do what they do best: interact with our customers in the way customers want to be interacted with. —Lili Dunn, CEO & President, Bell Partners

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