Gift Cards Popular as Apartment Leasing Incentives

New York--Recession, more renters have been demanding them and more landlords have been obliging, even if they don't always advertise the fact.

Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

New York–Incentives to encourage leasing apartments are probably as old as apartment leases, but since the beginning of the Great Recession, more renters have been demanding them and more landlords have been obliging, even if they don’t always advertise the fact. Incentives vary widely — “free rent,” moving expenses, or more portable goods such as furniture, entertainment tickets, or home electronics — depending on local market conditions and the temperament of the property owners.

Anecdotal evidence in the apartment business suggests that gift cards are more common as leasing incentives than they used to be. They vary in size and kind, but generally come in the form of widely accepted Visa or Amex cards of a few hundred dollars’ denomination. Even a simple Google search for an apartment–which is how a lot of potential renters start their searches these days–turns up such teasing lines as “$300 American Express Gift Card at move-in!” and “Claim Your $100 Gift Now!” and for a more upscale property, “One-month’s free rent, a gym membership and a $1000 Amex giftcard.”

“Gift cards as incentives have been around for some years, but I’d say they are more popular now than they’ve ever been,” Michele Cohen, operations coordinator for Philadelphia-based student apartment specialist Campus Apartments, tells MHN. “They’re never the only consideration in signing a lease, but they do help get leases signed.”

That’s particularly the case in her submarket, she adds. A “free” month’s rent or the like might be a draw for the parents who typically pay for the student’s apartment, but offering to put a card in the hand of the actually decision-maker — the student — is much more likely to motive a signing.

Even apartment search services are in on gift card offers as a way to incentivize potential tenants. Austin-based Apartment Search by CORT, for instance, will give new tenants $100 Amex gift cards for inking a lease at a property they find through the service, provided they tell the property management that Apartment Search by CORT is how they found the apartment.

“The property managers we deal with say that the prospect of gift cards helps get potential tenants in the door,” Creed Poore, intellectual property manager at Austin-based Apartment Search by CORT, tells MHN. “It’s a more tangible incentive, something you can put in someone’s hand. That’s likely to make an impression.”

Sometimes the cards are “personalized” for a specific property. “Custom gift cards, given to any potential or current renter, are easily personalized to feature apartment complex logos, street addresses, or any other desired image,” a spokeswoman for Gift Card Lab, which provides such a service to apartment owners, tells MHN. “The real estate industry can offer a giveaway that excites potential customers while building brand loyalty.”

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