By Meeghan Fuhr
For years, many multifamily portfolio owners and managers with small portfolios have gotten by without providing online services for residents. But as online portals have become more common, they have also become less expensive and much easier to customize for any given portfolio. Because of this, residents expect this when searching for an apartment. They no longer view the ability to complete tasks online as a bonus, but rather as a given.
The crucial service to provide
The ability to pay rent online is key. And, according to Ray Szabo, a residential and commercial property manager with Santa Barbara Real Estate & Investment, providing this service is beneficial to landlords. “Having an online payment system eliminates the opportunity for a myriad of excuses that residents have for why they weren’t able to pay their rent on time, such as issues with the mail, running out of checks and so on,” he said. “It’s much more convenient from a landlord’s perspective to know that you will get paid on time.”
More often than not, residents prefer making their payments online as well. “It’s a lot safer and more convenient for residents to pay online; they don’t have to worry about their information being lost in the mail, and they can still quickly and easily make the payment if they are out of town,” Szabo said.
There are many different online payment services that can provide extra convenience, such as recurring payments, SMS payments, automatic reminders, access to payment history and emailed receipts. Some programs also let you decide who pays the transaction fee, with the choice of splitting the fee between the landlord and resident.
Customize your services to fit your needs
The cost of online programs varies based on what type of services you choose, but they have become increasingly affordable for multifamily portfolio owners and managers of all sizes. “There are some pretty simple programs like PayPal that are reliable for rent payments, or there are more complex programs that provide a number of different services,” Szabo said.
Aside from rent payments, other services can be streamlined online as well, such as resident applications, approvals/denials, maintenance request submissions and copies of leases. Residents like to have as much knowledge at their fingertips as possible, so the more you can provide them, the more value they typically see.
Exploring possible negatives
There can be downsides, however, to removing the interaction between residents and landlords. An issue that often comes up among renters is that they feel their maintenance requests aren’t being handled as quickly when submitted online. “Usually small repairs are fine to submit online, but in cases where there are pressing, time-sensitive issues, it’s typically better to get on the phone or even text message so you can ensure that someone is on top of it,” said Szabo.
The number of smart phone users across the globe is astronomical, and property owners and managers might consider providing an app. However, according to Szabo, this isn’t always necessary. “It doesn’t make much of a difference whether it’s an app or a website, as long as the residents are able to open the site and navigate it with ease from their phone.”
How do you start implementing these changes at your community? Start small, and then take it from there.
“There are tons of different options out there that can be tailored to your specific needs, just make sure the program you choose is thoroughly tested and provides value to you and your residents. Not every service needs to be moved online,” Szabo said. “The mere ability to pay rent on the computer or smart phone is a big plus in and of itself.”