Boost Marketing Efforts With Resident Referrals

How to use referral programs to increase lease-ups and reduce turnover.

Everyone likes to be rewarded and that’s no different for residents living in a multifamily community. Marketing done by the people living on these properties reaches much further and is one of the most effective forms of promotion there is. After all, who knows a community better than the people living there?

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Friends, relatives and neighbors are a resource for 42 percent of renters searching for a new home, making this the second-most popular source after online searches, according to Zillow Group research. In addition, 17 percent of renters first learn of their new home from their personal networks.

“Getting an opinion from someone who lives and breathes (the community) means way more than ads ever will,” said Joshua Young, vice president of market rate operations at Clinton Management, the property management affiliate of Douglaston Development. “It brings validity to what we are trying to market.” 

Furthermore, a recent report by Nielsen stated that 92 percent of people trust their friends’ and family’s word over any brand. So why not use this to your advantage when it comes to marketing an apartment community?

Getting started

Across its two Brooklyn buildings, 1 North Fourth Place and 2 North Sixth, Clinton Management has garnered a total of 72 referral credits over the past six to eight months. Image courtesy of Draper and Kramer
Across its two Brooklyn, N.Y. buildings, 1 North Fourth Place and 2 North Sixth, Clinton Management has garnered a total of 72 referral credits over the past six to eight months. Image courtesy of Draper and Kramer

Resident referral programs vary from one company to another, but there are a few points to consider for a successful campaign.  

One is education. When putting together such a program it’s important to actively involve all members of the staff so that they can accurately inform residents of what it is and how it works. This will make it easier to get the information out to your residents and create a seamless plan.

This is also helpful when determining what incentives and rules you want to have for the program. Getting the input from the leasing and property management teams can generate new ideas to the discussion, from the duration of the program and what criteria need to be met to what costs are feasible to offer based on your marketing budget.


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Next, find what residents want the most. “The key is to determine what is important to your resident base and deliver based on that,” said Delight Merrill, director of property management at Redwood Residential. “Don’t know what they want? Issue a fun poll to residents—ask and you’ll get a lot of creative input.”

Now that the team has crafted the program, it’s time to fully market it. How are employees going to inform residents of this opportunity? Sure, they could send out an email, but that doesn’t guarantee it won’t be deleted or that most people would even read it.

When creating the marketing strategy for these programs, go big and promote yourselves! Anything works: newsletters, flyers in all common areas, social media posts or specific landing pages from the website. Team members should also be telling all new residents as they move in and even prospects during property tours.

“Find fun ways to remind your residents that the program is available,” said James Love, vice president of marketing and brand at Draper and Kramer. “Then make sure your residents know how easy the program is for them to participate in.”

Bring on the benefits

Residents at Draper and Kramer properties will receive a thank you note once their referral moves in, as the program is more informal and mostly word of mouth.
Residents at Draper and Kramer properties will receive a thank-you note once their referral moves in, as the program is more informal and mostly spread through word of mouth. Image courtesy of Draper and Kramer

Starting a resident referral campaign at a community brings huge benefits for the success of the property and its marketing team.

First of all, resident referral programs are measurable. This means you can keep track of and pull these data points to find out home many of your residents have participated in the program and how many qualifying leads you have. 


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Merrill encourages teams to set aside time to revisit the initiative and make sure there is a clear understanding that the program is a commitment that takes time to see results.

“Clearly communicate your strategy by making S.M.A.R.T goals—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based,” he explained. “When programs are rolled out thoughtfully, amazing results follow.”

A successful referral program can result in a reduction in unit turnover. According to the National Apartment Association, resident turnover costs start at $1,000 and can reach upwards of $5,000, depending on the location and type of property. With a referral program in place, the leasing and marketing teams can incentivize residents to stay longer.

Additionally, a company can see lower resident acquisition costs. Things like advertising, showings and the time it takes to complete a new move-in make a serious dent in the marketing budget for the property. With that in mind, a well-crafted referral program can help mitigate and decrease some of these costs.

Another added benefit is that by generating leads from current residents, leasing staff will be led to other reliable people looking for apartments. These potential renters will most likely already be familiar with the community’s offerings, and that may lead them to be more interested in signing a lease.  

Get rewards going

Redwood Residential suggests polling residents to find out what kind of incentives they are looking for. They will be more likely to participate if they are included in the experience.
Redwood Residential suggests polling residents to find out what kind of incentives they are looking for. Image courtesy of Redwood Residential

Once the marketing team has decided what type of referral program they want to create and what they will be offering residents, the most important thing is to follow through. Referral programs make residents feel more involved, like they’re part of the leasing team and their opinion matters, so they might be more likely to extend their lease.

“Be very transparent with exactly what the referral program is, what the credit will be, and how and when it will be given,” Young said. 

Rewards can include gift cards, rent credits, cash, household appliances or enhanced amenities, but they need to be easily executed within your budget and accurately.

In order to have the program work at a solid pace, it’s important to stay organized. Keep a log of all referrals and the specific resident they came from. From that point, be sure to update the resident on if their referral met the qualifications and if so, when they would be moving in, so the current resident knows when to expect the reward.

Once that new resident has joined the community, send a “thank you” to both residents to show appreciation for their efforts and to welcome the new resident to the property.

“Residents who like where they live can become great marketers and ambassadors for a property,” said Love, “and resident referrals are a tool to convert that positive word of mouth into a lead source.”

Read the October 2021 issue of MHN.