Don’t Sleep Through the Slow Season

It can be tempting for multifamily marketers and individual apartment communities to view the slow season as the off-season, but that can have potentially damaging repercussions. Industry experts weigh in on how to stay active during those months to kick-start leasing.

After an intense leasing season, the winter months symbolize something of a breather, a time to temporarily scale back before gearing up for what is certain to be a robust spring.

It’s easy to fall into that trap.

Paul Willis
Paul Willis

It can be tempting for multifamily marketers and individual apartment communities to view the slow season as the off-season, but that can have potentially damaging repercussions. Marketing can’t be turned on and off like a light switch, as most campaigns take time to catch on and produce results.

“I would never recommend turning off marketing completely,” said Katie Nelson, director of marketing for CAPREIT. “Many times, the slow season is when you ramp up your marketing efforts to bring you into the prime leasing season with a bang. If you shut off marketing, you shut off your voice to your audience.”

Even if occupancy rates are high and few move-outs are anticipated, disregarding marketing efforts until the spring thaw is not a best marketing practice.  That’s not to say certain campaigns or practices cannot be adjusted.

“For example, say you have very little vacancy coming up that you need to fill within a two- or three-month time period,” said Jennifer Anderson, director of B2B marketing for RentPath. “You don’t shut off all of your marketing—it takes a lot of time to rebuild that momentum—but perhaps you shift your focus and investment strategy to achieve short-term goals. It’s really about pulling the right levers at the right time to achieve specific outcomes.”

Although it might be difficult to generate a significant amount of leases in November and December, marketing efforts that keep the community fresh in the minds of prospects who might lease months later can have a far-reaching positive impact.

Resident Retention 

Communities also can utilize the slow season to focus efforts on retaining current residents. This can include holiday events geared toward resident appreciation and reminders to residents about any referral bonuses. This is an ideal time to initiate a positive review campaign, as well.

“We are always marketing,” Nelson said. “During our slower times, we will ramp up our resident referral programs, host open houses, invest in our community businesses and promote our communities by word of mouth. We also use organic lead generation to keep our brand fresh and authentic.”

Compare Yearly Performance 

Cassie Khaing, senior brand manager for Mill Creek Residential, notes that the slow season might differ, even if slightly so, from market to market. To plan accordingly, she analyzes each community’s performance over the previous year and avoids any preset budget plans that encompass the entire portfolio.

“I look at the trailing 12 months to account for those cyclical times,” Khaing said. “Rather than having a predetermined amount set aside for a paid ad campaign or an ILS in certain months, we account for times of the year when we may see those cyclical downturns and adjust the budgets accordingly.”

Self-Evaluation

Jim Kjolhede, president & founder of multifamily consulting firm Satteron Enterprises, believes the slow season should serve as a time of evaluation. It’s difficult to analyze all performance metrics during the whirlwind of leasing season, and sometimes the rental boom of spring can provide a gloried view of accomplishments while temporarily masking any shortcomings in a marketing strategy.

“You need to be thinking what the property needs to especially focus on to achieve and exceed the next year’s budget,” Kjolhede said, “It might be faster make-readies, it might be better customer service, or it might be better follow-up efforts from the leasing team. But you need to decide on six to 10 things that you are really going to focus on in addition to the usual KPIs.”

Kjolhede also recommends making any team adjustments and to address any performance issues during this time. It’s also important to conduct a sit-down meeting with each associate to gather their thoughts on the previous year and what their ambitions are moving forward. This serves in the dual capacity of allowing the associate to communicate any needs from the community and a chance to provide them with direction.

Revisit Old Leads 

Slow season is a prime time to revisit any old leads. Perhaps some of those prospects are still looking—or are unhappy with the original apartment they chose—and are more likely to consider your community now than they would have months earlier.

“You have this list of prospective renters, and maybe you can’t meet their needs immediately,” Anderson said. “Does it make sense to put together some sort of a nurture campaign that gives them a reason why they should wait for you? Believe it or not, there is an opportunity for that. Just because someone’s lease is ending in three months and you might not have availability right now, it doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to wait. It just depends on the type of renter you’re targeting and what they prioritize in their living experience.”

These types of renters, who might pay an extra month-to-month premium at their current community if it means they can move to yours when it becomes available, want to know if you can be a resource for them and not just sell them something. The slow season allows marketers to invest more time in that type of content and outreach, the type that is more about providing resources for the prospect than filling vacancies.

The perception is that slow season is exhalation time. But there are plenty of activities marketers can do during the quieter months that can equate to entering the actual leasing season at full throttle. And for those communities who choose to kick back, the results will likely be telling.

“Performance is not something that happens to you,” Kjolhede said. “It is something that you plan for, execute and achieve through careful planning and adjustments along the way.”


Paul Willis is a content manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing. He works with several professionals across the multifamily industry.