Leasing Apartments without Paper

The industry makes significant headway in eliminating what used to be a necessity in the office.

The benefits of going paperless can be pretty dramatic for property management firms, but few experience the drama that one company witnessed.

“We had a client who went paperless, and the next day their office building burned down,” recalls Lauryn Radice, managing director with SyndicIT Services Corporation. “Because they had gone paperless, all their documents, all their records were protected, and they were able to preserve business continuity.”

The advantages of a paperless office extend well beyond protecting key documents and records, however. Those advantages include time and cost savings, protection against identity theft and the ability to ensure compliance audits can be done easily, says Radice, whose Austin-based company provides enhanced technology solutions tailored to the property management industry.

Moreover, she asserts, there is no reason for property management to delay going paperless.  “The paperless office is possible, and now is the time to make the transition,” Radice says. “There are growing ranks of young renters, and environmentally conscious renters, who are used to signing documents with electronic signatures and having the ability to access pertinent information without having to visit the leasing office.”

Taming the paper

The upsides of going paperless begin with better marketing management, says Eric Broughton, president and chief operating officer of Chicago’s Yield Technologies, whose RentSentinel software-as-a-service product covers functions from listings to leasing. “You are able to better track your prospects until they become customers and beyond,” he says. “That’s because through digital transactions, you’re able to track each step of the process.”

In leasing, many other positives emerge. They include the ability to let prospects execute leases anywhere, whether at the leasing office, at home or in a coffee house. Because everything is transmitted digitally, typos and other results of human error can be easily avoided. In addition, once electronic documents are executed, copies can be both routed to the renter and kept in a digital repository from which they can be accessed quickly and easily.

Going paperless generates enormous cost and time savings, Radice reports. “You save a lot on paper, ink and paper-based supplies, as well as [not] having to store seven years’ worth of documents,” she says.

“It also reduces the costs of having to travel across properties in your portfolio. With all your documents electronically accessible, it eliminates the need to visit individual properties to perform detailed audits.”

Then there is the time involved in dealing with paper. Radice reports her company has learned that across the industry, 30 to 40 percent of time in leasing offices is consumed making copies, sending faxes, making files, digging through files and otherwise handling paper. “At the property level, that time could be better spent signing up new residents and improving retention,” she says.

Growing concerns about identity theft are another reason to go paperless. “You’re dealing with people’s social security numbers, credit card numbers, their background checks, credit checks and employment records,” Radice says. After turning to a paperless office, she adds, “you can tell prospects that, yes, we’re gathering all this information but storing it in the most secure way possible, where no one can pull a file and access your information. And it also protects property management companies from lawsuits having to do with identity theft.”

Another upside to the paperless office is compliance. With a strong document management system, it should be easy to perform audits to ensure you’re legally in the right.

When it comes to the indispensable tools that can help them go paperless, property management companies should not overlook the fact that they have already likely invested in one of the most effective tools available: the latest generation of multi-function printers.

“These are very smart printers that people do not really know how to fully use,” Radice says. “The ability to link up a document management system to the scanner and printing device already in your office makes the process of going paperless so simple.  Instead of making a copy, you’re sending that document right into the document management system with the press of a button.”

One company’s experience

Atlanta-based Gables Residential is a leader in the transition to the paperless office. “Leasing online has allowed us to have virtual files for our residents and eliminate the paper files in our offices,” says Cristina Sullivan, the company’s senior vice president and executive director of operations.

“We obviously don’t have to design all the storage needed to house files. But on the process side, Gables’ goal is to have on-site associates spending the majority of their time leasing and providing customer service. By using virtual rather than real storage, it may allow us to do some central processing of back-office functions from a central office. Those functions might include entering rent checks, processing invoices and serving notices on delinquent residents,” she adds.

At Gables, paper brochures have become e-brochures, and the resident portal allows residents to pay rent, review payment histories, make service requests and correspond with management sans paper, Sullivan says. Resident and prospect surveys have gone electronic, and employee documentation is all online, from applications to new hire paperwork and annual reviews.

“We’re largely paperless,” Sullivan adds. “We started with the low-hanging fruit and have worked toward being as efficient and paperless as possible.”

The response has been positive from residents, who do not care as much about the fact Gables is paperless as they do about the convenience that generates for them. “People who are busy want to be able to do things on their own time,” Sullivan says.  “Our residents like having the flexibility of dealing with us when it’s convenient for them.”