Leasing Insight: Keys to Connecting with Prospects

Generating leads is one challenge. The next hurdle is converting prospects to residents.

Generating leads is one challenge. The next hurdle is converting prospects to residents. Some leasing associates make this process appear effortless—but they’re likely benefitting from one of many training programs developed with leasing professionals in mind. And while it’s critical to hone selling skills, closing the deal also requires the right mix of curb appeal, rapport and technology.

“Our business is completely dependent on the visual appeal of the community,” says Israel  Carunungan, national director of marketing at TGM Associates. Impressions are made the moment the prospect enters the property, so everything from signage to landscaping to overall cleanliness of the community—as well as the condition of the toured apartment—all play into the decision-making.

“You may not necessarily get the lease directly as a result of the visual appeal,” adds Carunungan, “but it’s highly possible to easily lose that prospect if they don’t receive a good first impression.”

Eric Brown, owner of Urbane Apartments in Royal Oak, Mich., agrees that curb appeal is huge. “It IS the first impression—or at least one of the first impressions,” adds Brown. “Drive-by is still the best marketing tool we all have. Can you imagine a retailer not putting their best foot forward?”

In fact, Brown thinks that occupancy would increase if apartment marketers thought more like retailers. For example, the “tour route“ should be strategically planned and impeccably maintained. “We believe that properly merchandizing your product to align with your brand and core demographic makes all the difference,” says Brown.

Sergio Navarette, founder and head of business development at marketing company Occupancy 100, suggests incorporating a simple but effective idea that came from a neighbor. “Having a full, wall-sized mirror behind your front desk at your leasing office will do many great things. First, it will make your office look much bigger than it actually is (this is great for properties with small leasing offices). This also positively affects your prospective resident’s first impression of the property because they won’t feel as cramped in a small office as they usually would. Secondly, having a full, wall-sized mirror will help you deal with angry residents. Putting a large (full wall) mirror behind the customer service desk will drastically reduce angry resident outbursts. The reason it works: People do not like watching themselves be angry (just like you don’t like to watch them get angry); it is a subconscious psychological reflex to seeing their angry selves staring back. Simple, but effective,” says Navarette in one of his blogs.

Certainly the ability to quickly build rapport with the prospect is key to the leasing outcome, especially since the leasing agent is on the very front line of the sales process. “The agent is literally the first person that the prospect would see when they walk into the leasing office, unless you have a concierge,” notes Carunungan. Therefore, being able to connect with people is the most important criteria in hiring a leasing agent.

“You can’t have someone in that position who is introverted or unable to communicate properly,” he adds. “To me, the leasing agent is a sales person, plain and simple. We are trying to convert that prospect into a lease by presenting the value and benefits of living in our community. If you don’t have a good salesperson, then you’ll have a very difficult time convincing someone to live in your community, no matter how great that community is.”

“Energy and enthusiasm are contagious,” said multifamily training and marketing expert Lisa Trosien, founder of ApartmentExpert.com, during her NAA Conference session, “The Science and Psychology of Leasing.” When these two factors are present, you can close a lease for every prospect. According to Trosien, a surprising number of multifamily leasing professionals aren’t conveying energy and enthusiasm.

Another missed opportunity is not taking the time to get to know the prospect’s needs. “Statistics tell us we’re not doing a good job with that,” said Trosien, who suggested focusing on the prospect rather than trying to multi-task. But don’t pounce on prospects the minute they walk in the door; in fact, be aware that they will need a 12-foot decompression zone to acclimate to the new environment. Be cognizant that visuals are ignored in this zone.

“Every day on the site is like a job interview with your prospects,” Trosien added. Let people talk about themselves. And, as you’re listening to what they’re looking for in an apartment home, say, “You’re right,” not “I know.” Confirm their opinion, and keep the focus of attention on the prospect.

Urbane Apartments encourages prospects to tour at their own pace. A “Go Solo” tour program, implemented three years ago, starts at the centralized leasing center, called The Urbane Underground. It’s more like visiting an eclectic museum or fun house than a leasing center.

“The prospects love the ‘Go Solo’ program, even though our peers in the industry think it lacks service and that it isn’t professional—this is bunk. We believe that you need to entertain the prospect, and we do that at every ‘touch point.’ So, we tell lots of stories, get to know the prospect really well, but let them tour alone, and return the keys whenever they can, allowing them to revisit with a boyfriend or girlfriend or their parents,” says Brown.

Carunungan says, “You can use technology to automate functions, but at the end of the day, your people will still need to be able to execute.” Lead management and online billing systems are great examples of leveraging technology to help make operations more efficient, he adds, but you don’t necessarily have to have a high-tech leasing operation to succeed. “In my opinion,” adds Carunungan, “you need the right people in the right places, first and foremost.”

While Carunungan thinks kiosks can complement leasing agents, he also thinks companies are making a big mistake when they take away the human interaction—either by using kiosks exclusively for leasing or when residents mail their rents to an offsite location rather than the leasing office. “We are in the people business, for better or worse. A home is a personal thing to people, and in most cases, it’s the biggest expense they have every month.”

Brown agrees that tools can’t replace human interaction. Kiosks are cool but the focus should be on entertaining the prospect. “Stop selling and start engaging so that the prospect’s experience is enhanced,” says Brown. “Even more important than high-tech is inserting fun into as many places as you can. Do this and your occupancy will climb.”

Leasing tips

TGM Associates’ Israel Carunungan shares these suggestions:

  • Do make a good impression; make a connection with people
  • Do hire the right people for the right positions (a great leasing agent may not be a great assistant manager)
  • Do ask questions about what they are looking for in an apartment
  • Do present the value and benefits in living in your community
  • Do maintain your property at the highest level at all times
  • Do follow up with every prospect
  • Don’t assume you have the best property in the world: a lease is not a given—it’s earned
  • Don’t use technology as a crutch—or to replace people
  • Treat your customers with respect; don’t let them wait for a long time