Leasing: There’s an App for That

The launch of Apple's iPad is changing the way apartment communities do business

Shortly after the introduction of Apple’s iPad, Steve Lefkovits called the president of a 5,000-unit property management firm. The Emeryville, Calif.-based executive producer of the Apartment Internet Marketing (AIM) Conference wanted to know what his friend thought of the new applications.

“I was surprised he didn’t sound more enthusiastic,” Lefkovits recalls. He said, ‘Yeah, the applications are okay, but we’re already building our own. And it should be ready next week.’”

The short conversation left an impression on Lefkovits. “Not only is a whole new era being ushered in, but the accessibility of the device means all kinds of folks will be able to write their own applications,” he says. “It won’t be limited just to some of the established software and service providers.”

It’s already off to a great start, thanks to Realty DataTrust’s VaultWare, an apartment marketing and leasing solution offered as an iPad-specific application. The iPad was released just before this year’s AIM Conference, and when Lefkovits introduced attendees to his iPad, he was running VaultWare on it. “The folks at VaultWare … constantly had crowds around them looking at the application of this workflow device for leasing,” he says.

The VaultWare Leasing Tablet puts information valuable to leasing agents at their fingertips to enhance the leasing experience, explains Mike Cornell, chief operating officer of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Realty DataTrust. “If you were onsite, and had a prospect with you, you could use your iPad to show that prospect a slideshow, floor plans, photos, layouts and videos,” he says.

But what if the prospect comes away uninterested in the unit shown him? Traditionally, a leasing agent would open a cumbersome paper binder she hauled with her to try to interest the prospect in other units. With the Vaultware application, however, she can use a password-protected function to access all available apartments directly from the iPad.

Without taking time to walk over to another unit, she can display an aerial view of the property, point out another available apartment, and show the would-be customer a floor plan, photos, dimensions, pricing and special offers.

If no apartment at that community meets the renter’s criteria, she can access current inventory at sister properties near that apartment community.

“That was a huge selling point for some of our clients starting out with this service,” Cornell says. “In situations where leasing agents are responsible for leasing at several properties in close proximity, they can keep the lease within the company.”

The VaultWare Leasing Tablet offers another upside as well. Many times, a customer may have second thoughts on the walk from the apartment back to the leasing office. To sidestep that possibility, VaultWare Leasing Tablet lets the leasing agent begin the paperwork while the prospect is still in the apartment. “It may be as simple as filling out a guest card, or as extensive as starting the actual rental application,” Cornell notes.

The VaultWare Leasing Tablet is currently being tested by the Bozzuto Group at two of its properties. “It is convenient, it’s easy to provide information to renters, and it’s just gosh darn fun,” exults Jamie Gorski, senior vice president of corporate marketing at the Greenbelt, Md.-based company.

The iPad has ushered in a change that in a way reminds Gorski of another advance in leasing. “When we moved to kiosks in the leasing office, that was wonderful because you had all the information at your fingertips,” she says. “It was a better way to sell. Now it’s portable, and [leasing agents] can take it with them. So I think it’s a change that people are going to like, both from the customer side and from the leasing side.”

She adds that the Bozzuto Group briefly considered writing its own application, but the company decided that the ease and cost-effectiveness of the VaultWare solution made that unnecessary.

“VaultWare has our information already and is our service enabling online leasing,” she says. “It’s very easy for them to upload that information and make it accessible through an iPad.”

Other companies have launched their own iPad-specific applications. For instance, ForRent.com has an application that displays a map with pins on apartment communities near a user’s location. “Over time, apartment shoppers will add these new technologies to the tools they use to shop for apartments,” predicts Mike D’Alba, director of mobile media at ForRent.com.

The iPad is certain to forever alter the way companies do business, says Matina Koester, founder and president of Digital Partners Inc., a St. Louis enterprise reseller of the iPad. “Carrying around a laptop with you is difficult,” she says. “This is elegant, light and shows beautiful pictures. And its touch screen allows you to sign a contract … and close a deal on the spot.”

Conducting on-the-fly credit checks or enabling a prospect to view a property map while touring a community are just some of the ways Lefkovits sees the iPad changing the way apartments are leased. He terms the iPad “a 1-1/2-pound mobile computer attached to the Internet wherever you are,” adding that he would “be amazed if every property management system provider doesn’t have a leasing app for the iPad available within the next six months.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Diana Mosher at dmosher@multi-housingnews.com.