Managing Resident Needs Online

Keat Foong interviews Westdale Real Estate Investment and Management’s IT director Jaymz R. Yates

What is the most popular tech amenity you’re seeing for attracting/retaining residents and competing with other multifamily communities?

I think revenue management-based availability searches are going to become a big player. This has really ramped up the airline industry’s web presence. When prospects have the ability to compare unit pricing based on dynamic lease terms and move-in dates, you’re going to see a lot more time spent on property Website portals.

Retention seems to be a different animal altogether. Social networking is doing a great job exposing local information to residents. As long as that information can be managed positively, I think this segment will continue to grow exponentially. Portals are becoming a great way to deliver renewal proposals, while online work orders and payment systems are almost ubiquitous. Some of the newer offerings seem to be concierge-related, such as key and package pick up, parking permit printing and reservations for common areas.

What role are tech amenities playing in concessions?

None, if any. The market seems to be moving toward a demand
for technology offerings just to stay competitive as opposed to a value-added service.

What is the effect of tech amenities on NOI?

Any time a community can offer a stable ergonomic online service to a resident or prospect you should reduce overhead, both from an expense and human capital perspective. Putting the data entry into the renter’s hands allows better use of employee time, as well as minimizing conversational mistakes.

How are renters interacting with the management team?

Multifamily has been behind the curve a bit when it comes to tracking customer conversations. The good news is that it really seems to be ramping up quickly. CRM  [customer relationship management] systems are beginning to become fully integrated with PMSs and Portals. The expectation that resident needs can be managed online is much more common today than ever before.

Do apartment companies need to participate in social networking?

It probably depends on the demographic of your renters and if you have an active community of positive-thinking leasing agents. Outsourcing social networking can be an interesting struggle. Market hype seems to be setting high price points for such services and many companies may lose the one-on-one interaction it takes to create a successful campaign.

What percentage of residents use technology to pay rent on time? Is this service as valuable as we think?

In our case it’s between 30 percent and 35 percent. Online payment processing has advantages to the management company and owner, fewer trips to the bank, faster processing, etc. Integrated solutions save time by generating receipts while validity generally receives a boost. But it must be driven continually and carefully managed. And the difference in transaction costs between ACH and credit can force management to prefer one over the other or pass along fees to renters.

Is emerging technology allowing new ways for residents to connect with services outside the community?

There’s a lot of discussion about value-add services such as bulletin boards, resident classifieds, auctions and other community-driven services. After all, you have a lot of people in a common space for long periods of time—why not work with it? Liability and knowledge seem to be the downside. Property managers understand that in leasing and managing apartment complexes, ordering take-out services provided by the property are generally out of scope and may cause a conflict of interest. The future seems to be heading towards finding the perfect balance in business-to-business cooperatives.

To comment, e-mail Keat Foong at kfoong@multi-housingnews.com