‘On the Ground’ with Eric Brown: Are You Overpaying for Rental Leads?

By expanding your online presence, a lot of your apartment leads can be, and should be, coming to you for free.

By Eric Brown

I had breakfast with my old employer; Jonathan Holtzman, CEO at Village Green Companies, last week. For those who know Jonathan, he is a very charismatic, tough-minded apartment operator with an excellent understanding of apartment marketing and apartment operations who has adapted to the new media way of marketing his 40,000-plus-unit apartment portfolio. I wanted to hear his thoughts on a few tweets I saw from a recent NMHC event where he was speaking on the topic of apartment marketers overpaying for rental leads by as much as 70 percent.

Apartment marketers are not faced with the same issues as typical retail marketers. If you run a retail business, the idea would be to increase year-over-year sales, right? That isn’t the case with apartment marketing. The average 300-unit apartment community should only ever have to lease 150 units in a year, assuming average turnover. With well-planned lease expirations, that is a little over 12 rentals a month. With great planning, that is just three leases a week. While things don’t always work out this evenly, many times they do, and you certainly get closer with some great planning. This is the crux behind a revenue-management system.

So, how many of those three rentals a week can a leasing consultant find on their own? You get a certain amount from drive-by for free. Next you can advertise, or if your leasing consultants have been working on expanding their digital footprint and digital outreach via email marketing, there is another big chunk, for free. If your leasing consultants have been tweeting regularly, there is another piece, for free.

Mark Juleen penned a great post Using Your Facebook Page Like a Radio Station, which adds yet another angle to your required apartment leads, for free. If your apartment community is in fact doing that, coupled with an online magazine, you have well covered all of the bases required to take out 70 percent of your leasing costs.

Before the naysayers jump for the throat clamoring that this isn’t possible, or that building a digital footprint isn’t free, stop and think about this. Outreach has always been part of apartment marketing and part of a seasoned leasing consultant’s scope. Social media is outreach on steroids and, when assembled correctly, starts to supply a steady stream of rental leads that, overall, reduces leasing costs. This process is termed a “long tail.”

Have you started to expand your digital footprint yet? What are you waiting for? You cannot buy a long tail; you need to build it.

Eric Brown’s background is rooted in the rental and real estate industries. He founded metro Detroit’s Urbane Apartments in 2003, after serving as senior vice president for Village Green Companies, a national apartment developer. He also established The Urbane Way, a social media marketing and PR laboratory, where innovative marketing ideas are tested.