Perspective: Nine Ways to Capture Leasing Prospects During the ‘Sales Walk’

By R. Vickie Alani, AIA, Senior Associate Principal, ADD IncAs prospective tenants become more savvy about “shopping the market,” and the competition for luxury market renters becomes increasingly fierce, property owners need to consider the prospective resident’s entire housing selection experience in order to successfully capture tenants.Design can crystallize and unify the entire story or package that property owners present to prospects before, and during, a visit to the property. When used early in the development process, and to its fullest, design—from print materials, to website, to the building itself—can elevate the perception of, and differentiate, any project.Properties positioned and designed to address the full potential of the resident’s experience, from the first ad they see, to arriving at the property, and the sequence of the “walk” they will go on, will capture the imagination of prospective tenants before they return to the leasing office.The secret to the success of this experience, which we call the “sales walk,” starts well before the prospective tenant takes a step inside the property. In fact, to design a successful “sales walk,” the resident’s experience should start to be considered before ground is even broken.Step One: BrandingBefore ground is broken, property owners should consider how to brand the project to speak to the intended target demographic. In a joint session, the owner, brokers, architects, interior designers, property managers, and market researchers should identify the intended target; verbalize what will differentiate this project from its competition (understanding what is built and in the pipeline); and establish a schedule for decisions in order to achieve the final opening date.A collaborative team is critical to establishing the brand of the project consistent with the building design and the desires of the target audience. This early branding effort will guide the design direction of all the early pre-occupancy print materials, including advertising, signage, and brochures, all running concurrently with and consistent with the design of the building itself.Step Two: Building DesignThe myriad materials and technologies available today offer design teams unlimited options for creating the style and mood of a building. By defining the brand early on, the design team is given parameters that helpfully guide the design decisions that need to be made daily. In addition to ensuring the budget stays on budget, the design team should also ensure that the design stays on target with the needs and desires of future tenants. Step Three: The Drive-ByIt is critical that your team understand how interested prospects will be approaching the building in order to design the drive-by experience to be the most alluring. Will the entrance be in full sun or shade? Will there be opportunities for café-style seating anywhere nearby? Will retail need to be filled in order for the first floor to have lights on for the first leasing days? The more that can be understood about what a passerby will experience—and the more that can be planned and put into place before the first day of leasing—the higher the likelihood of a successful first visit to the property. Prospective tenants’ expectations will be exceeded.Step Four: Don’t Overlook the Parking ExperienceThe entrance should be clearly visible and well marked while feeling integrated into the architecture. The interior should be bright (for safety). Egress, storage, and other features, such as bike storage or a bike repair station, should be located to be found intuitively. The parking lobbies should feel like the rest of the building in the level of thought put into them. This is the space a resident will likely enter through daily after moving in. It should feel like home.Step Five: Establishing the ArrivalBuilding owners spend an incredible percentage of their project budgets as well as design thinking on their building lobbies. Therefore, the arrival to the building should always coincide with the lobby which sets the tone for the property with the best materials, landscaping, furniture and artwork. There are times that parking location, or pedestrian patterns may tempt one to bring prospects into the building elsewhere and get them conveniently to the leasing office, however this would bypass the opportunity to walk them through your property’s best space—the lobby. Step Six: The Lobby DesignSince you know that everyone who will come into contact with your building will be entering here, you can now focus on the message the lobby will send. Be sure to be consistent with the message in marketing materials, on the website, and in other advertising materials. What brand are you selling and how can the lobby design support it? A lobby aimed at a young demographic should be different than the lobby aimed at empty-nesters, for example.Other concepts that can be solved by good design early on in the process are:    – Does it feel comfortable to be alone in there?    – Can I see the sales staff talking to other prospective tenants (a potential turn-off)?    – Is my next step clear (to the elevator, to the amenities, to the leasing office, to the concierge)?Step Seven: Sequencing the WalkWhich amenities are shown first, second, and so forth should be designed into the building from the start. A great conversation to have between the ownership team, the leasing team, and the design team is the philosophy of this sequence. It can be like good theater. Plan and design the emotions that you intend your tenants to walk away with, and the design will support it. Discuss if you will alter the sequence depending on the time of day. Your design team can also share with you the intention of how the light will fill each space depending on the time of day—maybe the site will allow for the home theater to be located on the north side, getting no direct sunlight, while the café, where residents will visit with each other on their way to work, can be designed to benefit from early morning eastern light.Step Eight: The Model UnitThe model unit should look like the place your target demographic aspires to—not what they live like now. The model unit is a bit of “making their dream a reality.” Prospective renters should walk in and wish they could live in that particular unit by tomorrow morning. It should reflect their dream lifestyle, within their financial means if you and your team have done your jobs right. The details of the model unit cannot be overstressed. Furniture layout can exaggerate the size of the unit by extending the view to the longest possible. The table setting should have a certain occasion in mind. Details of what is in the refrigerator and the medicine cabinet should not be overlooked. These are opportunities to connect with the lifestyle of visitors.Step Nine: Returning to the Leasing OfficeThe path back to the leasing office can feel long and empty after an exciting tour of amenities and model units if not planned for correctly. Pass by new amenities and other interesting views. Be sure to accentuate special features designed into the project. The unique aspects of the project are what will be remembered as visitors compare properties.When done thoughtfully, and with a true understanding of the target market for any project, the design team can bring a unique design and styling of the Sales Walk—both the physical environment and the sequencing of the actual walk. A plan that is discussed early in the design process has a great chance of being actualized in every detail of a great property. This early planning can be your secret weapon to successfully selling a property—no matter what the economic climate.