The Benefit of (Actually) Free Resident Programs

You might pay a little extra in the short-term, but it can pay off for you big time in the long-term.

jfiur thumbnailBy Jessica Fiur, Senior Editor

Recently, a friend of mind told me the property managers at her apartment had just started offering rooftop movie nights.

This sounded amazing. Movies? Outside? With the possibility of popcorn and contraband wine? What could be bad?

Oh, right. It would be noisy. People would definitely be on their phones Instagramming how much fun they were having, which is always distracting during a movie. And what if you remember the wine, and the corkscrew, but forget the glasses? I mean, I guess you could drink out of the bottle, but you’re not an animal. Sigh.

She also mentioned that—coincidentally, I’m sure—her rent was going up exponentially.

Sure my rent is higher now, but it's still cheaper than going to a movie in a movie theater.

Sure my rent is higher now, but it’s still cheaper than going to an actual  movie theater.

Offering cool new programs for your residents is great. It’s a low-cost way to make residents happy and get great word of mouth (screening a movie is certainly cheaper than building a new state-of-the-art SoulCycle or CrossFit studio, or whatever the latest fad is). Which is why you shouldn’t charge them for it. Residents might go to an event. They might not. Either way, if they find out that they’re suddenly paying for these awesome programs in the form of higher rent, they might start looking at different apartments come lease renewal time. If you’re just raising the amenity fee, make sure it’s worth it—here’s where you want to talk about a new gym or a new pool, etc. A spare program here and there should not bring a huge cost to your residents. And I’m not just talking movies. A Halloween party, coffee and doughnuts in the community room, the front-desk margarita machine that probably only exists in my dreams…residents enjoy these things, but they can certainly live without them, and probably would if they had to pay.

That’s not to say you can’t have higher rents for new residents (“Look at all the cool stuff we offer. You won’t find that anywhere else!”).

I’m going to say something shocking: Money doesn’t always have to be the main motivator.

By offering new programs, or parties, or events for your residents—for free—you’ll make them feel like they’re part of a community. Even if they don’t want to participate. Which will increase retention—a much more cost-effective strategy than constantly trying to fill vacancies. You can also get free marketing for prospective residents by posting photos from these events on your social media sites. (Haha, so now you’re the annoying one, Instagramming during a movie!)

OK, so yeah, I lied a bit. Money is still the main motivator. But this way doesn’t feel quite as in your face or Ebenezer Scroogelike as the other method.

What are some of the free programs or events you offer your residents? Do you find they help with retention?