To Card or Not to Card?

Paper and electronic guest cards are not a staple at all leasing offices.

When dealing with prospective residents, property managers commonly ask for key information in order to establish a means of contact and gain a better idea of what a potential lease might look like. Very often, guest cards are the preferred forum for this and are presented to the prospect in a leasing office or during a tour of the property.

While formats vary widely, items of information requested almost always include the prospect’s name, phone number, e-mail address and the type of unit they are looking for. Some, however, are very elaborate and can even ask the resident to list their employer, job position and annual income.

Jennifer Staciokas, vice president of marketing and training at Lincoln Apartments, notes that her company continues to use guest cards in order to keep tabs on the interaction between the leasing office and the prospect and what was established during a visit.

“We still use guest cards, in some cases paper and other digitally that feed to the property management system,” says Staciokas. “It is necessary to track conversations for Fair Housing to document what was said, what was offered, etc. We may ask why they are moving [and] where they will be working, but not [for] their income before the application,” according to Staciokas.

Julie Manthey, vice president of operations at Western National Property Management (WNPM), says that while her company does use a variation of guest cards, it is more of a question-and-answer approach that does not require as much effort on the part of the prospect as it does on the leasing agent.

“They generally keep it on their clipboard, and it’s talking points,” says Manthey. “So rather than just having someone fill out a guest card and feeling like they’re a number, we want our associate to establish the rapport with them, get the information that we need for follow-up and [find out] what their needs or wants are.”

WNPM also utilizes an electronic substitute for guest cards, called ‘PopCard,’ if a prospect does not visit a property in person and is simply seeking out some general information.

“[It] is generally used when a prospect is calling in and we don’t have anyone available to answer the phone at the time,” says Manthey. “There is information where we can contact that person based upon the information we get from PopCard. So we do use those, and the associate can follow up with that person if they’ve missed the call.”

Yet while many companies have made strides in trying to make guest cards as simple and efficient as possible, there are some who do not see much value in them, especially in an age of convenience and electronic communication. Eric Brown, president of Urbane Apartments, is skeptical that soliciting such information from a prospect in person will amount to much at the end of the day.

“I think guest cards are one of the archaic things that we continue to do in our business, and I think that the only reason they’re alive is because people have vested interest to hold onto them,” says Brown. “There are certain leasing agents out there that think ‘Oh, I need all that information,’ but the problem is they don’t use it.”

Brown further emphasizes the lack of need for gathering a wide array of information on prospects and says there are only a handful of things that should be acquired during the first visit, all of which can be simply asked for in passing.

“My theory is we only really need three things: the first name, cell phone number and an e-mail,” says Brown. “You take the guest card… it’s doing nothing but irritating someone, [who’s] going: ‘My God, I don’t want to keep filling this thing out.’ I think it becomes more of an irritation as opposed to a tool.”

While ceding that overwhelming the prospect is not a good strategy for lead management, Manthey highlights one of the key rationales for the guest card-like approaches her company uses.

“One of the general reasons we keep it pretty basic is we also want to learn how they learned about the community, which helps us knowing the success of what our promotional efforts might be, whether they heard from Craigslist, the website, etc.,” says Manthey.

Staciokas at Lincoln Apartments maintains that guest cards continue to be useful and, while her company’s properties employ various formats for this particular tool, there is a clear migration to online and digital interfaces.

Some Lincoln properties still use paper guest cards, some use the guest card through an app for the iPad and some are entering their guest cards directly into a lead tracking solution. “I think they still provide a significant value but [we do] see them going completely digital in the coming years,” adds Staciokas.

On this point, Brown can agree that the Internet and other digital tools are of tremendous import and notes that Urbane tends to encourage people to go to their website. However, he also reiterates the value of simple face-to-face interaction and how maximizing the number of prospects a management company contacts makes for the greatest returns.

“We’re a believer in ‘get them in the door, show them the unit,’ and we try to do as many tours as we possibly can,” says Brown. “I want to say hello to them. I want to say hello to as many people as we can. Even if our ratios are a little bit lower, I would much rather talk to more people every day than buy more advertisements, because I believe that the more people who are talking [with us and] about us—that’s powerful marketing.”