Web Feature: Technology and Internet Are Shaping The New Leasing Center

By Anuradha Kher, Online News Editor New York–Leasing centers have come a long way from simply being rooms filled with basic furniture and stacking shelves containing leaflets, floor plans and brochures. Like all other aspects of business, technology has changed the game for leasing offices too. Today, it is not uncommon

New York–Leasing centers have come a long way from simply being rooms filled with basic furniture and stacking shelves containing leaflets, floor plans and brochures. Like all other aspects of business, technology has changed the game for leasing offices too. Today, it is not uncommon to walk into a leasing office and be shown a video with information on unit finishes and amenities. It is also not uncommon for prospective renters to walk out of the leasing center without print outs and files. Instead, they might go home with jump drives packed with all the details they need or simply check out the property website.

For example, 215 West, one of the first LEED-certified rental buildings in Chicago managed by Jupiter Communities, has inculcated several interactive elements at their leasing center. The office will have an interactive kiosk featuring information on everything from floor plans, amenities, finishes and neighborhood map to green aspects of the project. “Being green is an important part of the overall vibe of the building and the kiosk goes a long way in helping us achieve that goal,” says Victoria Pompizzi, director of marketing of Jupiter Communities. “In the leasing process itself, we really tried to go paperless and this led us to some very innovative aspects, like the kiosk.”

In addition, there are several boards on the walls at the 215 West leasing center that provide basic information about the property. One board is dedicated to the green information about the building. There is also a video, which will play outside the leasing center 24 hours a day, so that people can check out the community even when the leasing office is closed.

“Other than wanting to go paperless we wanted to have a unique way for people to get to know the building,” says Pompizzi. “People have the option to look at what they want, instead of being bombarded with everything at once. The kiosk is engaging for people who come in and it builds up excitement for when we actually take them on a tour. It is personal but not totally isolating.”

In addition, when meeting prospective clients, the leasing team gives them the option to receive printed copies of al the information or, they can get it on a jump drive, which also has an e-version of the property brochure with live links.

Pompizzi says the two big trends she sees are that property managers are adding more interactive components to their leasing centers to engage customers and that they are finding new ways to make the space more efficient.

As more and more people use the Internet as a preferred choice for accomplishing most daily tasks, online leasing portals have taken center stage. Over 80 percent of searches for apartments now happen online. “In offering online leasing, you create a virtual extension of your physical leasing office and keep it open 24/7,” Kerry W. Kirby, President and CEO of 365 Connect Multifamily Technologies, tells MHN. “We have seen transactions where a party might be coming in from out of state and wants to prequalify or actually finalize a lease. The easiest method for both parties to interact is online.”

Though the multifamily industry is traditionally slow to adapt to new technology, the industry is now moving to Internet marketing and leasing in one form or another. They are adopting techniques from other industries and following that lead by keeping in touch with the market they are chasing and delivering their services in the method their customers use. “The renters of today ARE the Internet generation,” says Kirby.

Kirby guesses that about 25 to 30 percent of all multifamily communities have online leasing services. “It is sometimes shocking to see a $20- $30 million apartment property with no online services. I can order lunch off the website of a local $200,000 restaurant down the street or get its daily special from following it on Twitter; yet, I cannot research and make a lease application for a unit in a multi-million dollar apartment property – go figure?” he says.

Naturally, Generation – Y is driving this change. “If you actually study this group—and we have—they prefer not to talk to people when shopping for apartments. They have a phone to text on, not to talk, and they transact everything possible online. If you are not delivering a service they are comfortable using, they will pass you over as being difficult and out of touch,” explains Kirby.

Donna Carraghan, manager at White Rock Apartments, a 336-unit community in San Antonio, Texas, says, “Online leasing centers are not that common at all. In fact, none of the communities in my immediate market have them. But there is no doubt that it will be a trend pretty soon. With so many people going to the Internet for almost everything, I don’t see how it won’t.”

The White Rock Apartments’ leasing portal, she says, plays a big part in capturing prospective residents as well as renewals. The fact that a property can be accessible to prospective renters 24 hours a day, is an extremely very useful aspect of leasing portals. “The average occupancy in the San Antonio market is 88 percent whereas ours is at 92 percent. It could very well be that our leasing portal helps us achieve and stay on that number,” Carraghan says.

At the physical leasing center, the property has recycled canvas bags with the community’s logo, which they use to give move-in gifts to residents. Carraghan says, customer service at the leasing center is another distinguishing feature. “We learn the names of our prospective renters, their kids’ names, their pet’s names etc. We also blow up balloons for the children and give them large layouts which they can color while they are at the property. These simple things go a long way,” she explains.

While prospect portals or online leasing portals are not common, over 90 percent of Property Solutions’ clients who use resident portals, also have the leasing portals.

Ben Zimmer, co-founder and president of Property Solutions, says, “There is more and more of a trend for prospective residents to be exposed to a property in multiple ways. They might hit it up with a text, then check it out on an ILS, go to the website, then call the leasing manager and visit the property, etc. So the ability to have one tool for capturing those prospects, the ability for a leasing specialist to say ‘talk to your spouse tonight; here’s a link to the online application, which you can finish later on,’ goes a long way.”

Leasing portals have become more affordable too in the last few years, making them more widely accessible, even for smaller companies. “There are enough out of the box solutions that small companies can choose from. They don’t need to develop it in-house or have a large IT infrastructure,” says Zimmer.

Sales Center at Trump Plaza Residences in Jersey City

Zimmer says the ability to have a fully customizable application process and a real time unit availability functionality are critical for good leasing portals. “To capture online payments, be able to attach documents and as far as increasing efficiency, integrating credit screening and rent optimization are all very important to the leasing process,” says Zimmer.

Like leasing centers, sales centers too, are being forced to change with technology. But the changes are not as rapid, considering that most buyers would not be from the Gen Y. Trump Plaza Residences, Jersey City’s website features floor plans and prices and the forms required to make the initial contact with the sales office, but not much more than that.

However, they are very particular about the physical sales office. Jodi Stasse, director of sales and marketing at Trump Plaza Residences, says, “It is very important to keep a balance between providing the right amount of information and creating a hospitable environment. You need to understand who the buyer is and design the sales office according to what might inspire him. When a prospective buyer comes in, you need to provide him/her with education and the sales team must have the right point of sales tools.”

Stasse also says sales offices cannot be too retail. “For instance, the sales center must reflect the design and personality of the property. It is about creating a selling environment.”