From airline check-in to grocery checkout and everything in between, the early 21st century is the do-it-yourself era. The quest for operational efficiency and expedited customer service goals is making self-guided apartment tours an increasingly attractive option.
For the prospective resident, the experience is not unlike that of a museumgoer using an app or rented tablet to visit a special exhibit. After visiting the multifamily community’s website and selecting from available openings, prospects arrive at the appointed day and time, accessing the community and unit by means of a code sent via email or text message.
Inside, a voice-enabled device guides the visitor through the unit, providing information ranging from the square footage of a room to the dates when carpeting or other features were most recently upgraded. The prospect can also ask questions and hear answers through the voice-activated devices.
Self-guided tours are gaining traction with owners, property managers and prospects themselves for multiple reasons. To begin with, the tools accommodate tours outside regular office hours, noted Patrick Lawler, director of RENTCafé product development at Yardi Systems Inc. “It creates a great sales opportunity for when the prospect returns to the leasing office—if the tour was conducted during office hours—or for a follow-up phone call, if the tour was taken after hours.” That follow-up can provide the leasing staff with a fruitful closing opportunity, he added.
Flexible scheduling is popular with prospective residents, observed Georgianna Oliver, founder & CEO of Tour24, whose app allows renters to tour apartments on their own. The most popular day for tours is Sunday, when most leasing offices are closed, she said. On weekdays, the best time for many prospects is after 6 p.m., past regular business hours for many leasing offices.
Offering self-guided tours both during and after regular business hours enables apartment communities to schedule more appointments each day. A pioneer of the strategy, Eric Brown, founder & president of Urbane Apartments, says his leasing agents were formerly able to provide only three or four tours daily. Self-guided tours allow them to boost that number as much as sevenfold.
Yardi has found that those who sign up for self-guided tours are more likely to keep the appointment. That tendency, in turn, raises the chances of a signed lease. Of those who take self-guided tours, 33 percent wind up renting. “That’s a really high conversion rate,” Oliver said.
Lowering the Temperature
More choice for prospects is among self-guided touring’s chief benefits. Offering an additional opportunity to interact strengthens the prospect’s sense of connection with the brand and the community, contends Karen Gladney, co-founder & principal of Power Pro Leasing, which introduced a self-guided tour app in March.
Visitors appreciate the low-pressure, low-stress atmosphere without a leasing team member present. “This allows the prospective resident more time to relax, and possibly imagine—or discuss with their partner or roommate—what living in this space might feel like,” Lawler said.
A survey by HRC Retail Advisory found that 95 percent of consumers like time alone at some point during the buying process, Gladney said. Self-guided tours make those solitary moments possible, increasing the odds that prospects will make the decision to lease a unit on the day they tour the property.
Moreover, self-guided tours give staff more time for important responsibilities like pursuing leads and handling customer service requests. As Oliver observed, “It’s nice to have a tool like this during lease-ups and periods when they’re super busy, like in August and September.”
Consistency—offering each visitor the same tour—adds value, too. “If there’s an historical feature about the community, or it was built on a location of significance … that will be pointed out, and all the amenities and artwork (managers) want to feature will be featured,” Oliver said
Though the primary role of self-guided tours is to enhance the prospect’s experience and convenience, it has internal uses, as well. As new agents come aboard, a self-guided tour is a valuable training tool.
Nuts and Bolts
Integrated solutions are bringing self-guided tours to a new level of sophistication. “We are hearing about clients integrating smart-home solutions (like smart locks) for access control with fraud prevention and ID verification products to ensure the visitors are who they say they are,” Lawler reported. Property managers are also incorporating digital or voice experiences for visiting prospects and offering online sign-up.
But some property management teams are still incorporating lower-tech measures: limiting tours to leasing hours, photocopying the prospect’s ID and handing the visitor a printed brochure, Lawler said.
The biggest challenge with self-guided tours tends to be managing access. Management must qualify prospects, schedule the tour, specify the time, track arrival and departure times, and make note of questions. And, of course, units must be secured when tours are not in progress, Gladney said.
Tools for automated tours must also work with the new security features. Tour24, for instance, provides smart locks where needed to ensure access to model or vacant units and amenity areas.
Apartment communities, experts say, should give prospects name tags or lanyards so staff can identify them as visitors who might need information. Those visitors are entitled to customer service, so providing touchpoints and shine is paramount. Just as essential: making associates available to field questions, whether in person at the end of the tour or later via phone, text or online chat. Last but not least, each operator should carefully review applicable laws with legal counsel to properly address safety, privacy and liability issues.
When managed with proper attention to detail and customer service, self-guided tours add a new dimension to a community’s leasing strategy. And the day when the technology is standard in multifamily operations is on track to arrive sooner rather than later.
“It’s definitely the wave of the future,” Oliver predicted. “Millennials are so focused on on-demand, immediate, right now and self serve. So the whole self-serve evolution with the next two generations is definitely a requirement.”