Talking About Apartment Marketing and Leasing Trends

Experts from Hunington Residential, Bozzuto and Hickok Cole weighed in on hot topics at the International Builders’ Show.

Panelists at IBSThe apartment industry has seen its share of headwinds, but there’s good news on the horizon too. Renters-by-choice are expected to continue driving occupancy, community rebrands are more creative than ever and new AI tools are being rolled out to help marketing teams get it all done.

Panelists discussed these timely topics during the “Multifamily Marketing and Leasing Trends” panel at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas. Kate Good, partner and SVP of multifamily development at Hunington Residential, moderated the panel.

In December 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported that a wave of higher income and older renters [are] flooding into America’s cities and towns searching for luxury without commitment, retirement without feeling old and tidy lawns without lawnmowers.

There’s definitely an amenity race right now, and I think it’s being driven by the renter-by-choice who wants to be entertained and wants that [luxury] experience,” said Good. The renter by choice expects co-working spaces and private workspaces as well. Other luxurious amenities being offered include higher-end fitness centers, state-of-the-art pet washes, climbing walls, plunge pools with a lap lane and even a two-story playground with a slide and climbing structure.

Appealing to ‘revenge’ renters

“In my organization, we’ve been talking about the renter by choice for years,” Noel Carson, vice president of marketing and creative director at Bozzuto, added. “A lot of that narrative does align with a premium product, but some folks are just not able to purchase a home, they have to rent.” According to Carson, premium rent is across all asset classes now. Communities that find a way to offer services that differentiate them from others within their class will be very successful.

“Whether it’s due to economics, existing inventory, flexibility or personal preference, the renter-by-choice is here to stay,” said Sarah Barr, principal and director of creative at Hickok Cole. “From a marketing perspective we’re seeing it expand and evolve. It’s a 55+ adult conversation too, because those are some of the things that we’re promising.”

Barr suggests that marketers should also take into consideration the aspirations of the “revenge renter.” This is a subset of premium renters who can’t buy right now, so they’re going to go all out until they can. “We also want to make sure we’re including families when we show our lifestyle imagery,” added Barr. Especially for build to rent and 2-over-2 townhomes. “We’re marketing directly to them and thinking about what conveniences they need—like private garages or access to great schools—to continue to rent versus home ownership.”

Good pointed out that the renter-by-choice trend is also following the jobs trend. “People are moving more frequently for a job. Instead of spending 15 years with the company, it’s 15 months to three years, and that might mean moving to a new city. Renting makes a lot of sense for them.”

A lot of the marketing being done now by Hunington is about staying top of mind for the person who’s just looking. “They’re out there shopping. They may not be moving as quickly as we want them to, and it’s tough for the leasing consultant to convert them. People who looked at apartments in April and May are in our database. We’re finally seeing those leases in January and February. So a lot of what we were doing to keep them engaged was really working. We are building that into our marketing stack right now.”

Test driving new tools

Bozzuto’s institutional investor clients are buying up build to rent assets that were originally going to be for sale. “They’re coming to management organizations like us saying, ‘We need to deliver this in a month. Can you get a website up? We need to rent these out immediately.’”

It’s challenging on the marketing side to get websites up and running in a matter of weeks. “Our approach has changed, and now we’re using templates, AKA wireframes,” said Carson. “We like wireframes that are full HTML with WordPress so we can use them for the long haul instead of a platform that’s just out of the box that’s really rigid.”

Marketers are also turning to AI. “It’s definitely impacting how we do marketing,” said Good. “When we have to make a quick change, when we’ve got to get quick marketing out there—AI certainly serves that.” Hunington’s goals for the marketing stack are to be able to pivot easily and stay in the mind’s eye with constant information about their apartment communities.

Hunington has been investing in advertising on streaming services. “For our streaming commercials we’ve used a lot of AI generated content. It’s rich content and it’s really quick to put together. Streaming has been delivering a lot of traffic to us. The numbers are great, and we love the conversions that we’re seeing right now—we’re seeing some return on investment here that’s very good.”

“We’re doing a lot of that too,” Carson added, noting that the exposure is a plus. He recalled seeing an ad for a new project Bozzuto that had just opened while watching the Super Bowl on the Apple TV app.

AI has the ability to render apartment interiors in minutes, with some of the new tools free to use. This is a major contrast with traditional renderings, which take a great deal of time and investment to create. Investors know they’re not going to see the model for a while, but they want progress reports along the way. Now, developers and their marketing teams can easily show investors the inspiration being used and the creative direction so they can start to see it come to life while they wait for the return on their investment. Upcoming introductions of AI tools will render live videos and are expected to be widely available by early 2025.

Rebrand and repositioning

In the past two years there have been many opportunities for rebranding and repositioning, especially in urban centers. Whether it’s a property or brand refresh or an acquisition or an office to residential conversion, there is a chance to tell a new story that will resonate with prospective residents.

“Our brand strategy trifecta is a great way to be able to frame the details of the project,” said Barr. “It works for new projects and also when repositioning.” It is critical to bring all stakeholders together at the beginning. This includes the creative agency and marketing team, property management and ownership. “Get everyone in the room to hear all the details,” Barr advised.

Discuss what’s special about the location, who are the residents you have and who are the residents you want. What elements will be staying, what are the planned amenities and what are the pain points that aren’t going away. Most importantly, approach the project with an understanding of the ownership goals. Are they going to lease it down and then lease it back up again? Are they preparing to sell?

“It’s tempting to skip the strategy piece,” said Carson. “We want to name it, get it open and sell. But that strategy’s really important to be thoughtful. Our leasing team needs something to sell beyond just the beautiful apartments. What story are we telling to connect with the resident?”

Aligning marketing with place

Dominion in Arlington, VA, formerly Dominion Arms, is a good example of an identity update. “This is a historic 1954 post World War II project that needed updates but wanted to keep some of the classic elements of the property while also making it fun,” said Barr. The new tagline is “Classic is Cool Again.”

Park + Ford Apartments in Alexandria, VA is an office to residential conversion. Two decrepit office buildings have been totally reimagined. “We aligned ownership goals with programming from the very beginning,” said Barr. There’s a great story to tell about the two buildings and the power of two.

Park + Ford exemplifies the “digital to doorstep” approach that aligns marketing with what’s happening at the property. From the initial website to email, social and the comprehensive signage package, marketers have found creative ways to weave in elements of the community like those quirky spaces that result from office to residential conversions.

“It’s not only [playing up] the wild floor plans for some of these units, but we’ve also positioned the community as being very quiet because of the [original commercial] construction,” said Barr. Park + Ford also has outdoor terraces.

Carson anticipates a lot of upcoming repositioning projects on Bozzuto’s management side because so many office leases are starting to come up—and those offices are vacant. “I’m excited when we get repositioning projects. There’s so much to talk about.” From the story of the original property to figuring out what the new brand will mean to the resident, it is a balancing act.

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