Renters are a pretty curious bunch, and between checking out the latest and greatest buildings and comparing amenities with their friends, they use smart phones and social media to get information. Being in research, an integral part of gaining perspective is to, in essence, act and think like a renter. Emptying my head of such non-renter notions as cutting the grass and painting the deck, I recently began to investigate the potential of using smart phones to get information about renting in a community without calling them. For this test, I used my recently acquired Samsung Galaxy II 4G phone, something very useful if you use phones a lot while being away from the office and you happen to have a PhD in electrical engineering. The phone does more things than I thought were possible, and while my litmus test is the usual, “Hello, can you hear me?”, or “How about now—is that better?”, this phone actually talks to you. I would imagine it’s only a matter of time and some application development of an app that will tell me where I should live, how much rent I can pay and how to sign a lease.
I decided to pick a community at random, and to keep this fair, made up a name so I don’t inadvertently prejudice the outcome of the test. I went to the phone and said, “Rent apartment, St. Louis, Low Rent.” The phone returned a number of apartment communities and I was impressed. The seek-and-sort capability was pretty impressive. I then selected one, called Cardinal Crest, and found myself looking at a number of floor plans with a nicely laid out screen and an interface designed to encourage you to call their rental office. That immediately took away from the online experience I assumed their site was designed to have, but playing along, I said, “Call rental office.” The phone rang three times and someone answered saying “Cardinals.” I explained that I was inquiring about their apartments and was told that in fact I had called a local hash house and burger joint, apparently very popular in St. Louis, and they had no idea about available apartments. I just assumed the phone was working strangely (remember Apple’s original ill-fated attempt with voice recognition?), so being the investigative sleuth that I am, I simply selected the number in the website and called again.
The phone rings and it’s “Cardinals,” which by this time I recognize the gruff voice I spoke to earlier and once again, fries, yes, apartments, no.
So far as this process goes, having floor plans but a misdirected number probably happens more often than I would have believed. While the culprit turned out to be someone remote call forwarding to the wrong number, what was clear was that for the rest of the test, there wasn’t any efficient way to actually use a smart phone to get much useful information, with the exception of scanning the QR codes on some ads or selecting some very newly created websites. QR codes are going to be a big benefit for apartment rental operations because it allows the scanning source to then access a lot of information, including ultimately an application and a lease draft. That would be real progress.
Searching out the perfect place to live, at least in St. Louis then, where seemingly everything has the name Cardinals in it may have proven futile as a planning tool for an out of towner, but the technology is rapidly catching up. Perhaps the most important part of the test turned out to be that wrongly dialed number. As an experienced researcher and professional curmudgeon I can report that the burgers and fries really were worth the miss step, and that gruff voice belonged to the nicest waitress I’ve had in a long time.
Jack Kern is the research editor of Commercial Property Executive and Multihousing News, and life long member of Cardinal nation, a fanatical group of followers of the St. Louis Cardinals. Since the ‘Cards won the world series he plans to wear his ball cap to every real estate event for a year. You can’t miss him. When not dispensing advice about markets and opportunities, you can reach him at [email protected] or by calling 301.601.1900.