The Leasing Office of Tomorrow
Technology is changing the leasing office and leasing process dramatically. Prospects can now tour a property, apply for a home and sign a lease without ever leaving their digs.
By Mike Ratliff, Associate Editor
There’s no doubt about it. Technology is changing the leasing office and leasing process dramatically. Prospects can now tour a property, apply for a home and sign a lease without ever leaving their digs. A thoughtful integration of technology in the office can streamline the leasing process and, in many cases, improve business. There is, however, no one-stop solution.
“How to find the balance of virtual versus physical space is certainly the million dollar question of today,” says Kristy Simonette, senior vice president of strategic services at Camden Property Trust.
The dynamics of the Camden leasing office changed when the company rolled out a web-based property management system in 2005. Simplified bookkeeping made back offices obsolete, and the company began to pull their agents into the common areas.
“It used to be that those spaces just sat beautiful. Now we are utilizing our clubrooms and leasing offices to the fullest,” Simonette adds.
Tablets can create an amorphous leasing space that is especially useful in denser urban communities. These properties usually have the most tech-savvy renters, the type of customers that expect and are wooed by technology, says Jerry Davis, senior vice president of property operations at UDR Inc.
“The impact of having an iPad and leasing off it, versus carrying around a piece of paper that is dog-eared and written on, is significant,” he says.
Tablets can display real-time data directly from the property management software. If a resident isn’t feeling a particular property on a tour, the agent can pull up a sister community and start pitching. UDR has kiosks in nearly half of its offices, so drop-in prospects can check out floor plans or amenities while waiting for a tablet-toting agent.
“What we are really trying to do with all this is make the leasing office less administrative and more sales- and service-oriented,” Davis adds.
Village Green is another firm at the forefront of leasing technology. The company has five community brands, each with different demographics and a varying reliance on technology in leasing. The City Apartment Communities line is the most urban and, unsurprisingly, the most tech-inclusive.
“What we try and do is set the leasing office up like a lounge area,” says Beth Raquepau, Village Green’s director of visual marketing. “You aren’t necessarily going to see desks. Instead, you will see laptops and iPads. In terms of virtual tours, you are going to see kiosks with touch screens.”
There is one risk associated with such a reliance on technology, points out Jeff Noricks, senior e-commerce manager at Village Green.
“It is very important that you test these things in-house,” he says. “You have to make sure that it is functioning and work out all the kinks. You also must make sure that all your associates are trained properly so they know how to explain it to the prospects and residents.”
Understanding your specific software needs is a major piece of the puzzle. Utah-based Property Solutions is one firm that offers complete web, mobile and tablet services for property management, marketing and leasing processes. The 2003-launched company (a product of an MBA business plan competition) now caters to 10,000 communities, representing approximately 2 million units.
The newest product, Site Tablet, is an iPad-based solution for leasing agents. It can showcase floor plans, amenities and local area attractions. Full integration with the back-end property management software means that unit availability and prices are displayed in real time.
“Our Site Tablet has been one of our fastest growing products,” says Ben Zimmer, co-founder and co-president. “We have had phenomenal growth, and I think that just underscores how hungry the market is for this type of technology.”