When the COVID-19 pandemic forced multifamily leasing offices around the country to suddenly close their doors and move most of their operations online, leasing professionals and their management companies or owner/operators stepped up to the challenge. They embraced new technology, in many cases for the first time, and found ways to create connections with prospects while still focusing on the best ways to market their properties.
Multi-Housing News reached out to some of the country’s top leasing specialists and asked them to discuss the challenges and share some of the secrets behind their success.
The panelists include:
- Devin Dowling, head of leasing, The Apartments at Bonnie Ridge, Baltimore, Westminster Management
- Rebecca Fox, senior leasing manager, Morgan Properties
- Isabella Horne, assistant community manager, Brea Wendell Falls, Wendell, N.C., Bell Partners
- Conny Matos, general manager, Gio Midtown, Miami, Bozzuto Management Co.
- Ivonne McNeese, property manager at The Marq, Virginia Beach, Va., and former leasing agent at Red Knot at Edinburgh, Chesapeake, Va., The Breeden Co.
- Heather Sims, senior leasing professional, Optima Sonoran Village, Scottsdale, Ariz., Optima Realty Inc.
What were some challenges faced when the pandemic began and how did you overcome them to continue marketing your property or properties?
Fox: Prior to the pandemic, we primarily sent photos and online brochures along with the occasional use of FaceTime. We’ve added the use of Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Matterport tours. By using these tools, we are able to continue to personalize our online touring so that prospective renters can feel like they are physically with us without leaving the comfort of their homes. We also digitized our online brochure to include links to the community, video, photos, Matterport, floor plans and online leasing.
Dowling: Once Westminster added virtual touring and showed us how to do a shared screen, we could actually do a tour with somebody, a virtual tour with side-by-side screens, so it did make them feel like they were right here with us. That helped tremendously. The very first year doing virtual tours, occupancy jumped from 93 to 97 percent, in the middle of the pandemic.
Horne: The pandemic allowed us to be proactive in implementing technology innovations that are still in use companywide. Some of these innovations include self-guided tours, virtual tours and enhanced videography. We’ve also learned that people like to have information at their fingertips and in real time. We introduced two AI formats—Meet Elise and Better Bot, allowing our prospects and residents to have access to immediate communications and information.
Matos: (Gio Midtown opened in 2020 just as the pandemic began.) Building rapport was essential in getting to know our customers and understanding their needs. We had folks coming from out of state due to the pandemic or for work who had some concerns not knowing the area and also leasing sight unseen.
The tour tool we use does allow live tour sessions so it’s pre-recorded but you can do it live and take customers through that journey. We were inviting them for a cup of coffee even if it was virtually. “Grab your favorite drink, let’s have a seat and walk through this floorplan you’re interested in.”
What are some examples of thinking outside the box when marketing to potential renters?
Fox: Add personal touches to their tour. Are they bringing a pet with them? Have dog or cat bowls and toys and say the pet’s name during the tour. Is their child really into Peppa Pig right now? Include a coloring sheet to send to them. Find out what will make your apartment theirs.
Dowling: We have a good rapport with hospitals here like Johns Hopkins and Sinai Hospital and Travelers Haven, which is one of our corporate leasers. If we don’t hear from them for awhile, we will reach out and say, ‘We’ve done some renovations if you have any clients coming that might be interested.’
Matos: As part of our welcome home commitment, we seal our apartment homes after they’ve been sanitized and cleaned. We’re so confident in our system, checklist and ensuring that everything is exceeding expectations for move-in that we stand behind a 30-day guarantee if they’re not happy.
McNeese: We have a high population of military in this area. In some cases, many were on ships, and they couldn’t utilize FaceTime. If videos were too big, they couldn’t open them. But we could send emails. We could send pictures and customize it to the potential resident’s needs. I also did several videos in Spanish. At Red Knot we also did furniture rentals because we were able to do six-month leases. People were asking about furniture rentals. We hadn’t implemented it at that point, and we said why not. People were in between homes or waiting for their homes to be built and so we started putting packages together. It’s now permanent and extended to other properties.
What are some examples of building brand awareness for your property?
Horne: We increased our content on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to not only cater to our current residents, but also to interact with potential new residents and get them engaged. Prospects got to see different facets of the community and really imagine us being their new home. Google scores are also vitally important as many times prospects will go online to look for feedback from current residents.
Matos: We did put more of an emphasis on creating brand awareness to help convey who we are and where we stand in the market against our competitors. So we went deeper into training for our team to understand the product more than ever because you’re answering so many questions when touring virtually.
We’re very conscious of what we post (on social media). We want to spark interest, and we understand and we’re all trained to focus on what audience I am targeting with what I’m posting. What kind of reaction am I looking to get? How do I want to further engage with residents and potential residents in what I’m posting? We found it helpful in promoting local areas and events, which make the community that much more attractive.
Sims: We’ve always had professional photos and we keep refreshing images on the website or the virtual tour. Last year Optima bought all new outdoor furniture for the pool and roof deck. They came in and did all new photos and will also do that if we’ve done upgrades or renovations.
We’ll have marketing meetings and chose an apartment to feature in a digital flier. Today we picked our last three-bedroom, two-bath in one of our towers to blow out through an email blast or text message. We do that five days a week.
Fox: At Morgan Properties, we pride ourselves on taking a customer-centric approach where all customers “Experience More with Morgan.” The journey begins when our prospective residents are in the awareness phase of leasing and continues through residency. Our leasing success is derived from three factors: making great first impressions, building rapport and personalizing our tours to show we really care about their needs.
What are some of your top qualities that have led to your success as a leasing agent?
Horne: The greatest tool anyone can have is friendliness, which helps build rapport and client relationships. Next is product knowledge, which allows you to not only connect with your prospect, but also to take complete ownership in what you are offering.
Sims: I am very approachable and very personable. I provide first-class service and take the time to listen to the prospect and understand them. My knowledge of the property goes hand in hand with it.
Dowling: I just try to make that connection and try to make the prospect feel comfortable and see exactly what they want. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t ask me a question, and I will be as honest with you as possible.