Anuradha Kher, Online News Editor
New York–A signed lease is a thing to be treasured. For property managers and owners, it is the fruit of a laborious and long development and marketing process. In the current market in particular, when vacancies are still pretty high, roping in a prospect requires a great deal of effort that includes a set of best practices.
David Tufts, the president of The Marketing Directors, which helps developers with marketing and leasing efforts, says, “We approach leasing as a strategic part of a bigger process. For example, if it’s a full lease-up, we look at the owners’ goals and make a plan from a marketing and fulfillment program to work to that. We recently did a lease-up for the Brookhaven Apartments in Atlanta and in four months we were able to get the property from an occupancy of 60 percent to 92 percent.”
The Marketing Directors is also doing a combined sales and leasing program at the Mosaic in Houston. “As a strategy we came up with a one-stop-shop called the ‘Live Here Lounge.’ People come here and decide which tower they want to live in. One is a rental and one is condo.” According to Tufts, this is a great opportunity to work both sides for an owner and an effective way to use marketing dollars. The key here is that the staff is the same and is cross-trained in both sides.
Tufts strongly believes in follow-up as a best practice. “We like to end a prospect interview in one of three ways. A signed lease is the best way; second is a firmed return appointment to get the lease signed, and the least acceptable is a phone follow-up. Leasing decisions happen very quickly so you need to be on top of mind for them.”
Brokers play an important role in the whole leasing process, says Tufts, and it is important to not only keep them informed and updated but also happy. “We market to brokers as we market to consumers. We look at them as someone to woo and make sure they are aware of everything that is going on.” Which is why The Marketing Directors hosts several events for brokers. The company brings pizzas to the brokers’ offices with their logo on it, cupcakes and more. “Typically, brokers like to come to the property during lunchtime and get fed. For evening events, we have wine and cheese at the clubhouse on the property,” says Tufts.
He also adds that infrastructure and management support to the front line people is important so that people can do their job more effectively. “Training of onsite staff is important to get those leases closed. Before the site opens, we have an intense two-week training. After we open, we have a weekly vignette, then a monthly sales training overview, and finally a quarterly sales training countrywide,” says Tufts.
Bob Scaglion, senior managing director at Rose Associates, stresses on the importance of listening to the prospect. “Many times, onsite personnel are so eager to make a transaction or to start the tour, that they don’t probe into what the client is actually looking for. It all comes down to that. In New York City, for example, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. It is a series of compromises and it depends on what is the most important criterion for a prospect: location, amenities, lifestyle, closet space, the square footage of the apartment itself. So it is very important to listen to the client to find out what he/she is looking for and then narrow the search.”
Getting everything done in a timely manner is very important. Moving is a big decision, so you need to comfort people and ensure that they are getting answers to all their questions and they are comfortable enough to ask the questions.
Scaglion says having the ability to do leasing online is important. “Prospects can apply online, without seeing the property if they are familiar with it, or in some cases they are referred to us by someone they trust, but we prefer that they come to the property.” He says the process of getting a new development leased starts well before there are any prospects in sight. “Developers in all geographies should spend more time and agonize over the layouts. Renters are sophisticated and they want quality of living, they want rooms that offer more than one bed wall, they want to be able to put in a king bed into the room. “The layout can really determine who will get the top dollar,” says Scaglion.
Needless to say, the Internet and social media play a big role in the leasing process. Carmen Benitez, founder of Fetch Plus, a social media and mobile application development company that specializes in developing social media programs and mobile applications for use by real estate, property management and the hotel/hospitality industries, outlines what she considers the best practices in leasing when it come to social media.
1. Understand and appreciate that we’ve shifted from traditional communication channels to consumer do-it-yourself digital islands (social networks like Facebook and iPhone apps). Your future residents are making their decisions based off recommendations and referrals from friends/colleagues through their social networks.
2. Understand that consumers are fast becoming digital do it yourselfers. They want tools that will quickly help them spot the best restaurant and share the information with their friends.
3. Know social guerilla marketing techniques: get closer to your local community and know how to build referrals and leads through fan page reciprocity and cross promotions
4. Be visible. Don’t set up Facebook friend profiles, set up business fan pages.
5. Create a social media content calendar to help facilitate conversation that will spur digital groups on your networks: i.e. talk about things that actually matter to residents: resident group outings (make your community feel inclusive with sub clubs), renter tips, neighborhood spotlights, maintenance tip corner, etc. See what type of commentary you generate and engage back with it.
6. Let what you do everyday get amplified socially (and vice versa). Showcase to your residents that you are on these social networks and connect the real world with the digital during events and resident appreciation weeks.