From cinematic videos to chatbots, website design provides multifamily marketers with a myriad of features. But the primary goal of any apartment website is to welcome prospects and engage them with the brand—an important part of the lead-to-lease conversion process.
“Our websites serve as our first impression and we certainly aim to make it a good one,” said Morgan Porter, director of digital marketing, Birchstone Residential. “We want our prospects to feel a sense of positive energy, something of a wow impression, coupled with a focus on the details of the community.” The goal is to give the prospect just enough to want to click through to view more.
Multitouch attribution is a pivotal component to Birchstone Residential’s digital marketing strategy. Tracking leads with a first-touch or last-touch model is ineffective because it leaves too much gray area within the renter journey, according to Porter. “We want to ensure that we are meeting prospects everywhere they are within the journey, so when they are ready to make their decision we are right there waiting for them”
Virtual tours via Matterport or a similar 3D tech service have been around for several years but are rapidly gaining traction and will continue to have a sizable role in Birchstone’s leasing process moving forward. “People are ready to shop 100 percent online for their apartment search and these types of tools will lead the way,” Porter noted.
Birchstone uses robust analytics to ensure that its websites are performing and accelerating growth opportunities. According to Porter, it is important not only to monitor the property website performance but also to maintain full visibility of the property’s advertising Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as well, and not only last-touch conversions.
Managing the Prospect Journey
Vista Brooklyn Apartments, a new multifamily project developed by The Bristol Group in Jacksonville, Fla., opened its doors in April 2021. Prospects had already been touring the property and leasing apartments for months thanks to its fully developed website. Bristol’s goal was to launch an aggressive pre-leasing initiative while under construction and overcome leasing barriers heightened by COVID-19 restrictions. Spherexx was engaged to manage the prospect journey from lead generation to lease execution.
The website inspired and captured qualified prospects before construction was complete. It streamlined the leasing process and scheduled move-ins. Spherexx’s 3D renderings with digital staging replicate the common area amenities and individual units. Website guests can explore floor-to-floor and room-to-room, taking in drone photography vistas from virtual windows.
In addition, scaled-to-size 3D floor plans offer furniture arrangement options. The interactive building map filters units by type, price, availability and amenity selections, including cabinetry, garage, views, size and available occupancy dates. A virtual video of all the common amenity areas introduces the rooftop pool, beer garden, game room, dog park, latte lounge, high-tech gym and interior unit design.
So, by the time a prospect gets in touch with the leasing staff, they have already selected their favorite floor plan and know the pricing and all there is left to do is closing. “We got over 100 inquiries a week and secured, on average, five leases a week without anybody having been inside the building,” said Lisa Gunderson, vice president of asset management at Bristol Development Group.
In fact, the site www.VistaBrooklyn.com was so successful that it garnered a 2021 Webby Award, one of the Internet’s highest honors. The 2021 Webbys had 13,500 entries across 70 countries. The other two winners in the Real Estate category were Bellway Homes UK by Ryze Agency and Alcon Tower, Moscow, Russia by Whitemark.
Custom Site or Template
Website templates have come a long way, according to Kim Ziereis, business development & brand strategy lead and co-founder of Après Creative Group. They are connected to real time pricing and availability for the whole portfolio, and a template approach can get the website up and running in an afternoon. “They’re very visual. They have all of the bells and whistles, the AI plugins, the floor plan pricing availability and the online leasing,” Ziereis explained.
However, the other alternative—a custom website—speaks to the brand story much more intimately. Custom is ideal for ground-up/new construction clients. “They’ve invested so much money to bring the development to life. They want that to be evident on their web presence as well,” Ziereis added.
Après Creative Group designs custom websites from the ground up by developing three separate concepts that relate back to the brand story. “We always like to paint that picture of location, location, location first and foremost—and what it feels like to live around the building,” Ziereis said. And while others simply show what it’s like to live at a community, the company’s approach helps people moving to a new market see what the neighborhood is like first and foremost.
Then, Après Creative Group continues to paint that picture with messaging and imagery to show what a day in the life would look like: getting coffee at the clubhouse, getting in a workout and relaxing with friends in the lounge.
Back in Ziereis’ corporate days at Archstone, the company invested in a lot of customer journey research and how people search for an apartment. “They could be tipped off by a banner that they saw on a construction fence, but most people visit though your website,” she said.
Accessibility for All
Building a website is no different than designing a house, according to Kerry W. Kirby, CEO at 365 Connect. “You want to have curb appeal, but also a great flow to help your user navigate to exactly what they are looking for.” Kirby’s strategy is to keep them on the page, rather than bouncing around the site. Units are nested under floorplans. When they slide it open, prospects get options for inquiring about the apartment or to schedule a tour.
If that’s not the right floorplan after all, they can see other suggestions on the same page. It’s the Amazon model. “We like to put the call to action pieces to the right so that they can easily execute what they’re looking for,” he said.
What’s more, the floorplan is the most critical piece on the site—and that’s why excellent imagery is essential. “You can’t put a good property with some bad photos on the internet and expect it to succeed,” Kirby noted.
However, not everyone will be able to see—or hear—that information. Website accessibility is a huge and continually evolving issue that multifamily operators need to be aware of. “The user experience (for all) is critical because we need to get people into a workflow seamlessly and as quickly as possible. It needs to be a balance of beauty and brains. It needs to look good to entice you to enter,” Kirby explained.