Mobile Leasing: The Future or More of the Same?May 4, 2012 by Leah Etling
There’s phenomenal buzz in the property management industry right now about the transition to mobile-based marketing, leasing and resident management, with the expectation that the pervasive tech obsession sweeping America will leave no process unturned.
The reality may be a little closer to the current standard practices of renting an apartment—with a couple of notable exceptions.
Industry insiders tell us that while things are going to change a lot for some high-end apartment communities and their tenants, many of us will still be filling out paper applications. But we may get to pay our rent and submit maintenance requests, online. And while searching for that great new place, expect to be courted with apps and mobile-friendly websites.
Here’s a step-by-step look at the apartment rental process and what’s changing—or, perhaps, staying the same.
Marketing a Vacancy
The transition to online listings from newspaper ads is one of the biggest changes in residential marketing in the last decade. Unless a property is renting to a distinctly senior, non-tech-savvy crowd, there’s no reason to place a print ad ever again. Instead, navigating the wide variety of online listing sites and choosing the best option for your property is the new challenge. Selection of a community apartment listing site should be based in part on user friendliness of the site’s mobile component.
Property management firms now need to invest in things that might not have mattered before—like professional photography that showcases their properties from the best possible angle, website development that displays well across browsers and mobile platforms, and mobile-specific apps that showcase property amenities and allow users to submit requests for more info or to be notified of a newly-vacant unit.
Property managers have no choice but to invest in all forms of mobile marketing, or risk missing out on prospective residents who have a distinct preference for seeing properties on their smartphones or for searching exclusively for listings online, or can’t travel to view an apartment in person. Additional expenditure on social media marketing and targeted online advertising replaces newspaper display ads and will be increasingly important to drive attention to an individual property in a crowded marketplace.
The often-evoked visual of a leasing agent conducting an apartment walk-through with an iPad and wrapping up the transaction by handing the prospect the tablet so they can fill out their application is happening in some high-end apartment communities in markets like New York City, but don’t expect such an experience in suburban Topeka anytime soon. There are markets that cannot justify the cost.
The less-flashy alternative is the increasing popularity of the online leasing portal, a place to submit application and credit information. These options are becoming widely available as a way to weed out serious prospects from looky-loos, and automated input is a huge time saver for property managers. Expect such submission of details to become common and widespread within the next two years.
And the idea that an apartment could be rented without an in-person visit? The demand for such a service is still growing, and is particularly popular among college students, foreign relocation prospects, and professionals moving for work assignments. Online video tours, detailed and updated photography, and extensive descriptions are three ways to capture this market.
Perhaps the greatest change in how property management and residents interact with the aid of technology comes after the boxes are emptied and the first month’s rent check is cashed.
Site managers are observing that tenants don’t want to talk to their management staff after move-in, preferring to handle rent pay, maintenance requests, and information sharing in a manner similar to online banking transactions.
Both apps and secure Web portals are vital tools for the property that wishes to offer such features for residents, though a majority of properties in the U.S. are still handling rental payments via checks or direct deposit. The financial crisis led to more renters wanting to pay rent via credit card, which influenced some movement toward online remittance options. But future-focused property firms will need all of their resident information, maintenance forms and bill pay in one highly mobile platform to satisfy tenant demands.
The change to a mobile request and follow-up adds a new dynamic to maintenance, allowing for easier tracking and scheduling. It also opens up the opportunity for customer satisfaction input. After an apartment problem has been cleared up, properties can ping the tenant via email and ask for feedback, creating customer loyalty and a record that closes the loop on the complaint.
What are the biggest changes you see coming to the property management market as the world goes mobile for its technology needs?