This article was posted on Saturday, Oct 01, 2016

Congratulations, you are the marketing manager of the best apartment portfolio, or property manager of the best community in town, or: 

  • You have new construction in lease-up or
  • You have an older community that wants to stay on top 

Even if you are the world’s best property manager, there are some secrets to apartment marketing that can bring you results now and hold down your marketing budget in the future.

Even if you are the world’s best property manager, you still may have no clue how you’re going to get your units toured by hot, qualified, prospective renters who are ready to lease a unit from you today.

And, no matter how cool your communities are, if people don’t know about them at the precise moment they are looking to lease, you will never hit your occupancy goals. Getting units leased is what apartment marketing should be all about. It’s not about what you think is cool. It’s about getting units leased – on budget and ahead of schedule.

While the apartment marketing industry is filled with strategies and ideas, it’s easy to get flustered by all the things you “should” be doing to help get your property leased and yourself inducted into the Hall of Fame at your management company.

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Ultimately, it all comes down to planning and budget.  I have personally helped nearly 1,000 different properties get their units leased ahead of schedule and below budget. So allow me to be your tour guide and pull back the velvet curtain on what apartment marketing pricing really looks like. And, what you can actually expect for your apartment marketing dollar spend.

Here are a few tips for navigating that elusive apartment marketing budget: 

No. 1 – Do the Apartment Marketing Math

The first question your regional or property owner will always ask the property or marketing manager is, “Do you know what your property’s marketing budget is?”  Usually that’s when they see the manager’s eyes get as big as saucers as they reply, “I have no idea! That’s what I thought you were here for.”

At MultiFamily Traffic we have seen hundreds of portfolios develop their own internal “marketing math” to figure out what each property should be spending on apartment marketing. Although I can’t share what our clients spend directly, I can tell you that the math adds up very closely at all of them. Below is the basic spend levels we see at property management companies. 

  • New apartment communities in lease-up: Working on hundreds of new community lease-ups, I can tell you the average marketing budget is about $275/unit for lease-up properties.  This includes internet listing services, search engine optimization (SEO), Google pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, internet/website costs (hosting, website plugins, etc.), special website enhancements/upgrades, email services, customer surveys, tracking services, referral fees, promo supplies (brochures, pens, balloons, etc.), special promos, and social activities for residents.
  • Established apartment communities: For those properties that have been occupied more than two years and have solid occupancy, we see management companies allocating around $175/unit internet/website costs (hosting, website plugins, etc.), special website enhancements/upgrades, email services, customer surveys, tracking services, referral fees, promo supplies (brochures, pens, balloons, etc.), special promos, and social activities for residents.

    No. 2 – Why Search is more Important than Facebook

    Remember new and emerging properties, and older ones alike, are looking to capture new renters with an audience that has absolutely no idea who they are.

    That is where many mistakes are made. Often communities follow bad advice and focus all of their efforts on their website content and Facebook pages. That is great if you are Taylor Swift or Kanye West and people are already interested in you, but when was the last time you decided to go hang out on your dentist’s website or Facebook page? You don’t. It’s no different for apartments.

    You need to have renters find you on Google or via advertising at the precise moment they are looking to rent an apartment. Any money you spend on building up “good will” like events and on-page content will produce far less in terms of leases, if any.

    Honestly, having your property show up on Google when someone searches “Apartments in Any Town USA” will bring you 90% of the bang you need from your entire marketing budget and a 200-unit community can do an SEO campaign for $30/unit. 

    No. 3 – Google AdWords are Better Than a Pool Party

    “I need to fill my vacant units, but I have no money to help get them leased.”  Sound familiar?

    We call this “chicken and egg marketing” and it is something we are very familiar with. I’m here to tell you, to lease the units at your property you have to crack many eggs. However, if you focus on the biggest yolk for your buck first, you can get your cost down. But you will need to spend something.

    Make sure your apartment marketing budget is used wisely and can be tied tightly to the specific rental goals you have set for the property.  That pool party budget could buy you two months of a Google AdWords campaign. Which one is going to get potential renters to call the leasing office?

    There is nothing more frustrating and costly than burning through your property’s entire marketing budget only to find that you have been doing things that aren’t getting units leased and you have to start over again. So do it right the first time and work strategies that lease units, period.

    No. 4 – Cut Back on What is Not Working

    This is one of the most important things to know in apartment marketing, especially if your appointed, or self-appointed, digital marketing gurus within your company are telling you to try a new “fad” every week.

    If you’re a marketing manager or property manager trying to get units leased, you may only have a specific amount of budget to allocate to apartment marketing programs. In a pinch, you may also be able to beat your apartment marketing budget by cutting back on other marketing strategies that aren’t working.

    If you are working with two or more internet listing services you may want to think about focusing only on the one that brings you the most results.

    No. 5 – What Makes Your Leasing Office Phone Ring?

    Think about what you’re actually trying to accomplish.

    It sounds silly, but constantly ask yourself, will doing this get the phones in the leasing office to ring?

    If you have been doing something, ask yourself, “Is this making my phones ring?” It is funny how the “gurus” scatter when you tell them the radio ad did not make the phone ring once, or all the great new website content and the property is still buried on page five of Google.

    Hold your programs and vendors accountable. If they don’t bring in traffic, dump them.

    Matt Easton is Executive Vice President of Multifamily Traffic and a speaker on how to use search engine optimization and digital marketing to lease apartments. You can reach Matt Easton at 303-803-7372 or