The way that we market to potential residents is changing.  The fact that potential residents are using the Internet to search for properties is nothing new, but there has been little information about how they are searching.  One of the most interesting items is the increasing importance of social media–not the social media that we normally think of such as Facebook and Twitter, but social media sites that provide online ratings.
Online rating sites can kill your traffic.  It does not take much effort to find reviews saying: “Don’t do it!  I’d rather be homeless.” “They don’t care about the residents.”  “They don’t want to fix anything.”  One national survey of online renters found that about 50% used rating sites to help make their decisions.  Having an effective online brand management program in place is essential to driving traffic and, more importantly, increasing showings.  Rating sites such as Yelp! and Apartment Ratings easily allow prospective residents to find out what others are saying about your building, whether or not it’s credible.  Anyone can post anything they want to do.  It is vital to have an effective online brand management program in place to control the online content.

One good trick is to set up Google alerts to let you know when someone posts about your company or building.  I have alerts set up so that if someone does make any negative comments I can either address the issue directly with the individual or at least defend the remarks and show that we do care about the residents.  It might be worthwhile to join Apartment Ratings Manager Center.  They charge from $100 to $300 per building to join but it will allow you to have a voice and take certain comments and discussions offline.  Residents can also be your biggest ally.  Residents are not often asked to write positive reviews so most of the time you don’t see positive reviews.  When a resident is happy with the service provided, ask them to write a good review.  We have found that most residents will write a positive review if they were asked.

Smart phones are used by a large percentage of residents looking for an apartment.  Potential residents are increasingly using their smart phones to shop as they walk or drive by properties.  Savvy owners and managers can place a QR code on a sign or flyer that will allow a potential resident to take a video tour of the property from the curbside.  The more options you give a resident the greater likelihood that you will get the apartment rented and the better your bottom line will be.
Save the paper!  Printed guides are used by only one third of apartment shoppers; newspapers are utilized by around one in ten and the yellow pages by about 2%.  I will make one caveat here.  In certain locations of buildings that I manage most of the traffic is still driven by newspapers. The key is to know your demographic.

Residents are looking for service and convenience from the management of their building. The ability for a resident to pay their rent online is becoming increasingly important.  I do not write checks anymore for my reoccurring bills; everything is automatically withdrawn.  No more late fees and no more lost checks in the mail.  As our lives become more complicated, we strive for and value simplicity.  Residents want the ability to schedule the rent to be withdrawn from their accounts on the first of every month.  They want to be able to send an email or fill out a maintenance request online and have an email sent back saying when it is scheduled.  Resident portals allowing residents to pay bills, request service and check balances are no longer extras; they are part of what is expected in the multifamily industry.  Eighty percent of online residents polled said they would use a resident portal to make rent payments and service requests.  Managers should demonstrate the resident portal to all potential residents as part of the standard tour.  If you don’t tell them about it, they won’t know.

What percentage of residents email addresses do you have?  If you do not have most or all of your residents’ emails, you are missing the boat.  Of online residents, almost all want to be contacted via email for basic communication, about seven out of 10 want to be contacted via cell phone and around three out of 10 would like to be contacted via text message.
These days almost everyone is connected.  The market place is telling us: they want to search online, get apartment reviews online, use their smart phones to search and use resident portals to make requests and pay bills.  Those who are able listen to what the residents are saying we will prosper in this changing environment.

Rusty Heyman is owner and president of Archways Property Management specializing in management of multi-family properties.  More information can be found at www.archwaysre.com or you can contact us directly at rheyman@archwaysre.com or at (818) 292-8728.

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