The Recession is Over! How Do We Get Back to Fundamentals?

BankUnited executive Patrick Fitzgerald told a real estate lending conference in April that multifamily housing "is in a full-fledged healing mode." Vacancies are hovering at 6.6 percent nationally, down from 8.1 percent a year ago, and rents rose in the last three months of 2010 for the third consecutive quarter.

This is phenomenal news for those of us that have been operating in a cash flow challenged; concession drenched multifamily market for the past 4 years. The challenge now is that we unsure about how we get back to the basics of selling apartments at market rate. For the past 4 years we have been focusing on selling prospective renters what “they will get free” as opposed to the fundamentals of great location, great amenities and fantastic customer service. A culture of concessions has changed the way we market and sell apartments and the posturing question now is how we go back to “normal”.

What increases this challenge even further is that many of those working in the multifamily industry are of the millennial generation and have only known this “recession culture”. The challenge and goal is teaching these folks how approach, product quality, successful habits and drive for distinction can lease more apartments instead of concessions. The economy has turned and rents are going up. The goals of modern day post-recession leasing teams are driving the market, raising rents, growing revenue, maximizing marketing dollars and creating a positive financial impact on every property they manage.

I get resistance from my community managers and leasing staff every time concessions are eliminated and find myself constantly reminding them that showing the utmost confidence and worthiness in your product and team will set you apart from the competition. To sell anything, you have got to be sold on it yourself. If you don’t believe in your products and services, how can you convince others?

Selling is only a transmission of belief, it’s simply helping others believe the same way you believe about your product or your community. For someone to buy into you, they must feel you have congruency. It is important to keep in mind that prospects are judging you not only by your words, but by your attitude, approach, posture, facial expressions, etc. They are sizing you up to see if you really care about them and if you believe what you are saying.

I often explain that the one thing that the community can never duplicate is “you” and the level of service you provide. Always, sell yourself. You are they to make their living situation more enjoyable, and that’s part of the package. As you are selling yourself, quote your rates with confidence and never make an apology for your rental rates or for not offering a special.

Multifamily marketing consultant, Mary Gwyn, CPM, says the key to taking advantage of the improving conditions is to retrain your leasing teams. Leasing Professionals need a boost to transition back into a strong leasing economy. Training should focus on 3 key areas: redirecting sales to product and not price, preparing properly for prospect questions, and practicing closing and sales techniques, which reinforces the skill sets.

According to Gwyn, the last few years, leasing teams have “sold the special,” competing based on price and discounts, rather than the apartment product. Leasing Professionals should be taught how to distinguish their product’s unique attributes (including the customer service team itself), so prospects see the value and are willing to pay more for it. The next step is to be prepared for prospective renters’ typical opening questions, such as “What’s Your Special,” or “How Much Is Your…” She recommends that Leasing Teams brainstorm answers to those and other frequent prospect questions, focusing the prospect on their community’s distinctive qualities, rather than focusing on the price. Last, Gwyn says it is important to practice closing techniques, including handling customer objections, which will reinforce the behaviors that lead to more leases. Prospects need help in making the buying decision. Leasing Professionals will assist them with more confidence if they have prepared, practiced and reinforced the answers to buyer objections and improved their abilities to help the prospect finalize the leasing decision