There are plenty of myths about the rental housing industry. Some of the most persistent or most believed may finally be changing, thanks to hard work throughout the industry. Three leaders weigh in here on myths—and the realities taking their place.
MYTH: Property managers and owners are unconcerned with residents’ needs.
REALITY: Managers and owners are building a caring approach from the ground up.
“Historically, ‘tenant’ and ‘landlord’ were never considered positive language. But when I joined Cortland, it used specific terms to refer to customers—‘residents’—and to our properties, or ‘communities.’ It’s a subtle but important mental shift to set a standard and let residents know we want them to have a safe, comfortable, excellent living experience.
We use that language with our investors, too. We want them to know that we put residents, not real estate, first—and all good things come from that focus.
It’s even evident in the company credo, posted in all offices: ‘We believe in a better life where hospitality is always a given, each detail is worth a second thought, and every moment is a new opportunity to go beyond expectations.’ When I stay at a Marriott property for a few days, I expect hospitality; that’s what the whole industry is called. If I live at an apartment community 52 weeks a year, why not expect the same? Not turndown service, of course, but a mindset of ‘above and beyond’ and caring for residents’ well-being.
We train on and celebrate big and small ‘go-beyond’ moments like these:
- An elderly resident couldn’t get out to do errands anymore, so office staff did them for her.
- Our staff have helped residents change a tire, push a stalled car and procure jumper cables.
- When a resident was out of town, we cared for his dog when the dogwalker had to leave town, too.
- A resident dropped a key ring down a sewer grate; our maintenance people crawled over and hooked it.
Maintenance staff are trained not only in their areas but in customer service and hospitality—to cover their shoes when entering a home, say, and to leave a handwritten note (including ‘thank you’) if the resident isn’t home.
Many large management firms are elevating the residential living experience. The more we all defy the myth, the more people will feel that their team really does treat them as valuable customers.
—Mike Gomes, Chief Experience Officer, Cortland, Atlanta
MYTH: Some first-time renters believe filling out a form will get an apartment with everything on their “wish list.” Some multifamily staff believe first-time renters are savvier (including tech-savvy) than they actually are.
REALITY: First-time renters need a lot of guidance and orientation at every stage.
“First-timers, from young people to longtime homeowners, often have no idea what they’re getting into. They may never have lived on their own, so multifamily staff need to prepare for an unusual number of inquiries from application to move-in and beyond. We hear, ‘What is an application fee? What is an income requirement? Why is there a credit check?’
With automated systems, you’d expect especially the younger generations to be more electronically savvy about assembling their documents to apply. Many, though, think that proving their income means simply stating their salary rather than uploading paystubs.
Many—not all—seem to think apartments come with more than they do. Some are surprised when their unit doesn’t look like the model or that they don’t have internet. We say, ‘Did you see the order details in your packet? It’s not automatic.’
After move-in, our managers get questions about the appliances—so many that we now require renters to come in on move-in day for an orientation. We walk them through all the common areas to learn how to access them, then learn how to operate the stove, the microwave, the thermostat, the internet.
Of course our website includes a Q&A and requirements, but we still don’t seem to get as many complete applications as I would like.
Because we deal with this stuff every day, our industry as a whole tends to assume that applicants know what to do. But many don’t. Depending on the property, the niche, the location and so on, first-timers make up roughly one-third of renters. And our leasing agents and managers are pretty proactive and good at follow-up. But overall, a lot of incomplete applications are falling through the cracks. “
—Michael Zaransky, Managing Parner, MZ Capital Partners, Northbrook, Ill.
MYTH: Management wants to replace people with technology
REALITY:The best approach is a mix of people and technology.
“In this industry, both residents and staff have sometimes been concerned that bots and artificial intelligence (AI) tools may replace our well-trained employees. Just think of everything from getting groceries to ordering pizza—there was a time when apps seemed to be replacing staff everywhere. But things seem to have swung back a bit to where you have a choice of self-serve or a cashier, an app or counter service. It’s the same in apartment living.
Naturally, management needs to think in terms of doing more with less. The goal is to use technology where possible to deploy staff more effectively and let them do what they do best—to interact with our customers the way customers want to be interacted with.
Take website bots, for example. They take a load off our staff and give us the bandwidth to chat with anyone day or night. But they don’t always have the best answers to complex questions. And some prospects want to talk to a human. So, we also offer people the options of calling or coming in, or we can call them. Same with virtual, self-guided tours. Some people want us to walk with them or discuss something specific.
Maintenance requests go so much faster with an online system. If residents want to tell us at 3 a.m. that something’s wrong, they can, rather than interacting with staff. They can take a photo to show us the problem. If it’s something simple, maybe we or an AI tool can help residents handle it on their own. Here’s another place where the tools can free up the staff to be more helpful in person: They can be out on the property more simply because of the streamlining that technology allows.
Technology is about allowing our customers a choice. Ultimately, it makes us more efficient and offers a better experience for them. “
—Cindy Clare, Chief Operating Officer, Bell Partners, Greensboro, N.C.
Want More Great Property Management Insight?
Atlanta will be the hub of rental housing at NAA’s Apartmentalize, June 7-9, 2023. Among the great educational offerings is the session, “Myth Busting for Independent Rental Owners: Does Size Matter?” This intermediate-level course will cover how independent rental owners impact the entire industry as well as technology practices to improve efficiencies. Register at apartmentalize.naahq.org.