September 12, 2022 |
Updated October 25, 2022
Centralized leasing has become quite the multifamily buzzword, but operators have different perspectives of what it actually means. What exactly is being centralized?
Traditionally, centralized staffing has referred to having a central physical office, but today it includes a combination of staffing, physical spaces and technology systems. Most operators agree it means moving tasks and processes from onsite to other people, regardless of location, that are specialized in specific processes or customer touchpoints. This allows operators to free up resources to better focus on tasks that require an onsite presence and provide better one-on-one customer service.
According to panelists at the Apartmentalize 2022 session, “Build a Better Leasing Experience with Centralization and Technology,” defining centralized leasing is an important clarification that must be made within an organization.
“Venterra Realty’s Vice President of Asset Management and I were misaligned on the concept of centralized leasing for eight months and did not realize it,” says Stephanie Gonzalez, Vice President of Property and Customer Innovation at Venterra Realty. “I’m talking about removing tasks that don’t need to be done onsite and having them done elsewhere. He was thinking about a physical central location. We were talking about two different things, but it does mean both.”
“Our centralized leasing is under one roof,” says Wendy Rae Walker, Vice President and COO of TAM Residential. “We have one person for five communities and one manager over all of them. They handle incoming phone calls for leasing, ILS leads, email leads, some virtual video tours, setting appointments for in-person or self-guided tours and some prospect follow-ups.”
With different centralized landscapes, technologies, challenges and key takeaways, there isn’t just one definition of centralized leasing. It is a people and a process thing much more than a technology thing, and it ultimately helps renters get through the leasing process much faster – which is exactly what modern renters want. And it helps better assist customers when onsite teams are significantly downsized.
“There are also market forces at play, and the labor market is super tight,” said session moderator Brent Steiner, Founder and CEO of Engrain. “You can’t hire people fast enough. Large REITs are also centralizing, which moves the needle on expectation. It’s no longer taboo to talk about.”
Self-guided tours were the gateway to centralized leasing, but centralization can also be multiplied throughout different points in the customer journey that leads to better customer service and increased satisfaction. Consumer behavior in general is driving this concept, and renters want an instant response to their needs.
“Centralized leasing is really about meeting customers where they’re at and providing them the instant gratification they desire,” Walker said. “Leasing teams don’t have to wear as many hats anymore, and they can really focus on residents and give them the time they need.”
Some of the new technologies operators have implemented, like AI and automation, are also setting a new standard of gratification through personalization. Personalization is critical when it comes to driving customer service and customer satisfaction results.
While some challenges exist with centralization, like getting buy-in from onsite teams and training, there are numerous benefits to sales and operations. Venterra Realty saw a 36% to 53% increase in sight unseen leases and a two-day decrease in the decision to lease time. Centralized leasing is helping operators fill vacancies and lower exposure.
“It’s all about the right response at the right time and routing people to the right solution at the right time to provide better service,” Gonzalez said. “AI and automation can handle a lot of prospect questions that come in, and not every person wants to speak to another human being – they just need an answer. Let AI or automation handle that and let our human resources handle the prospects that need either critical thought or empathy.”
One of the key takeaways is being mindful of the balance between technology and humans. It’s important to get this right, and the balance will depend on the market and its renter demographics. Tip the scale too far in one direction and operators may lose customers. But get the balance just right, and centralization improves the speed of service and creates efficiencies for prospects, residents and leasing teams.
Morgan Dzak is an Account Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.