For communities small and large, old and new, urban and suburban, the key to resident retention lies in the three C’s: Communication, connection and camaraderie.
Demand for apartments continues to rise. According to a report from NAA and the National Multifamily Housing Council, to meet current demand, the country needs 4.6 million new apartment homes by 2030. This anticipated increase in the number of units being developed makes it more important than ever for property managers to foster a sense of community among residents — tapping into the same block-club mentality that shaped neighborhoods of old. It’s a tactic that aids in retention by positioning renters as neighbors rather than simply individuals who happen to live in the same building.
According to NAA’s recent “Adding Value in the Age of Amenities Wars” report, being part of a community is an important factor when renters choose a building to call home. In fact, a sense of community is what’s behind five of the top 10 apartment amenities that have been added or upgraded the most since 2014. These include clubhouses and other common areas where residents can relax and socialize, as well as activity-focused spots, such as fitness and co-working spaces, that encourage like-minded residents to meet up in the common areas of their buildings.
While amenities may be enough to sell prospective residents on a particular building — and even this is becoming harder as rooftop pools, maker-spaces and “jam rooms” become the norm — they often aren’t enough to keep residents for the long term. Instead, property managers must find other ways to ensure residents are happy and living in a community they don’t want to leave.
In communities small and large, old and new, urban and suburban, the key to resident retention lies in the three C’s: Communication, connection and camaraderie.
Make Communication Easy
Technology has provided residents with the ability to communicate with property management at their convenience. It’s no longer necessary to visit the management office to drop off a rent check, pick up a package or fill out a service request. Now, these and other tasks can be completed remotely using a computer or mobile device, delivering around-the-clock service that improves the residential experience.
Waterton, a national multifamily investor and operator, offers responsive communication through its own online Message Center portal. In addition, management teams can get valuable resident feedback from regular surveys and Facebook polls. A recent survey at Chicago’s Cobbler Square Lofts, a 292-unit community that Waterton began managing in November 2017, revealed overwhelming support for the building to go smoke-free. This policy is being implemented as residents renew their leases.
Resident retention increases when property managers are able to offer the conveniences afforded by these communication tools. However, less face-to-face interaction also presents challenges for property managers, requiring them to be more creative in how they develop relationships with and among residents despite having fewer touchpoints.
Connect with Residents
Building a strong connection with residents is vital to the success of any apartment community. It is the property manager’s responsibility to ensure the rental experience is more emotional than transactional. The good news is that technology handles so many management tasks it frees up time for managers to engage with residents one on one.
Historically, best practices in rental housing management are informed by those in the hospitality industry. In 2015, Waterton went as far as combining its residential and hospitality platforms into what the Chicago-based company calls Resitality™, providing residents with the services and amenities one might find in a luxury hotel.
Hospitality-level service begins from the moment residents walk through the front door. Where a hotel might direct guests to a kiosk, Chicago-based The Habitat Company makes a point to personally greet residents. At properties managed by Habitat, one of the largest and fastest-growing rental housing developers and managers in the United States, community managers are directed to get out from “behind the desk” to engage with residents as they come and go. Without seeming invasive, they make it a point to learn the names of the residents and their pets, as well as other personal information such as what they do and where they’re from — all while ensuring they’re enjoying the lifestyle the building offers. It’s an elevated level of service that costs nothing to implement yet can prove valuable by differentiating a building from competitors in the market.
Habitat also recognizes that renewals are not a snap decision and continues to emphasize making residents feel welcome daily. At renewal time, residents in Habitat-managed buildings, such as Kingsbury Plaza, receive a personalized invitation to renew the lease instead of a standard form letter or email. This is coupled with a meetup between the resident and community manager to chat about expectations for the next year and how management can make it even better than the previous one.
Understanding what is of interest to residents is critical to fostering a sense of community, the final key to resident retention. Often this is done through events and other programming — fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and viewing parties, to name a few — that are designed to draw residents out of their units and, if planned correctly, connect them with neighbors who share similar interests. These gatherings also present another opportunity for managers to interact with residents in a casual social setting.
In some cases, partnerships with local businesses can help increase attendance. Habitat regularly plans events that allow for cross-marketing between the building and neighboring merchants. Whether it’s pizza in the lobby after a long day at work or a discount at retail or dining establishments, residents feel a part of the “family.”
Believing big, expensive pool parties are a thing of the past, Waterton focuses instead on small-group events such as mobile pet grooming, personal trainer meet-and-greets and beverage tastings. The marketing department generates quarterly themes that result in events hosted on- and off-site, utilizing popular spots in the neighborhood. Examples of onsite offerings include breakfast-to-go as residents leave for work and Postal Pub, which allows team members to offer snacks and take service requests at the mailbox or package area.
Waterton tries to build retention at all community events through a resident referral program that includes special “invite a friend” offers. Incentives vary by market and local laws, though Waterton finds it is not the incentive that drives a successful referral program but, rather, satisfied residents who want their friends to have a similar living experience.
There’s no guarantee what events, technology or even amenities will resonate most with residents. That’s why it’s vital for management to make getting to know residents a priority. Applying the best practices of communication, connection and camaraderie will lead to the creation of a strong, vibrant community that reaches beyond the walls of the building itself, driving both renewals and referrals.