To meet the demands of prospective residents, the apartment industry is raising the bar for apartment search with visual, personalized experiences.
Modern consumer behaviors are shaped by rapid advancements in online purchasing and the desire for instant gratification. Online shoppers are one click away from finding exactly what they want, researching, evaluating and purchasing faster than ever before. Searching for an apartment – an experience that’s been largely unchanged for more than a decade—is finally beginning to keep pace. But is it fast enough?
On one side of the transaction, renters are hungry for specific content, flexible touring options and transparency across channels. Meanwhile, operators are strategically determined to compress the leasing and touring process through self-serve touring options and centralized leasing scenarios. This tension is pushing multifamily inevitably to self-selection and optimized buying.
Selecting an apartment is an extremely personal decision, also a predominantly visual one. Personalized experiences raise the bar on customer expectations. Today’s renters want to see realistic pictures and experience virtual tours not only of the community, but for the specific apartment they’ll be living in.
“The world has moved to a much more visual medium,” said Mike Gomes, Chief Experience Officer at Cortland, which owns and manages more than 75,000 apartment homes. “An apartment search is a digital overlay to the physical experience. The primary experience – a living experience—occurs within is a physical location. Multifamily needs to create a digital companion that complements physical needs.”
To meet these demands, apartment websites and internet listing services (ILS) are stepping up and transforming how content is delivered. The decades-old, floor plan-based website experience is giving way to unit-level search and myriad interactive experiences including photos, videos and interactive maps that provide context and specificity around individual apartments. Scarcity is driving the market and technology is providing new methods to take advantage of integration and self-conversion.
Context is King
Marketing similar apartments isn’t cutting it for modern renters – they want to select their own home, whether it’s on a community website or an ILS. The industry is working with a much more discerning audience than ever before, and customers look at housing as a service and location as an amenity. People want choices and to understand where the apartments are located within the context of the community.
“We should strive to create memorable opportunities for customers as part of their apartment shopping experience,” Gomes said. “There are times when interacting digitally allows customers to better understand the living experience and get answers to questions without having to engage in the physical space.”
Interactive maps provide the context renters need to understand which apartments are available relative to community amenities. These same maps used on a property website are now available as a feature on the listing pages of an ILS, providing a seamless renting experience as users cross channels on their journey. Going from ILS to website to a growing number of self-touring platforms using the same maps, consumers can now truly visualize their experience, similar to shopping experiences in the hospitality, entertainment and single-family home industries.
“A recent Apartments.com survey reported 82% of renters said seeing the location of their apartment on the property was extremely or very important to their search,” says Engrain’s CEO Brent Steiner. “This data shows a fundamental shift in renter preference. This supports similar data users have shared in website surveys and use cases.”
According to Apartments.com, engagement on listings that included the maps is noticeably higher than pages without a map, and leads are more specific, tied to an individual unit. Listings have always included photos and floor plans of apartments in the search; what's been missing is location and context. Operators understand the significance of including features like maps in their ILS listing so residents can have a better understanding of where their new apartment home will be located within the community.
“Modern consumers are searching differently today, and they want to have a narrowed down list of homes that fit exactly what they’re looking for,” said Jaclyn Hosking, Senior Marketing Manager at Bozzuto, which manages more than 78,000 units. “We’ve been taking our marketing efforts one step further in the search process by putting essential visuals, like photos, videos, interactive community maps and unit-level information at the very beginning of the search and creating more of a personalized experience. It provides a more in-depth understanding of specific homes, floor-plan types and ideal locations.”
According to Google Analytics data from Bozzuto, its community websites utilizing third-party mapping technology receive 3.4 times more pageviews on mobile than static floor plans. Customers are also spending 13.5 times more time on a desktop looking at these maps than traditional floor plans on the community website.
Maps are the consistent thread that stitches the different parts of a complex self-service leasing machine together, providing a natural visual canvas for operators to present engaging interactive content in real estate context. Renters are able to make better decisions and arrive at a faster decision.
“Nearly 40% of our residents move to a Cortland community from outside the market they’re in,” Gomes said. “They have to make decisions using as many online resources as possible. We need to help customers gain the confidence to make those decisions and provide helpful tools to nudge customers down the path.”
If Context is King, Personalization is Queen
Personalization isn’t arbitrary – the entire modern-day online experience is defined by custom curated content. According to the “State of Personalization Report” from consumer data platform Twilio Segment, more than half of surveyed consumers said personalization improves the buying experience, and 60% said they would become repeat buyers after a personalized experience.
Marketing teams across all industries are allocating more money to personalized content for customers. A new home is arguably the most personal, big-ticket purchase a person makes. The initial apartment search on a community website or ILS is critical not only to attracting new residents, but also to maintaining long-term residents.
“When creating a resident-centric experience, you have to look at all the ways customers interact and engage, and also all the ways they may want to,” Gomes said. “Understanding those opportunities is critical to creating better experiences with more transparency, self-service, delight and joy. Part of that is identifying how and where in the apartment search customers are getting frustrated, and then communicating a richer experience where they can see and better understand the living environment.”
Platforms like Google Maps have revolutionized the level of personalization available in a search experience. Through keywords, filtering and location awareness users are able to identify hyper specific options, both when and where they need them. Seeing apartment inventory filtered to homes that meet your specific criteria on a property map provides a similar, curated search outcome.
While the industry will continue to evolve, visual and personal experiences have become the new gold standard for consumers. These elements are powering customer decisions and catering to modern consumer trends. Without integrating visual content and personalized experiences, operators will lose an advantage in a highly competitive industry.
Morgan Dzak is Account Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.