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Lessons from Single Family: Self-Guided Tours Are Here to Stay

In the era of COVID-19, self-guided tours have moved from forward-looking innovation to necessity, with the early adopting single-family market offering a roadmap for multifamily professionals. 

By Samantha Chalmers

Before COVID-19, self-guided tours were a cautiously adopted solution throughout the multifamily housing industry.

But as panelists discussed in the session, “Lessons from Single Family” at APTvirtual, single-family housing was an early adopter that experienced significant success with this touring model. The path of that experience provides an effective roadmap for multifamily operators as COVID-19 accelerates adoption of self-guided tours throughout the industry.

The effectiveness of that roadmap is found in the data from single-family self-guided tours that indicates that residents frequently utilize self-touring, which also shortens the lead to lease conversion timeline. 

“Customers want to be able to find information about an apartment community in any way that they want,” explained Todd Katler, CEO and founder of Anyone Home. “Operators who allow prospects to trade in their own currency will see the benefits of providing multiple platforms in the form of increased conversion and accelerated leasing velocity.”

According to an analysis of the 2018 leasing activity of Anyone Home’s single-family clients, 61.3% of prospects who booked a tour chose only a self-guided one, while 30.1% chose only a tour with an associate and 8.6% booked both tour types. Those who used self-guided tours converted to a lease at nearly twice the rate—9.3 % vs. 5%—than those who didn’t.

Single-family prospects who completed a self-guided tour at any point in the leasing process had a 54% higher conversion rate compared with those who only took an agent-led tour. One out of every four prospects who participated in a self-guided tour leased. Sixty-seven percent of prospects who leased after touring completed a self-guided tour as their first tour. Thirty-three percent of prospects who leased after touring completed a self-guided tour as a subsequent tour.

The data, however, wasn’t the driving force for single-family operators like Invitation Homes. It was an operational necessity born from the challenges of leasing homes dispersed across an entire metro area rather than in a single multifamily community. That innovation necessity, fortunately, produced significantly positive results for the company and prospects.

“It’s a win-win,” said Phil Rogers, Director of Operational Planning and Analytics for Invitation Homes, which owns and leases single-family homes. “It allows scalability, it allows efficiency on the leasing side, but it’s also extremely attractive to the consumer. Even if when we offer a 50/50 model, it’s the first choice of a growing number of prospects.”

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many multifamily operators find themselves in a similar situation Invitation Homes was in when it first started offering self-guided tours. It’s more of a necessity than a forward-looking innovation.

“Covid really changed the way we looked at this technology. We no longer had the luxury of determining what we want, but instead we had to figure out what we need in order to maintain operations,” said Kari Warren, Executive Vice President at Kairoi Residential.  “Once we realized that we needed to quickly shift the way we tour, all of the features we wanted on a self-guided tour option became secondary to our need to provide prospects with a quick and easy way to tour that still felt safe.”

So much for cautious adoption.

Samantha Chalmers is an Account Director for LinnellTaylor Marketing.