Six Ways to Engage and Retain Pet Residents
Did you know that 72 percent of your current or prospective residents have pets? That’s a large chunk of the market, and an important one to retain. They are likely paying you 20-30% premiums in rent and deposits or fees, boosting your bottom line even as the market feels the pressure to offer more and more pet amenities.
“Welcoming pets at your property is one of the best investments you can make,” says KC Theisen, Director of Pet Care Issues for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “Pet people are a very loyal group, grateful for an apartment that allows their family members, and likely to stay longer than the average resident.” According to Firepaw, tenants report staying more than twice as long in units that welcome their pets (46 vs. 18 months).
Here are 6 tips to engage and retain your pet-owning residents:
1. Release the Hounds (figuratively of course). If you advertise your property as “pet-friendly” but impose restrictions by weight, breed, or number of pets, you’re not playing fair. Your residents shouldn’t be fearful that their adorable newly adopted pup will be 46 instead of under 40 pounds. When cats are well cared for, several can share a small space happily, especially with the amenities you’ll offer at move-in (see below). Plus, the more restrictions in place, the lower the premiums you can collect.
“Properties that lift their restrictions find out that the sky doesn’t fall,” Theisen says, “the changes are most noticeable as increased resident and staff satisfaction with the policy and fewer requests for exceptions to the rules.” Let go of archaic policies that damage your potential revenue streams.
2. Evaluate fees and pet rent. Do you charge the same amount, regardless of pet type? That may not sit well with all your residents. “Many cat owners feel shorted when they see dog walk areas, dog parks, and bathing spas, but no amenities for them, even though they pay the same pet rent,” says Theisen.
One alternative is to lower fees and rent for pets who don’t use amenities. Alternately, create some cat amenities: give residents a scratching post (aka damage deterrent) at move-in that coordinates with their apartment, have a feline veterinarian come out for a workshop on cat care, host a party to make homemade toys for cats or as gifts.
3. Host pet-centric events. Partner with a local vet clinic and arrange for a vaccine, wellness and spay/neuter clinic on grounds. Add local pet supply stores, dog walk services, and groomers to make the event into a Pet Fair. Your residents’ pets will stay healthy and current on vaccines, and you’ll get great PR points for making it convenient.
4. Clean up the property. It’s the #1 task your residents dislike, and probably the #1 complaint to your office staff: people not picking up after pets. Uncollected waste is unsanitary, maddening to compliant residents, and worse, gives prospective residents a bad first impression of your grounds. That’s a hit to the bottom line that makes investing in solving the poop problem worth it. Start by adding more bag dispensers and collection stations.
“Disney keeps their grounds clean by having a trash can every 25 feet,” says Theisen, “and that’s a good model to use. Nobody likes to carry around a bag of poop, so make it extremely convenient to get rid of it.” Back up these new additions with an information campaign that’s interesting and has a sense of humor: for example, The Poop Fairy campaign from Greenville County, SC. Strike a balance between motivating residents through peer pressure and ease of access with consequences for the habitual offenders who fail to clean up.
5. Utilize your existing resources. There are lots of low-cost ways to increase use and satisfaction with your property’s offerings. If your dog parks or community spaces aren’t being used by residents, contact a dog trainer to come and offer workshops or classes in the space. “Dog trainers are searching for a space to host classes, and new clients to attend. Multifamily properties fill both these needs at once so it’s a win-win,” says Theisen. “You can even customize the course for apartment-friendly skills: polite leash-walking, not barking, socializing well with dogs and people.” Your pet and non-pet owning residents will thank you.
Offer your residents a cat-sitting co-op. Residents with cats can sign up with their neighbors and trade pet-sitting duties within the property. This generates good neighbor relations and facilitating it through your resident portal or Facebook page enables you to know who to contact in an emergency. The same idea works for dog walking trade-offs, or meetup groups to walk together.
6. Go Above and Beyond--Bring more pets home. Your local animal shelter may be able to come out with adoptable animals to introduce to residents. “These pets are great for your property, as they should be vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and microchipped on arrival, unlike breeder-purchased pets,” says Theisen. Welcome all well-mannered dogs and cats and consider reducing deposits or relaxing the pet limit for residents who choose to adopt at the event. Prior to the event, you can host a pet supply drive for the shelter, generating interest and support for the event.