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The Amazonification of Leasing

amazon echo
March 2019

Appropriate technology solutions can streamline the leasing process.

Compared with buying an Echo on Amazon, leasing an apartment is a brutally inconvenient experience. In fact, only 14 percent of U.S. apartment renters report being able to easily find pricing and availability online, according to a survey conducted in 2018 by Entrata.

As part of the changing renter demographic, only 27 percent of prospective renters say they needed an in-person tour, which heightens the need to provide them everything they need digitally. Today’s residents expect real-time pricing and availability, virtual tours and, ultimately, a one-click leasing experience.

A few savvy owner-operators are getting ahead of the game to make this possible. They recognize the need to drastically overhaul the use of technology to meet these evolving renter expectations and must do so quickly. According to the NAA, the industry will need to produce 4.6 million new apartment homes by 2030 to keep up with the housing demand.

Meeting this home-count demand, however, is only half the battle when the right technology isn’t used to make leasing these apartments more convenient. That is why many apartment operators are revamping their online leasing efforts and exploring revolutionary ways to best connect with prospective renters.

“We’re trying to provide as much information to our prospects upfront as possible,” say Faith Aids, Vice President of Marketing and Branding for Laramar Group. “Prospects are doing their research online and getting better at it. So, if we make it hard on them, we’re never going to even know they exist. They are going to go with what’s frictionless.”

During the initial search, prospective residents look to sort through the clutter and eliminate as many non-streamlined sources as possible. The volume of phone calls received by a leasing office has significantly decreased in the age of instant information and instant gratification. Residents are like any other consumer in today’s climate – they’re easily irritated if they cannot immediately find the information they’re looking for.

“We’re trying not to be eliminated from their initial search,” Aids says. “We don’t want to make our prospects fit into this 9-to-5 work bubble. We want them to have the ability to do things on their time. Renter expectations have purely evolved with things like Amazon and Uber.”

That means new solutions must be offered. Although not often utilized in the industry yet, some apartment operators are exploring the idea of allowing prospects to do an onsite tour on their own time. Rather than requiring them to tour with a leasing associate at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, communities can offer the option of an onsite self-tour at the time of the prospect’s choice. The self-tour concept represents another step in the evolution of prospect preferences.

“As the tendencies of prospective residents continue to evolve, the onus has been put on apartment operators to track those characteristics and modify as they continue to change,” says Trevor Riley, Senior Vice President of Product for Entrata. “Advancements in technology are allowing onsite teams to track the touchpoints utilized by each prospect, and the data can help predict the digital path that future renters will take.”

Tech-Fund Collaboration Brings Solutions

As apartment operators clamor to make leasing nearly as convenient as an Amazon purchase, some have turned to unconventional means. Laramar Group, for instance, created a real estate technology fund. Laramar teamed with Nine Four Ventures, which aims to provide Laramar with suitable innovative solutions pertaining to smart-home technology, energy and sustainability solutions, tech-enabled resident service platforms, resident engagement and other tech-related concepts.

Conventionally in a partnership with a technology fund, committees from both sides will collaborate. The apartment operator committee, composed of several departments, will meet with the tech fund committee and relay onsite challenges. The tech fund then will seek tech-related solutions for those challenges. Ideally, a few cross-functioning individuals within the organization can help implement the technology.

While the primary objective remains to bring prospects into apartment homes, tech solutions can assist in another extremely valuable way – by taking the strain and pressure off leasing teams.

“When you go to leasing offices today, it’s insane how busy these teams are and how many different directions they are being pulled in throughout the day,” Aids said. We’re trying to find tech partners that make life easier on them so the end result is that they are able to provide a higher level of service.”

The idea is that those service levels will make things simpler for the prospect. Much like making a purchase on Amazon.

Paul Willis is a Content Manager for LTM.