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Relying on Virtual Leasing During COVID-19

May 2020

Inside one company’s move from the physical leasing office to a remote environment.

This is the fifth in a recurring series of articles looking at how apartment owners, managers and developers have mobilized to protect themselves and their residents from the spread of the novel (meaning new) coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S.

Morgan Group put together a COVID-19 taskforce when it realized the novel coronavirus would soon become an issue in the U.S. As the days have passed, the calls have grown more necessary.

“We have calls every day,” says Joe Melton, Vice President of Marketing and Management Support Services at Morgan Group. “What has been really helpful about these calls is that we’ve been updating our contingency plan in real-time.”

When the National Apartment Association (NAA) caught up with Melton, Morgan was in its third week of meetings. The only constant was that everything was changing. “Some of it is just reiterating the same things that are coming down from our sources, which are local health officials and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Melton says.

Onsite, Morgan limited hours and services early on. “Our amenities are temporarily closed, and we are currently performing essential work orders,” Melton says.

Like many firms, Morgan was still weighing how it would handle late rent and evictions while balancing its financial obligations. “One of our key values is people first,” Melton says. “We want to be good citizens and to try to be a company that responds respectfully to the environment.”

Fortunately, Melton says the company was in a good position because of high occupancy. “There’s never a good time to have something like this happen, but we’re really fortunate that we have a manageable lease expiration environment,” Melton says. “We have lots of tools and smart people to manage the system in real-time.”

As a marketer, Melton is focusing on utilizing technology in place of in-person communication. “We are getting ready to have true virtual leasing offices where our front door becomes a remote, from-home situation,” Melton says.

Morgan employs a tool that allows for “real-time, transparent conversations” with prospects. “That is one step we’re taking to move the physical leasing office to a remote place and still be able to do normal day-to-day leasing business,” Melton says.

Melton says the leasing and communication lessons the industry is learning during the pandemic may prove to be a guiding force in the future. Morgan has already adopted some of these technologies.

“Four or five years ago, we engaged in virtual videos,” Melton says. “If someone was touring our property and they had a decision-maker or a partner in a different country, they could send a link to them. We found that numerous people all over the world have clicked on our virtual tour links.”

Melton thinks COVID-19 will ultimately supercharge the virtual leasing movement. “It will create an opportunity for us to learn the true efficiencies and fresh ways to utilize these tools,” he says.