‘Tis the Season to be Leasing: Getting your Property Prepped for Spring
Peak leasing season is upon the apartment industry. Spring is historically the time of year that renters are on the move and looking to upsize, downsize, get a better deal or simply relocate.
A recent poll suggests that nearly 25 percent of renters will be looking for a more affordable apartment in 2015. While renters may narrow a search by dollar bills, apartment executives say that there is more to standing out in the crowd during the best time of the year to boost occupancies than just price.
Curb and unit appeal, plus solid customer service, are big selling points. And the early bird often gets the worm.
“The most important thing you can do, whether it’s for a lease-up or stabilized property, is to really have all your basic operations and marketing set from the get-go,” says Troy Perkins, a regional property manager for Pinnacle. “You need to be really consistent, too.”
Perkins, who oversees 1,000 units, says the best opportunity to capitalize on leases at any time is to have a finely choreographed marketing effort among management and site staff. No matter what level of occupancy, it’s important to be consistent with marketing, training and site visits leading up to peak season.
Above all, Perkins said, give the resident or prospective resident something to remember. That usually involves hiring top front-line personnel who are sufficiently able to convey to paying customers their importance through top-notch customer service.
“I always say I hire people who are smarter than I am, people who are passionate about what they do, connected to the industry and want to make a difference, and realize that this is the largest bill that our clients are paying,” he said. “We don’t want to just give them an apartment, we want to give them an experience. We want them to feel that they are taken care of.”
Getting ready for spring leasing season starts early
For AMLI Management Co., getting ready for the spring leasing season starts at many properties after Christmas and New Year’s property managers start gearing for their annual inspections.
Each year, a team of executives tour each property in the portfolio to make sure it’s ready for the upcoming leasing season. President & CEO Steve Hallsey, Senior Vice President of Operations Traci Hall, and the regional property manager take a whirlwind tour and meet with site teams. Every property in every city is toured in a 30-day span beginning the first week of April.
The AMLI checklist includes making sure the property looks physically fit, that capital projects are tidyed up and that amenities are in ship-shape, as well as other items that make first and lasting impressions on prospects and existing residents.
“(Tours) are really about the residents,” said Hall, who spent the second week of April working her way from Houston to Dallas. “We’re trying to get the property spruced up after the winter months, merchandize the property. This is an opportunity for us to inspect what we expect in terms of merchandizing, curb appeal, how the property looks. We inspect models, amenity areas, everything. That’s our process.”
The inspections are an opportunity for site teams to make an impression with management. Hall says that often produces a quality property and creates pride among the team. There are, however, those times when a property doesn’t make the grade, and a sub-par leasing performance usually ensues.
“You can’t sell from an empty wagon” when prospects come calling
To avoid a poor score, Hall says a property should be well-landscaped, trees and bushes pruned and shaped, beds freshly mulched and curbs lines should be crisp. Inside, models and common areas should be detailed, detailed, detailed. Everything right up to the white glove treatment.
“All amenities should be absolutely detailed down to the teeth,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s perfect from rooflines to baseboards.”
Otherwise, lookers may keep looking.
But, no matter how dressed out the place, if units are not ready for immediate move-in, then the community may not get the business. AMLI strives to keep 75 percent of all vacant units ready for move-in at all times. The company measures unit availability rigorously across its portfolio.
“Our theory is you can’t sell from an empty wagon,” Hall said. “You can’t sell when you don’t have something to move into. It seems like residents more than ever are trying to move into apartment communities very quickly.”
Companies should embrace customer service via any medium
Perkins said site teams should not get caught up in the speed of leasing, which today is enabled by new technology. Companies shouldn’t lose sight of good, old-fashioned customer service.
He recalls when he started in the business several years ago that the leasing process required a pencil and a clipboard and there were no emails. The process was slower but site personnel and the prospect usually communicated face-to-face and voice-to-voice more, which ultimately helped create a stronger bond.
With an abundance of faster communication methods, it’s easy today, Perkins says, to get caught up in the minutiae of emailing, texting and running reports, and lose touch with the customer.
“The apartment industry has become a big-dollar industry,” he said. “It’s much more corporate in structure. We’ve really taken out strong customer service ethic, and that’s a shame. But our plates have also changed. The younger generation like to do things through their computer, their phone, through technology. With face-to-face, ultimately it comes back to customer service.”
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