Because many potential tenants decide whether to rent at an apartment community based in large part on what they see in the model apartment, property managers eager to attract new residents take special care in how they arrange these show units.
R. Lee Harris, president of NAI Cohen-Esrey Real Estate Services, Inc., has a few tricks that he’s learned in over 25 years of property management to help his model apartments look their best.
First, choose your model apartment wisely. Don’t just think about the view from the windows; also consider what the tenants will see on the way to the unit. “You want to walk by some of the outstanding features of your community,” Harris said. The model apartment should not be so far from the leasing office that your prospective tenants get bored and tired.
Inside the apartment, Harris takes the interior doors to the kitchen and bathrooms off their hinges. “It makes the apartment feel more open,” he said. The doors get put into storage until the model unit is closed. Surprisingly, Harris has never had a prospective tenant comment on the missing doors. “Nobody even notices,” he said.
Also in the kitchen, Harris makes sure that the cupboards are not bare. “An empty cabinet always looks smaller than one that’s crammed full of stuff,” Harris said. “We try to stock the kitchen with everything imaginable.” He asks his staff to bring in boxes of oatmeal, cereal, and other foodstuffs that have been opened and emptied from the bottom, so that from the top they look new. He finds cutlery, plates, and appliances at garage sales.
Every morning, one of the property managers visits the apartment to turn on the lights, flush the toilets, and dust. The morning visitor sometimes also sprinkles a tiny amount of cinnamon and sugar on a cookie sheet in the oven and turns it to the lowest possible heat setting. The apartment will soon smell like fresh-baked cookies—a big improvement on a spray can of potpourri—though agents must keep on the watch to make sure that the oven doesn’t get hot enough to burn the cinnamon—or anything else.
Fully furnishing a model apartment can cost as much as $10,000 or as little as $2,500, depending on the kind of tenants the community is targeted at, Harris said. Most of this cost comes from the furniture. So make sure the person picking out the furniture for your model apartment has a sensibility close to that of your potential tenants.
“We typically like to get a designer,” Harris said. “Or someone on staff who has a little more flair.”
In communities with many vacancies and several unit types, where prospective tenants are shown several apartments, it might be too expensive to furnish all of them. Harris will often create several “mini-models,” in which each room has some basic decorating but little real furniture. For example, Harris might put a shower curtain, soap, and a bathmat in the bathroom. The living room might get a beach blanket, a chaise lounge, and even a beach ball and umbrella.
“You get rid of some of that institutional feel,” Harris said. “We can set up many ‘mini-models’ for under $100 each.”