In 1993, The Habitat Co. abolished apartment rent concessions. During a time when Chicago communities were offering prospective residents up to four months of free rent, Habitat, a Chicago-based owner, manager and developer of multifamily housing, ran full-page ads in local newspapers announcing the company's new stand against offering concessions. As far as Habitat executives were concerned, the strength or softness of the Chicago market had nothing to do with their decision. It was about principle.

The move may have seemed like a leasing agent's worst nightmare, but Habitat's new plan worked. Instead of offering drastic discounts, the company adjusted its rents to a fair market value and offered a solid, no-games policy to renters, says Douglas R. (Rick) Woodworth, president of Habitat. The approach is similar to that of automobile dealers who tout no-haggle pricing or stores that never post sales, instead promoting everyday low prices, he says. And, the company's leasing efforts remained productive despite the soft market.

Douglas R. Woodworth, president of The Habitat Co.
Douglas R. Woodworth, president of The Habitat Co.

The strategy is just one part of a corporate branding plan that Habitat, a privately owned company, holds for its portfolio of market-rate properties, which is made up of both owned and fee-managed properties.

At the same time that the company put an end to its concessions, it formalized its service standards, says Woodworth. "Our slogan is that 'Habitat management makes the difference.' [Our service standards] are part of a branding [program] that gives us corporate identity, but still allows us to create an individual character or personality for each property," he says.

Today, those standards are made evident through Habitat's new resident packet, which includes a maintenance coupon offering free move-in help. Other portfolio-wide benefits include a 24-hour maintenance guarantee, a security deposit refund program, a "fun and fitness" program, and what the company calls "the Habitat difference": the company's commitment to service (see "Resident Satisfaction" on page 46).

That commitment grew naturally into Habitat's corporate culture, says Daniel Levin, chairman and co-founder of Habitat. "Our focus on management grew out of the development arm and our focus on service stems from management," he says. The key to successful multifamily real estate rests in service instead of building design or materials, and individualized service is both what residents want and what makes employees proud of their work, says Levin.

And, the company applies the same standards of excellence to each property it manages, "whether it's public housing or a luxury property," says Woodworth. "And we bring our 30 years of experience to [maintain] those standards in a personalized way to every property."