Matt Wood

Your residents are on the move. Sure, the new revenue management system is helping to push rents, and the horrible single-family market is improving occupancy levels. But for some reason you've still got some property-level turnover that never goes away. Your only solace is to rationalize that turnover to yourself—and to management—as a fact of life inherent in the apartment business. Well, this time, you're right. Consider that more than 39 million Americans—or about 14 percent of the population—changed addresses last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 3 at's a larger group of folks than several key household demographics also tracked by the Census, including seniors and African Americans (both at 12.4 percent), and ranks just behind Hispanics (14.8 percent).

The fact is that most renters move out because of reasons that have nothing to do with apartment life in general. The most common reasons people relocate are for their job or because they simply want a change. [See “Why Goest Thou?” on page 30.] Some move across town, some across the country, but only 9 percent are moving because of issues with their current landlord or property management firm. That means property managers have a huge opportunity to focus not only on relocating residents ready to move in, but also on those moving out—to sister properties in other locales. Just because a renter is moving out of your property doesn't mean they have to move out of the company. In fact, property management firms that make an effort to be a partner in the relocation process are finding that with a little face time, any of those 39 million movers could easily become a customer for life.

ALL IN THE FAMILY “The resident who asks, ‘Where can I go to stay within the Lynd family?' is just about the best endorsement we can get as a business, so we work very hard to accommodate that,” explains Andrew Ginsburg, regional vice president for San Antonio-based Lynd Co., which has 35,000 units under management in 11 states. “Essentially, we allow residents at any property anywhere in the country to relocate to any other community. If you want to move from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, you can do that; if you want to move from Miami to Austin, Texas, you can do that as well.”

While “allowing” residents to move within the multifamily portfolio isn't necessarily new, a personalized approach to relocation services—one of high touch and zero resident cost—is beginning to proliferate across the industry. Chicago-based Equity Residential encourages residents to “move anywhere, anytime” with its “Coast to Coast” relocation program. Via a toll-free number, renters can hook up with a relocation specialist to iron out logistics and learn about Equity's 564 properties in 23 states across the country, from The Olympus in Seattle to 2400 M in Washington, D.C. Application, move-out, and settlement fees are all waived, although a 30-day notice is required.

Likewise, Lynd Co. will help set residents up with a moving company and assist in getting boxes and packing materials. Application fees and move-in fees are waived, and there are no contract breaking fees or renewed lease fees for residents who have been leasing for six months—even less time if they have a great credit/payment relationship with the company. “The whole idea is to move them directly over into another community,” Ginsburg says. “You don't penalize your residents for wanting to move.”

Philadelphia-based Signature Community goes so far as to give its relocating residents priority status. In addition to waiving traditional move-in and move-out fees, renters who opt to stay within the company's national apartment and townhouse portfolio of 39 communities in 8 states go to the front of the line in the leasing office. “We call it our ‘First Dibs' program, and it is really big in our communities,” says company director of marketing and leasing Ian Frankel. “Whether you are moving in the same market or across the country, you become priority No. 1, and the next available apartment home is given to you.”

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD Unanimously, property management firms extending themselves into relocation services say that the success of helping residents move from point A to point B comes down to quickly making point B feel like home, sweet home. If a resident avails himself or herself to a relocation program and feels like the standard of customer service is anything less than their old digs, all of the waived fees and relocation assistance and brand promises amount to zero. To that end, companies are ramping up traditional move-in perks and services, including unit cleaning, maintenance and labor assistance, welcome kits, and neighborhood loyalty cards.

“First of all, we ensure the apartment turn has been flawless and the unit is immaculate and ready for move-in,” says Doreen Trongone-Ciezki, vice president of residential operations for Wilmington, Del.-based Buccini/Pollin Group, which currently has three Delaware properties and another four communities across the Mid-Atlantic coming online this year, bringing their total to 1,000 units. “That includes putting cold water in the refrigerator and stocking the apartment with snacks, paper towels, and bath tissue. It means making sure a member of the maintenance team and the property manager stop by at some point during the move to ensure the process is going well.”