Village at Lake Park (sample interior above), is one of Cortland Partners' metro Atlanta Properties.
Village at Lake Park (sample interior above), is one of Cortland Partners' metro Atlanta Properties.

One of our primary concerns as apartment executives is our properties’ occupancy. And essential to maintaining high occupancy, naturally, is resident attraction and retention.

But how can we best win the loyalty of current and prospective tenants?

In a nutshell: by building relationships with them. By showing customers that their concerns are your concerns. It really can be that simple.

Sure, the location of a community or its glittering array of amenities will draw  apartment shoppers initially, but in the end, the leasing team that builds trust, credibility, and rapport with customers looking for a new apartment home is the team that will succeed in getting both new leases and renewals—with rent increases—signed.

How can your staff go about building that trust, credibility, and rapport with customers? It’s a process that requires ongoing effort and scrupulous attention to detail, from well before a shopper arrives at your community to long after he or she has inked a lease agreement.

Details, cleanliness, and comfort really will make the ultimate difference to your customer.

Below are some general recommendations for making the establishment of trust, credibility, and rapport second nature at your communities.

Keep Things Spick-and-Span
It seems so obvious, yet it’s something too many leasing teams neglect to do: make sure their communities and the units they show are as clean as possible—every day.

Start with the outdoors. Take a look at your property’s front monument sign: Is it clean and well lit? Do the flowers look good? Is there any litter on the property? Are the bulbs in the breezeway lights working, and have all bugs been removed from the light globes? Is the pool sparkling and clean?

And inside: How does the paint look in your model apartments and in the vacant units? Are the refrigerators clean—even the door gaskets? It’s one thing to know someone lived in the apartment before you, but it’s an entirely different story to think they left old food crumbs.

Attention to details such as cleanliness sends a powerful subliminal message to potential and current residents alike that you will take care of them. Think about it through the eyes of the customer—is your community a place he or she would be proud to show family and friends?

Have a Conversation
For many years, the multifamily industry has taken a hard sales approach to interactions with prospective renters, and a heavy emphasis has been placed on making sure the leasing staff asks the shopper to sign a lease before he or she leaves the premises.

At Cortland, we take a softer approach, one designed to enable our leasing agents to get to know customers and to truly establish relationships with them and give them a sense of comfort and trust. We encourage our associates to ask open-ended, get-to-know-you questions intended to better understand the person’s true needs, such as, “What do you enjoy doing for relaxation?” Our agents follow up with personalized e-mails based on the shopper’s responses. If, for example, a potential renter mentions that he or she likes hiking, a staffer may send that person an e-mail with a map of some nearby trails.

To use another example, if a prospect mentions where he or she is from, the leasing agent will follow up with thoughtful questions, such as, “I’ve never been there—how is it different from here? What does your family like or not like about the area?”

Our leasing teams also take time to introduce prospective renters to any maintenance and service personnel they encounter while touring our communities. Doing so is a subtle but effective way of increasing a potential resident’s familiarity and comfort with a property.

By doing these things instead of engaging in a hard sell, the leasing staff is telling the shopper, “We care about you personally and are going to take care of you. We want you to be part of our community’s family.”

After the Move-In
You know the saying “you only get one opportunity to make a good first impression”? It’s true, but in our business, we only get one shot at ensuring that a resident’s move-in goes well too. This is a critical point in the tenant’s long-term relationship with the community.

Once a resident moves in, your job at relationship building isn’t over; it’s important to continue to emphasize that your new residents are just as important to the community as they were before they moved in. Again, it’s all about taking the time to show a resident that you care, and there are many simple, effective ways to do that.

For instance, you can have your staff stand at a community’s exit one morning and hand out breakfast bags with granola bars, juice, and have-a-nice-day notes in them. You can send residents appreciation cards on the anniversaries of their move-ins, and also periodically leave door hangers that say something along the lines of, “We’re thinking of you and appreciate the fact that you choose to live here. Let us know if there’s anything we can do for you today.”

In one of our communities, a woman recently celebrated her 40th anniversary as a resident. We threw her a big party, complete with a cake, and both she and her neighbors talked about the festivities for days.

As a means of expressing its gratitude to longtime resident Peggy Cooper (above), Cortland Partners threw her a party to celebrate her 40th anniversary living at one of the company's properties.
As a means of expressing its gratitude to longtime resident Peggy Cooper (above), Cortland Partners threw her a party to celebrate her 40th anniversary living at one of the company's properties.

In the end, attracting and keeping residents is pretty simple. It’s not about glitzy properties or having all the latest bells and whistles. It’s about demonstrating—over and over and over again—that you care about your residents as people and that their well-being is foremost in your mind.

It’s about building trust, credibility, and rapport. Doing so will increase your revenue and the inherent value residents perceive from being an important part of your community.