With gradual improvements to the economy and remarkable gains in multifamily rent fundamentals, the technological evolution within the multifamily leasing office continues unabated. But instead of clunky systems and forced culture change, innovative and consume- oriented (not to mention ubiquitous) hardware continues to drive new efficiencies and on-site opportunity for leasing agents and property mangers. Case in point: the iPad, which offers apartment professionals and rental prospects a slick and intuitive interface to automate, prioritize, and leverage tasks and opportunities throughout the entire leasing cycle. One of the latest tools helping to revolutionize that evolution is the RentSentinel Tablet Application, designed for the Apple iPad by Chicago-based RentSentinel.
Fresh from launching the RentsSentinel Tablet Application at the Apple Store a couple of weeks ago, RentSentinel chief technology officer and vice president of products Andy Hamilton and president and chief operating officer Eric Broughton stopped by to talk with Multifamily Executive senior editor Chris Wood about tablet and mobile apps, multifamily marketing channels, and the prospect of offering one-stop technology solutions to apartment property managers and leasing agents.
MFE: Let's talk about tablet applications and mobile technology for multifamily in general. What are the opportunities here? What's been the rate of adoption? What's all the buzz about?
BROUGHTON: As with any technology, the value of the solution lies not in its novelty but in the utility of the device. If tablet and mobile are to be truly valuable to the multifamily industry, they have to either create more leases, reduce the cost of lease acquisition, or improve upon the resident experience. We feel the combination of tablet and mobile presents the opportunity to accomplish all objectives. With an effective tablet solution, the leasing agent can extend the leasing office and engage in a more natural conversation with prospects. Mobile puts the communication and search functions in the hands of the prospect and eventually the resident.
MFE: Tell me about the RentSentinel Tablet App. What are the features? Who is the target user base? How do satisfy their needs from a computing perspective?
HAMILTON: RentSentinel Tablet was designed specifically as a sales tool for leasing agents and as a native iPad application built to optimize the user experience. Some of our most significant features include a guest card creator, price quotes that integrate with YieldStar and LRO, saving tours, and allowing visitors to rate apartments from their tour. The application is also fully integrated with our lead management system, RentSentinel Prospector.
MFE: Is there anything that you provide to the user base that they need that they don't know they need?
HAMILTON: With RentSentinel Tablet, our clients do not need a data plan for their iPad. We built the Tablet knowing our clients would prefer to use WiFi because it’s significantly less expensive. Tablet can work with or without a data connection. It automatically syncs itself when it is in range of a wireless connection allowing leasing agents to roam the property freely without concern of losing their connectivity.
MFE: How long does it take from conception to first customer download to develop an app like this? How much does it cost?
HAMILTON: It took our team about four months to design and fully develop RentSentinel Tablet. Tablet is only $50 per property. We do not charge anything extra if the property has multiple iPads running Tablet.
MFE: How long has the RentSentinel Tablet App been available? How are you measuring adoption?
BROUGHTON: The Tablet app became available at the Apple AppStore on May 10, 2011. We have just begun to accept orders for the solution, and the initial feedback is amazing. There is definitely a need for an enterprise-level tablet applications in the marketplace, and we are happy to be one of the first to offer this service. We have several unique features which were a direct result of our team spending many hours in the leasing office alongside the leasing staff researching and learning the activities that occur during prospect interaction. We have codified these activities onto the iPad and fully tailored the application to a leasing agent’s needs.
MFE: Do you see a growing interest among your clients to automate the renewal process?
BROUGHTON: At this time, we are not hearing of requests to automate the renewal process. However, I do believe that is going to quickly change as residents become more and more used to performing their transactions completely online. To be frank, we believe there is still work to be done in cleaning up the online leasing process. Once we feel that we have sufficiently streamlined the online leasing process, then renewals will be the next natural step for our product direction.
MFE: What do you think of online marketing and leasing in multifamily in general? Where do you see it moving?
HAMILTON: We feel the multifamily industry is continuing to move toward single solutions for online marketing and leasing. The existing norm in the industry is to use multiple applications for similar and related purposes when it comes to online marketing and leasing. This may pose a few challenges with training employees, support, and higher costs. A trend we are seeing across all of our customers is the desire to have a single solution to manage all of their marketing activity. They don't want to manage four different silos of information and a different vendor relationship for each. Instead, they want a platform that will give them visibility from the original listing all the way to the lease.
BROUGHTON: Yes, it's an exciting time to be in the multifamily industry; not only because of the improving economy but also because of the convergence of technology and results-driven decision-making it has enabled. Today's multifamily professionals demand results, and it is our responsibility to give them the tools they need to succeed.