If you are reading this article on a desktop computer, you’re already way behind the curve. Internet development has increasingly moved to mobile phones and wireless, handheld devices. The good news? For once—the multifamily industry seems to have already embraced the bleeding edge of mobile technologies.
Companies such as ForRent.com, MyNewPlace, and Spherexx.com have already developed mobile-ready multifamily Web sites and, in some cases, even iPhone apps that extend the reach of the apartment industry into the mobile arena. They are on to something: According to ongoing research by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Internet and American Life project, a survey group of Internet activists, journalists, and technologists say keyboards, laptops, and traditional PC-centric online interfaces are likely to become relics by 2020 as mobile phones become the primary means by which people access the Internet.
“The idea is to capture consumers in any way that they would conceivably communicate, search, or interact with multifamily apartment owners,” says Brock MacLean, senior vice president of national sales and development for Norfolk, Va.-based For Rent Media Solutions, which launched Version 2.0 of its iPhone and iPod touch application on April 7. “As an industry, we have invested so much into our Web sites, but the fact of the matter is that consumers are interacting well outside of that medium.”
Indeed, a January 2009 study by Reston, Va.-based digital media research firm comScore indicates that more than 63 million Americans use their mobile device to access the Internet for news and information. The frequency of net access among mobile users is additionally on the increase. According to comScore’s research, 35 percent of those accessing the net via mobile devices are doing so every day, more than doubling the amount of daily users from 2008.
For Rent’s iPhone app, which saw more than 3,000 downloads off of the Apple iTunes store in its first week, provides users with a GPS and zoom-powered mapping view of nearby apartments that are available for rent, and powers up displays with floor plans, pictures, and video. Users can save search results and contact the property manager directly via iPhone. “We wanted to be sure that we had some things that are intriguing for consumers,” MacLean says. “You want to be user-friendly, but you need to include features like video to drive eyeballs to the property.”
Enabling existing Web sites for more mobile-friendly browsing is also a key strategy for those going for extreme handheld outreach. San Francisco-based Internet listing service (ILS) MyNewPlace launched MyNewPlace for Mobile on May 5, which will feature search functionality across its listings, multimedia and photo-detailed listings, mapped property locations, and click-to-call functionality so users don’t have to find the number to the leasing office. “Up until now, searching for an apartment meant being stuck in front of the computer,” says MyNewPlace vice president of marketing Mark Moran. “Now, consumers have all of the information they need to find a new apartment right in the palm of their hand.”
While For Rent and MyNewPlace stream existing ILS content for all clients via the new mobile-based platforms, Dallas-based Spherexx.com is designing mobile-specific and even iPhone-specific Web sites for a range of multifamily companies. Their mobile platforms enable mapping, videos, floor plans, price checking, and even allow for concession coupon delivery. Spherexx.com’s client list includes multifamily heavyweights such as Riverstone Residential, Lincoln Property Co., Zom Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners, and Sterling American.
Company president and CEO Becca Wilson hopes Spherexx will help those firms tap into the Gen Y demographic. “There are more than 2.5 million iPhone users in the United States,” Wilson says. “Half of them are under the age of 30, and almost half of them have incomes over $100,000.”
For Rent is likewise excited about the Gen Y prospecting and lead generation that mobile apps afford multifamily and is eager to continue leveraging wireless platforms as they evolve. “It fits right in with our 18 to 35 renter demographic,” McLean says. “And it’s extending the reach of content in a way that we didn’t even contemplate two years ago.”