If you think mobile-based computing and its various applications (apps) and wireless application protocol (WAP) Web sites are the wave of the future, get ready to get wet: The wave has crashed onshore, and the number of multifamily real estate investment trusts (REITs), Internet listing services (ILSs), and property management firms diving into the mobile market is increasing daily.
Chicago-based ILS Apartments.com is one of the latest entrants to multifamily mobile: Its iPhone/iPod Touch application launched on July 6 and features walk-through videos, photos, floor plans, and integrated mapping as part of a location-based search of millions of apartment units. The app is expected to see roughly 20,000 downloads in its first 30 days of availability on Apple’s Apps Store.
“We are exceeding our expectations,” says Apartments.com vice president of product management Chris Brown. “We are at a 500 to 600 downloads-per-day pace. These devices are getting more and more powerful; they are getting faster; and they are getting more ubiquitous. It is just a matter of time until really a lot of the core computing that people are doing today happens on mobile devices. We are seeing the consumers flocking there, and we want to be where the consumers are.”
Indeed, as we reported earlier this summer, companies such as Apartments.com, Apartment Guide, ForRent, MyNewPlace.com, Spherexx, and UDR have all established a presence on multifamily mobile computing. “It is still the Wild Wild West when it comes to the mobile side of the equation that UDR has experienced so far,” says UDR vice president of sales and marketing Steve Taraborelli. “Some mobile vendors have poor products or customer service, and some will charge outrageous prices because there is minimal vendor competition and a universe of clients who don’t yet know the value of the mobile services.”
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Denver-based REIT from playing first mover in the multifamily mobile arena with its launch of a WAP-enabled Web site in September 2005, while also debuting a full WAP Web platform rollout in the spring 2008 and being the third in the industry to launch an iPhone app. Taraborelli adds that UDR was the first company in the industry to launch an iPhone-compatible Web site that, along with the company’s WAP Web site, is the only mobile Web site in the world that has an online apartment reservations/hold mechanism.
How does it all add up? “Today, we are realizing incremental mobile lead generation and sales growth at a lower cost of acquisition and lower cost of sales than through other Internet sources,” says Taraborelli, who notes an average cost of $2.00 per lead, compared to typical online costs of $10 to $20 or more per lead. “It’s cheaper and quantitatively much easier to track than social media efforts.” Next up for UDR is a project with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based RealtyData Trust to build a mobile application enabling monetary transactions for apartment reservations.
Location awareness—the ability of notebooks and mobile computers to identify and leverage a user’s location via GPS to optimize the mobile experience—also looks to figure large into future multifamily mobile apps. Whether iPhone-, GPhone-, or Google Android-empowered, Brown says progressive multifamily operators need to get out of the undertow and onto the boat. “It’s not so much about being on a particular device as it is preparing and aligning a strategy with mobile computing as it becomes more and more the norm,” Brown says. “This is not a fad; this is not passing—all signs point towards mobile computing as the future. You are going to have to accommodate and account for people using technology in this fashion.”