Multifamily CEOs speaking at the 2010 NMHC Technology Conference in Dallas agreed that the technology platforms of apartment companies have seen an evolutionary sea-change over the past decade that will both enable and command a continued strategic and budgetary focus on internet marketing and the online leasing of apartments.

“Online leasing and marketing has been the biggest recent driver of our industry,” said Chicago-based AMLI Residential's chairman and CEO Greg Mutz, who joined Woburn, Mass.-based The Dolben Co. president Deane Dolben; Dallas-based Riverstone Residential Group chairman and CEO Walt Smith; and Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Mark Taylor Residential president Dale Phillips on a panel moderated by NMHC president Doug Bibby. “67 percent of our leasing this year was conducted online,” Mutz said. “Approximately 4 percent of our residents are showing up at the property for the first time to get the key, and [both of those statistics] are going to grow.”

While apartment leaders on the panel all indicated a willingness to jumpstart capital spending into 2011 technology software and service line-items, they nevertheless maintained a do-more-with-less mantra to how technology is leveraged across the multifamily enterprise. Smith, in particular, noted Riverstone’s move to an outsourced IT services platform via its cloud computing play with Carrollton, Texas-based RealPage. “We realized we were not going to be a leader as a technology company, that we need to spend more time doing what we do best [as an apartment company],” Smith said, adding that the firm expects a capital cost savings approaching 10 percent by outsourcing.

According to the panel, technological advancements in multifamily over the past several years have made critical inroads into the automation of pricing and other leasing office functions. While future investments are expected to continue that trend, the panel warned that on-site disenfranchisement could result in backlash and a reduction on return on investment (ROI ) and return on cost (ROC).

“We have 12 percent of our properties on revenue management and we’re expecting that to double in 2011,” Dolben said. “I think revenue management will continue to be a major breakthrough to our industry, but we still need sales professionals to close the sale.”

CEOs also expressed an interest in exploring iPad and smart phone applications for attracting more resident prospects and increasing conversion of those prospects to a signed lease. “It’s another way of making the Internet relationship easier to understand and providing prospects with the confidence to make the decision about where they want to live,” Phillips said. “Operationally, we are implementing leasing tablets and iPads and will do everything to support that and the learning curve associated with it as part of answering the question of how quickly can you make a decision to buy or rent.”