Dallas-based third-party management company Riverstone Residential Group unveiled a rebuilt and revolutionized web platform this week, offering apartment owner customers at the firm’s 180,000 units under management a point-to-point online leasing system that includes resident screening, paperless lease execution and document storage, and customized property branding components to help drive qualified traffic and leasing.
The platform and websites include prospect, resident, and mobile portals with account and transactional interfaces that include apartment availability, pricing, online application and payment, utility connections, resident insurance options, and 24/7 resident account access in a simplified format that Riverstone president Terry Danner calls a win, win/win/win/win situation for residents, on-site staff, property owners, Riverstone corporate, and apartment prospects alike.
Danner sat down with Multifamily Executive senior editor Chris Wood this week to talk about the launch and what the evolution of web platforms might promise for the future of multifamily apartment marketing, leasing, and operations.
MFE: When did you decide to rebuild the Riverstone web platform? How long did the process take?
DANNER: With technology these days, everything is kind of an ongoing evolution. I think everyone has been looking for a way to make the whole website process seamless. In the past we struggled to get all of our partners together into one workable system. So we started two years ago to look at addressing that. By last spring we had identified some of our technology partners with whom we felt we could get it done and decided now was the time to get together and make it happen. So we identified the need conceptually two years ago, and it's taken about a year to build the platform out and cross the goal line.
MFE: Was it difficult to construct a platform that allows for tailored identities, maintains a consistent look, and also incorporates both prospect- and resident-facing portals?
DANNER: Well it has to be both dynamic and holistic in nature. Web traffic itself is becoming a more prominent way to attract prospects and is one of the best marketing windows available to the apartment industry right now. From a property perspective, the website has become the lynchpin joining marketing and technology.
MFE: You talk about the process as collaboration with your various trusted technology partners. Who are they and what do they do?
DANNER: As a third-party manager, we use multiple versions of Yardi and OneSite, so our needs were diverse. The basic foundation was built in partnership with Provo, Utah-based Property Solutions—that provided the underlying engine and platform. We then formed a task force of on-site staff, regional managers, accounting, and marketing to look at all of the providers out there and see what their capabilities are. We’ve made a commitment to using the official NAA lease forms so we worked heavily with Austin-based Blue Moon Software and also with Mountain View, Calif.-based resident screening firm On-Site. But the bulk of the work came from our internal marketing team in terms of designing all of the individual sites.
MFE: And you’re trying to make each site community-specific as opposed to a broader Riverstone branded approach?
DANNER: Yes, one thing we didn’t want at the end of the day was a collection of duplicative web pages where every site looked the same or otherwise felt like a cookie cutter approach. In the third-party business, our clients have to be part of the process, because ultimately we need it to be the client’s property site, not a “My Riverstone” site. So we’re very much trying to offer compartmentalized and customized options for owner-specific and market-specific requirements.
MFE: There is a focus here on SEO. Are you impressed with the capability of systems to get solid organic search results from market to market?
DANNER: We are. Everyone is throwing around the terms metatags and search engine optimization. Both Riverstone and the industry at large went through a run using a lot of flash technology and not focusing on keywords. I don’t know why that design trend dominated the way it did, but we’ve rebuilt the sites from scratch with SEO in mind and have found our traffic has increased dramatically. It’s much improved.
MFE: Is the entire platform mobile-optimized?
DANNER: It is, with the realization that there are certain components that are more apt to be mobile-friendly than others, and that the owners will play a direct role in opting for mobilization as well. Obviously we pay an incremental charge for the DSI (Display Serial Interface) modules for mobilization. It comes down to what the owner wants to use. Most of them want mobile, and most of the sites we have converted thus far have been mobile optimized.
MFE: So what’s next? Are you ready for another multiyear IT initiative?
DANNER: Well we’ve stripped the web component down and built a really good foundation. You can go to any trade show and see all of the new things that come out year-after-year. Half of the things we’re talking about didn’t even exist five years ago. So I don’t know that we know our full capabilities yet, but we feel like we’ve got a great platform and we can build upon it from here.