With the deployment of Campus Apartments’ smart phone ­application in late 2010, it became official: Multifamily mobile apps had become the de facto software development platform for the 21st century. ­REITs, private operators large and small, vendors, and student housing firms are embracing smart phone, iPad, and tablet PC applications for their low cost of entry, high user absorption, ease of use, and return on investment.

“There’s a significant appetite for quick, easy access to information on the go,” says Peggy Abkemeier-Alford, president of Santa Monica, Calif.–based ILS, which has launched apartment search applications for the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry platforms. “We view the world of apartment hunting as a microcosm of this larger phenomenon and believe there’s significant appetite among apartment hunters for mobile access to apartment information, whether via an app or an optimized WAP site. In fact, over the past year alone, we have seen mobile traffic to our site double.”

Student Sector Latches On

While student housing is typically on the bleeding edge of new amenities and resident services, the sector is just now beginning to embrace resident mobile apps that have been in development and been launched on the market-rate side for more than a year. “Part of that has to do with software developers, who traditionally focus on the market-rate side,” says Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments CIO Andrew Marshall.

Mobile app development in the student housing sector might also have something to do with the slower growth of mobile users in the resident demographic. Though smart phone use among teens and 20-somethings seems ubiquitous, Marshall says the universe of student smart phone users is just now beginning to hit a critical mass that makes mobile app development worthwhile.

Campus Apartments’ mobile application, available on the iPhone and Android platforms, allows residents to make rent payments and service requests via their smart phones, mirroring similar applications developed on the market-rate side. Englewood, Colo.–based Archstone launched a payment and service request app for iPhone and has seen brisk adoption among its residents. Most recent mobile applications on the operator side seem to embrace similar functionality, relinquishing the mobile apartment search space to the ILSs.

“From a transactional point of view, we think the mobile device makes a lot more sense,” Marshall says. “Multitasking and high-velocity­ communication is what our demographic is used to.”

Vendors Eye Apartment Verticals

Multifamily software vendors have also developed mobile apps for new and existing systems and services. Santa Barbara, Calif.–based Yardi made a bevy of its software offerings available via smart phone in 2011, while Carrollton, Texas–based RealPage previously unveiled new and improved smart phone and iPad apps for its OpsTechnology and PropertyWare platforms.

Similar to a multifamily leasing tablet application by Scottsdale, Ariz.–based VaultWare, the PropertyWare iPad app allows leasing associates or prospects to access community videos, information, and floor plans; get unit availability and pricing; and complete the full-circle application and screening process for a lease. “All the information is right there at your fingertips,” says PropertyWare president Sina Shekou. “The iPad is the clipboard killer: There will soon no longer be hot sheets on properties you want to show—that’s archaic.”

RealPage is looking at developing applications for apartment executives on the asset management front lines as well as in the executive boardroom. “The appetite for having the entire management operation on an iPad is very high,” Shekou says. “We are developing applications to manage the full life cycle of customer relationships through a device like this.”

In fact, multifamily mobile is so hot that external development companies are even beginning to look to the sector as a business growth vertical. Santa Cruz, Calif.–based Esq Apps, a start-up software development team with a focus on systems for attorneys and law firms, launched RentalPro, a custom “lease generator” available on the iPad, iPhone, and iTouch. “Now, instead of writing a lease, you can spend a minute on your iPhone, hit send, and your deal is ready to close,” says Esq Apps founder Adam Brumm.