Like many of the amenities pulled from the hospitality industry, the virtual registration and style of service spurred by the use of iPads is starting to take the multifamily world by storm.

The vision is simple but elegant: When potential renters enter the lobby of an apartment complex, help is not only on the way, but on the go.

It’s similar to what happens in the lobby of the Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, where there’s no standard registration desk upon entering the hotel. Instead, concierge members are equipped with iPads and are ready to escort guests directly to their room. There, they complete a full check-in once guests arrive with their bags, right on the iPad.

“We’re trying to bring that [to the multifamily world],” says Chris Brasher, director of marketing at Lehi, Utah–based Property Solutions. “Where when you walk into a leasing office, either self-directed or with a leasing agent, you can get your information, they can walk you through the units that are available, have you fill out an application and sign the lease without ever leaving the building.”

Property Solutions’ software is already used at many properties on a desktop, but its SiteTablet iPad app, launched in 2010, has gained steam and is active at more than 1,000 properties. With the same functionality as its desktop counterpart, Site Tablet allows property managers to provide guest tours, collect rent, and update a property’s website on the fly. Its “leasing hot sheet” keeps agents up to date daily on what units are available, and at what prices.

Beyond that, managers are using the iPad to streamline duties outside of the app, like signing for packages or managing maintenance requests.

“It’s just another desktop that’s made smaller to allow you to be more mobile,” Brasher says. For many managers, the ultimate goal is to replace the desktop computer and avoid its huge investment. 

It’s also a step up from the kiosks that once stood at many properties. An average kiosk would house a self-hosted application that required updates, which would be completed at nowhere near the speed of an iPad. Now, plenty of property managers are transitioning from those bulky space-eaters and using iPads in their place to serve multiple purposes—whether connecting it to a large television, or stationing it on a desk as a mini kiosk.

“We encourage leasing agents to take it with them when they’re touring,” says Meghan Hill, director of marketing at Portland, Ore.–based Guardian Real Estate Services. “That’s one of the advantages over a kiosk; you can bring it with you.”

Consider this: When hosting social events within a community, leasing agents can quickly respond to any questions or complaints from residents, while simultaneously mixing with potential renters—individuals who might be drawn to the property thanks to the event—because the leasing agent has an iPad.

“We’ve been more efficient,” says Jennifer Staciokas, director of marketing at Dallas-based Lincoln Properties. “We’re shortening tours, and getting info to people quickly instead of saying, ’we’ll get back to you when we get back to the office.’?”

The Office-less Office
No matter the iPad’s efficiencies, there’s an interesting range of industry adoption. Some managers will invest in the technology but rarely use it right away—planning instead to use it more in the future—while others have incorporated it into their daily routine.

Property Solutions says about 100 new properties add the SiteTablet app every month, primarily at Class A and B properties. At Guardian, Hill sees the most successful application in urban communities and suburban markets that are nestled near technology centers. It’s a perfect fit for the younger, tech-savvy demographic.

She also sees the most success from a lease-up standpoint, where you can capture new residents on the spot. The technology is only a recent adoption at Guardian, but the company liked what it saw when it gave SiteTablet a test run on a 12-unit property. Then, before the 124-unit Collins Circle was built in Portland, Guardian began pre-leasing 120 days in advance by touring the site with interested parties, then bringing them to the Starbucks across the street to go over floorplans and gather ­information.

“Before, we’d have to tell them to go to our website [for more information],” Hill says. “So there’s more of a chance you might lose that prospect rather than if we’re right there in front of them and have them fill out their info. Our chances of converting that person into an actual renter go up.”

The pre-leasing conversion success rate is visibly higher when using the iPad, she adds, especially for properties located near cafés and small shops (which can serve as impromptu leasing offices). Since Guardian is currently managing many properties coming on line, the technology has helped it use iPads when no leasing office actually exists.

It may just be a matter of time before iPads or other tablets become a de-facto standard. Lincoln Properties see iPads replacing computers in a few years, even if iPads are only used at a quarter of its properties now.

“We can’t get away from our managers using laptops and PCs,” Staciokas says. “But we’re certainly getting to the point where our leasing professionals no longer have to have computers; they can use a tablet as their device.”