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Clearly, the apartment world has made strides on the technology and efficiency fronts over the past few years. Self-guided and virtual tours, centralization, and an exploratory dabble into artificial intelligence (AI) are among the recent advancements in the space.

But how might owners and managers create additional operational efficiencies over the next few years?

For starters, the industry can improve on some current practices through refined fraud detection measures, reimagined maintenance roles, enhanced centralization models, and a more cutting-edge approach to employee training. Multifamily can also further push technological barriers by increasing self-service options and using AI to better analyze data, guide business decisions, and engage with residents.

Here is a peek at some of the potential next steps for multifamily in the mid-2020s (in no particular order):

1. Augmenting the Self-Serve Experience

When prospects and residents view an apartment, they crave a customer experience similar to what they’d receive from brands such as Apple, Nordstrom, Chick-fil-A, or Delta Air Lines. Just as they can shop or order on an app from those businesses, prospects want to be able to tour on their own, apply for a lease online, and essentially do everything digitally. Residents want to be able to grab their packages and schedule a service in the same manner. As such, the industry will need to continue to advance in the self-service realm through the use of kiosks, apps, and all-encompassing community websites.

2. Diving Deeper Into AI

To this point, the apartment industry has leveraged AI for simple uses such as basic reporting, chatbots, and content creation through ChatGPT. To be fair, businesses in the United States in general have been slow to embrace the full power of the technology because of all the legal and other issues surrounding it. Next for multifamily is to lean into some of the higher-level uses of AI, such as advanced reporting and predictive analytics for operations.

For instance, if a community had stronger occupancy two years prior, AI can analyze what the operator was doing differently then—maybe it was training employees more effectively or using a specific marketing campaign that was especially good at driving prospective renters to the property. Looking ahead, AI will be notable in the industry for more than ChatGPT functions or producing a report. It will provide site teams with a defined road map to better utilize their time and financial resources.

Moving forward, the industry also can lean on AI to better manage the leasing funnel. Today's typical renter has an abandonment rate of less than 60 seconds, meaning the industry has an untapped opportunity to leverage AI to make potential renter interactions in real time and create a quality experience at every step through the funnel.

3. Deploying More Robust Fraud Mitigation

The challenge with fraud prevention is that, just as the industry is using sophisticated tech to try to prevent lease fraud, fraudsters are using advanced tech to circumvent the system. Fraud prevention is a concept the industry can and must allocate resources toward. The most successful operators have limited fraud by leveraging solutions with multiple layers of protection, such as platforms that can verify IDs, pay stubs, incomes, and real-time bank account balances. The most important first step in fraud prevention—even before implementing a high-powered solution—is moving away from paper processes because they are much more easily manipulated by deceitful lease applicants, and they are also time-consuming for leasing teams.

While properties often aim to stop individual bad actors, they must also be aware of fraud rings. Recently in Atlanta, for instance, the same name was used to apply for more than 40 different apartments within a few weeks. It wasn’t an actual person but a synthetic online identity used by scammers to qualify for a home. Operators must keep in mind that fraud mitigation is a continuous journey because fraudsters will always be one step ahead of the game and leaning on new technologies to exploit any weaknesses.

4. Reimagining Maintenance Roles

As the most hands-on of all on-site roles, maintenance is the area that has the most opportunity for increased efficiencies. While centralization has helped solve some of the industry’s challenges, the concept doesn’t always work for maintenance as it does for leasing or accounting. Maintenance professionals have to perform their duties on-site, so centralization only works if an operator has multiple communities within driving distance.

So, how can some of the strains on maintenance teams be alleviated? A primary complaint among industry maintenance techs is the abundance of on-call hours, so, in an effort to improve morale and boost tech retention, some operators are shifting traditional schedules to make certain someone is on-site during non-business hours, reducing the need for others to be on call.

AI can be leveraged here, too, to analyze times maintenance calls most often occur at particular properties, enabling them to staff accordingly. AI can also be utilized to separate real emergencies (overflowing tub) from inconveniences (icemaker malfunctioning). An Atlanta operator has created efficiencies by leaning on the data to create new schedules and significantly reduce on-call hours. One property most commonly experienced emergencies in the 6 p.m. to to 8 p.m. range, so the primary maintenance shift has been adjusted from traditional hours to noon to 9 p.m.

AI can be utilized more prominently to assist with preventative maintenance, better enabling teams to address issues before certain components fail. The improved property performance will provide a positive impact in the form of reduced maintenance costs and an enhanced resident experience.

5. Cultivating the Employee XP

Operators in the space are hyper-focused on the customer experience, which is fantastic. But they must be equally focused on the associate experience, as well. Associates, as always, are an organization’s most valuable asset. They are the walking, talking representation of your brand and company culture. Operators must learn what it’s like for their on-site associates to lease, manage a property, process maintenance requests, and perform additional everyday tasks. Then they should ask themselves whether they are making life as easy for their associates as their associates are for their residents.

An extreme resident focus makes it more difficult to dedicate focus to team members, so the industry must learn to balance both experiences. It starts with making processes simpler—creating fewer steps for associates so they can spend their time doing what drives income. This, too, can partly be done by tech in the form of leveraging AI to automate recurring routine and redundant tasks.

One way to simplify things for associates is to provide them with the proper resources and knowledge opportunities. That is why training and development efforts figure to reignite in the current softer market. The industry would be wise to move away from the one-and-done training model and have a steady cadence of learning opportunities for new hires and existing associates.

As the industry enters the middle portion of the decade, another area of focus will be finding better ways to use the solutions they already have. For instance, let’s say a team uses virtual leasing tablets. They should explore ways to further cultivate the capabilities of the tech by soliciting feedback from all the associates who use it. Finding ways to do more with existing technology can counteract rising expenses and the price of new tech.

Multifamily is continuing to embrace new technologies. But operators should make sure they are not implementing tech just for the sake of bells and whistles. Rather, technology must be rooted in producing efficiencies and improving the overall renter experience. As long as that remains the focus, the industry will be headed in the right direction.