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There is no denying it and no way around it. The apartment world is going to look vastly different for the foreseeable future, and the decisions the industry makes in these moments will determine how quickly it can recover from the global pandemic.

To make the most astute, informed decisions at this crucial time, the industry needs sound, comprehensive, and reliable datasets. Accurate data will help apartment operators identify leading indicators on how to adjust operations strategies, whereas incomplete data could potentially steer them in the wrong direction.

But data integrity has always been something of a challenge in the apartment world. Perhaps it’s the idea that many property management systems aren’t built to adapt to changing technologies. Maybe it’s because the industry has been slow to track certain metrics or behaviors. Or maybe it’s due to the notion that many in the multifamily ecosphere often track datasets in disparate systems, and those systems don’t integrate well. Whichever the case, the time for comprehensive data is now.

With traffic patterns hectically evolving during the pandemic and prospects veering toward digital-based leasing solutions, precise data is crucial. It will enable the industry to accurately evaluate the comprehensive impact 2020 will bring to the immediate and projected future. For instance, the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Payment Tracker is an invaluable tool to track national trends in the ever-wavering economic landscape.

But the industry not only needs to accurately track rental payments. Insights pertaining to moving and renewal patterns, payment methods, lead volume, screening trends, and any other relevant metrics are also greatly sought after. Data integrity with regard to those metrics can help apartment operators mitigate the risk of unforeseen or unintended future consequences—such as a failure to generate sufficient lead volume in a post-pandemic environment, or the need for concessions that could have been avoided.

While various methods exist to gather robust datasets, apartment operators should immediately prioritize that mission—if they haven’t already. They should also identify a provider or a team member with the capability to properly analyze the metrics and convert them to actionable entities.

Here are a few examples of the types of relevant metrics the apartment world should be employing to determine the next steps in their strategies:

Flexibility = Strong Rental Payment Numbers

While rental payments are higher than expected, newfound flexibility by apartment operators undoubtedly has been a factor. According to an Entrata rental housing study, apartment operators are regularly assessing fewer late fees and forgiving those that were previously assessed. In the first week of May, apartment operators were assessing 58.06% less late fees than the same time last year. And they’ve waived existing late fees at an astounding rate of 235.14% greater than last year. The takeaway for operators: A short-term revenue hit in lost fees can assist in the greater goal of maintaining high rental-payment numbers.

"We’re seeing rent payment numbers that are higher than any of the forecasters of doom and gloom expected," said Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata. "Although a few regions are particularly hard-hit, across the nation average rent payment rates are aligned with month-to-month norms, and in a few instances they’re even better than the numbers a year ago."

According to the data, flexibility is a big reason why. Whether it’s in the form of fee reduction, rental payment agreements (which have been surprisingly low so far) or other means to work with renters, it’s kept rental payment rates higher than expected in April and May. According to the NMHC data, 94.6% of rental payments were made by May 6, only slightly down from the 97.7% in 2019.

Lead Activity Making a Comeback

Predictably, lead traffic tapered in the early stages of the shelter-in-place measures. According to the Entrata study, lead activity grew 65.71% since April 22 and was 20.83% higher than the same period last year, undoubtedly due to a state of catch-up. Like nearly everyone, renters were slow to resume normal activities—including the search for a home—but are starting to resume those habits.

Property owners whose outset of the traditional leasing season was short-circuited by the early stages of the pandemic now can brace for an unusually brisk late spring/early summer, as most of the nation experienced something of a late April rebound.

Evolving Payment Methods

In a no-touch environment, renters are increasingly opting to pay from off-site. Already a dominant trend, it has been exacerbated during the pandemic. The study indicates the volume of residents choosing to pay online via credit card grew to 17% in April and early May. Renters also continued to utilize eCheck payments at growing rates, as online ACH (automated clearing house) payments grew to 61% (up 10% from last year). Combined, these touch-free options accounted for 78% of payments. The willingness of on-site teams to waive credit card and ACH fees has very likely also played a role in the increase of these e-payment options.

Meanwhile, in-person methods continued to decline. Scanned checks fell to just 19% of payments received (down 13% from a year ago), and money order payments remained at 3%. Translation: If offering digital payment solutions wasn’t already a primary priority, it’s all but required now.

Solid datasets lead to solid decisions. Poor, incomplete, or even slightly skewed data can paint an inaccurate picture and lead to faulty decision-making. With the economic whirlwind that has affected all industries—including the apartment sector—reliable data is more important than ever.