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Four years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, multifamily owners and operators had to adapt to connect with prospective residents. The industry quickly rolled out virtual and self-guided tours.

“I do think pre-pandemic, there were not so many companies that were focused on the virtual and self-guided tours,” says Tina West, executive vice president, Client Advisory Group, SRG Management. “When COVID hit, we didn’t have a choice. It really forced those not in the space to do it quickly.”

These solutions have taken hold and continue post-pandemic, recognizing that prospective renters don’t always have the opportunity to tour communities during traditional business hours or may be searching from afar.

The data shows that flexible touring options are still preferred. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council/Grace Hill 2024 Renter Preferences Survey, 71% of respondents wanted an in-person tour with a property representative compared with 69% in 2022. Self-guided tours dipped slightly to 38% in 2024 versus 39% in 2022. And a live video tour with a property representative jumped from 13% in 2022 to 20% in 2024.

“From a touring perspective, our customers realize they can tour on their own terms. We learned as an industry to meet our customers where they are,” says West.

She adds that digital is the new curb appeal. “They can do their homework to narrow down their selections. Where they physically toured 10 communities before, they now cut it down since they have delved in online first.”

Jenna Miller, vice president of customer experience at Bozzuto, says for the most part customers still prefer to tour in person.

“We know from our customer journey research that by the time someone is coming in to tour, they’ve done a ton of research and are evaluating ‘fit’ more than anything else,” she says. “That being said, we also acknowledge the importance of presenting our customer with options as a way to offer additional flexibility and accommodate different preferences. Customers are presented with all of their touring options via each community’s scheduler.”

West and Miller, along with several other multifamily leaders, share their best practices for the variety of tours available.

Virtual Enhancements

Some operators feature videos online, while others will walk prospective residents through units on live video calls.

“Creating high-quality virtual tours is essential for engaging prospective residents. This includes professional videos and 360- degree views of the units, amenities, and common areas,” says Rob Dinwiddie, executive vice president of marketing and management services at Landmark Properties. “Incorporating interactive features with information hot spots, narration, or captions and ensuring accessibility can enhance the virtual experience.”

He adds that many prospective residents will engage with a virtual tour while they’re in contact, usually via phone, with an agent. “Those opportunities allow us to leverage the technology of the virtual tour alongside the personal touch of one of our knowledgeable agents to guide the experience.”

West says when you are thinking about digital being your new curb appeal, you want to keep prospective residents on your web page. “Video is king to people on the page,” she says, adding that it’s important to provide a variety of views, floor plans, and perspectives for residents as well as showcasing the neighborhood and the lifestyle. “You need to build rapport to connect with what they’re looking for.”

Elie Rieder, founder and CEO of Castle Lanterra, says his firm includes all aspects of a community and apartment in the tour as well as highlights the neighborhood amenities. His key takeaway: “Always make sure [the video] is of good quality.”

Melanie Maddox, P.B. Bell community manager at Glen 91 in Glendale, Arizona, adds that personalization can be key for videos.

“If a prospective resident has mentioned particular preferences about a view or storage, we make sure we’re highlighting those features in a video,” she says.

For a live virtual tour, Miller notes it’s important to practice ahead of time to ensure connectivity is good, technology works as intended, and the agent is comfortable behind the camera.

She adds that Bozzuto also creates prerecorded video content that can be screen-shared so prospects still have the opportunity to interact with an agent and ask questions.

Self-Guided Solutions

While some of the leaders say self-guided tours aren’t as popular as they once were, there are still several key best practices for serving the customer. And even though it’s self-guided, the experts say in-person staff need to be readily available.

West says, first and foremost, self-guided tours need to be easy—in terms of directions and the technology—and follow-up is a must.

“The technology will do a scheduled follow-up. There’s an assumption and reliance on technology that it will do the work for you,” she says. “It can do certain things, but it can’t replace human interaction.”

Dinwiddie also says it’s crucial to provide clear instructions on accessing the unit and the relevant self-guided tour technology platform. “Our in-person team is key to promoting the self-guided tour option and explaining its benefits, ensuring that interested prospects have the necessary information to take advantage of this flexible choice.”

Miller agrees. “When possible, we still like to have some interaction with customers who are doing a self-guided tour, at the beginning or end of the tour, or both,” she says. “We find that oftentimes customers who scheduled a self-guided tour end up having questions or want to see additional apartments afterward so it’s helpful that someone on-site is there and available to jump in and help.”

In addition, Maddox says it’s important to ensure the self-guided tour guests have the same warm and positive leasing experience. At Glen 91, prospective residents will find refreshments as well as measuring tapes, paper, and pencils in the units they are touring. “We want it to be a positive experience for them,” she says.

In-Person Insights

According to Dinwiddie, in-person tours remain a valuable opportunity to convert prospects into renters.

“Our in-person sales teams excel in this area, showcasing the apartment and describing the experience of living in our community to prospects,” he says. “Being prepared, knowledgeable, tailoring the tour to individual needs, highlighting benefits, and addressing potential concerns with transparency are key aspects. Creating a positive first impression by being professional, friendly, and welcoming further enhances the in-person experience.”

Rieder says it’s important to use active listening to understand prospects’ needs and preferences. “This allows us to match them to an apartment best suited to their wants and needs,” he says. “This also allows us to understand and overcome objections when they arise.”

He explains it’s also important to walk the tour path daily to make sure the property shows well, understand the competition and how it compares, and ensure that team members are trained in fair housing regulations.

Miller adds, “Be authentic. Look for opportunities to connect with them on a personal level and earn their trust.”

Additional Advice

Regardless of the tour type, follow-up is critical.

“We send an email immediately after the tour thanking them for their time and asking them to apply. We then follow up again within 24 hours with a phone call and text message,” says Rieder. “It is important to identify prospects’ preferred method of communication and use that method when making additional follow-ups.”

In addition, Miller advises to invite prospective customers who might be on the fence to check out reviews from current residents, who can be a community’s best advocates.