No one needs to persuade Kortney Balas, vice president of information management at JVM Realty Corp., of the demanding nature of being a leasing associate.
Associates not only have to woo prospects to bring new residents through the front doors of their communities, but also have to work hard to keep current residents happy. "There are times when you're literally heading out on a prospect apartment tour or you're sitting down and going over a lease with an applicant, and a current resident comes in and goes, 'My sink's overflowing,'" Balas says. "You have to be so good about being able to switch gears.”
Add in the additional day-to-day tasks of maintaining a leasing office and resident retention activities, and one can see how quickly a work day shrinks for leasing teams.
With that in mind, operators are turning to technology to help. Almost all apartment operators have implemented sophisticated lead-management software. Some, like JVM, aren't stopping there. From mobile leasing solutions and self-guided tours to automated pet-screening tools, many operators are trying to make the leasing process as streamlined and efficient as possible so leasing associates can focus more on tasks such as nurturing new leads and building relationships with residents.
A Variety of Innovative Solutions
To make life easier for its associates, JVM recently began directing all prospect calls to a call center instead of to its individual communities. Call-center employees then determine which calls are true leads and enter guest cards into JVM's lead-management system.
"Our on-site teams no longer have to sift through prospects and say, 'That's a lead, that's not a lead,'" Balas notes. "A lot of teams are saying, 'We didn't know how many non-leads we were sorting through before the phones stopped ringing.'"
JVM is also equipping its leasing associates with iPads featuring mobile leasing software. Among other things, the solution allows associates to collect information from prospects while touring a community instead of sitting in front of a desktop computer in the leasing office. The mobile leasing solution reduces the amount of time it takes to conduct an on-site visit, which benefits both associates and prospects.
Ian Andrews, co-founder and principal of Power Pro Leasing, says the success of new technology rests on its ability to adapt to the needs of leasing teams. “Mobile leasing solutions should empower leasing agents to customize the tour experience for prospects, and allow the sales teams to focus on what the prospect wants from the community rather than a generic experience that everybody has,” he says.
The tool also gives associates instant access to pricing and floor plan information, eliminating the need for them to bring cumbersome binders full of that data on the tour or to have to return with the prospect to the leasing office after the tour is over to look up the information, according to Balas.
JVM has also started using an automated pet screening service with a centralized database of information on pets and their owners to assess the risk posed by an applicant's pet and help validate assistance animal accommodation requests. "We were putting the burden of trying to identify if an animal was an assistance animal or not on our leasing teams," Balas says. "That's an incredibly hard conversation to have when you don't think somebody has a legitimate assistance animal or their documentation is insufficient."
“An automated pet screening and animal validation service will help leasing agents avoid difficult conversations and save them a lot of valuable time,” says John R. Bradford, founder of PetScreening.com. "Time is the most valuable asset to an on-site leasing agent and property manager. Utilizing an automated and outsourced pet screening and animal validation process not only gives more time back to the on-site leasing and management teams, but it also mitigates some risk and liability of the property management company and asset owner."
An Embrace of Technology
To help spur the advancement of technology in the apartment industry, Laramar Group founder Jeff Elowe founded and invests in Nine Four Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in start-ups offering new solutions for commercial real estate. Together, the two companies have created a pilot program that provides start-ups the opportunity to test their products within Laramar's portfolio.
According to Kurt Ramirez, general partner at Nine Four Ventures, Laramar has put an emphasis on testing solutions that would streamline the leasing process for both the leasing associate and the prospect.
Through the pilot program, Laramar has tested and adopted Stay Alfred, a vacation/hotel hybrid that master-leases units from apartment communities and then leases them out to guests as short-term rentals. The benefit to leasing associates, Ramirez says, is that the solution "provides win-wins between leasing, management, and ownership. Stay Alfred may be able to lease units, thereby increasing occupancy and reducing the remaining number of units leasing associates are responsible for."
Laramar also is testing an artificial intelligence-powered multifamily customer relationship management solution and a platform that streams live and on-demand fitness classes from well-known boutique studios. By improving communication with on-site staff and giving residents of older, smaller communities access to modern fitness classes, these technologies could increase resident retention and therefore ease the pressure on associates to fill vacancies, according to Ramirez.
"The biggest thing that we believe here is that when it comes to technology and the existing multifamily leasing workflow, maintaining the status quo is not the recipe for success," Ramirez says. "There needs to be more of a sense of urgency to go out and adopt and use technology to improve operations and help leasing associates."
According to Andrews, self-guided tours are an emerging solution that could improve the efficiency of leasing associates' workdays.
These types of tours enable prospects to see a community without having to be accompanied by an agent. In today's market, some leads prefer to tour by themselves anyway, and self-guided tours can free up time for associates to handle some of their many other responsibilities.
Self-guided tours can prove especially valuable in those frequent situations "when you have multiple prospects arrive at a leasing office at the same time," Andrews says. "This often means some prospects have to wait for a very long time before an agent can meet with them and take them around the community, and some will even give up and walk away before an associate can talk with them and show them around."
There's no doubt about the mounting tasks confronting leasing associates, and there are only so many hours in the workday. By exploring and embracing emerging technologies, some operators are finding they can make the leasing process more efficient, create more time for their leasing associates, and see even more success from their leasing teams.