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Even in the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic, property managers kept leasing apartments.

Along the way, they have learned lessons on how to use technologies like virtual tours, self-guided tours, and even simple video calls to lease apartments to customers they often never meet in person.

1. Embrace Touchless Leasing

Long after the pandemic is over, property managers plan to keep using technologies that allow them to lease apartments from a distance. There will always be potential renters who can’t visit a property in person, either because of their schedule, their preference, or their location.

“More than 65% of our renters have historically come from out of our metro area,” says Nick Benjamin, managing director of multifamily development for The Cordish Cos., working in the firm’s offices in Kansas City, Missouri. “These technological tools will continue to support our ability to bring new residents to our markets.”

2. Work Extra Hard to Engage Customers Virtually

Many leasing agents have missed the engagement of sitting with a potential renter. “We shine when we have someone in front of us,” says Chris Furman, vice president of asset management for CGI+, based in Woodland Hills, California. “Learning how to shine remotely was a challenge.”

Scott Ferguson, senior vice president of operations for Waterton, based in Chicago, agrees about the remote shift. “When leasing shifted to a virtual environment, we saw a dip in total tours and gross closing percentages, which we attributed to the loss of personal interaction and engagement,” he says.

To engage customers, leasing agents should make sure they communicate proactively by their preferred methods, whether customers prefer email, phone calls, or even video chat.

Apartment companies also have made sure leasing agents understood their own value.

“We had to make sure that on-site associates knew that this was not replacing them,” says Michael Manfred, vice president of marketing at The NRP Group, working in the firm’s Cleveland offices.

3. Pay Attention

Leasing agents also have had to work hard to make up for insights they miss when they don’t meet prospective renters in person. “A leasing specialist can learn a lot from a customer’s nonverbal cues,” says Waterton’s Ferguson.

However, video calls with prospects can provide a different kind of insight. “We are able to see the environment our prospect is currently living in, and in many cases this has allowed us to paint a better picture of what they are looking for,” says CGI+’s Furman.

4. Be Flexible With Potential Renters

Property managers also have learned not to take it personally when customers missed virtual appointments.

“In a virtual world it has become easier than ever to simply not show up for an appointment,” says Ferguson. Waterton reengaged these customers both with automated emails and personal outreach. “That improved the appointment attendance rate and provided the customer with flexibility to reschedule to meet their needs,” he says.

5. Create Strong Partnerships with Tech Providers

Owners and managers adapted to set up self-guided tours at tens of thousands of vacant apartments during the peak of the pandemic.

“It’s amazing how quickly and relatively seamlessly property managers could shift,” says John Helm, founder and current partner with RET Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Park City, Utah, focused on proptech.

Strong partnerships with technology companies made it possible.

“A strong partnership with a self-guided tour vendor is key,” says NRP’s Manfred. “Having a strong partnership in place allowed for a quick and painless transition and prevented our site team’s day-to-day activities from being changed drastically.”