Phone calls, screaming kids, a misplaced wallet—all frequent hassles of the modern life, and also perfectly understandable reasons why a rental prospect filling out a lease application might lose focus. For apartment operators that have migrated portions of their leasing process to an electronic platform—particularly to online, HTML-based leasing systems—the phenomenon of unfinished leases is a familiar one and could be a significant source of often overlooked but nevertheless well-qualified leads.

When asked in a recent survey by Provo, Utah–based Property Solutions when they typically follow up on a lead, 96 percent of property managers and apartment executives said they always follow up with prospects who have completed an application. The same group, however, was more apt to turn to guest cards as their next source of leads to always follow up on (83 percent), rather than call on prospects who left an application unfinished (only 73 percent reported always following up).

Property Solutions marketing manager Chris Brashear says that prospects who start applications and abandon them are more qualified than guest card leads because they’ve shown a documented intent to rent, not just a passing interest in the community. “Guest cards are obviously still one of your greatest sources of leads. But while they can be the most numerous, leads from guest cards can also be the least qualified,” Brashear says. “An application is where a prospect begins putting skin in the game, particularly if there’s an application fee.”

Respondents to the Property Solutions survey revealed even more reticence when it came to following up with prospects who had abandoned the application process. Only 48 percent of respondents were following up on all unfinished applications, with another 23 percent saying they were likely to follow up on at least half of their abandoned application leads. Surprisingly, 14 percent of respondents follow up with less than half of unfinished applications, and another 14 percent don’t follow up with them at all. It’s not because the application technology isn’t working, either. Half of the survey group said their property has never fielded support calls on the application process. “We’re not sure yet why those who start an application are not followed up on as much as they should be, when it seems that abandoned applications could be some of the best prospects,” Brashear says.

The answer might be the volume of leads leasing agents handle, the largest portion of which consists of guest cards. “We even suspect the 83 percent of properties who say they follow up on every guest card might be a little optimistic,” Brashear says. “If it were that high, there wouldn’t be as much of a market for call centers.”

Indeed, with rent fundamentals across the country bolstering back to pre-recession levels, niche lead sources such as incomplete applications may not even be necessary. “We might have looked at them seriously a couple of years ago,” says Peggy Hale, a vice president at King of Prussia, Pa.–based Morgan Properties, “but not now, with the amount of prospects coming at our limited inventory.” She cites the phone, webchats, and VaultWare as the top three sources of guest cards that lead to an appointment.