Apartment communities traditionally have had a designated leasing office and prevalent on-site teams. But a shift is emerging in renter preferences and the multifamily mindset on what apartment leasing and living could be. As owners and operators are learning that prospects and residents have become much more comfortable with self-service concepts, they are switching gears to accommodate these preferences and modernize operations.
Younger demographics prefer self-touring, and that was the case even before the pandemic. According to a 2020 study by Statista, more than 80% of U.S. renters said they would embrace a self-guided tour if it was available, and only 17% said they wouldn't like to tour without an agent.
A new, efficient way of apartment leasing is underway and accompanied by a greater need to implement technology to support self-guided tours and self-service living. Since technology can support and optimize self-service concepts, leasing teams can often support prospects remotely, leaving behind unused office space.
“Some residents prefer self-service and don’t actually want someone alongside them when they’re touring a community,” says Karen Hollinger, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at AvalonBay. “For residents who prefer an unaccompanied option, these self-service concepts and different technologies really streamline processes. While not drastically changing building design, it does have an impact on leasing office size, configuration, and other considerations, like wayfinding signage, to support the ease of touring.”
Simplified building designs, smart home capabilities, self-guided tour technologies, and interactive maps power a self-service experience with limited resources and personnel on-site. Here is what this future looks like and some of the key elements to make self-service living work.
Technology-Powered Self-Service Leasing
Different types of technologies are available to optimize a self-service community and keep things running smoothly, from leasing to living. AvalonBay’s self-service concept community, Kanso Twinbrook in Rockville, Maryland, is exclusively self-touring. Prospects can either take a virtual tour with help from an associate at a centralized call center or a self-guided tour.
“To do this effectively, a prospect needs the ability to book their own tour, navigate the community on their own, and digitally run their own application,” Hollinger says. “We integrated ID verification, remote access, and interactive maps to support the virtual and self-guided experience.”
Proptech integrations must include some kind of security measures with ID or credit card verification to screen self-guided prospects and a remote access solution to provide community access from afar to residents.
“We screen residents and provide access through different technologies,” Hollinger says. “The ID verification is the key to giving prospects access, and, once they are screened, they have a code to access the community for the day and time they scheduled their tour.”
Interactive mapping technology is also a crucial component of the virtual and self-guided experience. Without on-site leasing teams to guide them, interactive maps provide clarity for self-guided prospects to navigate the tour path and view real-time pricing.
“Maps have been critical for the virtual touring experience and for prospects to visualize the community before they even go,” Hollinger says. “Our call center teams will pull up the interactive maps during a virtual tour so prospects can better understand the types of available apartments, location within the community, views, and pricing.”
Wi-Fi connectivity is a fundamental component driving self-service functionality and making it an effective reality. Between the self-guided experience, remote access, running an application, and submitting digital maintenance requests, ubiquitous Wi-Fi is a key to supporting self-service concepts.
“The Wi-Fi is instantly on whenever a resident moves into the community, and they pay for it with their rent,” Hollinger says. “That way we don’t have the back-and-forth and in-and-out with a third-party telecom provider.”
New ubiquitous Wi-Fi concepts offer reliable, seamless connectivity with end-to-end service through one provider. The new digital realities of multifamily need a robust connectivity platform to truly power the communities and create efficiencies.
Simplified Building Design With Minimal Amenities
Kanso Twinbrook was built from the ground up to be a self-touring, low-staffing model. The concept community was used to test the strategy of moving everything to either a digital format or using a centralized call center.
“We were essentially competing with other AvalonBay communities in the area, and the only way to compete with other Class A, highly amenitized communities was to compete on price,” Hollinger says. “We could reduce rent in this community by developing a simplified building without amenities, which require additional maintenance and upkeep.”
Amenities, from pools and workout facilities to pet parks, require on-site teams to maintain those spaces, which can drive up rent prices. A simplified building design is easy to navigate in self-guided tours and doesn’t require extra staff members for amenity servicing, so rent can effectively be reduced.
While technology is key for self-service leasing, current resident living experiences are also powered with various proptech and digital solutions. Maintenance, parking, and package deliveries have evolved in a way that requires minimal contact or help from on-site teams.
At Kanso Twinbrook, maintenance requests are submitted exclusively online. Kanso Twinbrook’s maintenance teams receive all work orders digitally and are on-site twice per week fulfilling service requests.
Parking is also fully automated at Kanso Twinbrook. Smart cameras in the garages read license plates for residents who have reserved monthly parking, and, if residents want to pay for parking on an hourly or daily basis, they can pay per use with an app.
At the same time, self-serve package lockers and package rooms have streamlined mail delivery for residents and are eliminating the on-site team’s role in accepting packages. While the way mail carriers make deliveries has drastically changed over the last five years, Hollinger notes one of the biggest lessons learned is not only to augment digital solutions, but to augment analog solutions as well.
“Signage and directional wayfinding signage for package deliveries, and even parking, has to be obvious,” Hollinger says. “With the way online shopping and package deliveries have changed, some mail carriers may never come to the building again, so the delivery spot has to be very clear since there is no one on-site to help.”
Proptech advancements have created efficiencies and set new standards for apartment living. As more and more modern residents become comfortable with and even expect self-service concepts, the nature of apartment leasing and living will continue to evolve alongside technology.