Credit: cleftwich

How convinced is Dhrubo Sircar that Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple’s iPad is going to have a major impact on multifamily? Consider that the CIO for Greensboro, N.C.-based Bell Partners is already using not one, but two iPads (the original and the latest 3G model) as his primary computing device. What’s more, he devoted an entire section of his IT strategy paper, which was delivered to Bell Partners brass this spring, on the 7.5-by-9.5-inch tablet device that sold 1 million units in its first four weeks on the market—a velocity more than twice as fast as that of Apple’s iPhone. Indeed, the iPad is a powerhouse machine—a mere half-an-inch thick, weighing 1.5 pounds, and able to blaze through 5,000 dedicated iPad applications and most of the 200,000 iPhone applications with a battery life that typically eclipses the 10-hour mark. “I love the device,” Sircar says. “It is obviously in the right space, and by that I mean the mobility space. I’m leaving my briefcase behind and answering e-mail in the airport and delivering PowerPoint presentations in the boardroom [with it]. It is a game changer for our industry.”

Sircar is right. Many in the industry are only now coming to terms with the fact that smart phone apps are redefining apartment marketing and lease-ups. The iPad takes the business to another level. Launched April 3, the device that Apple calls “magical and revolutionary” has multifamily stalwarts—including Bell Partners; Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based UDR; San Francisco-based BRE Properties; Houston-based Camden Property Trust; Atlanta-based Wood Partners; Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Village Green Cos.; and Greenbelt, Md.-based The Bozzuto Group—taking a hard look at the upshot that iPad applications might provide to the management operations of the sector.

“It is going to be a life changer and a career changer,” says Lori Snider, co-founder of Littleton, Colo.-based real estate branding firm Creativity for Rent. “Most leases are worth at least $12,000, and everyone is always talking about having to take things up a notch. Well, this little number is going to change the way we lease apartments. Once people realize how they can use this throughout the entirety of their on-site presentations and also leave it in the hands of the consumer, I think it will become the standard across the board.”

Snider points specifically to the first out-of-the-box Leasing Tablet application from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based multifamily software pioneer Realty DataTrust/VaultWare. Previewed at the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference in April and expected to be available by the National Apartment Association Conference later this month in New Orleans, the Leasing Tablet app is media-rich, icon-driven, and chock full of features—real-time apartment pricing and availability; floor plans; community video tours; resident screening; online leasing applications; guest cards; as well as immediate touch-screen access to related applications such as Facebook, WalkScore, PinPoint, ApartmentRatings, and Yelp.

Bells and whistles aside, however, the iPad has already made a splash in the industry in less than three months on the street. That explains why on-site managers and apartment tech pundits are unanimous in their thumbs-up appraisal of the device, particularly when it comes to how the iPad could help re-professionalize leasing agents as savvy apartment salespeople.

You Can Do Magic

For Realty DataTrust/VaultWare CEO Mike Mueller, who has been fighting multifamily operators for years to optimize their systems to enable online leasing, the iPad’s Leasing Tablet application has suddenly become a 30-second sales tool. “Everyone has been teasing me about my giant iPhone,” Mueller says. “But then you load up an iPhone-optimized property website with video on a screen that is more than 9.5 inches across, and it changes your whole perspective. We have been beating our heads against the wall about online leasing for years, but we aren’t even getting halfway through the iPad demo and prospects already get it. They love it.”

Village Green, for one, plans to test the VaultWare application as part of its corporate iPad adoption this summer, with a goal of introducing the technology to prospective renters across the firm’s apartment communities this fall and winter. “We are currently working on the iPad as a tool for our professional salespeople,” says Village Green chairman and CEO Jonathan Holtzman. “The ability to rent an apartment 24/7, 365 days a year with a lower cost per rental achieves multiple goals: lower operating expenses for the owner of the apartment communities; speed and accuracy of information for the prospective renter; and the more professionalized sales consultants renting apartments.”

UDR—already boasting a first-mover reputation when it comes to multifamily mobile apps—is additionally expected to unveil an iPad application prior to the hot summer lease-up season. The REIT was reportedly debugging its system immediately following Apple’s official product launch this spring. But company officials declined to comment on any offerings the firm might make available, despite several online iPad demos of multifamily apps featuring UDR-branded properties and community specs.

Fellow REITs BRE and Camden say they are currently evaluating the iPad but have yet to pull the trigger on any specific applications. “We have been discussing some cool opportunities, but we are still looking at all of our options,” says Camden senior vice president of strategic services Kristy Simonette.

Not Without Its Worries

Lest one thinks that the industry is just quaffing down the red delicious Kool-Aid, multifamily iPad enthusiasts are quick to point out concerns with the magical tablet, starting with its single-app-at-a-time interface. “It has an issue in that it is a single-app device. If you go to mapping, it means you get out of your e-mail, so it is not a multifunction tool,” Sircar says.

Security issues pose another threat. Ideally, prospects will use iPads not only with leasing staff during property tours but also alone, be it during a self-guided tour with iPad in hand or while waiting in the leasing office to be helped.

“There is the risk that people will steal it,” Sircar adds. “We just want to think creatively about how we prevent equipment from walking out the door, especially when that equipment is designed for mobility.”

Mueller suggests that something as simple as securing a driver’s license in the leasing office—an ID check that apartment firms are going to run anyway—is enough deterrent to anyone looking to pocket some Apple gadgets. More critical, he says, is for multifamily firms to begin optimizing offerings for the tablet revolution.

“The one thing that could be a challenge for the industry is low-res video versus high-res capability,” Mueller says. “You are going to have to rethink how you record and store videos now because the expectation level of high definition on the iPad will evolve pretty quickly.”

Still, the iPad cons quickly pale in comparison to the pros when it comes to the prospect of on-site leasing, particularly to a demographic of leasing agents and rental prospects that has already been smart phone- and app-conditioned thanks to the iPhone, Google Droid, and other such devices.

“Now, all of a sudden, the keyboard and the mouse of the leasing center are gone, and you can literally take the iPad with you to the model unit, to the pool, to the fitness center, and have everything you’ve ever needed and more at your disposal—literally at your touch,” Mueller says. “We think it will change the whole paradigm of leasing.”