Recap from the 2021 NMHC OpTech Session – Self-Service Leasing: What the Data Has to Say
Prospect preferences are continually changing, and if one thing has become universally clear to multifamily operators it’s that there is no universal means to reach them all. In the 2021 NMHC OPTECH session, Self-Service Leasing: What the Data Has to Say, panelists explored the adoption and deployment challenges of multi-channel touring and leasing, as well as the successes associated with casting a broader prospect net.
Solutions such as access control, CRM reporting and automations, artificial intelligence and chatbots, as well as ID and credit card verification systems enable operators to oversee and manage all four quadrants of touring: assisted, unassisted, virtual and in-person. For comprehensive prospect engagement, panelists said operators need to take a big-picture approach, focus on integrations and put themselves in the prospect’s shoes.
“Self-leasing and self-guided tours, regardless of which hardware choice you make, needs to be holistic in how you look at the solution,” said Todd Katler, Chief Executive Officer at Anyone Home. “It needs to be at the very front end of the funnel, where it’s on your website or embedded in your chatbot as a very natural and organic experience. And it needs to go all the way through to how your associates are following up, and how you’re tracking data.”
It was a few short years ago that self-guided touring typically meant a prospect went to the leasing office to collect a fob, then toured the property at their leisure. To facilitate a truly contactless, self-service experience, operators have a few more things to consider, particularly when it comes to access control.
“When you’re looking at how you set things up, you have to think about getting them in the building but then limiting their access within the building,” said C.J. Edmonds, Chief Revenue Officer at SmartRent. “Can you control when they enter? Can you control who enters? Can you control how long they’re able to be there? Those are some of the questions you want to ask.”
Operators also have to decide whether to deploy a self-touring app, or simply issue one-time property access codes.
“App fatigue is a real thing,” Edmonds said. “You have to decide whether to go with an app, which is a much more robust experience, but requires a download. That might be a spot where you lose a prospect.”
“I’ve seen our industry have a propensity to put their own personal bias on what they believe their next 100,000 prospects are going to want to do,” said Katler. “But this is one area where you do not need to have an opinion. You simply need to offer choice, shed some of your personal bias and see what actually works.”
Multifamily has a history of hesitancy when it comes to tech adoption.
“It’s so analogous to five years and the conversations we had about whether we should adopt texting as a communication channel with our prospects,” said Demetri Themelis, Co-Founder of Knock. “Of course, because some people like to text. But that doesn’t mean we’re shutting off phone calls. It’s all about renter preference and meeting your customer where they are. We will all out-perform when we’re meeting our customers through optionality.”
Automated touring and leasing has faced hesitancy from onsite associates who fear they are displacing themselves by embracing the technology.
“We saw varying success initially with self-guided tours because operators, especially at the site level, saw this as taking their jobs away,” Katler said.
However, according to SmartRent data, when prospects don’t sign a lease after a self-guided tour, 47% said it was because they still wanted to interact with a leasing agent.
“The question is, where is that leasing agent?” Katler said, noting that traditional property teams are no longer a requirement due to advancements in technology. “Do they need to be on site? Can they be in a centralized office somewhere?”
Management companies are actively looking for ways to deploy technology to reduce repetitive duties for leasing agents, whether it’s providing alternatives to in-person touring or taking over more routine tasks like receiving phone calls and sending follow-up correspondence. Operators are discovering that they can establish consistency and optimize outreach through automation, while freeing up associates to focus on the resident experience and retention.
As a people-first industry, multifamily is still learning to trust the data behind self-service leasing. But the conversion rates that accompany a multi-channel approach speak for themselves, and the numbers are compelling operators to embrace the new leasing model.
“Technology will continue to chip away at the need for humans, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near saying, ‘Bye bye,’ to staff,” Themelis said. “Most leases, at some point during the customer journey, are still going to require a person. We should be able to evolve as an industry without fear.”