How to Keep Generation Z Renters Engaged with Your Multifamily Property – The Bridge Podcast

By: Kristy Esch

Known for her many years of writing long and short form articles for the multifamily industry. Her amazing writing continues to shine in other industries.

Want to better understand your Generation Z renters? This one’s for you. In episode 6, Andy and Fabian discuss up-and-coming industry trends with Paul Bergeron, Editor-in-Chief at UNITS Magazine. The increased availability of smartphones and social media has prompted gamification and content-based interactions to reign supreme amongst the youngest wave of rental residents. In an era of technological accessibility, learn how customized, engaging content can help keep customers happy.



Paul Bergeron: Apartment communities need to treat, not treat residents like residents, but treat residents like consumers, which I think a lot of people are already doing that, but it’s the focus that they have to have going forward because these residents, including Gen Y and Gen X and all those people, um, are millennials. That’s what they’re used to in life.


Andy Medley: The Bridge is a podcast for all businesses where the consumer purchase takes place at a physical location, but those same consumers are shopping and narrowing their choices down online. That jump from online in store is where most businesses struggle. Each episode we will focus on real strategies and examples from industry experts on how to dominate this complex and competitive environment by sharing the latest trends in technology and process.


Andy: All right, back for another podcast here at NAA (National Apartment Association Apartmentalize conference),featuring The Bridge where we are focused on consumers that are purchasing and doing everything they can online but still buying face to face. Uh, we’ve got a real treat today. Uh, Paul Bergeron, from the NAA, who has been in the industry a really long time and knows a lot about what’s coming as well. He writes about it. So director of publications at NAA. How’s it going, Paul?


Paul: Yeah. Good. Doing pretty well.


Andy: Great conference so far. I’m glad. What are some of the goals for you this week?


Paul: People learning new things. I mean, this industry just keeps delivering. I mean, I went to a session today that was all about generation Z and what those people are going to be doing.


Andy: So you had to wrap your mind around it.


Paul: I have two kids that are in generation Z and it was amazing what they were saying was right. Perfect description of my kids. And they’re going to be renters pretty soon.


Fabian Rodriguez: Were some of those takeaways?


Paul: Just, there’s something called the eight minute, I think it’s called the eight minute bridge, where if you say something to them, they might not look like they’re listening and they might not even look at you, but they’ve heard what you’ve said and you get eight, they get eight seconds to process whether what you’ve asked them is important or not.


Andy: Whoa.


Paul: So if you’re a parent or a teacher or a friend or a girlfriend or whatever, you know you’ve got eight seconds to hope that they will respond to you.


Andy: I get in trouble from my wife if I take eight seconds to respond.


Paul: Exactly. Exactly.


Andy: So I can say that I’m acting like a Gen Z when I… if I have a delayed reaction… is what I’m hearing.


Paul: I mean, you’ve seen Gen Z people around, I mean, they’re always on their phone and that’s all they know. And, and I get all that and I’m, I’m not a super foam techie person, but they are. And the other great example today was when you’re leasing an apartment building, everyone wants to say, okay, one month free rent. So they put a sign outside their apartment building that says one month free rent, which is, or two months. Well now with the Gen Z, you have to create some way of delivering that message with some sort of form of engagement. So some sort of, I don’t know, contest share this, take a picture of that, things like that. It’s not just they’ll see one, they’ll see words. You can got to marke it with images and visuals, not just words.


Andy: Yeah. Um, it makes it tough. Makes a ton of sense.


Andy: From your role’s perspective in and learning a little bit more about you, can you tell us how you spend most of your time as the director at NAA.


Paul: Yeah. So, um, we have a monthly magazine called Units. We have a couple of people on staff who put it together. I kind of run the show, I write a lot of the articles, edit the articles. I have some help design the articles, but you know, it’s just like the calendar. There’s another month coming up, you’re never really done and you have a goal of a deadline to get that issue out. And we try to make each issue about what’s going on at that moment. We, we don’t plan too far ahead. Some people are like, Oh, you must plan these months ahead. No, we kind of look around at that time to see topics that are timely and then write about that if we could, because we want the readers to get something new.


Andy: Yeah. That was something I was interested in. How does it make your radar, so when you’re saying timely, do you see a drumbeat that picks up and all of a sudden you go, okay, this actually is something that matters as opposed to this is a…


Paul: Okay, so how do I spend my time in my life? This is kind of funny. So I work and I read and I watch news and I consume news and, and I’m a big sports fan so I watch live sports a lot. But other than that, I am a straight news person. That’s all I do. The Wall Street Journal is the best source to find out what’s going on and to develop stories from, because when you’re writing about the apartment industry, you’re writing about where people live every day. It’s not, it’s not so specialized that you can’t take almost any topic that’s going on and develop that into a story.


Paul: So I live in, I live in northern Virginia and I take the metro to work every day and every day there’s a building right there, if you’re familiar with coworking, which is an office thing where people can rent an office for. You know, so that can quote-unquote work from home or temporary workers, whatever it is. And across the street is a beautiful apartment building. I’m walking by there every day and I’m saying, Geez, I wonder if people who work in this cowork building live in this apartment building and how sweet that would be if that was your commute. So sure enough, I started digging around. I contacted the people, the woman who ran this office, which was called Spaces at the rest, the wheelie metro station for anyone who knows that I went in there and she used to work at Camden and so she knows a lot about apartment management and all that kind of thing.


Paul: And we had a few laughs and that she said, yeah, this is exactly right. We have a couple of cowork people who are apartment residents right over there. So if you saw our may issue, it was the cover story and it was about, so that’s, yeah, so it was just me walking to work everyday just looking up.


Andy: No, that’s exactly what I was curious about stuff.


Paul: Just you just see things that are trendy and you think, how can you apply that to the apartment management or marketing or financing or anything like that. I remember when, when bitcoin was all the rage about, I dunno, a year and a half, two years ago, um, and it’s kinda crept back into the news recently, by the way. So I went around and tried to find anybody who would accept rent in the form of bitcoin instead of a check or or whatever.


Paul: And it was hard. I found a couple of people who would comment on it and it was kind of a global currency rather than a local thing. But it’s just things like that. You watch the business news and they talk about bitcoin and you try to think how that would apply to the industry. So I like to think that’s what our readers are getting.


Andy: That’s awesome. That was a great answer and very helpful. I also think it’s kind of cool that you get the opportunity to kind of pick and then it’s a little investigative reporting to a certain extent.


Paul: Yeah. They have my experience and they have faith that I’m writing about things that people are gonna want to read. So yeah, I remember when I first started working there, I wasn’t in the apartment industry and I used to walk around the office and ask people, what should I write about? What should I write about? And after about a year of that, my boss came up to me and said, you shouldn’t be an order taker. Don’t ask people what they want you to do. You should be able to determine what you’re going to do. And I’m like, okay. I get it . So that’s how it comes together.


Andy: So. So talk to me about the very educated person in this space and beyond. Do you have any opinions on where it’s going? Um, how’s it going to change? And when I say how’s it’s going to, how’s it going to change? Um, mainly from the perspective of the relationship between the property, uh, in the renter and the resident.


Paul: Okay. Um, Yep. Well, a couple of things that I’m seeing right now is apps that are designed and delivered by the apartment community for their residents that enable their residents to do everything.


Paul: I mean, there used to be resident portals. Residents have their websites. Now it’s apps. And he companies that are involved in that seem to be getting a lot of business. Um, the key to that seems to be think about your own life and what you do and what apps you use. Maybe you have one that check sports scores, one does the weather, one does. Um, I don’t know what else. You want this apartment living experienced all the on one app, not having the residents have to look for other things. Oh, how do I unlock my door? Oh, how do I contact this person? Oh, where do I pay my rent? Oh, how do I see any information going on socially?


Paul: So that seems to be a resident experience relationship trend. The other one is the other of, I guess many. Um, it seems like staffing is becoming different. Our boss, our CEO, Bob Pinnegar this week said that apartment communities need to treat, not treat residents like residents, but treat residents like consumers, which is kind of, I think a lot of people are already doing that. But it’s the focus that they have to have going forward. These residents, including Gen Y and Gen X and all those people, um, are millennials. That’s what they’re used to. And every other thing that they do in life. So in their day to day thing, they’re treated like consumers.


Andy: So for the audience room, from your perspective, when you say the difference between a resident and consumer, what do you mean?


Paul: Well, consumers today shop around, know what they want, expect what they want and want it right away. They want the service that they get when they go to a good restaurant or a good retail store or I don’t know where else, um, a vacation. So now all of a sudden if your property isn’t treating you with that kind of customer service level, they’re not going to be happy. Um, so the property management teams are, are revving up with that.


Paul: Another interesting trend is the self-guided tours. And that’s been talked about for about a year and a half now.


Andy: Where are you on that?


Paul: I know there’s a lot of buzz around this conference about that there’d be people talking about it. Where am I on it? Um, it’s very interesting. I mean the story they tell is, okay, you are, you and your wife go shopping for a car. Do you want the car salesman in the back seat when you test drive it?


Paul: No, these don’t really want that. So if you’re an apartment person and you’ve done all your homework and you’ve looked at pictures and you’ve looked at the neighborhood and that’s what most people do and you have a roommate or a wife or significant other, whoever it is and you show up at the property, you’d probably just kind of want to just kind of roam around and check the rooms that you want to see how you want to see them. Um, so no offense to the leasing agents … cause some of them are quite personable and do very well with that. They’re there to close the deal once the person takes the tour. So that’s the bottom line on the self-guided tours. Now, people are concerned about that because of things like liability. Oh my gosh, we’re letting somebody into a property. There’s no one else there. I mean we have to work through all those things. But I think it seems to be moving a little bit in that direction.


Andy: So, so based on that, and this is a lot of what we are always talking about here is what is the, what is the responsibility then of the human interaction and that experience? So you say to close the deal, but there is the ability for me to sign a lease and negotiate the pricing all through text and then you send it over and I Docusign it and it’s good to go and I might not ever even see you. So where do you think, um, you know, you can go all the way, one extreme to the other extreme, but in a general perspective, how do you, how do you think about five to 10 years from now?


Paul: Um, well again, based on what I was hearing a little bit about with, generation Z, that’s how they want to interact. They so funny to see any of them on the phone. Just, it’s the state, think about it and then think about having a conversation with them. A lot of times they’re just kind of, I used to texting.


Andy: My 12-year-old daughter is so annoyed anytime I could give her a call.


Paul: Yeah, yeah. So annoyed and you think they don’t want to talk to you, but it’s just not the way they don’t talk that way. No. And your, you could be in the kitchen, they could be upstairs in this ready for dinner or whatever and you text them and my wife’s like, why are you texting her? Just go, you know. But that’s what they want and it’s like, it really is all about giving people the communication chain that it’s totally okay.


Andy: Yeah. I’m with you.


Paul: So the sooner to get back to your question about in person, I mean, yeah, I mean maybe you go in and you meet a leasing agent and maybe that’s the best way because that makes you comfortable, but really you just kind of want to be left alone sometimes. And then when you’re done, tell me where I need to go. I really like it. Or I have some followup questions. So the experience really is changing now. What does that do for staffing? Cause people start panicking like, oh my gosh, it’s going to be a bunch of job cuts. Well it gives the other sort of uh, changes the, the roles and responsibilities of those onsite staff people. So maybe they focus more on other things, uh, finding prospects, um, work, working through existing residents who were there, uh, helping make sure that their day is going well or their problems are, are, are solved or questions are asked. Answered.


Fabian: Yeah. And you hear that that term a lot. I think you kind of hear it being thrown around a lot. It’s just meeting people where they are, right. How they like to consume, right. To go back to treating them like consumers is, that’s how you have to speak with them. Right. That’s what really will resonate. Um, what, you know, one of the articles that that was in this issue for, uh, for Unit’s magazine was kind of a bold statement, right? Just technology, uh, will change multifamily leasing. Right. Uh, but I think the, uh, the end of that article kind of said that soft skills and that leasing agent is still playing this important role. Um, so I know we talked about it a little bit, but how do you feel about that?


Paul: Yeah, the soft skills. So the soft skills need to be, um, natural and not formulated, not scripted. And I think at the least, the good leasing agents know that and the good management companies train their people to be that way. I mean, I’m sure there was a time in this industry where everybody had a script that you had to, you know, cross off all these bullet point comments that you need to make about all the properties, but you’re supposed to talk to the resident, the prospective resident, like you’re talking to your best friend or a friend, uh, rather than a customer.


Andy: Yeah, the weird part or the challenging part is that you as the consumer, one a hundred percent want control, uh, of every aspect and you’d want limited disruption. But the minute you will have a question, you expect an answer instantly. And you know, in an environment like Amazon, all of that can be very much automated through technology. That’s not necessarily the case, nor are we in my opinion, remotely close to the point where that can be, um, the same or as true in leasing an apartment. Uh, just because of the, the typical nuances or the fact that I might want to look at you face to face and hear your answer knowing that you’re the one that’s actually managing this property and you actually have some knowledge as opposed to a Bot. Um, give me some canned response or…


Paul: Bots can be fun and interesting. I mean I’ve used them a couple of times on things. I’m trying to remember what they were probably like buying tickets for something or, or questions about things, but


Andy: It’s, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat or things like that that work usually pretty well.


Paul: But when they work as for some crazy reason, you’re up in the middle of the night and you need some sort of responses and you know, nobody’s going to answer the phone. You notice them. You’d be was saying, nobody’s going to answer a text or something like that. And for some reason you’re edgy about it and you want the answer, I don’t know. Yeah, or you’re not in a position where you can talk out loud because maybe you’re in an environment where that’s not conducive for that. But getting back to what you said about having the customer in control totally right about everything.


Paul: And it’s all about, just think of all of the restaurants that you go to these days where you get in line and you say, I want this, I want this, I want this, I want this like Chipotle, Subway, and then think about the way it used to be. We used to go places and there was something on a menu and you pointed and I said, that’s what I want. I mean, that’s the way, that’s the way consumerism is going these days. And you know, I remember my son, he’s a basketball player and you need to buy some shoes. And he’s like, well dad, I’ll just, I’ll just order them. I’m like, okay, that’s cool. Because there used to be like six different kinds of, you know, tennis shoes for basketball players and you pick your size and maybe you pick your color. Well now if you go to a shoe company, you can, these kids all have their own shoes that are made the way they want them there.


Paul: It’s, I guess the word is custom design. So if you’re an apartment community, maybe you need to be able to determine a customized seller approach to these people. And the more information you find out about them before they show up or before they asked for a self-guided tour or a personal tour, all that information is so valuable and it can be so time saving and so non aggravating.


Andy: I think that’s a great, that’s a great point.


Fabian: And that’s, you know, that’s where all the data comes in, right? It’s to really enhance those soft skills so that when that person does ultimately need to have that face to face interaction, that person on the other end is completely loaded with a robust, uh, you know, tons of info that information to be able to make it personal.


Paul: Just think how easy it would be for the leasing agent if you knew the person wanted a studio apartment and then you focused on all of those that you had rather than just saying, so what kind of apartment do you want? You know, studio one, two bedroom, whatever. It just makes the process frictionless.


Andy: And that’s the bridge, right? I mean the bridge is the idea that I’ve, I’ve given you a ton of information based on the actions I’ve taken in the digital environment. And now I’m looking at you face to face and you’re acting like I haven’t been educated on your property. I already told you everything that I’m looking for. I want a two bedroom. I want it on the third floor. So true. You know, and now I’m like, but I, I’ve already told you all of this and you, we as consumers are used to thinking that when we’re, when we’re, when we’re working with Amazon and Netflix, all it does is just get more personalized, right? If we’re talking to it, it’s hearing us, right? And then all of a sudden we, we don’t have that experience. And it’s like I already told you all this.


Andy: Just like anytime you ever call a doctor where they want you to give, give you an exact serial number, four different times. I just told you all those things. But anyway, yeah, again, the customer service and the frictionlessness and the amount of time that you have to hold their attention span and all that, that is right.


Andy: And I know you’re a, you’re running on time, you’re a busy guy, you’re getting ready to go, uh, um, lead a presentation.


Paul: Correct. Yeah. We’re doing a presentation today on the trade show floor of trends. So it’s myself and two colleagues. We only get 30 minutes to do 10 trends, so that’s three minutes a pop.


Paul: So if I sound like I’m talking fast, I’m trying to try to get coached up.


Andy: No, I love it. No, this is perfect. This is how we like to roll. All right. Couple fun questions and we’ll let you get outta here. What are you currently obsessed with? This can be professional, this can be personal. Anything currently obsessed with.


Paul: Um, wow. Well, let me think about that. What’s your next question?


Paul: Your least favorite activity? Well, that’s funny. We’ve kind of talked about it. My least favorite activity is to fill out any form. I hate filling out forms.


Fabian: All right, there we go. Let’s do a trend here. People really hate doing things that take up time. You shouldn’t come as a surprise, but you gotta think waiting, waiting.


Paul: This is a good story. This is a really good story. Okay, so the Gen Z person was saying that people in Gen Z expect instant approval or instant, either approval or disapproval, and she was telling a story that people were going into apply for some apartments and they qualified, but it took the apartment community too long to tell that resident, Oh yeah, you qualified that when they contacted the resident back, guess what? They went and leased somewhere else because the other one was able to turn around the application approval process faster. Now, to me, that’s devastating. You’ve got a renter who qualifies, which is what everybody’s let you spend a lot of money to get that person to do that. He did all that stuff and he said, well, sorry, I went somewhere else because you left me hanging. Right.


Fabian: So yeah, and hanging is relative. That could have been a couple of hours to somebody, right.


Andy: I mean, knowing that there is absolutely the opportunity for me to be able to get approved instantly, um, is what was probably frustrated that certain individuals,


Paul: She said that the industry needs to work on that and I’m sure they are and I’m sure they will because it’s in everyone’s best interest and there’s no doubt.


Paul: There’s no doubt. I mean, it’s Kinda like, it Kinda like, I have a friend who was dealing with the u s government and he had to fill out a form so that he could be qualified for something. And I’m like, Oh, when are you going to find out? He goes, I don’t know. They’re going to mail me something later, mail me something. I can’t believe that anything from our government that is [inaudible]. You got that right. Whether it’s amazing or not, I’m not sure. I’ll come back to it.


Andy: Anything you’re obsessed with and we might let you have to say with, okay, well…


Paul: I’ve always been kind of obsessed with horse racing. How about that? Oh, so at the end of the week, I’m leaving Denver, going back to Virginia and I’m stopping off along the way in Cincinnati to meet my buddy who’s a horse racing guy. And we have another friend from Chicago who’s driving down and we’re all meeting in Louisville, cause I’ve never been to Churchill down. So we’re spending our day there and then driving back and go into a Cincinnati reds baseball game. So that’s not a bad trip. Not a bad trip. That stadium’s awesome.


Andy: All right, Paul. Really appreciate the time. Yeah, anytime. Good luck. Awesome.


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