Consumers want options. The way we shop, do our research online and who we choose to do business with all comes down to each individual person. There’s no difference when it comes to touring your property. Giving consumers options online for how they can tour your property on their own terms is necessary, whether that’s a video, virtual tour, self-guided tour or in-person tour.
While the majority of prospects will start their research online, the next steps they take depends on their comfort level of interacting with your team during this pandemic and how soon they’re ready to rent.
During our recent webinar, we talked to Karen Gladney, co-founder of Power Pro Leasing, about touring options, while focusing more specifically on how to offer better self-guided tours. She visited 100 properties in 100 days and says the results were alarming. “Forty-six percent of the time, I had to wait or was sent away. Just think if I had been offered a self-guided tour experience and how I could have been taken care of in that moment,” Gladney says.
When they started their “Tour Your Way” campaign eight months ago, Gladney says the studies were showing 95% consumers prefer to shop alone while going through a buying decision and 90% want to speak to a human being during that time. “How do you blend those?,” she asks. “You don’t operate in two different silos.”
Better Self-Guided Tours Start with A Plan
Self-guided tours aren’t new. Look at hotels, for example. We’re able to all check in at a desk, grab the key card and find our way to the room without hotel staff walking us there. “Walk through your property and make sure your signage is as strong as it can be to help guide prospects where they should go,” Gladney advises. It seems simple enough, yet so many properties lack the necessary signage.
Look at your current touring situation, too. What type of tours do you offer? How can you improve? As technology and smart locks continue to improve, so are self-guided tours. Gladney says even if you don’t have the budget to incorporate new features, leaving a key on a table and putting a touring plan in place will help you succeed. “You are going to see higher returns if you offer more tour options,” she says. “That’s just a fact.”
Start by sharing on your website the different options of tours you offer. Give people on your website the ability to book the type of tour they want and most importantly follow up with those who tour your property.
For someone who schedules a tour, confirm the tour time and ask them if they have any questions in advance. After the tour, ask them which unit they preferred if they looked at multiple options or ask them what their favorite features were of the property. It’s all about communication. “Follow up matters because you remain relevant and top of mind,” Gladney says.
First and foremost, be yourself when you’re talking to a prospect. “We are all salespeople, but be your authentic self. Some people will buy you and some people won’t,” Gladney says. You just have to try.
Self-Guided Tour Options Here to Stay
Training your team to role play can help each leasing specialist better understand what it feels like to be in the prospects shoes. “Make sure every team member acts like the prospect. Have them go online, go to your online scheduling tool, select the tour and then have another team member deliver the experience.” You’ll find gaps, missing signage, and most importantly how to improve.
As you map out your touring experience, you should also be able to identify gaps in technology you might have. Gladney recommends requesting a demo, not a slideshow, from vendors you’re considering. You’ll be able to see exactly how that technology will help your property.
“The best experiences and collaboration comes out of working with people you enjoy,” she says. “Be careful of vendors who try to be everything to be everyone. Typically, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.” Operators have the power to ask how vendors can work together to get the most benefit.
As we move into the future, remember that everyone has a different comfort level and you and your team will need to stay sensitive to that. By offering different touring options, including self-guided tours, you’re letting each prospect choose the best option for themselves. “I believe self-guided tours will stay and properties who keep it will be ahead of the curve against their competition,” Gladney says.
With several weeks under their belts, property management teams have had to pivot, using video and virtual leasing to get more tours. To discuss how the industry has adapted and changed, PERQ hosted a panel discussion with Jenna Miller, Senior Director of Marketing at Bozzuto; Margaret Henney, Director of Marketing with Covideo; and Matt Weirich, CEO and co-founder of Realync.
The panel all agreed that with social distancing, leasing teams are learning to be more creative, throwing out fears and connecting with rental prospects on a personal level. While there is still a place for those sexy, polished marketing videos, authentic real-time or pre-recorded videos with leasing teams are the new reality and creating the most connection with renters.
Those authentic virtual tours are even resulting in leases for apartment communities. Miller noted while the first few weeks during the pandemic were slow, their teams at Bozzuto are seeing the same number of leases they were getting before COVID-19 occurred thanks to video.
When polled during the panel discussion, 80 percent of attendees (approximately 100 respondents) say they had NOT used video as a primary tool for apartment tours prior to the pandemic. Out of those same respondents when asked which of the following tour options they leverage today, 83% say they are using live video tours, 91% do pre-recorded videos, 46% are using self-guided tours and 22% are doing in-person tours.
Clearly, the way multifamily communities connect with residents and prospects has changed within just a few weeks. However, panelists agree that by being nimble, creating a virtual tour strategy unique for your team, and keeping it fun, you’ll create a better sense of community within your property and stand out from the crowd.
Panelists Offer Tips on Virtual Apartment Tours
Watch the full webinar chat to get tips on virtual tours.
With apartment occupancy rates at the highest level in 20 years, averaging more than 96 percent across the country, prospective renters often struggle to find a readily available unit at their preferred property that meets their needs. They end up languishing on a waitlist while they hunt online for other options.
Don’t let those valuable apartment leads go to waste. With the right technology and approach, your property leasing teams can leverage quality online lead information to find another great property for the prospect to consider, or nurture the lead in a personalized way so they remain engaged and interested in your brand while they wait on standby.
“We focus on providing the best experience for our customers when we do not have the availability they are in search of,” says Jenny Richard, director of marketing at Gene B. Glick Company, one of the largest privately held U.S. real estate management and development firms. “This allows us to better understand their wants and needs, and creates a warm connection to a sister community or we can add them to the waitlist, depending on their needs.”
Get to know apartment leads
Keep occupancy rates up and steady across your multifamily property portfolio by proactively targeting those prospects who want to live at your apartment communities but can’t get in right away. Steer interested renters toward comparable properties that still check all of their “top priority” boxes. If they still choose to wait, keep apartment leads engaged with an automated lead nurturing solution and targeted digital marketing strategies. The trick is identifying what’s most important to each individual renter on the list.
Your website should deliver insights into what factors rank as most important in a prospect’s apartment search, such as location or certain amenities, how far into the future they’re looking to lease, and what’s motivating the move. As website visitors engage with interactive quizzes and online leasing tools, they volunteer valuable personal information that leasing specialists can use to the property’s advantage.
“Our website provides us with what’s important to our customers to help better engage with their upcoming and future desires, such as preferred neighborhood, budget, floor plan layout, and hobbies or activities they enjoy,” Richard says.
Understand the various moving circumstances of the prospects on your property’s waitlist and you’re likely to discover a segment of renters motivated to move quickly, who will be much more open to alternative apartment communities your leasing team suggests. If they’re on a tight deadline and must sign a lease soon, show them other options at your nearby communities that offer the same favorite features as their top apartment pick.
“There’s never a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Catherine Azar, director of property management at Barratt Asset Management, based in Indianapolis. “We want to provide them with the information they want and answers they need—finding out things about them, like ‘Why are you moving?’ and in a conversational way, so that we can get all of this data.”
Leverage automation, video tours for apartment leads
As an AI-driven website collects details on consumers that leasing specialists can rely on later when following up with those interested renters, the smart software also helps the prospects narrow down the apartments that meet their main requirements. If a popular apartment community in your portfolio reaches high occupancy levels, property managers can adjust the website’s algorithm to direct more prospects toward a different yet similar sister property through their search results.
“That’s one great thing that’s just been a huge success for us,” Azar says of adding AI technology to the property website. “People are able to immediately log on and say ‘I want this, I want that, and I want to be close to here. This is what’s important. I have a dog, so I need to be close to a dog park.’ Then they’re able to see an apartment home pop up that would work best.”
Videos and personalized virtual tours are another way to get apartment leads interested in another property you manage. Using the online lead data, leasing specialists can determine a prospect’s top priorities and reasons for moving, and then create customized, quick videos with a personal voiceover to highlight those aspects at another apartment community.
Sometimes, they have to see it to believe it; otherwise, renters may ignore your gentle push toward a secondary option with lower occupancy. They’ll also know your team truly cares enough to make a video just for them and understands what’s driving their decision. Azar says such personalized interaction provides prospects some comfortability when handing over private life details and begins to build trust in the property.
“We can send pictures and videos to the customer. It’s a game-changer,” says Azar, who also utilizes FaceTime and Facebook to have more personal two-way conversations with leasing applicants. “If they were wanting a specific unit, send them a video to show them ‘Look what else I have.’ It’s completely tailored to what they’re looking for.”
For those adamant prospects who have the time to wait on their preferred apartment unit, an automated lead nurture campaign can ensure your brand stays at the top of their list. Leads in your CRM can automatically filter into the property’s email drip campaign and be personalized based on the data they provided while on the website.
Automated, scheduled-out emails or text messages build value by sending prospects additional information related to their goals, including other properties they might consider. Such communication can also drive prospects back to the website for helpful online leasing tools as they prepare to move.
Richard says Gene B. Glick Company uses the prospect profile data and detailed analytics they receive through their marketing cloud to optimize all of their digital marketing assets. The marketing team can identify market-specific trends in amenities and commonly searched keywords, and adjust digital advertising campaigns to drive more traffic to a property where they want to increase occupancy. They use the prospect data to retarget leads through a variety of online channels.
“We leverage email drip campaigns, PPC ads, text, and retargeting to keep our customers engaged for future availability,” Richard says.
Seeing someone smile and laugh while sharing stories through virtual chats helps to keep the human connection alive during lockdown. As the multifamily apartment industry finds new ways to do business and connect with rental prospects, we wanted to check in to see how everyone is holding up. Through a virtual happy hour, we chatted with some industry peers and learned about virtual apartment tours.
Joined by our partners at Realync, CEO and co-founder Matt Weirich and Director of Marketing Robyn Tyner, we were able to catch up with approximately 20 individuals in the multifamily community, including marketing managers, directors and VPs; operation VPs; property managers; and leasing consultants.
We discovered the multifamily industry has learned a lot about the new way of leasing and have had to pivot. Many are seeing success, some have faced challenges and everyone was happy to share their stories. If you couldn’t attend our happy hour, here are a few takeaways from our chat.
Use Video Tours to Show Off Your Personality
Even though most in-person tours have stopped, video tours build trust from prospects and it gives them more insight on apartment communities without ever having to leave their living rooms. Communities have the ability to use their websites to offer multiple tour options, allowing people to schedule a video chat or tour at the click of a button. Prospects can see their future home through video and ask leasing consultants questions in real time or afterward through text, call or email.
Virtual apartment tours are a way to let your personality shine through, however, starting a video tour can be intimidating. Weirich says people are learning quickly that while you can be your own worst critic, get over the fear of being on video. His advice: be yourself and you’ll make a connection.
For live tours, he recommends showing yourself first to put a face to a name, but then flipping the camera to show off the property and narrate the elements of a floor plan, room features or community offerings.
Over the past few weeks, Weirich says he’s hearing a lot of awesome stories from properties about how they were nervous or scared to be on video initially. Now that they’re seeing success and signing leases, however, he says they’re celebrating and excited to do more virtual tours.
Tips for Virtual Apartment Tours
Everyone at the virtual happy hour weighed in on their advice for virtual tours. Here were some of the best tips that any property can leverage:
Visualize the path you want to share with the rental prospect
Be intentional with what you show on video (show amenities they’re interested in — granite countertops was a big discussion)
Walk slowly — slower than you normally would. Don’t give people vertigo!
Be consistent in videos about whether you show your Fair Housing and ADA compliant logos or not. Don’t only do it sometimes and not others.
Clean the path and pick up any trash before you do the video tour.
Close the toilet lid! (This was echoed loud and clear by everyone in attendance)
Open the blinds to let natural light in.
Make sure the light is behind you when you do the video so people can see you.
End on an outdoor shot.
Overall, practice makes perfect. Require everyone on your team to do some test videos to help them become more comfortable and natural on video.
Make sure your team uses an app to test the speed of the wifi beforehand in different areas of the community they plan to show in the video to avoid lag times. Best speeds for good quality video should be around 5 to 8 Mbps. If you start your tour at the leasing office and are on wifi, Weirich recommends staying on wifi, but if you’re using LTE Mobile Data, stay on LTE during the tour to also avoid lag times.
Other Recommendations to Consider with Virtual Property Tours
Some communities have decided to only do pre-recorded videos, rather than live videos, using only community smart phones or iPads. It’s up to each property whether they choose to do live property videos, but as one attendee mentioned, you have to protect your employees, first and foremost, and not allow them to use personal devices to do virtual tours.
Consider apartment rental prospects when you set up a virtual tour as well. Some might not be as knowledgeable about using technology. Discuss with them what they typically use. Are they comfortable with FaceTime, Zoom, Skype or some other platform? Walk them through the steps they need to take so they can connect with you.
As the multifamily industry adapts to new changes, everyone agreed that virtual apartment tours will be a new reality even when people can do in-person tours again. We’re a society that likes to do our own research online and who likes convenience. Tours are resulting in leases for properties leveraging the technology, and they recommend taking the next steps to do video tours if you haven’t already.
For more consumers, texting has become the preferred method of communication. In today’s world of immediate satisfaction, texting often provides an instant response. Multifamily properties are starting to favor texting because of its effectiveness in reaching out to consumers quickly to answer their questions. Marketing research shows companies that text customers get 7.5 times more responses than with emails.
Clients we spoke to believe leveraging an online tool that drives prospects to text with the community is most effective because they can answer a rental prospect’s question while they are on their phone. It’s much easier to use than just an online chat option that requires users to stay logged onto an internet browser to get a response or continue a conversation. Once a prospect leaves a live chat platform, the property often lacks a way to follow up with that consumer, who must start the process all over when they initiate another online chat session.
Ask a Question Multifamily Tool Easy for Rental Prospects and Leasing Teams
With PERQ’s new Ask a Question tool for multifamily properties, our conversational “smart” form helps prospects quickly ask questions right from your website, which can feed right to your leasing team.
Your leasing team can quickly qualify and contact your most engaged leads, answer prospect questions using text messaging, and help prospects choose their dream home with photo or video message.
Ask a Question integrates into the PERQ Marketing Cloud, giving you continued access to helpful prospect data such as desired move-in timeframe, favorite floor plans, interests and more.
One client who recently introduced the chat to text feature on their website is finding consumers are highly engaged and more likely to convert than the average online visitor. “They’re further along in the cycle,” he says. “The interesting thing though is it seems like it’s all ages of demographics who engage. Everybody wants to text now.”
Leverage your Multifamily Website to Engage Visitors through Chat/Text
The Ask a Question tool collects prospect questions right from your website, helps you to quickly qualify and contact your most engaged leads through text, and helps you progress toward your occupancy goal, even in these trying times where COVID-19 limits our face-to-face interaction with rental prospects.
“As a whole, text message conversations used for follow-ups and initial conversations have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” says one PERQ client. “Conversations, pictures, quotes, reviews, emojis, etc. can be sent directly to the device that the customer uses all day and lives in their pocket! Why wouldn’t that be the way businesses talk to their customers?”