In a CREW Network Virtual Convention panel last week, owners and operators of multifamily properties talked about how they are “seizing the day” in this environment and talk about why customer experience is key.
Laurie Baker, EVP of operations at Camden Property Trust, said that Camden had to quickly move to a virtual leasing model in the spring and has continued to leverage this innovative approach. “We had talked about it for a while, but Covid has really accelerated the process.”
The firm’s current focus, though, is on deploying smart access solutions. “When you pull into our communities, for example, you have to enter into the garage and into the community, we want to make it as seamless as possible and as touchless as possible. From the moment a resident moves in, we can automate that and provide a much better customer experience.”
No longer is a person having to meet those individuals, Baker added. “We are starting to facilitate prospect touring virtually from a smart phone. We can get smarter with information and create a much better customer experience.”
Most of the firm’s mangers also noted that this virtual world has created a sense of urgency. “If individuals do a self-guided tour, they are incredibly motivated. They aren’t going to look for a few months like they have done in the past. We have been shocked by the continuation of being able to lease in this environment.”
When it comes to flexible space, Baker said that the company has been going through an exercise evaluating those little nooks and spaces in its units. “We look at what is the selling point on those spaces and how are they renting quicker than spaces that don’t have little things like a hidden desk you can work at etc. The remote working is changing a lot of our thinking so we will be looking at how do we create the most flexibility going forward to assist us with any functionally obsolescence, which has always been a concern, but this is a whole new ballgame.”
But what is changing the most in this environment? According to Baker, it is operations. “Communication with residents and employees is now more important than ever. Right now, it is all about acting with urgency and operations and allow our people closest to the people to make decisions in real time.”
Ginger Bryant, COO and CFO of Sares Regis Group, is also thinking about how their company can be more flexible with its space, but said there it is all about marketing and thinking about how to present themselves.
Bryant added that technology right now is about looking at how to augment what the company has always done, but doesn’t replace it. “It isn’t about unlocking hidden yield. Monitoring competitive sets and digging into that data is something we also spend more time on than 16 months ago.”