CHICAGO—Trends and behavioral adjustments are being formed by the “post-Vax” renter. Apartment leasing teams need to be wary of this and adjust their tactics.
That’s especially true given that lead generation is up 110 percent since the pandemic.
Lisa Trosien, President, ApartmentExpert, explained this new mindset during the session, “Everything You Know About Leasing Is Wrong” during a session Wednesday at National Apartment Association’s Apartmentalize Conference in Chicago.
“Mentally, the world is still in a quarantine state of mind; we’re living in a post-vaccine time, not a post-COVID time,” Trosien said.
Prospects will be experiencing somatic markers, which means key events are bookmarked in their brains, she said. “They might see or hear something, or return to a place, and it triggers secondary emotions. Right now, ours (and your customers’) are tied to personal experiences that they or their friends and family have experienced. COVID-19. Be aware of this.”
In turn, leasing professionals must focus on making that personal connection, Trosien said. Or, as Meg Ryan said to Joe in the movie “You Got Mail,” remember that “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
A recent J Turner Research survey of more than 10,000 renters found that renters said “the staff cares about me” as the No. 1 reason for renewal at 55 percent. Also, when asked how much influence did the interactions with staff on your leasing decision? More than 75 percent indicated a 5 or higher on a 10-point scale.
Start With a Personal Connection
Leasing agents hired during the pandemic, who were trained to conduct remote-based leasing, are struggling to do well when conducting in-person tours and making a personal connection, she said.
As an opener, try: “Hi, my name is Lisa. I love helping people find a new home. I can’t wait to help you find yours!”
“Bond with the prospects,” Trosien said. “For example, the first question you could ask them is ‘Will you be working or teaching from home when you move in with us?’ If they are, tell them, ‘I’m doing that, too. And it’s really rough.’ This way, you immediately bond. They will think about you, “He/she ‘gets’ me. I’m moving in.’ “
Subtle tweaks in how questions are worded can make a big difference, she said. When asking residents what type of tour they want, say, “Which tour option is most comfortable for you?” Instead of, “We have these options. What do you want to do?”
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” method for successful apartment leasing, she said. “Yet, one leasing agent told me, ‘We’re offering one months’ free rent at all of our communities.’ When asked why, she said, ‘Because our company wants to do the same thing across our portfolio.’ No, that’s just dumb.”
Nonetheless, be mindful of renter preference trends. According to a survey by Zumper, the top amenities requests from the post-Vax renter are: outdoor space, storage, roof deck, balcony, garden – all scoring higher than 85 percent among prospects.
When Technology Takes Over
Trosien said that with so many people searching and leasing through their phones or laptops, renter prospects “know difference in your bricks-and-mortar and virtual leasing experience, so you need to make sure both are excellent. Don’t speed up your digital leasing process so much that you leave your prospects behind.”
She is seeing community websites offering self-guided tours only. “But you still have to help people and be available. When they sign up, send them a note, ‘We can’t wait to see you.’ ” Trosien said.
Pay attention on your auto-response emails. I signed up for one SGT and didn’t show up. Hours later, I received a “tell us what you thought” email from the community.
Artificial intelligence (AI) works, but has limitations. You can’t just set it and forget it. You have to monitor is constantly and tweak it. Don’t use it to get info from your prospect, and then later send them communications that asks them the same questions over again. People don’t like to answer the questions twice.
When conducting a virtual tour, you have to ask them, “Was there anything you didn’t like?” I know that’s awkward, but when you can’t see the prospect’s side-eye, folding arms or hear their sighing, you need to find out. New York brokers doing this found their closing ratios went way up once they started to do this.
Leads are up 110 percent and leasing teams have more than they can handle. Lead abandonment is at 50 percent or higher. “I’ve heard of busy leasing agents who turn away leads from prospects who are looking three months out,” Trosien said. “This is not smart. A survey showed that 32 percent of prospects are shopping between 3 to 12 months in advance.”