Multifamily owners and managers who were accustomed to hosting prospective renters for in-person tours with a leasing representative have had to pivot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As social distancing was taking over all aspects of our lives, they turned to technology that allows prospects to tour an apartment and the community via virtual tours.
These tours include 3D walking tours, live virtual tours via FaceTime or similar video applications, pre-recorded videos of apartment units and amenities, as well as self-guided tours.
Virtual tours offer many advantages:
- Convenience. Virtual and self-guided tours are easy to schedule. “Non-agent tours mean not having to sync schedules and viewing a property without distractions, even after business hours or during weekends,” Alexandra Ciuntu, a researcher for RENTCafé, told Multi-Housing News.
- More leads. These virtual walk-arounds allow you to offer tours even when your leasing office is closed or your on-site team is busy.
- Younger demographics. Younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to using technology and, in many cases, prefer touring a property on their own. According to RENTCafé, 52% of Gen Z renters say they prefer non-agent tour options, including self-guided and virtual tours.
But while this technology has become a must in multifamily marketing, the success of any type of virtual tour depends on doing it right. Here are some best practices.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Don’t forget that the ultimate goal of any type of virtual or self-guided tour is to convert the prospect.
“The biggest driver for conversions is engagement and follow up,” said Andre Sanchez, chief operating officer of Rently, a company that provides self-guided tour hardware and software to multifamily operators. Operators using Rently have a 50 percent to 80 percent conversion rate from self-guided tour to lease, Sanchez told MHN—but the better the communication, the higher the conversion rate.
Jamin Harkness, executive vice president of The Management Group, a third-party management company in Atlanta, uses RENTCafé Self-Guided Tours, a Yardi product that allows prospective renters to book tours, verifies their ID and provides a secure tour experience via smart locks and digital motion sensors. Harkness said his staff is in constant contact with the prospect every step of the way.
Prospects receive a personalized video prior to their tour, as well as a video afterward in which the leasing agent speaks directly to them. The videos are delivered by email, and the open rates are as high as 85 percent, Harkness told MHN. The unit is stocked with information and applications, as well as a personal thank-you note, offering operators an opportunity to market the community even though they are not present.
CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY
One of the advantages of self-guided tours is that prospects can tour at their own convenience, outside of regular business hours. But consider limiting the amount of time a prospective tenant can tour the unit—an hour or less should be enough.
“For self-guided tours, we learned to limit the window that prospects could get into the apartment,” said Mary Gwyn, chief innovator at Apartment Dynamics, a property management and consulting firm in High Point, N.C. “We found that it was more likely that people showed up if they had a specific window of time, like an hour, to tour.”
Gwyn said she includes closing tools in the apartment toured, such as a sign with information on how to apply. This way, prospects can complete an application right from their smartphone while still in the unit, she said.
“Everyone is doing the ‘wow” refrigerator with candy and water, or a visit gift,” Gwyn told MHN. “But it’s how they take the next step that’s really important.”
The strategies seem to be working. Gwyn said that at one of the properties she manages, Apartments of Westgrove in Raleigh, there were 21 tours via Rently between January 2021 and June 2021, resulting in five leases, a 24 percent conversion rate.
When following up after a self-guided tour, be sure to mention if your vacancy rate is particularly low or how quickly apartments are leasing. That, too, will create a sense of urgency in the prospective renter.
OFFER THE RIGHT TYPE OF TOUR
Many multifamily properties offer a variety of tours to prospective residents. But not every tour is right for every apartment community.
“Consider what type of property it is—whether it’s a high-rise building and the price point,” Laura Wentworth, a senior regional marketing manager for Greystar, told MHN. “Typically, higher price-point buildings are locked down for the safety of residents, so if you’re a guest you can’t get anywhere. A lot of buildings have chosen not to do self-guided tours because we weren’t sure the current residents would be comfortable with people walking through.”
At properties where self-guided tours won’t work, consider posting professional videos showcasing the apartments and amenities on the community’s website or YouTube. Alternatively, you can offer live tours by a leasing agent via FaceTime if the prospect prefers to tour virtually.
SHOWCASE COMMON AREAS
In most cases, prospective residents will want to check out the apartments to decide which model is best for them. But don’t ignore the rest of the community.
“Although the apartment unit itself is important on a virtual tour, what’s even more important are the grounds and common areas,” said Michael H. Zaransky, managing principal of MZ Capital Partners, a real estate investment firm in Northbrook, Ill. “Prospective renters—those that convert to leases —tend to spend more time exploring the grounds and common areas than they do the actual apartment.”
The focus on amenities makes sense, Zaransky said. “Tenants are used to looking at a lot of units, so they can quickly see how it lays out, whether it has a washer/dryer, and they’re done,” he noted. “But the common areas are different everywhere.”
At MZ’s British Woods Apartments and Townhomes community in Oak Ridge, Tenn., 65 percent of new leases executed over the past year resulted from virtual or remote tours, Zaransky said.
MAKE THE PROSPECT FEEL AT HOME
Whether you’re looking to rent an apartment or sell a home, it’s important for prospects to be able to envision themselves living there. To achieve that, send subliminal messages that the unit they tour is “home.”
“We make the tours comfortable for them so they can see themselves living here,” Harkness said. For example, his firm stocks the refrigerator so prospective renters can grab a coke and a bag of chips and sit down on the couch to have a snack. The leasing team also adds soap, toilet paper and towels in the models to encourage tourers to take more time in the unit.
“We want them to stay as long as they want,” Harkness explained. “We even invite them to bring their dogs, and we have dog treats in the unit because we’re very pet-friendly.”
Although, intuitively, it would seem that in-person tours provide the best opportunity to establish rapport and to actively “sell” to prospects, some apartment operators report that virtual tours are so successful that they experienced no difference in conversion rates when they started emphasizing virtual tours over in-person ones due to the pandemic.
“We were very worried that we weren’t going to have the conversions we needed, but it was actually the same—if not a little better—from when we were doing in-person tours,” said Greystar’s Wentworth. “More people seemed willing to rent sight-unseen.”