Senior Vice President, Investment Management at AppFolio, which provides cloud-based property management software solutions.
The innovative measures that property management professionals and leasing teams took to keep their businesses up and running last year were not created in a vacuum. Technology that could help with virtual video tours, rent collection, maintenance requests and more had all been present for some time and were slowly gaining traction in the industry; the pandemic merely accelerated their adoption.
It may be instinctual to think that because society is returning to “the way things were,” so are leasing operations. The truth is that certain technologies have proven themselves to offer significant benefits for leasing efficiency and workflows, boosting productivity, satisfaction (for leasing teams and prospective renters) and the bottom line. Here’s where I see the state of leasing and where I think it’s going.
Virtual Showings: Here To Stay
The limitations on face-to-face interactions due to the Covid-19 pandemic posed a challenge for the property management industry, especially in leasing operations. How can leasing agents show an apartment unit despite these challenges? This is where virtual showings came to the forefront, allowing operators to continue to do business while allowing renters to view new properties — safely.
Interestingly, it turns out that many prospective renters actually like having the option of virtual showings. Last year, my company conducted a survey via Pollfish and polled 1,000 renters in the United States on their expectations and experiences with leasing post-pandemic. Of those surveyed, 53% of renters said that post-pandemic, they would still want to view units virtually, and 80% of renters who signed a new lease during the pandemic and participated in a virtual showing said they were satisfied with it.
Virtual showings truly match the flexibility being adopted into every other aspect of everyday life. Many workers have hybrid schedules that have them in an office two to three days a week. Groceries can be delivered, picked up curbside or shopped for in-store. Gatherings are both in-person and online — sometimes half and half. These changes that may have been seen as temporary are now permanent parts of our lives. Leasing is no exception.
To ensure you’re getting the most out of your virtual showings, continue to offer them, even though in-person options are available. Residents will appreciate the flexibility. Don’t forget to pair the technology with high-quality audio and visuals, and make sure your internet connection is strong to provide prospective residents with the best experience.
Artificial Intelligence Meets Property Management
Confusion ensued when offices were shuttered in the early days of the lockdown, especially for leasing agents. Who would field those valuable incoming prospect calls? The data from our survey showed that 60% of prospective renters will move on if their inquiry doesn’t receive a response within 30 minutes.
An AI leasing assistant is a unique and effective solution to this challenge. This technology works 24/7 as part of the leasing team to provide instant responses via text messages and email to prospective renters. Advancements in natural language processing are helping these “machines” sound more and more human while they continue to learn from every interaction to optimize responses. Our survey showed that having an AI assistant “on staff” can increase rental applications by 75%, which leads to double the number of move-ins.
And the benefits are seen beyond the rent roll: In another survey of over 200 property managers that my company did, the top three benefits they saw in using AI-infused automation tools were: speeding up processes, standardizing processes and freeing up time to focus on higher-value work — all of which can have a major impact on employee satisfaction and retention, a major challenge that the property management industry faces.
But there’s no reason to pick just AI or qualified leasing agents. A sound property management strategy that effectively utilizes AI will be sure any tools they’ve set up are working in tandem with their staff to prove most effective, bringing the most benefit to their employees and residents. In addition, employees should be trained on any new AI solution brought into the business to understand why it’s being implemented and how it can help them.
The Future Is Bright
As artificial intelligence evolves, more and more property management tasks that do not necessarily require a human touch will be automated — think reporting, auditing, financial diagnostics, utility billing and entering bills.
On the leasing side, will technology replace humans? I don’t think so — the technology helps connect the prospect to a leasing assistant, who then begins nurturing the sales relationship — and neither do many property management leaders of today.
While technology maximizes the employee and resident experience, it’s important not to forget that the nature of property management is “face-to-face.” Technology is a supplemental — but very powerful — tool.