As multifamily owners are trying to adapt to a world in which tenants are increasingly expecting a high-tech leasing and property management experience, the question is what are some of the best practices for incorporating tech into a multifamily portfolio.
According to John Helm, a partner at RET Ventures, a venture capital firm focused primarily on multifamily and single-family rental technology, a successful leasing process starts with a robust CRM that allows prospective residents to make their own choices, from the way they want to communicate (text vs. email or phone) and the way they want to tour properties (self-guided vs. with a leasing agent). That’s why his firm has invested in Funnel Leasing, one of the first proptech firms to develop a CRM that is specifically designed for multifamily owners and operators.
“Expectations of speed, personalization and great customer service dominate every other service in our worlds, and multifamily is now no exception,” says Tyler Christiansen, CEO of Funnel Leasing, which works with 17 of the National Multifamily Housing Council’s (NMHC) Top 50 Owners.
With leasing staff overwhelmed with their various responsibilities, it can be difficult for them to follow up on leads, including answering questions about the property, scheduling and giving tours and guiding residents through the lease signing process and move-in.
“It’s not just about getting volume of leads, it’s about finding the right leads and responding to everyone in a very timely manner,” Christiansen says. “Multifamily owners and property management companies are struggling with an onslaught of unqualified leads and finding the worthwhile individuals to spend their time with.”
Technology tools can add capacity and amplify efforts so that fewer people can do more and be more effective, while also providing a simple, seamless and personalized experience for each renter, he notes. Funnel Leasing, for example, has built in AI and automations throughout the renter journey to ensure leasing agents can respond to all of their leads quickly and prioritize those that require a bit more of a personal touch.
Virtual leasing agents available 24-7
Historically, most multifamily owners and managers have done a very poor job responding to leads. As much as 40 percent of prospective residents don’t get a response to their initial queries, according to Minna Song, Minna Song, CEO of MeetElise.
The tech firm was one of the first to introduce conversational machine learning models and AI into the leasing process with its virtual leasing agent/assistant named Elise.
Song has a simple way to explain the value of a virtual leasing agent: “Elise doesn’t quit. She doesn’t take vacation. She’s always working, always available, always ready.”
Even better, people actually think Elise is human—she sometimes gets asked out on dates.
MeetElise fully integrates with the property management software to ensure the most updated pricing and availability are offered. It also logs all activity in the CRM guest card to ensure a seamless handoff to the leasing team when a prospect comes in for an appointment.
“We’re decreasing leasing agent workload by a factor of 10, saving two to three hours a day that they can spend doing something else,” Song says. “For our customers, we’re handling about 90 percent of messages that go back and forth between a prospective renter and the building.”
MeetElise serve about 30 percent of the top 75 apartment owners in the country, according to Song. Recently, multifamily operator Greystar added MeetElise’s AI leasing assistant to its teams at 10 communities totaling 2,407 units to provide 24/7 responses to prospects via email and SMS, schedule appointments and perform follow-up touches.
Over a three-month period, Greystar compared key metrics for the same period a year earlier and found that MeetElise’s AI is not only matching agent conversion rates, but significantly
improving them, according to Greystar’s Director of Innovation Brandon Chinn. Working together at Greystar’s properties, humans and AI were able to achieve a 112 percent increase in lead to tour conversion; a 317 percent increase in appointments, and more than two hours saved every day.
Virtual and self-guided tours become ubiquitous
Early in the pandemic, multifamily owners and operators scrambled to find ways to show units to prospective residents while maintaining social distancing. Before COVID-19, a number of owner/operators had been piloting self-guided tours, but leasing agents still handled the vast majority of tour requests. The pandemic propelled virtual tours and self-guided tours from uncommon to ubiquitous.
“As we adapted to the limitations of the pandemic, we were able to identify gaps and create opportunities utilizing a combination of various technologies,” says Jorge Velasquez, director of property management with multifamily investment firm Trion Properties. “Being able to efficiently offer multiple ways of touring the same units has been a boon to our leasing. Technology has facilitated the ability for people to schedule back-to-back tours that can be taken from the comfort of their homes.”
Likewise, both the leasing team and residents of Colorado-based multifamily REIT United Dominion Realty Trust (UDR) have embraced the company’s shift to a self-service model, according to comments made by Mike Lacy, senior vice president of property operations, during the firm’s second quarter earnings call. “Approximately 97 percent of year-to-date tours [were] self-guided or touch-less,” he said, adding that on-site UDR associates now spend five minutes on average with a prospective resident during a property tour versus 55 minutes spent previously.
However, there are some downsides to self-guided tours. With self-guided tours, the risk of fraud increases substantially, according to Brian Zrimsek, industry principal with MRI Software. Most important is verifying that the person booking a self-guided tour is who they say they are.
Through MRI’s Checkpoint ID tool, people interested in self-guided tours can use their mobile devices to pick their appointment times and verify their identify. The tech requires users to photograph the front and back of their driver’s license and their face. MRI uses AI to determine if the person on the ID is the person submitting the request to validate his or her identity.
For those who haven’t moved to a true set of online leasing tools, they’re still relying on decades-old processes to complete applications—digging up W-2s and paystubs, for example, and expecting their agents to determine fraudulent activity.
In the coming weeks, MRI Software plans to launch a new solution that validates income for prospective renters. This tech was developed to identify fake paystubs, which are shockingly easy to fabricate, Zrimsek notes.
With fake paystubs, renters can misrepresent their income and qualify for apartments they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. In doing so, the risk of non-payments and evictions increases. Income validation solution helps mitigate this risk to landlords.
For example, Funnel Leasing’s fintech integration allows renters to verify their income by logging into their financial institutions and provides a level of confidence for leasing agents to move forward with the leasing process. Additionally, the company’s latest set of online leasing tools speeds up the signing of leases to 10 minutes or less.
“We’ve invested heavily in technology in order to stay ahead of the curve—ultimately driving leasing and benefiting our bottom line,” Velasquez says. “Our team has access to streamlined, reliable technology to prevent any hiccups or delays in serving prospective and current residents.”