Sight
Unseen

written by
Chris Ulep

The silver lining of
virtual property management.

Social distancing has had a profound effect on the real estate industry. As the country and economy moves forward with caution, we need to carry on with business even if we can’t meet face-to-face with prospects and residents.

Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to manage apartments remotely, especially if you move your entire workload to the cloud. An all-in-one property management software will help you get started with minimal fuss.

Software can help keep your website up to date, ensure potential residents can tour your properties (even during social distancing), create electronic leases, automate rent collection, and give your vendors and maintenance staff the tools they need to work independently and communicate with your office.

Put Your Websites to Work
According to the 2020 National Multifamily Housing Counsil/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report, 80% of residential prospects will visit a property management website while apartment hunting.

When prospects visit your website, you need to give them what they’re looking for
or they’re going to look somewhere else. The website needs to look professional, be updated with the latest property photos and descriptions, and provide accurate contact information for your office.

Now, if this were the year 2008, we could probably stop the conversation there.
But given the near ubiquity of smartphones, it’s vital for real estate professionals
to recognize how people are accessing their content. The data paints the picture: 89% use a desktop computer while 83% use a phone. That means that most people are revisiting the same property management websites on different devices. So
if they like what you’re offering, they’ll keep coming back. However, if your website isn’t mobile friendly, you will lose the huge swath of the population that’s browsing via smartphone.

There are also certain marketing techniques you can use to increase response rates on your website. One is called nudge marketing. Nudge marketing is exactly what it sounds like, giving visitors to your site a little automated nudge to take action.

It’s best to use this strategy on the part or parts of your site where people spend the most time. For instance, if you know that your floor plans are where prospects spend most of their time, a nudge might be a popup window that appears after a few seconds to help the prospect schedule a tour or get in touch with you. To do this, the software powering your site needs to be equipped with the functionality to implement nudge marketing.

If nothing else, your website needs to show people what it’s like to live in your community and give them a good reason to apply. You should include a description of the neighborhood, stand-out amenities, social clubs and activities held at or organized by the property, and positive property reviews from current and former residents.

The more informed potential residents are, the better your chances are of filling vacancies with residents who will be a great fit in your properties.

Offer Virtual and Self-Guided Tours
Virtual tours are an easy way to showcase your properties to as many people as possible with as little work as possible. However, there are a few things to learn before getting started.

A virtual tour can be held live or pre-recorded and uploaded online. Don’t look at it as a replacement for high-quality photos and descriptions, but as an addition to those assets. If someone signs up for a tour, you can assume they have a high level of interest in the property—these are your most valuable prospects.

Even if you don’t have videos on your website, it’s easy to host a live virtual tour. All you need is a smartphone and a free video service such as Facebook Live, Skype or FaceTime. Using these services, videos can be filmed and even recorded for free. If you use Facebook, your tour can be held live in front of many people and will be easy to save for future prospects to view.

On the other hand, platforms like FaceTime and Skype offer a personalized, one-on-one experience. So, which style of virtual showing should you choose? Individual or group? It’s a good question. Try both and see what works better for your community.

In addition to virtual tours, self-guided tours have become very popular, especially in the residential market. These allow prospects to see the property at a time of their choosing, even if it falls outside of your normal office hours. This lets the prospect pick their own tour times and dates. The downside is that you aren’t there in-person to answer questions, collect their information, get to know them, provide an application, etc. Nonetheless, self-guided tours give prospects the freedom to explore a unit even with social distancing mandates in effect. And of course, you can answer questions from
a remote location.

The simplest way to offer self-guided tours is to put the key in a lockbox and give prospects the code. More advanced technology offers built-in ID verification, smart locks for secure entry at a specific time and smart thermostats/lights so your remote staff can optimize property settings during the tour.

Take Leasing Online
Online leasing is one of the fastest and easiest ways to turn a prospect into a renter. E-signatures let property managers and residents sign and renew leases, sight unseen. However, if you can’t meet a renter, whether due to social distancing or simply because they’re moving in from another area, how do you know they are who they say they are?

The answer is with ID verification technology. This sophisticated tool can authenticate a prospect just by scanning their driver’s license and other identification documents. It can even scan selfies, comparing that scan to submitted ID documents and other identifying information.

Remote Payments, Communication and Maintenance Requests
Once a new resident is moved in, it’s important to give them access to online portals to pay rent, request maintenance and communicate with your office. These portals allow you to manage properties remotely, and they make payments and communications easy for you and your residents. For instance, you may want to send a notification to residents informing them that you can only accept emergency maintenance requests until social distancing requirements have been lifted. However, with the economic challenges we're all facing today, accurate accounting and tracking of deferred payments is more important than ever. Look for this feature in any software you explore.

Letting residents submit maintenance requests electronically via an app or portal can give them increased peace of mind. It allows them to send photos and a description of the problem, which in turn makes it easy for you or your maintenance staff to find the right solution. Plus, when both your office and residents can track the progress of a work order online, as they can with a maintenance app, everybody wins.

Protect Vendors and Maintenance Staff
Vendor communication and management tools are just as important as resident tools. You want to send electronic notifications and payments to vendors whenever possible. A fully integrated system enables you to link a contractor to a maintenance request, communicate with that vendor and pay them, all from within your system and without face-to-face interactions.

Likewise, maintenance apps for techs ensure that you can get vital work done at your properties without having to physically meet with anyone at the office. Vendor, maintenance and even resident apps retain permanent records of all communications so you can keep important financial documents in one system.

Chris Ulep is the vice president at Yardi. He focuses on product development and marketing. He can be reached at sales@yardi.com.