By Kortney Balas,
Senior Director of Technology and Business Process for JVM Realty
The multifamily industry has long had a reputation for being behind the technological curve. But reputations often don’t match reality, and that’s certainly the case here.
Just less than 10 years ago, many apartment companies were still typing leases on typewriters, keying in credit-card payments by hand and receiving leads via fax. But operators have made tremendous strides over the years in implementing technology that both improves their operations and enhances the resident experience. At the same time, however, areas for improvement certainly remain.
Below is an overview of multifamily’s technological advancements as well as the challenges it continues to face.
To a certain extent, operators’ tighter embrace of technology can be traced to the arrival of millennials into the rental market. This tech-savvy generation demands maximum convenience, and apartment companies have responded. These days, prospects and residents are commonly able to book appointments, sign and renew leases, pay rent and log service requests with just a few clicks on their smartphones.
Operators today know they must have mobile friendly websites and advertise on mobile apps to reach today’s prospects and residents. Leasing staffs are now regularly communicating with residents and prospects via text because that is the preferred method of communication for today’s renter.
In the years ahead, the prospect and resident experience is bound to take another leap forward, as smart apartment homes and the use of virtual reality in marketing are almost certain to enter the multifamily mainstream. In fact, some owner/operators already are piloting smart homes at certain communities.
As for their internal operations, many apartment operators have adopted sophisticated revenue- and lead-management solutions that use data science to powerfully enhance pricing and resident recruitment. Revenue-management tools take the emotion out of setting rents for new residents and allow operators to strategically adjust pricing based on supply and demand while still optimizing revenue in both strong and soft markets. Furthermore, this technology allows operators to further drive revenue by optimizing rental rates at renewal.
Lead-management software brings a wealth of analytics to resident recruitment. These solutions enable apartment management companies to see which advertising sources are delivering qualified leads and to adjust marketing spends accordingly. They also give operators the ability to identify any issues onsite teams may have with converting leads and to track exactly where leads are in the recruitment funnel. Now, forward-looking lead-management tools can engage in lead scoring, analyzing which leads have the greatest likelihood of conversion and allowing operators to focus their efforts on prospects who are most apt to sign on the dotted line.
Similarly, more and more multifamily companies, including JVM, are using data science tools to screen prospects and truly assess the risk they may pose. Screening technology not only accounts for credit scores and rent-to-income ratios, but it also examines bill payment history and can even determine if a prospect is more likely to pay her bills in the summer versus the winter.
Despite the numerous and significant advancements over the past decade, apartment operators still face a number of technological issues and challenges.
Generally speaking, property management software needs to be able to integrate better with ancillary products. This inability to “play nice” with other products can seriously hamper operators’ ability to get the most of their various business intelligence initiatives. It’s imperative that this change.
Also, technology vendors must provide 24/7 support. We’re a 24/7 industry, and we have to be able to get assistance if something is broken.
Finally, apartment employees have traditionally not been especially tech-savvy. That is changing, especially with the emergence of millennials and now Generation Z into the workforce, but onsite associates can still be resistant to the implementation of technologies such as revenue- and lead-management products. Operators need to stress how these various solutions will improve the performance of communities and complement associates, and that their skilled personal touch remains a vital part of serving prospects and keeping residents happy.
Looking forward, I am hopeful the industry and its vendors can address these challenges as multifamily’s technological sophistication continues to grow.