By: Tammy Yeargan, Director, Regional Marketing, Fogelman Properties
Throughout the pandemic, the multifamily industry swiftly adapted to the ever-changing needs of residents and prospects. Onsite teams shifted gears from in-person events and operations to an all-virtual experience. Though many cities have lifted COVID-related restrictions, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Multifamily teams are now challenged with balancing a hybrid world that combines in-person and online strategies. Residents and prospects now expect more frequent communication, tech-enabled conveniences and safety protocols than in pre-pandemic times. As we approach a post-COVID world, apartment operators should explore the following four ways to revamp the resident experience and re-engage safely.
The first step to reconnecting in physical spaces is to determine residents’ varying comfort levels for in-person events. Although more than 43% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated as of mid-June, some residents prefer to continue wearing masks and remain socially distanced while others feel completely safe in public spaces.
A valuable way to gather feedback is by surveying renters through a resident engagement platform such as Modern Message. Property management teams can create polls, ask questions, and start discussion threads about potential activities. Social media is another helpful way to encourage feedback. Social channels such as Facebook and Instagram are integral to connecting with residents, sharing updates, and encouraging comments or direct messages. Armed with resident insight, property managers can make informed programming decisions and create experiences that satisfy a hybrid virtual and social world.
To successfully reengage residents, multifamily operators must cater to all residents’ comfort levels and continue offering a mix of in-person and virtual events for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022. For in-person gatherings, outdoor events and activities are beneficial first steps toward reconnecting with residents and re-activating a gathering space. We’re seeing more communities enhance their outdoor entertainment areas with upgraded grills, fire pits and seating areas, as well as offer yard games such as Cornhole, giant Jenga, and chess.
Presenting creative solutions to combat challenging situations is another valuable way to show flexibility and support. We’re noticing communities industry-wide are offering alternative workspaces and reservable conference rooms to those who are working from home indefinitely. Some properties are turning to outdoor spaces for fitness classes and workout groups or restructuring their package pickup process to become more touchless.
Flexibility is also crucial for the leasing experience. Nine-to-five in-person tours are a thing of the past as more communities are striking a balance between traditional apartment touring and more accessible options. Virtual and self-guided tours have become a popular choice among prospects because of their convenience and safety. People enjoy touring communities on their own schedule, especially those who work atypical hours. We’ve also seen curbside leasing emerge as a trend and a viable option for new residents to complete applications and sign appropriate documents in their cars. Communities need to continue blending virtual and in-person touring and leasing opportunities to reach prospects far and wide.
Retention rates are returning to normal and matching statistics similar to 2018, 2019, and 2020. For leases that expired in the first quarter of 2021, 53.7% of households renewed, according to new data from RealPage.
In addition to revamping events, activities, and services, communities should create unique ways to reward residents for tenure. Teams should also create opportunities to connect with new residents and build loyalty throughout the lease considering the renewal process begins on move-in day.
To cultivate a connection to the area, we recommend supporting local businesses by rewarding residents with gift cards and discounts to nearby shops and restaurants. Treats, prizes, and acts of kindness go a long way, too. On-site teams can establish memorable moments for residents with cookie drop-offs and personalized cards to residents.
Little conveniences make the biggest difference. Towel service at pools or in fitness studios, coolers with bottled water, visits to the pool with cold treats for guests, and complimentary dog-washing days are bonuses that add a level of surprise and delight to the resident experience.
Property managers enjoyed an unparalleled opportunity to build customer loyalty during the pandemic with frequent communication, protocol transparency, and increased engagement. Looking ahead, the multifamily industry can anticipate strong retention rates provided on-site teams deliver on stellar customer experiences that residents have come to expect.
Renters’ new preferences for communication, convenience, and cleanliness are here to stay. More frequent cleaning and access to hand sanitizer stations are a necessity. We recommend that multifamily operators continue prioritizing cleaning by regularly sanitizing high-volume areas and maintaining adequate ventilation, according to the CDC’s guidelines. On-site teams should also stock common areas with sanitizer and antibacterial wipes to reduce resident anxiety and remain as safe as possible.
Communication is key, especially when reopening amenities and common areas. We recommend that communities provide frequent updates to residents on expectations regarding capacity, cleaning protocols, and social distancing requirements. It’s also crucial to inform residents when amenities are operating without restrictions so they’re aware and assume the risk.
Technology is more important than ever to providing a seamless and convenient living experience to renters. Apartment operators must leverage technology to interface with residents across various digital platforms including smartphone apps, social media channels, live chat, email, and text messages. Online portals are also a must-have for residents to pay rent, submit service requests, and view community updates and events.
Moving forward in a post-COVID world means continued resident dialogue and an open feedback loop with multifamily owners and operators. We’re in a new era with enhanced resident expectations so communities must prioritize frequent communication, advanced technology and unique opportunities for resident connection. To meet residents’ needs and remain competitive, owners and operators should consider refreshing events, service, and amenity offerings and hire talented, service-focused team members.
A major focus for multifamily will be events and activities since residents are itching for a renewed sense of community. We’ll see property managers continue to implement a mix of in-person and virtual offerings to cater to all comfort levels. We’ll also see communities revamp amenity spaces and services like faster internet, upgraded pools and gyms, and touchless entry and package pickup.
Fogelman Properties (Fogelman) is one of the country’s largest and most experienced privately-owned multifamily investment and property management companies. As a fully integrated company, Fogelman specializes in multifamily acquisitions, property management, construction management, and asset management. Founded in 1963, Fogelman operates 94 multifamily communities totaling more than 28,000 apartment homes spread across 10 states in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest. For more information about Fogelman, please visit www.fogelman.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About The Author:
Tammy joined Fogelman Properties in 2007, beginning her career in the multi-family vertical 25 years ago as a Leasing Professional with Gables Residential in Memphis, TN. Tammy held various positions, including Business Manager and Regional Training Manager. As Director of Marketing, Tammy is responsible for the marketing, branding, and leasing start-up of the company’s new construction properties. In addition to her dedication to Fogelman, Tammy is an active member of the Tennessee Apartment Association (TNAA), a local chapter of the National Apartment Association (NAA), serving as Chairman in 2019 and earned her National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) designation in 2019 as well. Additionally, she has served on the NAA marketing committee for the last four years.