To help multifamily companies balance safety, resident satisfaction, company viability, and legal compliance as they begin to reopen communities, Grace Hill has launched a series of articles and tools that support the reopening response. Part one of the series introduced strategies for reducing liability risk. These strategies should be used to develop all reopening policies and practices.
Part 2 – Establishing New Leasing Practices
The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the initial shutdown in mid-March presented a challenge for traditional leasing practices. Virtual leasing was one of the most universally adopted solutions, as management companies hustled to get virtual content, access new technology, write new policies, and create training around virtual leasing. Some organizations were somewhat ready and quick to pivot early on, and others are still working out the details two months later.
For those who were able to implement effective new practices, the results have been pleasantly surprising. The market was receptive (willingness to lease virtually more than doubled, increasing from 16% last year to 30% as of April 2020 and 40% in May!). And many have reaped the reward potential of virtual leasing in the form of higher lead-to-lease conversions, shorter sales cycles, faster to market pre-leasing of occupied and under-construction units, and video collateral for more effective advertising.
Virtual Leasing Isn’t Automatically Effective
Virtual leasing could be ideal for relieving some of the pressure to fully reopen leasing offices right away; however, it doesn’t work automatically. The same survey data that revealed an upswing in customer willingness to lease virtually also shows some less positive statistics about customers’ actual virtual leasing experiences:
- 51% of customers said their virtual lease experience didn’t give them sufficient information to make a decision.
- 76% of customers said their virtual tour was self-guided.
- Only 14% of customers said they were “very satisfied” with their virtual leasing experience.
Virtual Leasing That Converts
For virtual leasing to convert to sales, every step of the process must build the trust, rapport, and confidence customers need to make a final decision. Because virtual leasing is a relatively new practice for most companies, new policies, training, and assessment are needed to ensure the following:
- Leasing agents are comfortable using virtual leasing technology
- Expectations regarding video tours and leasing presentations are understood
- Customers are receiving a compliant and consistent experience
Download our Reopening Multifamily: Strategic Response Workbook to establish your reopening leasing strategy and identify where new communication, technology, policies, and training are needed.
Adopting a Blended Approach for Reopening
For the foreseeable future, most companies will need to support a combination of in-person and virtual leasing. The focus must be on assessing the customer experience and ensuring your organization is making a positive impression regardless of the leasing approach.
- Are your customers having personalized, meaningful interactions with your onsite team members, rather than passive, generic exchanges?
- Is your company able to meet your customers where they are, meaning adapt to the situation they find themselves in?
- If your community is open, are they still able to accommodate leasing virtually for customers hesitant to come on-site?
- Are your onsite teams prepared to create a consistent, meaningful experience either way?
Assessing New Leasing Practices
Surveys and mystery shopping can help ensure a “yes” answer to the critical questions above. Virtual leasing provides an oversight challenge, especially with so many employees working remotely. Having virtual presentations mystery shopped will allow you to gain insight into whether residents are getting the experience you want them to have, and surveys will help you determine resident comfort and satisfaction with that experience.
Flexibility Is Key
There is still much uncertainty ahead, but the one certainty is that a one-size-fits-all solution will not be the best solution. Re-opening will vary by region, social distancing will vary by person, and the waves of increased COVID cases will happen at different times across different cities, potentially causing additional limited shutdowns. Your onsite teams will need to be able to adapt, and also provide a consistent experience, whether the customer is in person or only accessible virtually.
Follow the Series
Stay tuned for our next installment, Reopening Multifamily: Resuming Amenity & Maintenance Services.