There was a time not long ago when the apartment industry couldn’t stop talking about “big data” and “business intelligence.” These phrases sounded great during team meetings, but were also ones that often could not be fully explained or quantified by the operations team.
Recent advancements have been made—keyed by mapping technology—that are not only uncovering critical, cost-saving and time-saving capabilities, but are bringing greater comprehension to the onsite team.
An industry sometimes unfairly labeled as one that is “behind” technologically, it is one that has struggled with “data hygiene,” Engrain’s Founder & CEO Brent Steiner explains. Property management professionals “see their data as truth, but still, it’s not always accurate.”
With spreadsheets and manual inputting, there can be typos and things can become lost in translation when looking at a wall of numbers, he says. Crystal Martin, Managing Director, Asset Management, Leon Capital Group, says she’s happily moved on from the industry’s long-standing approach of using push-pins in maps hung on office walls and red-green-yellow coded Excel documents to track velocity and a community’s many other trends and numbers.
“That just takes too long,” Martin says. “Now, I’m doing in 20 minutes what used to take over an hour because the information I’m looking at is easier to understand and act on.”
Seeing the Value in Visuals
Martin is using Asset Intelligence, a technology provided by Engrain and built on Unit Map, an interactive mapping API that acts as a foundation for other property technology. Unit Map is made available at no charge to any property management company that wants to use it for their own dashboards or within their other vendors’ products.
Asset Intelligence places data about pricing, apartment units, floor plans and overall floors onto a visual map that helps leasing staff and prospective residents get a visual presentation of data and important trends. It’s designed to make the task more intuitive, easily understood and efficient.
Steiner says humans can interpret information 60,000 times more easily when displayed in images compared to having to read words. He says apartment companies use dashboards to review data, but they don’t always put a lot of thought into what the dashboards display and how that information is presented.
No Cost to Use
There’s no cost to apartment companies or software providers to use Unit Map. Its APIs work as features in any software application. Engrain is currently working with more than 50 multifamily PropTech companies to integrate maps into ILS listings, self-guided touring products and many other uses.
“It’s open technology,” Steiner says. “We think that all property management software should provide data through a map. When more use Unit Map, it helps to push the entire industry forward.”
Steiner says to think of Unit Map like an apartment company views Google Maps. They include Google Maps in their listings as technology that is free to use. He says more and more third-party companies are taking advantage of its benefits.
“Building this technology on a proprietary basis is a difficult problem to solve. The time and cost to set up an open platform is not easy. We’ve done it, and we’re making it available to the industry. Having it in one format can bring greater efficiency to all.”
Founder & CEO, Engrain
Giving Location and Direction to Tours
Steiner says Unit Map improves how virtual tours, video and tour paths are presented. All of a community’s content is visible at the unit, room or suite level. It also is the only property map using location awareness, Steiner says. Using GPS technology, it helps users navigate a property via a familiar “blue dot.” Erin McCormick, Executive Vice President, Marketing, for Tour24, says Unit Map is a complement to Tour24’s interactive tour and provides additional wayfinding guidance for a seamless user experience. “One of the map’s most valuable characteristics is its “blue dot” wayfinding feature,” McCormick said. “It’s easy to see and the color-coded “tour stops,” search functionality, and pop-up content at each tour stop are also extremely helpful.” Steiner says communities can increase leasing velocity by allowing prospects to explore real-time pricing, availability, images, virtual tours and more, all within one central area. It paints a more complete picture of the community and gives prospects a better sense of exactly where they’d live. Engrain has deployed more than 5,000 SightMaps across more than 200 website providers, and the product can be integrated with all existing leasing content and used on any property website.
Why Is It So Tough to Lease the Second Floor?
Asset Intelligence, which incorporates the Unit Map foundation, can increase leasing conversions and impact business decisions faster. Martin said the technology helped her benefit from one of the industry’s toughest challenges: Leasing the second floor of a three-story apartment community.
“We had a three-story, 415-unit property in Richardson, Texas, about 1.5 years ago that for some reason was getting great demand and absorption for its second floor,” Martin says.
“Typically, renters are most interested in the top floor (they don’t want anyone above them) or the bottom floor for easier entrance. I’d not seen that great of interest in the second floor before. We weren’t sure why, but we were happy to be able to raise rents accordingly. We probably would not have discovered this without the mapping tool. The tool helped us avoid leaving money on the table. Without it, we probably would never even consider raising rents on the second floor; that’s usually the toughest one to fill.”
Asset Intelligence has helped Leon Capital to identify units where they were able to raise rents by 32 cents per square foot.
Based in Richardson, Texas, Leon Capital is a merchant builder with properties in North Carolina and Arizona as well. It has 5,000 apartment homes in its pipeline.
“We build, then we do a lease-up as fast as we can,” Martin says. “We try to raise rents and sell the property. Sales are brisk lately. We’ve had five sales in the past 45 days.”
“Asset Intelligence lays it all out for you. What floor plans are selling? What views? What floors? You can adjust your rents up and down based on that information. It makes a big impact on pricing decisions.”
Martin also has used the technology to study price points for rented amenities, such as detached garages. She says, typically, she charges $100 per month for them, “but they are hot right now. You have to look at how they are pricing and see what more you can get.”
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Written by Paul Bergeron, GlobeSt