It’s no secret that apartment operators are moving toward more of a self-service model to keep pace with an increasingly digital world. This trend was already underway before the pandemic made it even more of a necessity.
But as the industry gradually rolls out more and more options that enable prospects to create their living experience on their own terms, a significant foundational deficiency has emerged. Despite an effort to provide the ultimate self-service experience, many communities offer static, poorly designed sitemaps—and sometimes none at all.
Setting expectations with contextual location awareness
Sitemaps are a must for prospects to truly envision themselves in the space. They not only provide crucial apartment home details, but also display context with regard to where that particular home sits within the community. For the increasing number of sight-unseen leasers, knowing where the home is in relation to the pool, fitness center and storage areas can serve as a tiebreaking factor.
“It’s been really nice for the user experience on the website and for prospects to understand their placement within the building, where their view is and how the light is going to work,” said Molly Sleeper, senior marketing manager for Blanton Turner. “It just sets expectations from the beginning, and they know exactly what they’re getting and where they’re located. It’s not as if they thought they had a corner unit because of the way the floor plan looked, but then realize they don’t have one.”
“It’s been really nice for the user experience on the website and for prospects to understand their placement within the building... It just sets expectations from the beginning, and they know exactly what they’re getting and where they’re located."
Senior Marketing Manager, Blanton Turner
Enhancing the journey with virtually-acquired location details
Sleeper notes that Blanton Turner, a Seattle-based property management firm, uses Engrain’s SightMap to enable prospects to acquire advanced location details from afar. But while Blanton Turner is on the cutting edge, not all operators are displaying maps innovative enough to genuinely enhance the prospect journey.
Unfortunately, the map deficiency is also hindering the ability for property teams to implement safe and secure self-guided tours. While mostly regarded as a tool to help prospects glean property details from home, the interactive maps can be passed along to self-touring prospects to help them navigate the community. Onsite maintenance teams can also utilize the maps at larger communities to increase the efficiency of service requests.
Additionally, property teams can use the data generated from sitemaps to make business decisions. Previously unavailable insights, such as uncovering that homes on a certain side of the community are slower to lease or that certain floor plans have become increasingly popular among renters, allow greater context for pricing.
“Having those insights into the units that aren’t renting—and why—allows us to get ahead of the curve in pricing and making sure we’re marketing those units correctly,” Sleeper said. “It allows us to proactively push concessions if we need to instead of looking back and wondering what happened. We’re able to make more informed decisions through it.”
Leasing industry lagging in Business Intelligence partly due to outdated mapping technology
Sleeper believes that some of the sitemaps offered by the industry “already feel outdated,” which is part of the reason why a significant mapping deficiency remains in the industry.
“The user experience isn’t there,” she said, noting it took some diligence to find a mapping solution her team is happy with. “It’s not intuitive for people to always find what they’re looking for.”
In addition to the benefits for prospects and onsite teams, intuitive sitemaps provide numerous auxiliary capabilities. Delivery drivers—and more importantly, first responders—can utilize sitemaps to quickly navigate the specifics of a community and reach their destination more rapidly. While it might be simply to find the community itself, reaching a particular unit at a property with multiple buildings is much more difficult.
At face value, sitemaps are simply interactive maps. But with their myriad capabilities, properties should view them for what they really are—a business intelligence tool. Until they become widespread in the multifamily sector, the industry is leaving something on the table.
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Written by Paul Willis, The Multifamily Journal