Multifamily owners, operators and vendors from around the world gathered in San Diego, California, for the 2018 National Apartment Association (NAA) Apartmentalize Conference on June 13-16. Much of the focus this year was on the latest trends and innovations in real estate technology.
Not only did we have the opportunity to catch up with customers, peers, partners and friends, but we also got to hear the latest thought leadership from a seemingly endless stream of session speakers and panelists on topics ranging from how AI will transform leasing in the future to the importance of technology in revenue management. Here are 5 top takeaways for industry professionals from our experiences at NAA Apartmentalize:
1. From taboo to to-do; self-guided touring is ready for prime time.
Anyone who has ever rented an apartment knows how important the touring process is. Pictures and video just don’t do an adequate job of fully conveying the feel of a space. Floorplans show layouts from a top down or 3D rendered angle that is not relatable to most people. While we believe that interactive apartment maps significantly bridge this gap, most renters really want to understand what it’s like to be standing in the kitchen, living room or bedroom. In most cases, the live property tour is still a key element of the renter’s journey.
There has been a lot of speculation over the years about how technologies like Virtual Reality and AI might revolutionize how apartments are toured and leased in the future. There is no doubt that they will, but today’s technology is ready and able to address the cultural shift that has occurred across other consumer industries from retail to automotive—the desire to research, evaluate and purchase on your own without interacting with a sales or leasing representative.
A topic of much debate among industry leadership, self-guided touring in multifamily is a hot potato with many embracing the idea, while others believing it will have a negative impact on renter engagement and customer relationships, and devalues on-site teams.
While this has been a controversial topic among multifamily operators, the benefits are clear; with self-guided tours apartment managers can accommodate many more tours per day, significantly reduce staff time, optimize and improve conversion rate—all leading to increased NOI.
2. Location is still king, micro-location is queen.
We all know it, this is after all a real estate industry, and it’s all about location, location, location. It seems obvious to say, but location is the single most important factor in a renter’s decision to live somewhere. If they got a new job in Dallas, they clearly are not going to be looking for apartments in Austin. That is an absurd example of course, but more realistically, if they got a job in Dallas they are most likely targeting a very specific neighborhood and their search will be confined to that location.
Location can be a factor for several different reasons for renters. Will their new apartment be close to their office? Does the location have a fun and exciting atmosphere and high walking score? Do their family and friends live close by? Whatever their reason may be, location is the reason a renter found your property in the first place because it was near their needs. But now what?
From talking to property managers at Apartmentalize, it was clear that they know unit-location is among the most important factors a prospective renter evaluates when searching online for an apartment, and in many cases the last piece of information keeping them from applying online.
This is no surprise to those of us here at Engrain, from our history providing digital marketing and sales tools to leasing teams across the country, we knew most property websites weren’t converting leads because of the lack of ability to show micro-location and that is why we created SightMap.
The big buzz of the show as it related to location was the announcement that Engrain would be expanding the SightMap marketplace. The product will now feature a free version of the SightMap application and free interactive maps for customers and an all new syndication service allowing customers the opportunity to integrate property maps with the leading ILS sites like Apartments.com, Zillow and RentPath, and call center providers.
3. Gen Z aren’t coming—they’re already here.
Just when multifamily marketers thought they had Millennials figured out, here comes Gen Z, a generation that is global, social, visual and technological. They are the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation ever. Generation Z are the first true digital natives, they view online interaction to be as real and meaningful as in-person connections (in fact, in many cases, preferred).
While many have said of Millennials that they have an air of entitlement and an expectation of instant gratification without effort, Gen Z are very different, they are the children of Gen X and are independent, authentic and believe in transparency.
RedPeak’s Faith Aids says of Gen Z:
“You must be willing to engage in two-way dialogue, if your brand is not accessible and authentic they will move on”.
Aids adds that, “When they have a need, they expect a response immediately, but they are much more empathetic and don’t expect a resolution immediately. This is how they were raised and those are the things that Gen Z will expect from brands.”
Regardless of the labels we apply to them, multifamily marketers are now challenged to find new ways to engage this unique audience. Is the answer Snapchat marketing? Is email dead? Forget email—is Facebook dead? What are the channels and strategies needed to reach and engage a generation that consumes information at a rate not yet witnessed in the modern era?
There seem to be more questions than answers at the moment, but as with all previous generations, property marketing teams and the technology they use will adapt. With that said, whatever strategies, campaigns, tools or tactics we create, we must recognize the need to be self-aware and realistic. As one Gen Z’er was overheard saying on the expo floor, “If you’re over 40 and you think your new idea is a really good Gen Z idea, you are probably wrong.”
4. Lightbulb moments for asset managers, BI in multifamily flips the switch.
Everyone on the same page, all the time—it’s a tall order, but one that modern Business Intelligence solutions are ready to live up to.
Given that Engrain’s most innovative new product is our Business Intelligence solution, SightMap Asset Intelligence, this is a trend we’ve seen emerging over the last several years and it is continuing to gain momentum. We’ve seen multifamily organizations like Trammell Crow Residential, LMC, UDR, Shea Apartments, Ovation and our other customers jump on board this technology trend and significantly transform the way they manage and optimize their businesses.
“SightMap Asset Intelligence helps us to quickly analyze our properties’ performance. The flexibility of the tool gives us the advanced filtering capabilities we need to analyze our assets and make better-informed decisions.”
–Wendy White, Ovation
While White and many others have praised the real-time decision making capability of multifamily BI solutions being a main benefit, and it’s true, we believe that having enterprise-wide access to this data that has previously been locked up in spreadsheet inside organizational silos will have an even greater impact.
Active asset managers on both the owner and operator side can now see a single version of the truth thanks to the advancement of multifamily Business Intelligence solutions.
5. Get smart. Smart home technology has found it’s (or, IoT’s) groove in apartment living.
In the 12-months from the last NAA Conference in Atlanta to today, there has been a boom in the home automation industry, and multifamily smart living is at the center of it. The number of players in the space seems to have quadrupled in just this short amount of time. There are the leaders like Zego, IOTAS and Vivint but they are followed by a flood of new companies offering smart home technology solutions for both new construction and retrofit solutions for older properties. These vendors bring to the table a diverse set of offerings that span both hardware and software products for residents, property managers and facilities teams.
These devices allow tenants to monitor and regulate their lighting, heating and cooling, control access to their unit, manage their entertainment, even control their appliances. Implementation and installations are happening at a rapid rate, but some owners and operators are slow to make investments because they feel that technology changes so rapidly. But, the message is clear—residents want greater command over their environments and properties that give it to them are creating competitive differentiation.
Some advice to owners from Zego’s CEO, Adam Blake, is to keep it simple. He says:
“The biggest thing property managers care about with technology is keeping things simple, they want to make sure smart home equipment will require very little ongoing maintenance from them.”
The key to undertaking a large scale smart living or home automation project is understanding all the solutions available and the many hardware and software options you’ll have decide on. Your portfolio’s unique needs are incredibly important and require that your team does its due diligence in scoping out the project and engaging the right vendors.
The renter demand for smart living is real and it is expected to grow exponentially. It will be interesting to see how much the market expands over the next 12 months when we meet again for NAA Apartmentalize in Denver.