Written by Paul Willis, LinnellTaylor Marketing
A second novel coronavirus surge currently sweeps the land. Herd immunity remains at least months off. Apartment building vacancies continue climbing. And according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, rent collections have fallen in November 2020 versus their levels of both last month and November 2019.
Given these trends, apartment building owners and operators depend ever more on technology to help ensure occupancy levels remain as high as possible.
Among critical ways technological developments are aiding that effort is through advancements in apartment self touring. Traditionally, apartment tours required leasing agents stroll through apartments and building common areas with prospective residents, a level of togetherness frowned upon in the COVID era.
Self touring, a phenomenon that had steadily earned adherents before the pandemic, has now become absolutely essential to landlords’ bottom lines.
“With social distancing set to remain a requirement for several more months, large landlords have hundreds of units turning, and it’s essential for them to be able to lease them out in a way that conforms with current public health guidelines,” says John Helm, partner at venture capital firm RET Ventures, an investor in self touring tech.
“Fortunately, they’ve been able to piece together the various parts of the self-touring puzzle – smart locks, ID verification and prospect management – to create a holistic solution enabling leasing teams to show apartments and lease units. With fewer residents able to pay their full rents during the downturn, landlords have even greater incentive to reduce vacancies and increase revenues, so self touring has been a real godsend in this environment.”
From access control to identity verification and apartment building self navigation, obstacles lurk around every bend when it comes to self touring.
Access to both the building and to the vacant apartment remains among the most daunting of those hurdles. Many multifamily and single-family REITs have found a solution by equipping apartments and other building areas with enterprise-grade smart lock platforms. These platforms, among them SmartRent, generate temporary access codes letting prospects open specific apartment building doors to which they’re granted access. These can include doors to vacant units, amenity suites and other common areas.
Verifying prospective residents’ identities represents another self-touring challenge to be overcome. An increasing number of apartment building owners and operators have turned to technology to surmount this obstacle as well. CheckpointID, which scans driver’s licenses and selfies to vet identities before granting access, is among the technology tools available to them.
Once self-touring renters have had their identities verified and gained access, they still must navigate through prospective apartment buildings to ensure they gain enough of a first-hand look to make informed renting decisions. In large rental buildings, multiple common areas on different floors, along with hundreds of individual residences, can pose a directional challenge to those traversing the property unguided for the first time. Property-level interior mapping software provided by companies like Engrain can work like an interior-level kind of Google Maps, helping shepherd the newbie to his or her desired destination within the multifamily community.
Property managers using self touring have also benefitted from prospect management platforms. Tech tools like Funnel ease the difficulty that COVID-era remote leasing teams have endured managing leads and allowing prospects to schedule tours across properties. Funnel’s capabilities actually extend to executing leases online. That feat can help ensure the leasing process remains 100% remote from start to finish.
“The lockdown has uprooted many social and business processes, but for many of our limited partners – who include some of the largest multifamily REITs and private owners and managers – technology investments have played a tremendous role in keeping operations going,” Helm says. “In addition to self touring, landlords are also using tech tools for things like collecting rent, residential communications and coordinating maintenance requests, and have thereby been able to provide residents with the best possible living experience, even under these trying circumstances.”