Tours Down Due to COVID-19? Offer Multiple Tour Options

 
 
 
In-person tours of multifamily properties have likely slowed to a trickle or stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, that doesn’t mean leasing has to grind to a halt. Now is the time to beef up your virtual tour options and use live video, pre-recorded and self-guided tours to your advantage. 
 
Virtual tours can create additional complexity for leasing teams in communicating options, scheduling and managing the process in an easy and professional manner. But, virtual tours may be the best way to lease units during these historic times of social distancing, stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place mandates.
 
 
Tour Via Technology
 
You need to update your website now to outline your property’s current visit protocol and touring solutions. That way prospects don’t show up if you have stopped giving in-person tours. Make it clear what options are currently available for those planning their next move.
 
If you haven’t implemented video tours, now’s the time to start. 
 
“I think, from the sales team’s standpoint, video tours are hugely beneficial,” says Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing at Mission Rock Residential, which oversees more than 105 apartment communities across the U.S.
 
Eppsteiner calls the virtual tours on Mission Rock’s property websites “a game changer” for leasing teams, because consultants can digitally provide the highest quality customer service; however, she advises it takes a top-notch leasing agent to maximize the marketing impact of the videos.
 
“When you utilize and leverage a virtual tour in the sales process, you h……

Why This Downturn is Different for Multifamily

I often think of the economy as a metaphorical set of pipes with money (the “water”) flowing through them. Recessions typically happen when the pipes “clog,” causing the water to flow well below its normal pressure. Governments have to respond, taking actions to “unclog” those pipes to get the “water” flowing again.
But the recession I believe we’ve already entered is very different in kind, not just degree. The coronavirus pandemic has forced large sectors of our economy to close down, severely restricting consumption and economic activity. This time, the “pump” has broken. It may not matter how much anyone tries to unclog the pipes, as little will flow until the pump starts working again.
This metaphor has some significant ramifications for what we’ll experience over the next few months (yes, months, not weeks). It feels like we will have a two-stage recession:

Stage 1 will be unlike anything we’ve ever encountered before. This is the current stage, where the pump is frozen. Many industries will experience an inability to stimulate demand no matter what they do. For example, Las Vegas casinos are not allowed to do any business and thus can’t even make an offer. Airlines can cut prices to practically zero, yet very few people will fly. Normal pricing and revenue management actions like lowering the price to boost occupancy simply won’t work the way they typically might.
Stage 2 will be more like a typical recession, where weak demand meets excess capacity until supply and demand rebalance. Government stimulus ……

20 for ‘20 – What a Difference a Year Makes!

As many of you will already be aware, we recently published the 2020 edition of our 20 for ’20 white paper.  Just as we did a year ago, we sat down with another 20 senior executives to get their perspectives on the outlook for the immediate future. Of course, the interviews took place before the coronavirus disrupted our 2020 plans, but the findings tell us a lot about what companies are working on from a technology perspective. As we shall summarize in this post, the industry has experienced a significant year over year shift. 
In our new 2020 paper, we have identified a new set of trends and observations about current projects and priorities, some of which we will highlight on this blog in the coming weeks. But below, we will recap the five big findings from last year and see what’s changed in the interim.
1. No more “One Big Project” dynamic
A year ago, we were struck by the number of respondents (a half) who reported having spent 2018 focusing on a single project that had dominated their year, effectively consuming all IT delivery capacity other than business as usual. Seven of the ten had been PMS switches or major upgrades, in itself an anomaly.
In this year’s research, nobody reported the dominance of a single project. In fact, we got a much stronger impression of a group of operators who were “back on offense” in 2019, adding capabilities to their technology platforms. That 70% of respondents reported increased tech spending ……

A Bump in the Road for Short-Term Rentals

A couple of weeks ago, before coronavirus took over our attention, we learned some potentially important news about the short-term rental (STR) sector. The story was about Airbnb-backed Lyric’s decision to reduce its workforce by 20% as part of a “downsizing and restructuring.” We were disappointed to see a rising star in our industry falter on its growth path, but encouraged by the decisiveness of their action and hope that it will leave the company in better shape to capitalize on the opportunity that we know it has.  
The decision may tell us a couple of things about the state of STRs in the multifamily industry. Remember, Lyric was one of several STR platforms funded during a heady 18-month period from 2018 to 2019. With the staggering growth of Airbnb, the might of Booking.com (especially in Europe), and Expedia’s commitment to becoming a force in this space, the STR industry and market have been thoroughly validated. So what’s holding back the organizations who are trying, like Lyric, to define the STR business model for multifamily?
Follow the Occupancy Trend
Before I go on, I should share that we at D2 Demand have long been proponents of STRs for multifamily operators. To us, they are another part of the demand mix for a multifamily community, and it is easy to imagine the kinds of demand problems that they readily solve. For example, we have previously spoken about the all-too-familiar end-of-year situation where shortfalls in occupancy cannot easily be filled with conventional long-term leases. The gap in ……

Coronavirus: Catalyst or Catastrophe?

I’m writing this sitting on an airplane wondering whether this week will be the last week I travel for quite a while. As the level of fear (dare I say panic) continues to rise, we’re bombarded with exhortations to wash our hands frequently (easy to do), stop touching our face (virtually impossible, just try to do so for even 15 minutes) and dispense with handshakes, hugs and even standing within 6 feet of one another. While I keep telling myself (and I fervently believe) “This, too, shall pass,” I can’t help feeling a sense of anxiety driven by the uncertainty of it all.
To relax, I open up the latest edition of The Economist and as I read along, I come upon the “Schumpeter” column (Economist readers will recognize that as the regular column in the Business section).
Titled “Plan V,” the teaser copy says, “Covid-19 is foisting change on business. Some of it may be for the better.” One of the key elements of the article is about how companies are responding to the virus risk by encouraging (often requiring) that associates telecommute, in many cases as a “test” for contingency plans and in some cases (e.g. Seattle) as a strategy for arresting the pace of new cases. This dovetails with a story I heard on NPR driving to the airport discussing the same thing.
Both NPR and The Economist make the argument that this could be an unexpected, but possibly positive, long-term impact from the virus. The latter points out that British and American firms pay on aver……

The Coming Dichotomy of Multifamily Leasing

Where I come from (the UK), the English language is peppered with curious variations. One of the strangest is the perpetual controversy over the pronunciation of the word “scone.” Everybody pronounces the vowel either as “own” or “on.” Which side of the divide that people fall on follows no clear regional or socio-economic pattern. People adopt one pronunciation or the other and never change thereafter. And everybody is convinced that people who pronounce it the other way are entirely wrong to do so.
Occasionally we find strongly opposing views on the same issue in the same industry that are more consequential than the pronunciation of names of baked goods. Just such a dichotomy appears to be emerging in the arena of multifamily leasing, based on a series of recent conversations with a few different clients over the last couple of weeks.
A Fork In The Road
Here are the two perspectives. One school of thought sees the untapped potential of high-quality telephone interactions as an important lever in improving leasing performance. The interaction with a well-trained associate who has detailed product knowledge and familiarity with the local market is believed to increase the likelihood of a tour. It is also believed to deliver a quality prospect who is ready for the leasing conversation when the time comes to tour the property.
The opposing view, which is itself relatively new in the industry, is that contact prior to the tour can increasingly be handled by technology, rather than people. With AI ……

What Multifamily Gets Wrong About Renovation Pricing

(This is the third blog in our current series on amenity pricing)
It’s a classic conversation that will be familiar to every revenue manager who has ever had rehab units in their portfolio:
Property Manager: “I need to lower my one-bedroom prices”
Revenue Manager: “Ok. What, exactly, makes you feel that way?
Property Manager: “I’ve got a few units that have been sitting vacant too long”
Revenue Manager: “Anything those units share in common?
Property Manager: “Yeah, they’re the units we’re doing the rehab on.
Revenue Manager: “Ok. Then we really need to reduce the upcharge for the renovation on those units, not reduce the price on all 1-bedroom units”
Property Manager: “I can’t do that!” “Then I won’t get the ROI I need on those rehabs!!”
We have told that story many times, and every time we tell it to a revenue manager (or group of revenue managers), we get that immediate, knowing smile.  Yet despite this familiarity, this script keeps repeating itself. Why? And what can we do about it?
The Multifamily Renovations Mindset
Let’s tackle the first question before moving on to the second. Renovations are obviously an important part of our industry and its ability to deliver returns.  And what community manager doesn’t feel good about renovations happening at their community? 
That is what introduces a bias into the process – we naturally want to find ways to justify renovations. Add to that the fact that the company invested a lot in deciding to do the renovations, and it’s equally likely there are other st……

The Surprising Persistence of Old-School Multifamily Selling

A couple of months ago, I read a blog about multifamily sales. It caught my attention because the title referred to closing as “the bottom line.” Those of you who read this blog frequently know that not only do we regularly write about how to improve sales performance, but we also do so from a contemporary point of view based on science and data behind successful sales/leasing.   
Our views are influenced by the seminal research by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in the Challenger Sale, as well as anthropological research on how prospects actually buy. The hook (in the blog) of closing as the bottom line struck me as being completely out of sync with this modern approach. It was reminiscent of the “always be closing” approach that influences many people’s idea of sales. This approach – brilliantly satirized in Glengarry Glen Ross – has been clearly debunked by Dixon and Adamson as well as other authors (e.g. Daniel Pink) in favor of much more prospect-centered approaches.
You may be old school if….
Like slowing down to watch a car wreck, I found myself compelled to read on. And I wasn’t disappointed. The model presented was based on four parts: greeting, qualifying, demonstration and close. While not inaccurate, this kind of model is based on what the salesperson wants, rather than how prospects make decisions. It treats prospects as “things to act upon” rather than as “people to help make a decision.”
For example, the salesperson “qualifies” the prospect rather than “inquires” about ……

NMHC Annual 2020: When Even White Shirts Get Disrupted

It’s not often that one finds oneself struggling to stay warm in Florida, but it’s been happening this week in Orlando, where we’ve been these last couple of days, along with a few thousand of our closest friends at the 2020 NMHC annual meeting.  
Among the gathered throng of multifamily dealmakers huddled (mostly indoors to avoid the cold) one could not help but notice a marked break from the previously mandatory uniform of grey pants, white shirt and blue blazer.  Many attendees commented on the degree of self-expression in the clothing (we’re talking blue, and even the occasional checkered, shirts) and the apparent disruption of a long-established order. But it was a different type of disruption that grabbed at least some of the attention this week.
About that tipping point
On Wednesday we were treated to a rapid-fire panel featuring luminaries of three technologies that have more potential than anything to transform multifamily operations. A succession of providers of AI leasing agents; smart home technologies and self-tour came to the stage to answer questions from operators.  The dialogue – although too quick to do much more than whet the appetite for further research and discussion – touched on some themes to which our industry should be paying attention.
As Rick Haughey (NMHC’s VP of Industry Technology Initiatives) reminded us at the start of the session, our industry has moved “from laggard to leader” in proptech.  A year ago in our 20 for ‘20 white paper, we noted that the industry was at a technology tip……

Five Reasons Why Unit Amenities May Be Harder Than You Think

Last week, we talked about how unit amenity pricing is the most common place to uncover hidden NOI in multifamily rental operations, and we covered the various reasons why amenity opportunities present themselves.
Unit amenities are a simple concept, at least in theory.  However, experience shows that the practice is a lot more challenging. So, let’s explore a few of the reasons that finding missing amenities is more difficult in practice than in theory.
1. It takes a concerted effort. Finding missing amenities is not like finding trash along the tour path. Associates must make must review and understand the configuration of the PMS and purposefully evaluate that against what they see in the property. It takes a combination of looking at site maps, Google maps and physically visiting buildings and units. It’s rare that one just stumbles upon the obvious.
2. The sheer volume of amenities can be challenging. It’s not unusual for a community to have 20 or more amenity codes, and there are rarely fewer than 10. Since it’s typical for multiple amenities to be associated with individual units (e.g., finishes, flooring, floor, views, location, etc.), associates are managing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of distinct unit-amenity combinations. That’s a lot to manage without some specific tools to help.
3. Bundling of amenities complicates things. Associates can’t just look at a list of units and total amenity values since each unit represents an almost-unique bundle of amenities. For example, if a balcony amenity is present in units 102 and 302 but missing from 202, we know we need……