Multifamily expert and brand-new Inman contributor Andy Larson offers insights and strategies for the all-important lease-up period.

I’ve worked in the multifamily industry for more than 25 years, and I have probably had thousands of conversations about how to keep vacancy rates low, attract and retain residents, and operate more efficiently. All of this is critically important, but there is one phase of property management where a separate set of practices apply: The lease-up period.  

New buildings with a “clean slate” have unique needs in the first few months of operation, with none of the advantages enjoyed by established properties. It is critical to think of the initial stage of filling a community as a unique set of challenges rather than as part of the continuum of property management operations. And it all starts with technology. 

Lease-what?  

Lease-up is the process of filling units between the time a project is announced all the way through the first year a property is open. This can be a long runway, taking several years from concept to reality, even before the first resident moves in, and up to 15 months after opening.

The faster this process is complete, the sooner developer companies can fully recover their investment, and technology is the best way to fill spaces quickly. 

AI ideas  

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one great tool to enhance the efforts of leasing teams. AI answering and callback services can be used to return communications from prospective renters promptly.

One study shows that 60 percent of prospects will pursue a different opportunity if their call or email is not returned in 30 minutes, so having an AI service to ensure swift communications is a great way to keep potential renters engaged.  

AI is also excellent for speeding up and standardizing processes, and leasing teams can save a lot of time and effort by engaging with AI to make everything from contacting prospects to regular billing and maintenance requests flow smoothly.

By leveraging artificial intelligence, teams can free up their own time to be productive and ensure a more pleasant application process and living situation, which will in turn, further increase leasing velocity.  

Remember that AI is no substitute for a real live person. As anyone who has seen an AI art nightmare portrait with too many fingers can tell you, a program needs human guidance to be a useful tool.

The best lease-up strategy leverages AI to augment the skills and schedules of its human leasing employees, helping to catch prospects who would normally fall through the cracks and making work more efficient rather than trying to replace the workforce completely.  

Tours of tomorrow, today

Touring is another major pain point for lease-ups (and all multifamily) and a significant drain on a leasing team’s time. Renters want the convenience of touring when they want — often after work or on weekends.

Yet, leasing staff are usually available during work hours, hours which they cannot spend exclusively giving tours. Virtual and self-guided tours are two excellent tech-driven tools to let prospects see the property when they want.  

Once prospects identify a submarket they wish to live in, the logical next step is to pour through the property’s website. Helping prospects complete their research phase, virtual tours give a great feel for the property.

For obvious reasons, virtual touring has been especially prolific over the past couple of years. By exploring a property on their computer or mobile device, renters can learn much about a space on their own schedule without physically visiting.

Realty experts recommend providing photographic references for such tours. Leasing teams should be sure to include audio and written descriptions in their virtual tours to give renters a more immersive experience.  

Finally, as the prospect moves into the decision phase and wants to see the property physically, self-guided in-person tours are the ideal way to let prospects see a property at their own pace. Using a mobile device as a key and tour guide, self-guided tours can streamline the touring and leasing process and keep staff aware of who is in what unit and whether they have decided to apply for a lease.  

To ensure success in the lease-up process, leasing agents should create virtual and self-guided tours that really sell the property to visitors. The following tips are a good place to start:  

  • Immersion is key: Highlight a property’s benefits with written or recorded descriptions of key features. Be sure to include features of the overall property, such as rec centers, gyms, parking lots, nearby conveniences, and more.  
  • Stay involved: Leasing agents should be available anytime during work hours to answer questions, whether via email or over the phone. When convenient, go meet self-guided visitors in person (maybe with a snack or bottled water) to make the best impression.  
  • Follow up: Call or email after the tour to see if prospects have further questions or whether they would like to move forward with an application. Some virtual and self-guided touring software even includes an application immediately after the tour concludes, but the human touch is always welcome.  

Big data, fast lease-ups 

No conversation about using technology to enhance business is complete without mentioning data or analytics. Any technological solution worth its salt should have built-in systems for gathering data and either performing analytics automatically or formatting that data for outside analysis. Leasing agents can use analytics to react to current trends, anticipate future shifts in the market, and develop resilient best practices based on actionable data.  

Whether it’s AI callback services tracking prospect responses, virtual tour software highlighting the most popular features in an apartment, or self-guided tour apps that track how many people choose to tour outside business hours, leasing teams can learn a lot just by leveraging the data that comes from solutions they implement.  

Technology can enhance every aspect of our lives and careers, and the multifamily industry is no exception — even leasing up does not need to be an arduous, repetitive process. The lease-up period doesn’t follow the rules of standard best practices, but filling out a new property with happy residents is just a matter of augmenting a leasing team’s sales skills with the best high-tech tools.  

Andy Larson has 25 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry which includes 20 cutting-edge technology solutions for the multifamily sector. In addition to leading Tour24’s revenue team and strategic partnerships, Larson is also responsible for scaling the company’s reach and helping Tour24 meet demand. Connect with Larson on Linkedin.

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