Aaron Galvin is the CEO & Founder of Luxury Living Chicago Realty, a multifamily consulting, marketing, branding and strategy brokerage.
Apartment hunting as we know it has changed. As the owner of a brokerage firm specializing in apartment leasing, I have seen the current pandemic dramatically shift how apartments are being marketed and leased. And while many in the apartment industry resist change, the pandemic has catalyzed a much-needed improvement in the way we work with customers, where best-in-class technology-enabled service platforms are matched with well-trained salespeople capable of selling in varying environments.
Prior to the pandemic, our firm leased about 5% of our apartments sight-unseen. Customers were often international transfers or those relocating quickly who did not have time to visit in person. We provided 3D tours and sporadic FaceTime showings and had relative success. When the stay-at-home order was issued, we knew we had to act fast. With that experience, coupled with the vision to create hundreds of prerecorded videos of all aspects of our apartment buildings, we were prepared for virtual leasing. Moreover, we trained our team on screen sharing and how to organize floor plans, videos and other assets to paint a picture for someone selecting their home virtually. The result was 90% of year-over-year lease volumes at similar closing percentages to traditional in-person showings.
As we now enter a new phase of the pandemic, where in-person showings are more common but people traveling to cities to view apartments is still rare, we must all adapt to meet customers where they feel most comfortable. This includes traditional in-person touring, self-guided touring and virtual touring.
One-on-one leasing tours with a leasing agent have always been the industry standard. These days this includes numerous safety precautions to ensure the health and wellness of everyone involved. Prior to a tour, require everyone who will be on tour to sign a waiver acknowledging the risk of touring during a pandemic and confirming they have not had or been exposed to Covid-19. This level of “social contract” can go a long way toward the greater public health. Tours should be limited to four people, and everyone must wear a face covering. Only the leasing agent should be allowed to open doors or touch surfaces. Since we opened up this tour option in early June, our firm has seen about 60% of customers choose in-person touring.
Self-guided touring had been picking up momentum for a number of years prior to the pandemic. This is a tour where a prospect gains access to a property and is able to tour without a leasing agent present. Prior to the pandemic, this was most popular for early morning and after-hours apartment showings. The ideal self-guided tour includes a prospect gaining access to a property, meeting an agent in the model who remains a safe distance away and is able to highlight the features and benefits of a model unit. From there, customers should be free to explore two or three more vacant apartments on their own, at the suggestion of the agent. Also allow them to tour amenities and common areas. While this is a new take on self-guided touring, it has been quite popular in our firm, and we expect nearly 15% of tours to occur this way now and in the future.
Over the past few months, there have been many variations on virtual tours. We find the best success in having a video chat with a prospect where you can establish a personal connection. When on video chat, agents should follow a specified tour path including the front entry, lobby, amenities, hallways and units. Review prerecorded videos, floor plans and 3D Matterports so that the agent can help a potential renter envision everything about living in the property.
Nearly 100% of our leases were secured through virtual tours during the stay-at-home order. Moving forward, we are seeing around 25% of tour prospects choosing virtual as their preferred option. Many potential tenants are using virtual tours to help narrow down their options and following up with a self-guided or in-person showing. I expect this trend will continue, especially for relocation customers who can be even more efficient in their research when moving to a new city. Brokerages should continue to invest in advanced training for virtual leasing and plan to expand virtual offerings. Virtual leasing creates significant efficiency in apartment leasing.
As we enter the next phase of the new normal, meeting customers where they feel most comfortable will be paramount in providing the highest level of service. Apartment leasing innovation was brought on by the pandemic, but these new variations are here to stay.
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