Things I Learned on Twitter about Apartment Management

Here’s my first blog for the National Apartment Association.  Let me know your thoughts or comments here or at NAA’s website.  Thanks!

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Email Is the New Snail Mail

Think about it.  Many have used email as a way to delay, avoid or procrastinate. A salesman calls you at the office and you don’t have time, so you tell him to email you the information for you to review. You might as well ask him to put a stamp on it and mail it to you.  You’d probably be more likely to open it up.  (I still love getting mail).  A week later he calls to follow up and you haven’t opened the email yet.

Now, people want instant communication.  Texting and Instant Messaging are the preferred form of communication for many and that number is growing rapidly.  While teenagers are mainly responsible for the spike in those statistics, it is very obvious that many adults are moving to these forms of communication as well.  Go to any bar or club on a Friday or Saturday night and you will see the soft glow of cell phones throughout.  And they aren’t up to ears, but thumbs.  

So how can we bring this into our world of leasing apartments?  Social Media and Marketing is great, but it’s not necessarily an instant conversation, typically.  It’s a static post on Facebook, myspace or even twitter and an occasional response.  Check out AIMCO’s chat online feature.  Super cool.  I am actually shopping apartments in Dallas as I write this blog.  The agent on the other end is very helpful.  Oh and by the way, it’s Sunday night and it’s 6:20 in Dallas.  

JessicaR (thanks for your help) first asked how I was doing today.  I’ve shopped live leasing consultants that didn’t ask me that question!  JessicaR also used my name throughout the conversation.  Our conversation went at a good pace and I didn’t have to sit and wait for a response, except once when she was looking up the apartments in the area I requested.  She politely asked if I could wait so I didn’t get impatient.  Overall, it was an excellent experience and I was able to get the information I needed quickly and it never felt impersonal.

JessicaR also mentioned that they chat a lot with existing residents.  What a great way to service your busy, professional clients that don’t have time to call or stop by the office.  They can chat with the agent while they are on a conference call (you’ve done it too, so don’t roll your eyes like that’s crazy!)  At the end of the session I was asked if I wanted a transcript of the session emailed to me.  What a great way for management to document a resident complaint as well.

Email Responses

Our friend RiverCityGal gave me some great feedback recently via Twitter. One of her biggest complaints searching for apartments was email replies. When she would email asking specific questions about a community she would get a response directing her to their website and no answer to the question she had asked.  After all these years of email, I took for granted the fact that we might have our email etiquette perfected by now.  Obviously, I was wrong.

Here are a few quick Do’s and Don’ts…

Do:  Respond personally to email inquiries immediately.  Keep them short and related to the specific questions.

Don’t:  Have an automatic response message that says you will respond within 24 hours.  Just answer the email as soon as you can.  Auto response is just a way of automatically saying you don’t care. 

Do:  Start a conversation.   Ask questions in your email responses.  You will be surprised how much information you can get before they tour.  It’s a lot easier sometimes to get people to “chat” via email than it is on the phone.  Especially if they are at work.

Don’t:  Be afraid to answer questions that you know might disqualify them from renting at your community.  An example would be if they mention they have two dogs and a cat and your pet policy only allows one pet.  Don’t waste their time or yours.

Do:  Have nice photos on your computer to attach to emails.  If it is winter have a beautiful summer pool shot to send.  Have a few pictures of your most popular amenities.  Just make sure they are low resolution and won’t eat up their inbox.  Not everyone remembers which property they are looking at and a friendly photo reminder might help.

Don’t:  Direct prospects to your website instead of answering their questions.  RiverCityGal and myself find it very annoying.

Do:  Check for grammar and spelling errors.

Do:  Ask them when they would be free to stop by for a tour and to fill out an application, just as you would on the phone.  They may not call you ever!

Don’t:  Empty your junk email before checking for email inquiries.  They sneak in there sometimes!

Twitter

So, I’m finally on Twitter and already have found great information.  Haven’t leased an apartment on it yet, but it’s only been 48 hours.  The application hasn’t even been processed yet.  

I did a search for apartments and discoverd something that simply verified one of my earlier posts.  Craigslist works.  I found a young lady in Richmond, VA who found “2 kick-ass apartments on craigslist and made appointments to see both tomorrow!”  See for yourself… http://twitter.com/RiverCityGal

So, what’ my point?  My point is that I used one form of social media to verify the validity of another, which inherntly verifies the validity of both for our industry.   In the words of RiverCityGal, “Kick-Ass”!

If You Haven’t Heard, Craigslist and Google Analytics are FREE!

Craigslist:  If you aren’t using Craigslist yet, start.  If you were using Craigslist and decided to stop, start over.  It’s a great resource, it’s easy to use and best of all it’s free.

For many of us, this is old news, but for those who aren’t on board the results speak for themselves.  Just make sure your ads are strategic and smart.  For example, if you are a high end community, don’t boast your lowest prices.  You will get unqualified prospects, especially given the current economy.  Advertise your standard and competitive rates.  Even people with money to spend are using Craigslist to find a deal!

If you are an economy community, make sure you are advertising your lowest rate for apartments that you have available.  Check your inventory.  If you only have one available, make sure you advertise that and create a sense of urgency.  If you rent that unit, pull the ad immediately.  You will continue to get calls and Craigslist users are savvy and penny pinchers.  They will demand you honor your ad.

Google Analytics:   This has to be the coolest free thing I have ever seen.  Even if you already have tracking software for your website, you should check out Google’s technology and compare.  The reports are in depth and will confirm how well your advertising sources are working in terms of hits to your website.  If used properly you can get as detailed as how many users are visiting your community pages, viewing rates and floorplans, and maps and directions.  This is excellent information.   I will post more about this in the future, but I just wanted to get it out there to anyone who isn’t using it currently.

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression Online

I was on the eCommittee at a large property management company and we were given the task of rebuilding the company website.  It’s no easy task.  What seemed to be ultimately the most difficult and challenging phase of this project was the home page.  After all, this was the first impression an investor, or owner or resident or prospect would have of the company.  After several designs and modifications, we eventually agreed on a home page that we all felt best represented the company’s personality, but also served as an easy way for a prospect to find an apartment.

For purposes of this discussion I reviewed the landing pages of the NMHC Top 50 Apartment Managers for 2008.  As you look at the top 5 companies you can clearly tell they are large companies by their home pages.  You will find scrolling news updates regarding the industry and company news, stock quotes, mission statements and even pitches for property management deals.  For the most part these are big companies with a big company feel as a first impression.  However, AIMCO has a clean professional feel and a simple tool to find an apartment.  They nailed it. A prospect can go to their website and find an apartment quickly and easily.  From a professional perspective, the primary focus of AIMCO’s home page is renting apartments.

The Lynd Company has a very high tech look and feel, but it is very simple to use. I’m going to call and tell them that… if only I had their phone number… oh wait… it’s on their home page.  Bold move, but very smart.  Sometimes you just want to reach out and touch someone and it can be very frustrating to find a phone number on a website.  Make it easy for your customers to reach you in their preferred manner.  Not yours!

Visually, I love the Gables Residential website.  Simple flash technology and beautiful photography combined with ease of use make this an excellent website that I want to take a bite out of.  I would love to see their bounce rates

The last example I want to highlight is how The Irvine Apartment Communities chose to create their home page at the simplest level of the url.  They chose to use the web address rental-living.com.  This is a great move on their part.  How many people actually know the names of apartment management companies outside of our industry?  I don’t have a figure, but I would guess it’s a lot less than we hope.  By using a name that has nothing to do with their corporate identity, The Irvine Apartment Communities are putting the focus on finding an apartment and not on their company.  Brilliant move.

In summary, make sure your home page is targeted to the audience to which you are promoting it.  If you are promoting your website to investors, have investor info.  If you are promoting it to prospective renters, have an easy apartment search tool.  If you are promoting it to residents, have resident resources and online rent payment in an easy to find location.  If you are promoting it to all three, then you might want to develop a different url for each.  Link them all together and you’ll automatically increase your SEO.