Why Leasing Apartments Is Like Stand Up Comedy

I have a new appreciation for stand up comedy after watching this guy get crushed when his first joke absolutely bombed on Americas got talent. The beauty of it though is he never gave up. He responded to his audience and turned it around. Ever been on a tour like this?  Your prospect has their arms folded, they don’t say a word and you have to win them over? You might start out with your scripted routine but If you don’t tailor it to your audience you will bomb and not make it to the next round; but If you think quickly on your feet and read your audience you just might win them over.

These are opportunities that make us better at what we do.  If everyone signed a lease no questions asked, most of us probably wouldn’t be in this industry for too long.  At one point in this clip, Sharon Osborne says that the tough crowd brought out the best in him and raised the level of his performance.  We all feel great when we step it up to overcome a tough customer.  Also, if you notice, he tried to stay on script and the audience became louder and louder to shut him down.  The moment he diverted from his routine he started to win them back.  There is a tremendous lesson in that for us.  People want to hear about what they want to hear about, not what you want them to hear about.  While Doogie didn’t exactly have an opportunity to ask the crowd what they wanted, he was patient, felt them out and gave them exactly what he felt they wanted; a fight.

Apartment Prospects on Twitter

Twitter users like to tell everyone what they are doing and some of them are looking for apartments.  I typed “apartment Chicago” into the search box and a slew of Tweets came up.  As I read through them there was one that really caught my attention.  A young lady tweeted, “Still apartment hunting. Can’t wait to fly to Chicago and just GET THIS DONE! Goodness gracious.”  I tweeted her a link to an apartment community where I used to stay when I traveled to Chicago all the time.  I then went to her Twitter home page and noticed that she had posted “one bedroom downtown. Any ideas??” to a local apartment search leasing agent from rentproactive.com.  I presume this leasing agent found her Tweet the same way I did and reached out to her to offer assistance, so obviously this isn’t a new concept, but it did confirm my theory and substantiated that Twitter may be an excellent prospect list and that Twitter users may be open to a  sales Tweet (especially if they are announcing their frustration in finding a place to live).

There are several approaches I would take to mining prospects on Twitter, and they would all really depend on what the Tweet said.   One way would be the soft approach. Conduct your search and begin sifting through the results.  When you come across a possible prospect, simply follow them.  Typically if you follow someone, they will likely review who you are and decide to follow you or not.  With that said, it needs to be very clear who you are.  Your Twitter home page needs to show that you have apartments for rent in their area, have a link to your website and a creative bio that offers referral rewards for Twitter referrals or a discount for Twitter users.

Another approach is to send a Tweet directly to the prospect and follow them.  Send them a link to a property in their area.  Don’t send them a link to your main page and make them do a search.  Be as helpful as you can with 140 characters.  If they are interested they will respond.  A different approach would be to engage them in a conversation. Why not?  If they are interested they will respond.  This is a huge experiment so test different approaches.

Here are some examples of Tweets from the last 24 hours I found with a search for “Chicago apartment” and the approach or Tweet I would send them is in bold:

schuyler22: Planning my apartment shopping in Chicago tomorrow! Got some good ones lined up…hopefully one will work out!”

This is a hot prospect.  Act fast and offer an incentive.

@schuyler22 Got time for one more appointment? We are offering Twitter users no app fee and a reduced sec deposit. (link to community page)

afg1988: workin workin workin. Chicago apartment next year, here i come!”

I would simply follow this person and send him a link to your Chicago communities.

AmyJulia: Preparing for apartment hunting in Chicago– measuring furniture, looking up apartments we want to see, getting stuff together!! So excited!!”

She already told you something about herself.

@AmyJulia We are in Lakeview. Here are our floor plans with measurements so you can see if your furniture fits! (link)

joshlurie: I’m on my way to Chicago! Finding an apartment and signing a lease tomorrow”

Start a conversation ASAP.  Be direct!

@joshlurie What part of Chicago interests you?  We have great deals in the South Loop.  Call us (312) 555.5555.

summerbeth0519: in a blah mood. i need some @willhoge in my life l…off toChicago tomorrow in search of an apartment. im not leaving w/o signing a lease!”

@summerbeth0519 Cheer up! Are you looking in the city or the burbs?  We have both!

SandersonPR: Looking for small apartment in Chicago‘s Wicker Park/Bucktown area that will take a dog-under $1000-anyone know?”

If you have apartments in Wicker Park or Bucktown and allow dogs you MUST reply to this Tweet.  Seriously.  Fill out a guest card via Twitter.

@SandersonPR Bucktown – check! Studios – check!  Under $1000 – check!  Dogs allowed – check!  When can u stop by for a tour? (312) 555.5555

LorenRenner: Sold my car on Friday!!! Apartment shopping in preparation for the move to Chicago. Like Andersonville, Wrigleyville, Lakeview…”

@LorenRenner we have apartments in Wrigelyville right next to the L.  Call us at (312) 555.5555.  Reduced security deposit for Twitter users!

It took me all of two minutes to find about 30  prospects from the last 24 hours in Chicago and I didn’t even get through all of them.  Additionally, it took me all of 8 minutes to prepare the responses I’ve demonstrated above and only because I had to take two phone calls while I was writing.  If you don’t do this you are missing out on a great opportunity to increase your traffic.  Consider it Twitter outreach.

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!

What Are You Waiting For?

Don’t you feel like everyone is sitting on their hands waiting for something magical to happen?  “How did Black Friday effect the economy?”  “Did the auto companies get their bailout?”  “Was spending up for the Holidays this year?”  “Is Barack Obama going to change things?” 

We are in a recession.  The economy is awful.  So what?  Let your competition sit around to see what happens while you blow by them and lease some apartments.  You don’t have to change things drastically because we are in a recession.  Just do what you do best a little better.

Here’s what you can do RIGHT NOW to navigate the current economic environment:

1  Train and motivate your leasing team today.  Literally!  Email them or call them or have a meeting and get them on board.  Let them know how important they are, especially now.  They are your front lines.  Don’t send them into battle with low morale.  Have a contest today!  Most follow up calls, most outreach calls, first lease or anything.  As long as they aren’t waiting for the phones to ring or traffic to walk in the door. 

2.  It ain’t getting better tomorrow or next month.   Or at least that’s the approach you need to take.  Update your ads now and make sure your specials are updated and as obvious as possible.  If heat is included you might want to emphasize that.  People want to save money any way possible. 

3.  STOP NICKEL AND DIMING!!!  NO FEES!!!  Apply applications fees to first month’s rent if you are worried about losing money on denials.  Reward approved applicants with no fees. 

4.  Figure out a way to compete with homes for rent.  Provide prospects who are comparing your apartment to a home for rent with this article from USA Today.com:

Renters can’t escape

housing foreclosure crisis

5.  If you offer a home purchase program make sure you promote the heck out of it.  Many of your prospects will have lost their homes to foreclosure and are not renting by choice.  A home purchase program might give them a glimmer of hope. 

6.  Don’t forget about your existing residents either.  Your customer service should be top notch right now.  Make sure your maintenance team is trained and motivated as well.  They are also on the front lines making sure residents don’t leave.  Remind your residents about your service guarantee if you have one and make sure you live up to it.  Oh, and make sure the snow is cleared! 

There are a lot of everyday things that can be done to get through a down economy.  Just don’t wait around to see what your competition is going to do.