Insight #9: Decentralize the Leasing Office

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By: Jay Parsons, Tracy Saffos, David Polewchak and Krista Hurley

For decades, property managers built leasing offices designed to be the heartbeat of the apartment community. Developers built amazing, inviting spaces to welcome prospects and residents. Operators wanted people to come inside.

For residents and prospects, they had to come inside to do pretty much anything – take a tour, fill out an application, sign a lease, pay rent, negotiate a renewal, file a service request or participate in a community event.

Oh, how our world has changed.

COVID-19 accelerated the shift, but consumer preferences and new technologies were already shifting many functions away from physical leasing office. Now, leading apartment operators are working to decentralize the leasing office. Communities no longer revolve around a centralized engine on-site, but rather a continuous circulatory system that powers the new era of instant gratification, 24/7 service and lean business operations.

A well-designed, decentralized leasing office drives cost-efficiencies, providing a more consistent service model to residents, and ensures the leasing funnel doesn’t pause when the on-site team locks the doors and goes home for the night.

What does that model look like? Here are the top tips from leading apartment executives.

  • Staff specialists, not generalists, on-site

This trend began long before the pandemic, as the role of community managers and leasing agents have evolved dramatically. But many property managers aren’t all the way there yet. What is the most important role of the on-site team? To drive revenue by generating new leases and retaining existing residents. That means you need on-site teams highly specialized in selling and service. It’s a people job. But in years past, these were jack-of-all-trades positions that involved an endless list of job duties – advertising, marketing, comp tracking, application processing, make-readies, service requests, resident communication, event planning and hosting, procuring vendors, paying invoices, rent collection, accounting, answering phones, and the list goes on. Anyone from those days remember how challenging it is to find a skilled jack of all trades. Focus on hiring people who serve and sell. Of course, that requires moving back-office functions offsite.

  • Shift back-office functions off-site to drive efficiency

This is another trend that pre-dates COVID-19, but ask your community managers and leasing agents this: What administrative functions are you still handling that detract from your ability to focus on leasing units and serving residents? You may be surprised how long that list still is. Online payments, spend management, utility management, outsourced IT and accounting are all relatively quick, cost-effective shifts that not only free up your on-site teams but will likely also drive additional cost savings and improved execution through skilled centralized services. Don’t let the myth of the high price tag fool you from the reality that these types of tools often save more than they cost.

  • Adjust your leasing to the era of instant gratification

Even the best leasing agents have limitations. They’re human. They can only work so many hours and can only talk to one person at a time. But prospects in 2021 are no longer accepting of those limitations. Think about everything consumers are now accustomed to doing at any time of the day or night: shopping online, having food delivered, getting work done. We are now wired to expect 24/7 service. When consumers search online for apartments, they want instant answers and an instant ability to jump from search to tour to application and background check. The only way to do that is with a truly virtual, decentralized leasing office. That starts with a leasing office that doesn’t close when leasing agents go home (or shut down) for the night. According to a recent study, 40-60% of inbound phone calls and chat messages are missed by on-site staff. Of those missed, 80% of those prospects don’t leave a message and 55% never inquire again. Missing even one phone call that could have been captured by a good contact center and converted from lead to lease by your team pays for these services for the year. 

  • Empower your leasing teams to focus on the right leads

Once you’ve widened the demand funnel, the next step is to help your leasing teams prioritize leads for follow-up. Good lead management tools not only qualify prospective renters but also integrate with revenue management to understand which floorplans have vacancy, plus which have the greatest exposure needs. This helps your leasing teams focus on leads that will make the greatest impact on your rent roll.

  • Adjust your resident care model to 24/7 service

Happier, more engaged residents drive retention, improve occupancy, enhance your reputation scores, and boost your bottom line. Look for win-wins that give your residents instant service while also freeing up your on-site teams from manual administrative tasks like bill pay and service request submission/tracking. You want your on-site teams focused on higher-touch resident care, building relationships with residents, drawing them together (even if virtually) and ensuring service requests or complaints see quick resolution. Empower your teams with resident portals and community rewards programs that increase their odds of retaining residents and driving up reputation scores.

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