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How Portals are Enabling Apartments to Stay in Touch with Residents, Staff

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Much of the world has realized that communication via technology can bridge a lot of gaps, whether in times of need or just to keep everyday operations moving in an ever-busy multifamily housing industry.

Limited personal contact has necessitated changes in the way leases are signed, rent is paid, purchases are made and just checking in on each other. Apartments are turning to online portals to take care of the new order of business.

Portal technology is nothing new and has served as a valuable conduit for linking residents to properties in preferred ways of communication. Recent industry surveys indicate that residents are steadily embracing online portals to engage property management and fellow residents.

Today adoption is greater, especially for ActiveBuilding, which is a leading online portal in the multifamily housing industry.

“What we’re seeing is that communities are driving adoption of a resident portal more than ever before,” said RealPage Vice President Jennifer Piccinini. “Maintaining a sense of community is very important during difficult times.”

Piccinini said RealPage metrics are showing increases not just in transactional activity, such as paying rent and requesting maintenance, but in resident engagement.

Residents are connecting with onsite property team members and neighbors through two-way messaging. Operators are using portals to broadcast messages to the entire community or specific residents via text or email accessible through personal devices or desktops.

Residents are being encouraged to pay rent online since office hours are limited, and even getting information about necessary services in the surrounding area, including restaurants that are providing take-out.

ActiveBuilding has posted a healthy 60 percent increase in message traffic in the past two months, Piccinini said.

“The only way to communicate with the leasing staff is either by phone or online via email, text or chat. Residents are no longer able to walk to the leasing office and talk to someone.”

Activity has similarly increased on ActiveBuilding’s community wall, where residents can post questions to each other or staff. Residents are also using the portal to discreetly communicate directly with management for problems or issues that arise.

What goes on in the community stays in the community, Piccinini says. And that affords management the opportunity to handle issues before they get posted on social media and potentially tarnish a brand reputation.

“The onsite team can protect their online reputation by responding quickly to feedback or concerns in a private forum shared only with other residents,” she said.

ActiveBuilding go-to communication link, boosts morale

During the RealPage webcast on the recent impact of rental housing operations, apartment operators at LMC Living and JVM Realty told how ActiveBuilding has bonded residents and staff.

LMC Living properties is using the portal as the go-to communication link between residents and management, said Vice President of Operations Lee Bradford. Residents are embracing technology.

“With our residents, we have been posting communication daily, sometimes more than once a day,” she said. “It’s really become our hub for staying in contact with our residents, and we’ve seen our ActiveBuilding participation skyrocket.”

Kortney Balas, vice president of information management at JVM Realty, said the platform has helped boost morale. The company recently activated ActiveBuilding Live Chat feature and regularly check to see who is online.

She can’t resist giving a virtual shout-out when she sees a resident or staff member.

“If we see a resident online we’ll say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How are things going?’ If I see an associate online through ActiveBuilding, I’ll pop in and say, “How are you doing?’ It’s a good way to keep morale up and let them know that even though the office is closed we’re still here.”

Progress of Peoples Management/Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens quickly rolled out ActiveBuilding this spring at all 32 of its New York City-area affordable properties to promote a safe environment for staff and tenants by minimizing contact as much as possible. The platform typically takes only a day or two to implement.

Staff and volunteers soon began making regular wellness calls to residents, and residents started using the portal to make service requests and pay rent as social distancing mandates came into play. Also, staff began relying on ActiveBuilding for communication with each other.

“When the city was signaling that a stay-at-home order might be implemented, we thought ActiveBuilding would be the best way to maintain operations with limited staff in the building,” said Vice President Stanley Celius.

To further the experience, Progress of Peoples is buying monitors so residents and staff can access ActiveBuilding’s Lobby Display Feature, which enables posting of up-to-date information remotely.

Celius said the company fully expected to see a decline in rent payments because of the economic distress caused by the coronavirus but that wasn’t entirely the case. Residents were able to easily log in and pay rent, or request assistance from a staff member.

“In the few buildings I checked, we actually had an increase in rent payments.”

In addition to ActiveBuilding, operators are finding other creative ways to engage residents.

Amy Johnson, Director of Marketing and Leasing at Core Living, launched Modern Message, a resident engagement and loyalty platform, to encourage resident participation through gamification. Modern Message Community Rewards offers points-based rewards that residents can redeem for property amenities, reward cards and third-party marketers’ discounts and perks.

Core Living already had the solution at one property but fast-tracked it at seven others so residents could participate among each other and management while earning rewards. Soon after adoption, participation soared to 40 percent.

“I think it offers so many different ways for our residents to engage with us because it’s a social platform that lets you see other people in your community,” Johnson said. “I think that’s very unique.”

Paying rent online when the leasing office is closed

A big advantage with portals is the ability for residents to pay their rent even if the office is closed. Through ActiveBuilding, residents can access a payment platform that allows online payment of rent via bank, credit or debit cards and other forms.

An in-house study found that staff saves approximately 16.5 hours a month processing rent checks by offering ActiveBuilding as a payment solution versus residents coming to the office to make a payment. The platform also processes and submits payments faster, ensuring the property receives funding faster.

ActiveBuilding also provides seamless renewal processes that can be transacted with no face-to-face interaction.

The platform’s features are examples of how technology is making multifamily operations and resident lifestyles easier, but Piccinini sees something greater.

“It keeps the community engaged, because community is very important.”

Now more than ever.

See what others are saying about ActiveBuilding and how it creates an active, engaged community.

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