Online Leasing, Self-Guided Tours are Here to Stay

Online leasing, self-guided tours, and other "hands-off" leasing tools were already coming into their own before the COVID crisis.


Online leasing, self-guided tours, and other "hands-off" leasing tools were already coming into their own before the COVID crisis. Now, many multifamily property managers are saying there's been a spike in their use that they expect will be permanent.

Property managers have been navigating today's troubled waters with a variety of leasing strategies. Many are blending online and virtual approaches to successfully drive new leases and renewals. And some of them have been able to achieve strong closing ratios even with the leasing office closed or partially staffed.

Strategies differ. Some offices have been fully staffed but see residents and prospects by appointment only. Others have been mostly empty, relying on online communication with prospects. At still others, self-guided or virtual apartment tours have become the new norm.

Property managers have leveraged technology to keep the rent roll needle moving forward even when the office is locked. And the reliance on self-serve leasing appears to have staying power. Properties now have proof that these leasing tools can serve a much bigger purpose than as a stop-gap during tumultuous times. And that prospects, in fact, like them.

Strength in a weak market

Through early June, apartment leasing remained strong, according to RealPage transaction-based data. Even better was that during the week ending June 13, total new lease signings were actually 20% above the same period last year despite a deteriorating U.S. economy.

The uptick created renewed confidence in pricing as well, says RealPage Deputy Economist Jay Parsons. “That’s really remarkable considering the economic backdrop.”

Leaders from AMLI Management Co., CamdenLiving and Kairoi Residential have successfully implemented new virtual leasing and renewal strategies that incorporate social distancing, mitigating the damage that might otherwise have been done due to the limitations on leasing offices.

Kairoi Residential has experienced strong closing ratios by engaging prospects and residents in the ways they choose to connect. The company’s success, says Executive Vice President Tammy Freiling, has been driven by learning how residents and prospects feel most at ease communicating and executing leases during this uncomfortable time.

The company enables guests to speak with leasing agents virtually or in person. Should a prospect want a self-guided apartment tour, Kairoi Residential accommodates them.

Results have been strong enough that Freiling doesn’t see this methodology changing.

“One thing we've implemented during this is a strong sensitivity to our prospects' and residents’ choices in how they prefer to interact with us,” she said during a panel discussion on a recent RealPage webcast. “That's something that started during this crisis that I feel will actually be ongoing.”

Closing prospects with self-guided tours

Offering self-guided tours helped AMLI Management Co. overcome a dip in new leases and renewals at the onset of the pandemic and return levels to near normal in comparison with previous years.

The company began assessing virtual and self-guided tours around the fourth quarter of 2019 and stepped into high gear when the pandemic struck in March. Now, all of AMLI’s communities offer tours allowing prospects to view apartments without the need of a staff member tagging along.

President and CEO Maria Banks noted that while traffic to AMLI properties was slower than normal, those who took tours were serious about getting an apartment and moving. The tours, along with online leasing technology, “have proven a very strong factor in our closing of leases and our leasing activities," she says. "And I envision that they will remain a critical factor going forward as well.”

Camden keeps their numbers up

Residents and prospects at CamdenLiving properties were not allowed into leasing offices until late June. Before that time, leasing and renewals were done either online or virtually.

Executive Vice President Laurie Baker said leasing staffs were able to keep pace in May with the previous year by executing renewals and new contracts while staying at a distance. She said Camden “actually signed almost the exact same amount of new leases year over year, which was a huge surprise.”

She attributes the success to Camden’s teams for adapting and improvising during a tough period.

Among the benefits of RealPage property management systems is the ability to execute leases and renewals online from start to finish, no matter what business conditions dictate. Learn more about online leasing solutions including online leasing and self-guided tours, and how they transform the leasing experience for staff and prospects in good times and bad.

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