Good Marketing Can Rent Up Apartments in Tough Times
In the face of national vacancy rates that are running at a 23-year old high, Lori Snider, of Creativity for Rent, Littleton, Colo., and Jennifer Nevitt Casey, of Bravo Strategic Marketing, Elkins Park, Pa., told an audience at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas in January that there are marketing strategies that will help multifamily companies prevail during these challenging times.
The two speakers advised builders that today’s renters are nervous and likely to balk if the close is heavy-handed. And chances are that they have already looked extensively online before ever walking into the leasing office, especially if they are young. At a time when “everyone is clipping coupons,” offering an online coupon on the property’s Web site is a good way to bring those prospects in, they said.
While many more communities are now accepting pets, some have gone further, waiving a pet deposit, explicitly communicating the message that they’re doing it because, “We don’t charge extra for any other member of your family.”
While marketing luxury and decadence worked during the boom times, the presenters suggested that managers now need to convey messages of optimism and hope, communicating an understanding that the community will be supportive if bad things happen. For instance, some companies offer an unemployment assurance plan that releases residents from the remainder of their lease if they lose their job.
Firms are also offering more flexible lease terms, from two months to 18 months — whatever the client chooses.
With young professionals entering the rental market with average student debt of $23,000, some communities are even offering plans that help them pay off their college loans. Residents who have lived in the community for 24 months and never had a late payment can receive between $1,000 and $2,000 toward repaying their student loan debt at some properties.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, to attract empty nesters, Snider and Casey recommend stressing units where residents can park close to their home and have space to entertain.
Because even older renters shop online before visiting, the presenters cited the need for optimizing the community’s position on the major search engines and making sure it appears on sites such as move.com and apartment.com.
Managers should pay close attention to the apartment rating sites. “If your community gets a bad rating, you can’t ignore it — you need to answer it.”
With residents having so many ways to share their complaints these days, good customer service is imperative, they added. When you have happy residents, encourage them to comment on the rating sites by telling them, “Please do not hesitate to share your experience living here.”
The social media should also not be ignored. The community needs to have an up-to-date Facebook page that includes useful content, said the presenters, who said it was important to dedicate staff time for keeping these pages current and lively. The pages should be checked for comments every day. In addition, said Snider and Casey, managers should have their employees sign an agreement NOT to post nasty things about their employer on Facebook.
Looking at the best marketing mix for leasing up a newly built community, they said that the print media no longer rule. These experts now put most of their clients’ marketing dollars into the Internet (57%), followed by apartment publications and guides (25%), signage (7%) and referral programs (7%). That leaves a scant 2% of the budget for print advertising.
Today’s renters have different priorities and needs, said Casey and Snider, and the approaches apartment communities use to reach potential residents must recognize and respond to them.
For more information, e-mail Ann Marie Moriarty at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8350.
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