Tuesday, December 21, 2010

5 Lead Tracking Trends to Watch in 2011

This is a guest post contributed by Doug Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP, SLE, CDEI.

TelephoneIn today’s competitive leasing climate, to maximize profits you must maximize marketing. For instance, do you know how many authentic leasing opportunities your marketing efforts really delivers? Giving unprecedented insight into the true source of leads, lead tracking technology gives you the ability to precisely measure which marketing sources perform the best allowing you to make adjustments accordingly. But lead tracking technology is much more than just unique tracking numbers ... in fact, here are five things to consider for your lead tracking program in 2011:

• Call Tracking – Reveals the true cost, effectiveness, and ROI of a company’s marketing. It captures every caller’s phone number and, often, name and address for follow-up. It identifies calling patterns and possible scheduling issues.

• Lead Scoring – Provides an analysis of calls to remove non-leasing calls from the calculation of conversion ratios and to stop abuse of tracking numbers by residents, employees, or vendors.

• Telephone Performance Analysis – Grades and monitors call-handlers to indicate when further training or support is needed. Leasing performance and training effectiveness generally improve with the ability to review your call-handlers recorded calls with prospects.

• Dynamic Number Insertion – Employs advanced call tracking technology that allows you to identify the source of each lead sent to your website in real-time. Prospects visit your website and specialized software identifies where and how that lead originated. Based on this information, the telephone number normally displayed on your web page is dynamically replaced with a tracking number.

• Owner’s Analytics – Reviews portfolio and regional data and compares management performance with that of other operators in the same market and sub-market. This can demonstrate to owners that moving assets to another management company may not always improve results.

You can’t truly manage what you don’t measure. Today’s lead tracking technology not only measures your marketing effectiveness, it also provides you with the data needed to make informed decisions on where to focus your marketing efforts to achieve maximum results.

In future posts, we're going to take a closer look at each of these items and how you can use them to improve your marketing programs for 2011. Do you have a specific question you'd like us to address, or a story to share about your own experience with lead tracking technology? How are you currently tracking the success of your marketing efforts? How do you think each of the items mentioned above will evolve in the year ahead? Tell us in the comments ... we'd love to hear from you.

Doug Chasick is Senior Vice President of Multifamily Professional Services for CallSource. Contact him at: (888) 222-1214 or: DChasick@CallSource.com.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Survey Says: Renters Shy Away from Social Media During Their Apartment Search?

"More Than 70% of Apartments.com Users Are Active On Social Media,
But Only a Quarter Use It to Shop for a Place to Live"

Apartments.com recently conducted a survey of 850 visitors to their national website to find out how active those apartment hunters are with social media, how it affects their apartment search and where they choose to live. (My first reaction: I'm not sure how many people are searching for apartments on Facebook or Flickr. But I kept reading.)

According to the survey, "71 percent of Apartments.com visitors are 'active on social media,' but only a quarter use it during their apartment search." (Actually, assuming similar survey methods, this number is up significantly considering the data presented by SatisFacts back in March.)

Now, there's no real qualification of what "using social media during their apartment search" means (or even how "social media" is defined), but it stands to reason that most apartment hunters are likely starting their apartment search on Google or Craigslist, rather than Facebook or Foursquare. However, I could easily see apartment hunters sharing a link or simply asking their friends for opinions or feedback about a specific property that has made the cut to their short list. (More on this in a bit...)

In any case, the majority of renters indicated they are not checking out social media websites to find a place to live. (This makes sense.) That said, renter search behavior is always a moving target -- 70 percent of the survey respondents who said they do not use social media during their apartment search indicated they would either consider using it or are on the fence.

Why apartment hunters use social media as part of their search
The survey found that most renters consult multiple online sources before choosing where to live. (Who wouldn't, right?) Of the 71 percent of apartment hunters already active with social media, obtaining supplemental information including recommendations, visuals and special offers topped the reasons they tap these websites during their apartment search. (OK, now this is starting to make sense...) The respondents ranked the top five benefits of using social media during their apartment search as:
  1. 1) Finding additional apartment community information and recommendations (58.1%)
  2. 2) Seeking photos and videos of apartments (54.7%)
  3. 3) Searching for apartment listings (52.7%)
  4. 4) Hunting for special incentives and offers (46.8%)
  5. 5) Sharing apartment information with friends and seeking feedback (20.7%)

Social Media: For Prospects or For Residents?

In addition to the absence of social media during the apartment search, more than 90 percent of survey respondents said they are not "connecting with their current apartment community via social media." As Apartments.com states in their release:
Reasons for why this number seems high can be attributed to the lack of apartment communities participating in the social media space, or not getting the word out to residents, and the growing number of new renters hitting the market.
Nearly half of all respondents said either their apartment community does not have a social media presence or they simply do not know about it. (More than 40 percent of the respondents also said they do not currently live at an apartment community, so take that for what it's worth.)

While this might seem like an epidemic, I hardly think it's an issue that is exclusive to the multifamily industry. Ask that same 90 percent if they're connected to their local grocery store, or plumber, or family restaurant "on any social media website," and I'm guessing that the answers would be very similar. People largely participate in social networking to connect with friends, not to receive marketing messages from businesses.

Of those who are connected to their apartment community on one or more social media sites (8.2% of the respondents), here were the reasons why:

Where do we go from here?

Here's what Chris Brown, Vice President of Product Management at Apartments.com, had to say:
As social media continues to evolve online communications, we believe more apartment communities will follow suit and become more visible in this space. Residents will likely be receptive to interacting with their apartment communities in this way, especially if the content is meaningful. Our survey tells us that residents want to connect with their apartment community through social media to receive special offers, gain access to other residents and to keep current on community news and events.
He's exactly right about meaningful content, and that can go well beyond offers and updates about community news.

While nearly two thirds of all survey respondents said they are social media users, most are only active on Facebook. Nearly 35 percent indicated they check Facebook as often as every couple of hours and 32 percent visit at least once a day. This is a sharp contrast compared to their activity on any other social media websites. On average, more than 65 percent of survey respondents have never logged on to Yelp or Foursquare (Do you need to login to Yelp to benefit from others' reviews?), and more than half have never visited Twitter or MySpace. Now you can start to see why it's important to define what we mean by "social media" for the purposes of these discussions.

So what are the takeaways for apartment marketers?

  • * Embrace reviews (and open dialogue in general). People want them. Apartment Ratings isn't going away. Deal with it and make it work for you.
  • * Go multimedia. People don't want 2-D floor plans. They want video tours, interviews with property staff, photos of decorated model units, common amenities & resident events, and resident testimonials.
  • * Syndicate your deals. This one's a little dicey, because the content still needs to be relevant to a large part of your audience that may not be searching for an apartment right now. That said, if prospects are looking for reviews on Yelp, wouldn't you also want them to see your current special there?
  • * Make it easy to share your content. Do you have features like the ShareThis widget and the Facebook Like button on your property website? Prospects want the opinions of their friends; making it easy for them to share your content and get feedback about your community provides a service to your prospect and exposes your brand to more people in the process.

You can see more details from the Apartments.com survey here, and Brent Williams already has an active debate on this data over at Multifamily Insiders.

What do you think? Does this match your company's experience with social media? Will social media grow in importance as part of the apartment search process? Are we still asking the wrong questions, as some commenters have suggested over on MFI? I've presented the data (with some commentary along the way) ... the comments are yours.

To receive a copy of results from future surveys like this, please contact Tammy Kotula at Apartments.com.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NMHC 2010 "OpTech" Conference: Try It, Analyze It, Improve It

This recap of the 2010 NMHC Apartment Operations and Technology Conference is a guest post contributed by Kim Duty, VP of Communications for the National Multi Housing Council.

How to Do Business Smarter, Quicker, Better

Leading apartment executives gathered last week in Dallas, TX for the 2010 National Multi Housing Council Property Operations and Technology (OpTech) conference. While there was a lot of healthy debate at the conference, it is clear that sophisticated technology-based tools have dramatically changed the apartment industry in the last 10 years. From marketing to pricing to data mining, apartment companies are leveraging technology to transform their communications and their operations.

As AMLI’s Greg Mutz noted: “In an information age, information is the currency of the realm. We are trying to use tools to reduce procurement costs, increase productivity and increase residents.” And he added that authorizing sufficient training dollars is critical: “These tools are only as good as the people using them, so don’t be cheap about training. The Israelis have the same airplanes as everyone else but they use them better because they train better.”

Deane Dolben of The Dolben Company cautioned that “it’s easy to spend more on technology than it will deliver back, especially for a medium-sized company. We focus on our people and make sure they don’t forget about doing their job because they’re spending so much time on technology.”

If there was one theme at the conference it was the need to continue to advance the industry's embrace of technology to do business smarter, quicker, better. "Go out there, try it, keep analyzing it and change it to improve it," said one presenter. And if you want to know where technology is headed, go to a college campus advised another.

2010 NMHC Apartment Operations and Technology Conference & Exposition

Marketing Dominates the Agenda

In a clear evolution from a conference that was once focused on what kind of wiring to run to properties, the dominant theme at this year's event was marketing with an emphasis on measurement. As Drucker & Falk’s Dan Haefner noted, "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Gone are the days when subjective "I think, I feel" beliefs guided marketing strategy. Today's companies are using key performance metrics to refine their advertising programs, analyzing cost-per-lead, cost-per-lease and visit set ratios. Panelists recommended cutting any source that costs more than $50 per lead and focusing on those ad sources costing between $20/lead and $50/lead when refining media buys.

They warned, however, that properly sourcing leads is a big problem in the industry. One analysis showed that 70% of leases were attributed to the wrong source. They urged companies to use call center data and guest card matching through a lead management system before deciding which marketing sources to keep.

Conversion rates are equally dubious. Keith Dodds (AIMCO) reported that when they experimented with not holding site staff accountable for conversion rates and to instead accurately report traffic, traffic was up 50%. Don't make decisions on bad data was a recurring mantra. We have too much data and not enough tools to make sense of it was another.

Firms agreed that lead tracking and revenue management have to work together in developing a marketing strategy, since firms make money by pushing rents. Using today's data-driven tools, companies can adjust their lead streams depending on whether they are pushing occupancy or rents.

Contrarian Jonathan Holtzman (Village Green Companies) challenged the industry, stating that he believes “as an industry, we are spending 75-90% too much on marketing; generating more traffic than we need for the number of empty apartments we have.”

Social Media: “More Art Than Science”

2010 NMHC Apartment Operations and Technology Conference & ExpositionOne of the key topics at the event was marketing, with a vigorous debate on whether social media is a productive outlet for apartment firms. While apartment executives may disagree about how much of a firm's resources should be allocated to social media, they generally concurred that there is a major industry shift underway in how the industry communicates with its customers.

During a debate on the pluses and minuses of social media, Jamie Gorski (The Bozzuto Group) argued that social media is crucial because it “protects and extends your brand” and lets you hear what your customers are saying about you. "To say that it hasn't generated any leases is missing the point. Social media is just another form of communication with your customer," said Gorski. "Would you not answer an email?"

AvalonBay’s Kevin Thompson said that social media augments your firm’s marketing plan, making your company more relevant: “Search engine optimization and enhanced customer service alone make social media worthwhile.”

Arguing the other side, Donald Davidoff (Archstone) replied that social media creates a lot of activity but not a lot of results and isn't easily quantified. Asked whether social media could be an external link strategy to drive traffic to the company's web site, Davidoff reported that bounce rates from Facebook are twice as high as from an ILS.

Todd Katler (BRE) concurred that there are lots of ways to keep your apartments full that don't involve Facebook or Twitter, plus social media is not scalable. Both agreed that they may feel differently in three years and conceded that it is important for reputation management.

Thompson said firms should “either embrace social media or don’t do it at all. Don’t do it halfheartedly. If you do it and don’t do it right, it’s worse than not doing it at all.” To be successful, stop thinking of yourself as a marketer and start thinking of yourself as a publisher.

Despite the disagreement, it was clear from the hallway conversations and other panel discussions that figuring out social media is high on the industry's "to do" list for 2011.

Industry Needs to Embrace Apartment Ratings

One thing the social media panel agreed on was the importance of embracing apartment rating sites like ApartmentRatings.com and Yelp because apartment residents are using them to make leasing decisions and they have enormous relevancy in organic search results.

Drucker & Falk’s Dan Haefner shared their initiative to get supportive residents to post ratings. He says the company has spent less than $200 a site on education and awareness building and has gone from a 20% rating to an 80% rating. Once they get above 80%, they link the property site to the ratings site.

What's the Next Big Thing? QR Codes

Last year's buzz word — mobile marketing — was still a hot topic this year, but firms report that their mobile applications are getting more traction with existing residents. Greg Lozinak (Waterton Residential) reports bounce rates (users clicking away from the front page) of 50% for prospects with their mobile campaigns, but just 30% for residents. Lozinak reports that 61% of their resident portal traffic is mobile, compared to just 39% of prospect traffic.

He explains that today's renter cohort is more likely to leave their apartment without their wallet than their cellphone. "It's their first screen of choice" he says.

This year's buzz was about QR (Quick Response). These easy-to-produce bar codes can be added to brochures, billboards and web sites. They can store text (instant coupons), URL links, geographic coordinates and more, and anyone with a smart phone or a mobile phone with a camera can scan them. Research reports that 71% of consumers polled are willing to download and use mobile bar codes.

Lynette Hegeman (Gables Residential) reports they are building a mobile landing page prospects would land on after scanning the code. They are also developing one for residents and using it to link to Facebook, maintenance requests, event calendars and more.

When asked "What's next?," one speaker advised: "If you want to know what's next, go to a college campus and see where technology is headed."

Don't Forget the Current Residents

Despite a noticeable emphasis on marketing, using technology to serve existing residents was a common theme. As Laurie Baker (Camden Property Trust) said, "residents find us online, can apply online, then they move in and we put notes on their doors." In focus groups, residents told them they hated having notices put on their doors.

When asked about budget priorities for 2011, firms cited using technology to drive resident retention and create a better user experience. This includes allowing online renewals, deploying revenue management for renewals and creating touch points at different times in the relationship.

Reiterating last year's takeaway, panelists said repeatedly that the way the industry communicates with existing residents has changed. Half want to be communicated with via text or email. But the industry needs an IT solution for resident communications. Property management systems don't have fields for Twitter or Facebook accounts or the ability to designate preferred communications, much less act on them.

Revenue Management

Another recurring conference theme was revenue management software and the way it's transforming the industry.

During the downturn, some companies disabled their revenue management due to fear that it would lower rents too quickly. Riverstone's Walt Smith said he could count on his fingers the number of clients who trusted it when rents were going down.

But AvalonBay’s Leo Horey said revenue management “works through all phases. But these are tools and they have to be used in conjunction with other tools and systems. Don’t just turn it on and let it go; adjust it.

Mutz agreed, saying it’s an amazing technology if it’s used right. Now his firm is working on rolling out a module for renewals.

Best Technology Advancement

Opinions varied about what the most important advancement in the past five years has been. Mark-Taylor’s Dale Phillips said online availability is the key: “Not just digital pictures of the floorplan, but an interactive display that can show how far the unit is from its parking space and other details.”

One sign of how far the industry has come in just a few years: Mutz said 67% of his firm’s leases this year will be online. “Three or four percent of the time we first meet a new resident when we hand them the key, just like a hotel.” Many of these sight-unseen renters tend to come from overseas, so making your web site available in different languages definitely appeals to them.

Mutz added that online leasing/marketing is important but said that data mining is “light-years ahead of 10 years ago.” Using a Human Resources example, he said: “Every employee gets a grade on 10 metrics, and each position has its own metrics. The key is: don’t make them drink through a fire hose, get it down to more manageable bite-size amounts so they can change their performance.”

Missed a session? Catch up!

Presentations from the conference are available to NMHC members here. Visit NMHC's Flickr Page for photos from this year’s event. The Council has also created a Social Media Listserve to allow members to exchange ideas and pose questions on the topic. For more information, visit www.nmhc.org/goto/socialmedia.

Mark Your Calendar for Next Year!

Next year’s 2011 NMHC Apartment Operations and Technology Conference & Exposition will be held in Fort Worth, TX, November 6-8, 2011 at the Omni Fort Worth.

What are your top technology priorities for 2011? Does marketing top the list, or are you more focused on operational issues? Leave your takeaways in the comments.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Multifamily Tech Talk This Thursday: Green Technology Trends

Electric cars, alternative energy sources, energy management, smart irrigation systems -- a lot of people are thinking about all kinds of new ways to save energy and resources. This Thursday, we'll apply some of those ideas to the multifamily industry when we ask Ryan Merkin (Steven Winter Associates) and Joe Coletti (EchoSign) to join us for the next installment of our Multifamily Tech Talks. You can register for this free event here.

Ryan and Joe will cover the latest in green technology trends, including:
* Technologies for new developments
* Best practices and new ideas to make existing properties more efficient
* Tools to help your office improve operations and use less paper & resources

If you have specific questions or topics you'd like us to cover, please feel free to email me anytime up until the event.

Want to get your mind going in the right direction? Just think about some of the ideas suggested in this recent ad from IBM:

Some of this technology exists now, and you could be using it to make your properties more energy-efficient and attractive to potential renters. Want to learn more? Join us for our free webinar at 3 pm Eastern this Thursday, October 26 -- register here: Green Tech Trends for Apartments. I hope you can join us!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Don't drive traffic to your website unless you intend to do something with it!

We all have heard about the definition of insanity. Let me throw a new one out there. It is spending time time writing blog, designing a website, participating in discussion forum and not focusing on lead generation or lead conversion.

I am amazed by how little focus is spent on these two critical aspects of online marketing strategies! It is like going to play football without a playbook! You need to first design your calls to action in your website, you need to observe performance and measure results. Then you need to change, refine and improve that very process on a continuous basis. It should be at a minimum a weekly task.

Think about a retail store (your website is a like retail space!), and that store owner creates creative adds, enticing offers and has a beautiful design inside. The customers are wowed but once they have been in the store they realize that the staff is not up to par, not responsive or they simply don't greet you a way that is engaging. The likely outcome is that you leave without buying anything. Everything has worked, until it matters most! This could be equated to not picking up your phones or not responding to leads timely. It could also be responding to leads with a very generic, "canned" form.

So let's take a moment and look at our playbook, let's focus on the plays when we are within 10 yards of a touchdown (a touchdown here is getting a lead engaged in conversation). The 90 yards already traveled mean absolutely nothing unless you have a way to convert!

This post was written by Frédéric Guitton of activSalesAgent. Frédéric moved from France in 1996 and joined activSalesAgent in 2009 to introduce a live chat solution for the real estate industries. Frédéric's expertise is in Internet engagement processes, Web analytics and customer follow-ups.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Online tracking technology can give you lots of data, how can you leverage it?

We all understand the value of tracking our online traffic and its behavior. There are many great tools out there to gather that information. From Google analytics to Omniture and many more! Unfortunately I often come accross organizations that have the systems in place and the data available but do very little with it. The "corporate team" gets to see it and take some actions based on that information but it is quite limited. I will say that many certainly have teams dedicated to managing that effort but most don't.

If you look at a concrete example of how this data could be used it is not complicated. Each of your community probably has its own website (maybe within a main corporate domain). Each of these websites is an extension of your leasing centers. Wouldn't it make sense to share what is happening inside these spaces with the interested parties? Give your regional managers or property managers a simple way to access information about what is happening inside their online retail space? I for one would like to know if their are many people coming into my online space to learn more about my community or the communities in my area. With such information you would be able to engage your teams in giving you ideas and feed back about ways to best capitalize on the traffic. As they see the value and the exposure they get they will also help you drive more traffic to their online retail space. It is about leveraging your teams to help you increase your online performance.

So how is that done?
It is actually quite simple. You need to set up separate tracking for each site or speak with your service partners to create a limited access to that information based on their responsibility levels. I certainly would not grant access to the global data to a large group of people but keep it in direct relationship with what they are responsible for.

Everybody understands how valuable the internet is, unfortunately there are many inefficiencies in how/ where we spend money to drive traffic to our sites. As local managers are responsible for their expenses they will become partners in evaluating the quality of the traffic and its true value to their business. At the end of the day it has to be about gaining more leases, higher price per square foot and increasing customer satisfaction. So take a moment to evaluate how you can get your local teams engaged into a conversation about their online retail spaces.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Senior Housing: Is iPad the Right Web & Email Solution for 55+?

The iPad is everywhere … everywhere you turn, newspaper, television and websites and the official announcement of iPhone 4 took place last week as well. Spending a lot of time in airports and seeing the recent increase in road warriors toting the iPad for personal use, I’ve been searching for a senior user that is carrying one on an airplane.

On my recent flight to Phoenix I sat next to Mary, a 74 year old widower that lives between Phoenix and the Chicago suburbs, who had recently purchased an iPad and was using it on the flight. I struck up a conversation with her for about 30 minutes about her purchasing decision regarding the device. Some of the highlights from our conversation were:

  • * She wanted something to travel with that had email, web, books, movies, etc. in one place
  • * She had an old PC at home but had not used it much because it was old and slow. She would use her PC maybe once a week and uses her iPad everyday now to research her interests
  • * When asked if she would buy an iPhone, she said that her Motorola RAZR worked just fine. There was no feature that she needed to have “upgraded” with a new phone.
  • * She said she didn’t want a netbook because she was not good at typing
  • * When asked about writing letters, spreadsheets, etc., she said she didn’t know what Microsoft Office was … she prefers to handwrite letters and notes.
  • * She wanted to buy an iPad when it first came out but bought the 3G version as it was recommended by the guys at the Apple store Genius Bar based upon how she was going to use the device.

When asked about common complaints such as lack of USB ports and printing, she said she didn’t own a digital camera and that her grandchildren and kids emailed her pictures. She did say that she wished she could print out her boarding pass for Southwest though.

Mary’s profile is simple and I would hardly classify her as ‘techie’ nor your typical early adopter but for someone shopping for a simple solution that met her needs at a price point she was comfortable with.

Will seniors migrate to the iPad? Over time I believe that the price point and the fact that the device is truly a personal computing device rather than a laptop (business), more seniors will migrate to the iPad versus purchasing a netbook. Look for a rumored price drop around Christmas to spur the iPad as great gift from kids or grand kids or as an upgrade like the profile of Mary above. Is this the silver bullet for silver tech? No, but the elegance of its design and its price point make it a compelling device for the 55+ crowd when compared to other computing options in the market today.

What do you think? What are the opportunities for senior housing to leverage the iPad? Let us know what you think in the comments.

This is a guest post by George Patton that was originally published on Senior Housing News. George is the Publisher & Editor of SHN.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Successful Online Marketing has Only Three Possible Outcomes: The Three Musketeers.

Successful marketing means one thing and one thing only, the consumer was compelled to take action. That will happen in one of three ways, in person, via phone or via the Internet.

What happens after an anonymous web shopper has found information compelling enough to justify connecting or simply a great call to action. Let’s look at the 3 different possible paths and explore how this could play out… The possible outcomes are exactly the same as with any other marketing strategy; in person, via phone or via the internet. (Athos, Porthos and Aramis… Uhm… Where is d’Artagnan?)

1/ (Athos) In person: Getting a prospect to visit you is always best. Once you welcome a visitor nothing else should take precedent, make sure they know how important they are but be strategic. Ask for a few minutes to verify that you have everything ready (refreshments, paperwork, keys to visit units), place your cell on vibrate. Notify others that you are busy and handle any possible conflict in advance. First impressions are everything, if your first contact is in person; make sure they see that you are in control.

2/ (Porthos) Via phone: Knowing how to handle a phone call is a skill set that is often overlooked or downplayed. I received a great advice about how to handle a call-in. Once a call is identified as being a prospect place them on hold. Do it very well by simply saying this; “Your call is very important and I want to give you my full attention, could hold for one minute, I just have a quick task to complete.” Use that minute (no more than one minute, 30s is best) to pull out your prepared lead form and focus. Remember that you cannot sign a lease over the phone, so what you are selling is the value of a visit or a follow up conversation. The best outcome is to set a face to face conversation or getting the prospect to complete an application.

3/ (Aramis) Via the Internet: Reaching out online (email or registration screen) is often perceived as a low level of commitment but it is as high as any other. Note that when I say this I exclude leads with inaccurate information because these are not leads. Here is why an online prospect is a high level of commitment; a consumer shares his/her personal contact information with you without having met or spoken with you. It is certainly one of the most convenient ways to reach out and it needs to be treated with the same level of importance than any other lead source. Make the communication very personal. You should try to call if the information permits. With the internet speed is everything, so make sure you can be as real time as possible. The biggest challenge of the internet is that leads are often handled via e-mail and you are now working with one of the slowest communication tool out there. Yes the e-mails travel fast but you are dependent upon mailboxes being opened. Whenever you can, try to shift the exchange from e-mail to a phone conversation or a visit in person.

I speak in this title about The Three Musketeers without the main character thus far; d’Artagnan. Here is how d’Artagnan enters our storyline. While the internet has grown incredibly in its ability to reach more people and do it faster it is still lacking the human factor. Remember this: websites don’t sell anything, people do. Making the most compelling argument to connect in person with anonymous web shoppers has to be a center point of your marketing efforts. Here is a though, explore how you could introduce people inside your site. Enable real-time conversations and open a fourth dimension in ways for consumers to connect. Offer a simple invitation to assist an anonymous web browser. Take them out of the internet dimension and move them into conversation. This way you will be able to gain more control over the outcome by managing a live exchange rather than letting the consumer draw its own conclusions in a matter of seconds. Live chat technology enables you to do all this very well and will help you take your website to next level. Are you prepared? Why do I ask? Because your consumers are, here are some stats about Facebook chat from February 2009 (that is 15 months ago or over 225M Facebook users ago!)

  • 300+ million chat messages are sent per day
  • 4+ million active channels at peak
  • 67% of users have chatted at least once (so about 117 million people)

Your Internet marketing strategies are designed around creating more opportunities to gain clients, one of the most logical ways to that is to offer web shoppers as many ways as possible to connect with you and get into a conversation.

This post was written by Frédéric Guitton of activSalesAgent. Frédéric moved from France in 1996 and joined activSalesAgent in 2009 to introduce a live chat solution for the real estate industries. Frédéric's expertise is in Internet engagement processes, Web analytics and customer follow-ups.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

There is Nothing Virtual About Your Web Presence

Decisions are being made by your Web shoppers.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia about what virtual means; “The term has been defined in philosophy as "that which is not real" but may display the salient qualities of the real.” When I think virtual I think no consequence, just an experience. When I hear someone describe the internet as a virtual space I can’t help but cringe. Do you actually believe this has not consequence?

Your web presence is very real and has real consequences, good and bad. The Internet is often compared by many as a brochure-like space. I look at websites everyday that are nice looking and have neat graphics. The questions I ask myself when looking at a site are simply these; “Is what we think the consumer wants, or is that what the consumer wants and the site answers a need”, and “What’s the call to action?” These questions require digging into data, looking at the web shoppers’ behavior. Explore click paths and see where to they go inside the site you have designed. Understanding your web traffic will help you make your site more relevant.

Anonymous web shoppers will decide whether you make their “list” by their online experience. It is important to take a step back and look at your site through the consumer’s eyes. Too many sites have way too much information and no logical way for a consumer to only get the information relevant to them. If a web shopper cannot get to what they want to know quickly they will go somewhere else to find it.

Too many customers go online to start their search for you to not take these matters very seriously. Whether it is what your blog says or says about you, how convenient your web-site is or how good the video/ pictures displayed in ILS platforms are. All these factors will drive a choice, the consumer’s choice to take action and reach out to you or not. That choice is made in a matter of seconds and because web shoppers can remain anonymous you will probably never find out you missed an opportunity.

A website has to be about the consumer and their expectations versus what we think they should know. It is a matter of weaving a site in such a way that their visit provides them with what they want and insert information that we feel is important for them to know. Acquiring knowledge about what consumers do once they are inside your site is a key factor in learning enough about what they go to look at.

Leveraging that knowledge to make that information readily available will enhance your web shoppers’ experience and help yield more out of your web traffic. Your website is an extension of your sales centers; you have a great opportunity to connect with more prospective residents online by simply making it easy for them. There is nothing virtual about that opportunity, yes it will mean investing into strong analytics, spending time reviewing them and making changes to your site. Try different things then find the optimal solution. Once you get that done then get ready to start all over again, consumers change and your web presence has to follow suit. Internet years are like dog years, they go 7 to 10 times faster .If you are serious about leveraging the internet to increase your marketing reach then the first step is to become aware about how real that space is and then know that you will have to continuously make changes.

It is worth making the effort to make you Internet presence effective because it works! Your next clients have probably seen something about your community online before they decide to make their first visit. Do you want to increase the odd in your favor? Then keep these three simple facts in mind:

  1. 1. Your website is not about you, it is about your consumers’ needs.
  2. 2. Track your web traffic in depth and modify your site according to the goals you have defined.
  3. 3. Be ready to change parts of your site on an ongoing basis, create long term partnerships with your service providers and question the efficiency of your Web marketing strategy regularly.
This is a guest post by Frédéric Guitton of activSalesAgent. Frédéric moved from France in 1996 and joined activSalesAgent in 2009 to introduce a live chat solution for the real estate industries. Frédéric's expertise is in Internet engagement processes, Web analytics and customer follow-ups.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Value Engineering: A Bit of a Rant

By Tom Stender -- VP & CTO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects

This post is a bit of a rant, but I feel there is a valuable lesson to be learned here for all multifamily property owners, builders and developers.

Typical communications closetMy company was recently asked by a customer to look at adding a new telecommunications system in his building. Since we (InfiniSys) provided the original low voltage design for the building when it opened, I felt confident that the existing design of the communications rooms and the spare fiber strands we had designed for the backbone would make the new system simpler and less expensive to install -- there would be very little new cabling required.

Until we walked the site.

An actual site walk-through discovered that the low voltage contractor had installed less than half of the fiber strands we had specified, most of which were already in use by the satellite company (a PCO) providing TV and Internet service to the residents. Needless to say, if the original specifications had been followed, the owner would now not have to pay for more fiber to be installed, no doubt at a greater cost than it would have been if were done when the building was being roughed in.

Many times this is the result of owner’s value engineering (VE) to cut cost. The need to cut costs is completely understandable. However, if you are paying a professional design firm to recommend and design the most appropriate networks for your building, you might want to ask about any potential ramifications before you decide not to install something to save money. That way you know why it was designed that way and can make an informed decision about making changes.

Here's another scenario: I’ve seen the low voltage contractor will often value engineer his bid to get it at the cost level the general contractor wants. Invariably, this never makes it to the proper people to discuss when the bid is submitted, unless the telecommunications providers and/or low voltage designer are part of that loop to point out the deficiencies.

With construction costs where they are, value engineering a design is quite common to get costs to fit the budget. However, any VE should be done in a way that causes the least impact on the functionality available to the property owner and residents, not to mention leaving room for future growth as technology evolves at an ever-increasing pace. There are many ways to bring costs down with minimal repercussions ... this conversation should always include the designer. Isn't that why you hired them in the first place?

Have you run into challenges because of a design that was value engineered? What have you done to address construction costs while still maintaining services that meet your residents expectations?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

2010 Broadband Properties Summit Recap

This is a guest post by Tom Stender -- VP & CTO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects -- that was originally posted on the InfiniSys site.

The 2010 Broadband Properties Summit was held April 26th through the 28th in Addison, Texas. While I am not sure if the actual numbers are in, attendance appeared to be up over last year.

As in previous years, the sessions were divided into different tracks so an attendee could get the most out of what really interested them. There was the FTTH Track, the Multifamily Track, the Editors Choice Track, and a special one day Broadband for Rural Prosperity forum that was sponsored by the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

My main interest was the Multifamily Track; however, the tracks were laid out in such a way as to allow several sessions and keynotes covering FTTH and Rural Broadband to be attended as well. All of which provided a wealth of information.

The Multifamily Track contained a good cross section of representatives from various telecom service providers, property owners, low voltage contractors and other industry consultants. Each provided their own insight and expertise on the wide array of panels which ranged in topic from the Future of Multifamily Design to Resident Choice, Due Diligence, Bulk Services, and others. The subject of resident choice and multiple providers came up frequently, even on panels where it wasn’t the main subject. It is obvious that this is a very important subject to owners and providers at this point. In my opinion, this track was a great educational resource for those that were new to the Summit as well as for the folks that attend regularly, as the magazine staff planned well in their selection of subjects for the track sessions.

The Exhibit Hall held a wide array of folks ranging from the major service providers to equipment manufacturers and was open multiple times each day for attendees to peruse. There were many products and services being displayed, but a few things that caught my eye were the release of the new SWM32 module for DirecTV MFH-2 delivery (supports up to 32 apartments in a single wall mountable package) and the Foxcom repackaged BsmarTV equipment (a simple kit utilizing a single fiber and compact, easy-to-mount electronics).

As always, Broadband Properties, with the help of their major event sponsors provided for plenty of great networking opportunities.

All in all, I found it to be a great educational event, and my hat goes off to Scott Degarmo, Steve Ross and the rest of the organizers and volunteers for their efforts to help put this together. The only thing that would make it better would be to have more property owners and managers to receive the education that is available at an event like this.

What are your biggest technology questions? What topics would you most like to see covered at events like this? Let us know!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Demo: VaultWare's Leasing Tablet

I just returned from the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference, where there were many extremely informative sessions about the latest trends in digital marketing for apartment companies. (This year's trends to watch: social, mobile and local.) I'd definitely encourage you to watch for the slides or go back through the Twitter stream (search #AIMConf).

To kick off the event, one of the founding sponsors, VaultWare, showed off their new mobile websites that incorporate their real-time availability service.

They also demoed a full leasing application for the iPad, which includes everything from current availability and a prospect guestcard to the latest YouTube videos and Yelp reviews of the community. Realty DataTrust's CEO, Mike Mueller took the time to walk me through all the features of the product. Here's my full interview with Mike:

Link to the full video on YouTube: VaultWare's Leasing Tablet.

What do think? Is this something you'd like to use at your property?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 Verizon Executive Summit Wrap-Up

This is a guest post by Tom Stender -- VP & CTO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects -- that was originally posted on the InfiniSys site.

As in previous years, InfiniSys was invited to attend the Verizon Executive Summit, held this year at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. It was a three-day event filled with speakers from Verizon’s sales, marketing, and engineering teams, as well as a host of their partners.

As always, Verizon took very good care of their guests -– the events included a golf outing and a trip to the National Geographic Museum to go along with the daily sessions. The event staff did an excellent job.

Vendor Updates and Bulk Pricing
During the Summit, guests were invited to the FiOS product demonstration area, where a live FiOS video setup was in place as well as displays by Suttle, Motorola, Alcatel-Lucent, 3M, and others.

Suttle was showing their new mounting plates for both Motorola and Alcatel small form-factor SFU ONT (the in-unit ONT) and the battery backup unit (BBU) for installation in their enclosure can -– this is great news, as it’s a huge space saver that will eliminate the need for the second S-One cabinet that was previously required in the unit in some installations.

3M was on hand with a demo of their “One Pass Fiber Pathway,” which is a low profile cable pathway designed for brownfield use -– it adheres directly to the wall and comes preloaded with 6 or 12 fibers. It’s a very interesting product, indeed.

Verizon execs spent a good deal of time touting their new MDU bulk pricing model (which has been on many folks’ wish list for a long time). However, it’s obvious that they still have a few hurdles to overcome and kinks to work out to fit all of the bulk scenarios that are required. As it sits, the product may be a good fit for some apartment companies, but it’s not ready for prime time for the student housing market. Verizon still has some work to do if they want to compete with the cable operators and satellite resellers in that vertical.

Verizon Concierge
One item that particularly interested me was Verizon Concierge. This free property management software service is developed and supported by Simplikate and is being offered to properties that currently have, or will soon have, FiOS services. This offering organizes all of a property’s common amenities under one interface to handle deliveries, visitor management, scheduling of property resources, etc. It also allows the building’s residents to contact each other as well as the staff. The service is being marketed as a property management system that can become, replace or work in tandem with existing backend systems -– however, it’s unclear how the system will work with common property management software platforms such as RealPage and Yardi.

Currently, the service is accessible using a web browser or as a mobile app for smart phones, but access through FiOS TV is in the works. It will also be available for use by non-Verizon customers at properties that elect to use the service. Verizon Concierge can track items for management as well, like maintenance work orders, plus it has the ability to place simultaneous voice calls to residents in the event of an emergency. All in all, it looks like there will be some real value in this free service for both management and residents and bears a closer look.

As more details about all of these items become available from Verizon, we'll be sure to keep you posted.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rental Beast: A Better Way to Search for an Apartment?

Apartment hunting can be a painful process. Just check the Twitter stream and you'll see plenty of tweets like this:

(And as popular as it has become, Craigslist is what it is.)

There are a LOT of websites that are trying different models to improve the online apartment hunting experience. The major Internet Listing Sites continue to innovate, while new competitors like Cazoodle are trying to aggregate all apartment listings in one place to create a one-stop shop of sorts. (Cazoodle's tagline: "One Search, All Apartments, Entire Web!")

But according to one new player in the industry, the "show me everything you got" approach just creates more noise and frustration for serious apartment shoppers.

I had a chance to speak with the Ishay Grinberg, President of Rental Beast, a site that is trying to make apartment hunting easier, particularly for renters in large metro areas where brokers and apartment locators are commonplace.

Here's the pitch that Rental Beast makes to apartment hunters on its site:

  • Never pay a broker fee

  • Search validated listings

  • Get direct contact to owners and management companies
Ishay wants RentalBeast to become the "ultimate rental database," comparing it to an MLS for single-family homes. He didn't provide details about how the property information on the site is sourced, but Ishay is confident that his site's differentiator is the quality of its content. He believes that "content is king" -- he is focused on taking care of his users first, and he thinks those users will gladly pay for better listings. To access the site as an apartment shopper, it'll cost you ... plans start at $29.

To get the word out and build their userbase, Ishay's team has spent a lot of time networking with off-campus housing, corporate HR offices and other similar resources, sharing their story with anyone who will listen.

Rental Beast verifies the listings on their site -- it's free for apartment marketers to list their available units. (Marketers can post their apartments here, even if your property is outside the Boston area.)

Because the site doesn't rely on apartment operators as their primary source of income, I asked if they would be open to posting property reviews on their listings. Ishay said they're certainly open to the idea, but it's not a feature they're actively working on.

The site launched in March 2009 and is already profitable, even though it's only available in the Boston area for now. Ishay believes he has a strong model that will work well in other key "24-hour markets" such as New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. (All are strong markets for brokers and third-party locator services.) As an example, Ishay claimed that one REIT told him that 65% of their leases in one market come from brokers. This contact-the-owner-directly could be quite appealing to apartment shoppers and property owners who typically deal with a go-between.

Ishay sees other opportunities for the database of properties that he is accumulating, and he claims to have other interesting strategic partnerships in the works (although we didn't get into details about any of these partnerships). In general, Ishay is very open to new ideas and partnership opportunities. His primary message: "Renters should stop going to Craigslist, and come to Rental Beast instead."

What do you think? Are you listing properties on Rental Beast? If you're in a market where brokers are common, do you think apartment shoppers will use the site? What about smaller markets? Let me know what you think!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

#AptChat Discusses Revenue Management

Last Friday, the discussion on the weekly #AptChat focused on the use of revenue management (RM) solutions, which are software programs to efficiently determine rental pricing, while taking the emotion (and potential for overcompensation) out of the process. We're reposting the recap of that conversation here for our readers ... enjoy.

With representation from both Rainmaker (LRO) and RealPage (YieldStar) throughout the discussion and apartment operators on both sides of the fence, this turned out to be a very interesting, enlightening discussion.

First, it's important to understand what a revenue management system is and why apartment operators might want to use one. Here's how you defined revenue management software:

  • Gary Katz: "For those unfamiliar with RM systems, they price apartments kind of like hotels price their rooms. Prices can change daily."

  • Keith Dunkin: "RM systems provide the optimal blend of internal fundamentals and external data. Protects from over reacting to comps."

  • Keith Dunkin: "Improved Revenue Performance, Increased Visibility, Pricing Efficiency, reduced carry costs."

  • Steve Matre: "Classic yield mgmt, matches price to demand based on lease exp's and historic traffic, system sets price."

  • Gary Katz: "The idea is too not price apts too low and leave $ on the table and not price them too high and leave them vacant."

We gave both Rainmaker and RealPage the opportunity to describe how they derive their pricing. Here's Rainmaker's response: "LRO optimizes rents based on supply & demand (traffic, leasing, availability, etc). Market response is measured & prices adjust." Bruce Barfield also added that "LRO uses electronic web scraping technology to get dynamic prices."
Janine Jovanovic answered for RealPage: "YS gets factual leasing data daily from 15k+ properties across the US + 5m MPF units + any data entered on site."

On to the recap!

Are you using revenue management software for your business? If yes, why? If no, why not?

  • Jennifer Kennedy: "No....not sure that there is enough ROI."

  • Donald Davidoff: "Been using it for 9 years with multiple tests that prove the ROI."

  • Heather Blume: "I've worked with the software before, and talked to many clients who use it. Some love it, some don't."

  • Keith Dunkin: "To echo Donald at Archstone, Rev Mgmt has been in place for years with proven revenue premiums to market in 2-5%, compelling ROI."

  • Heather Blume: "What mgrs have said to me is that they lose the push/pull ability and it's difficult to stay competitive sometimes."

  • Mark Juleen: "Nearly 2 years now with Yieldstar."

  • Janine Jovanovic: "Managers and leasing staff have told us that they love it because it empowers them to sell more."

  • Keith Dunkin: "On the ROI comment RM systems have been measured consistently in up and down market and both solutions have proven out."

  • Trachelle Spencer: "We have been actively using LRO for over 6 years and would not go back to a manual process."

How long does an RM system take to 'pay for itself'?

How many units before companies feel they need a "pricing guru" to over see the system? (Asked by Steve Matre)

  • James Flick: "I would suggest 50+ properties for a dedicated individual in YS. Otherwise, use the consulting services w/ RealPage."

  • Janine Jovanovic: "You can outsource pricing oversight to us. Makes sense to have your own internal resource at 10,000+ units."

  • Trachelle Spencer: "We have 44 communities currently on LRO; there are two of us managing them. Doesn't include Lease Ups."

  • James Flick: "It is probably more cost effective to outsource to an experienced consultant at Realpage vs. a full time person in house."

  • Chris Long: "We have 150 properties and 3 dedicated resources."

  • Trachelle Spencer: "It is important to have pricing professionals and not have the system run independently."

How tough is it to renew someone when their rent can, in effect, go down one day after they sign their renewal?

  • Donald Davidoff: "Rents can go down in one day on manual systems."

  • Janine Jovanovic: "This is a function of market conditions not RM - happens with or without RM in place."

  • Leigh Curry: "What about the person who finsw out their airplane fare has decreased by $100 or hotel room by $50...fact of life."

  • Mark Juleen: "We have struggled the most with making renewals as fair as possible."

  • Trachelle Spencer: "We have processes in place to review renewals if necessary."

Along the way, there were a lot of great comments about implementation and the use of revenue management systems in general. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Mark Juleen: "We played with it for the first year trying to override too much. We just let it run now."

  • Mark Juleen: "No more 'concessions' or 'specials' rents, just adjust both renewal and new."

  • Mark Juleen: "In 2009 our Rev. was up 2% in Indy while most competition has reported they are down 2%."

  • Lisa Trosien: "You have to know/learn how to 'sell' it to the prospect. It really does simplify the process."

  • Janine Jovanovic: "Prospects can do math. They like the "check writing" price. You can say "concession" is built into the price."

  • Trachelle Spencer: "Our communities do weekly competitive surveys. We are finding more accurate pricing online."

  • Trachelle Spencer: "We have classes offered by our Training Dept. Site Visits, 1 on 1's, conference calls, webinars, etc."

  • James Flick: "Have we aligned incentives and compensation for managers and leasing associates to get them to embrace rev mgmt?"

  • Lisa Trosien: "RM is great: it's fair; it increases the bottom line; it creates urgency. It removes the 'fudge factor'. I'm a big fan."

One advocate for revenue management, Mark Juleen, laid out in detail why he likes using the program over manual pricing. Here's what he said:

Even though Mark is a fan of the system, he still thinks there's room for improvement (and others seemed to agree). For more comments on this, and for the rest of the discussion, check out the full transcript.

What do you think? Are you using a revenue management system to set pricing? If so, what has been your experience so far? What can RM systems do to improve their models? Are you evaluating your options? Let us know what you think in the comments!

(#AptChat is free and open to anyone ... I encourage you to check it out!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tech Talks: Negotiating Better Telecom Agreements

As technology seems to be evolving faster than ever, it's been exciting to watch the Multifamily Technology community start to pick up steam. Requests to join our LinkedIn group have been steady; we are welcoming new members almost every day.

As our group expands, we also want to expand the ways we are providing value to you. We recently announced to the LinkedIn group that we'll be starting a series of Multifamily Tech Talks; the series kicks off tomorrow (Wednesday, February 17th) at 2 PM Eastern with Richard Holtz from InfiniSys Electronic Architects. The topic? Negotiating Better Telecom Agreements. Whether you're negotiating (or renegotiating) deals with the local cable company, evaluating FiOS or U-verse, or trying to determine how to make multiple providers work at your property, this is a call you won't want to miss.

There's still time to register, and you can submit questions any time prior to the event. All the information about Wednesday's call can be found here. Blog readers can use the code mt360 to get 25% off the regular rate, and paid attendees will also get access to a recording of the call following the event.

I hope you can join us on the call, and I hope you find value in the Tech Talk series as we move forward. Future topics include Onsite Technology Audits, Technology Trends for Multifamily, Technology for Senior Living, Tech Students Expect and more. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact me anytime.

(And if telecom isn't your thing, please let us know. As you can see from the subgroups we've established on LinkedIn, we're striving to provide a professional forum for everything from property management & operations software, to green technologies, to online & mobile marketing, to IT and network infrastructure. We're putting together topics for future sessions, and we'd love to cover the issues that matter most to you.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Walkability Comes to MyNewPlace

MyNewPlace and Walk Score Team Up to Promote Walkable Apartments

"Location, location, location" has long been the cornerstone of the real estate industry. (The top apartment search sites – as selected by the tech-savvy readers of Lifehacker – all incorporate map-based search into their interfaces.) Now, MyNewPlace (MNP) is taking the notion of prime location to the next level by working with Walk Score to deliver more information to apartment hunters using their site. (MNP is no stranger to working with third-party sites to add interactive features to their listings.)

According to MNP, they are now the first major apartment search site to incorporate the Walk Score walkability ratings on every listing. Users will be able to sort apartment listings by their Walk Score, which should provide the prospect with a better snapshot of the surrounding neighborhood. One can presume that better informed prospects typically make for more qualified leads for apartment marketers. (More on this in a bit...)

In case you're not familiar with Walk Score, it's a website that rates a property’s walkability by analyzing the address to determine what sort of amenities are within walking distance. The higher the walk score, the more "walkable" a location should be. Walkability can be attractive to prospects looking for a neighborhood with easy access to all the conveniences of daily life – grocery stores, restaurants, schools, public transportation, etc. Here's one look at how the Walk Score ratings are integrated into MNP listings:

Why Add WalkScore?
MyNewPlace believes that the addition of Walk Score to their listings reflects renters’ emphasis on neighborhood information when choosing an apartment. One of MNP's recent surveys found that 79% of renters said that local information was an important factor in selecting what apartment to pick. With Walk Score built into MyNewPlace listings, renters are now able to get a true feel for the neighborhood and determine if it will be a good fit for their lifestyle. (What else are you doing to promote your property's neighborhood?)

Apartment marketers may think they have the best location – good neighborhood, great local attractions – but this feature will allow prospects to see that for themselves. By including walkability scores in their apartment searches, MNP believes they'll be able to deliver owners a distinctive competitive advantage.

The integration appears to be part of a two-way partnership. While Walk Score offers their own embeddable "real estate tiles," MyNewPlace is also powering an embeddable Walk Score Walkable Apartments widget – you can grab it here. MyNewPlace is also sharing data with Walk Score, showing how many apartments are available in the metro area searched by the user:

For more information, check out the announcement on the MyNewPlace blog.

My take: It's not an earth-shattering announcement, but it's encouraging to see that MyNewPlace continues to add new features to their listings. 'Renters by choice' are looking for convenience, and the Walk Score data could be an interesting way to deliver that information without the prospect leaving the site. I'm curious to know if apartment marketers with suburban properties can turn the feature off if they're concerned about their score, and I look forward to hearing from MNP down the road about how features like these influence the effectiveness of their advertisers' listings.

What do you think? Will apartment hunters use this new feature? And if they do, how big of a factor is walkability in the apartment selection process? Is there any downside to this partnership?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Does ApartmentGrade Make the Grade?

Last month, a new website called ApartmentGrade.com lauched with a big announcement on Multifamily Insiders. According to the site:

ApartmentGrade is a new site dedicated to providing renters with high quality unbiased reviews of apartments. We conduct independent research to find out who does the best job; from the leasing agent to maintenance requests we help you find the right apartment.
Leigh Curry and Lucas Haldeman are behind the site, and I had a chance to talk with them about it shortly after the announcement was made -- here are my notes from that conversation:

First, it's important to understand what ApartmentGrade is trying to do, as well as what it's not trying to do. AptGrade isn't competing as an alternative to Apartment Ratings or Yelp -- visitors can't go to the site to post a review of any given community. Instead, AptGrade is trying to become something of a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval for apartment communities.

Rather than relying on comments from current or past residents, the ApartmentGrade team conducts a simple seven-question survey to judge how the property is doing. (They are currently working with at least two large multifamily operators.) They can conduct the survey for you, or you can add their questions into your existing survey program. Once the surveys are collected and validated, AptGrade lets the property owner choose which grades they would like to have featured on the site. There's no way to tell when the last survey was conducted at a property, but Leigh promises me that they'll soon have the survey dates posted.

Once the owner has selected the properties they want to feature, AptGrade sets up a profile page for the property. Any requests for more information are directed to the owner's ILS of choice. AptGrade makes money by referring these leads to the ILSs. It's unclear whether an owner could elect to send the traffic to their own website rather than an ILS, but I would have to imagine this shouldn't be too difficult to do.

ApartmentGrade will provide property marketers with special "badges" to indicate their high grades on their websites and ILS listings. To encourage marketers to post as many of the properties in their portfolio as possible, AptGrade will also provide badges for those companies that post a very high percentage of their properties' grades to the site. (I'm not sure this is enough incentive, but at least they realize the potential issue and are trying to address it.)

There is no way for readers to leave comments on individual properties at this point, although Leigh acknowledges that this is something that they made add later. As an alternative to comments directly posted to the site, they may also choose to include existing comment feeds from social media sites related to the property.

They plan to drive traffic to the site by focusing on search engine optimization and through several partnerships with apartment listing sites (ILSs).

So what do you think? Would you use ApartmentGrade? Do you think prospective renters will use it? I'd love to get your comments on this one. And if you can, check out the FIVE pages of comments on the entire subject of apartment ratings and reviews on the MFI discussion board.

Here's the full text of the announcement posted to Multifamily Insiders:
Finally there is a solution for owners and managers that are fed up with sites like ApartmentRatings.com and ApartmentReviews.net!

Announcing ApartmentGrade.com -- http://www.apartmentgrade.com -- the first web site dedicated solely to providing prospective renters with professional, credible, objective, and accurate reviews of apartment communities based on the current resident’s feedback. When prospective residents view a multifamily community at ApartmentGrade.com, they will see a review based on expert, professional, unbiased ratings of the existing residents of the community.

Who better to rate your community than your current residents?

-- Provides high quality, unbiased data from current residents to prospective residents
-- Promotes the positive aspects of apartment living
-- Highlights outstanding apartment owners and managers
-- Works with the multifamily industry, not against like other rating sites

How Does ApartmentGrade.com Work?
Using a proprietary scoring model, ApartmentGrade.com works with owners and managers that provide "internal" resident surveys or work with resident survey companies including CEL Associates, Satisfacts, J Turner Research, Kingsley, etc. We take that survey data to provide an unbiased and definitive "grade" of each apartment community based on the ratings of that community's residents.

This rating service is also free. That's right -- absolutely free. ApartmentGrade.com will also post your grade to its web site for no charge. On top of it, if the owner or manager of the community is uncomfortable with the grade assigned to your property, then we will re-rate that property for free if desired. Also ApartmentGrade.com will only post those communities that the owner or manager has authorized to be posted. You don't like your rating, we don't post it!

What do prospective residents see?
When prospective residents do a city, zip or state search on ApartmentGrade.com, they see all pertinent communities in that search parameter that are currently rated by ApartmentGrade.com. Each community listing also has a Google map, physical address, phone #, rent ranges, and bed and bathroom options. However to get more information on the property, if a user clicks on "Check Rates", "View Photos", "Get Driving Directions" or the photo of the community, the prospective resident is directed to the owner/manger's ILS of choice

To see some live examples of properties that have currently been rated and are posted live on the web site, please type in the following city searches:

-- Rochester Hills, MI
-- Bloomingdale, IL
-- West Chester, OH

Why should your multifamily company be involved?
Positive ratings drive engagement and demand. A prospective resident looking at two buildings side by side, similar in many aspects, rent, size, neighborhood, now have a reason to pick your property. A positive rating will not only give you a means to increase closing ratios, it can also help at renewal time.

Why leave an apartment with award winning customer service for some place unknown? ApartmentGrade.com is a partner to the multifamily housing; unlike current rating sites we are not trying to drive traffic through salacious anonymous gripes.

At ApartmentGrade.com our core goals are to provide high quality data while promoting the positive aspects of apartment living; rather than call out under performing properties and managers, we seek to highlight and promote the best operators and the best run properties.

By being a part of ApartmentGrade.com you are gaining a powerful tool -- independent confirmation that you provide a great place to live. We guarantee no other web site offers objective reviews and ratings of apartment communities like ApartmentGrade.com

To learn more:
Please feel free to contact me directly at lcurry@curryconduit.com or 609-882-3868 for more information on how your company's communities can participate immediately for absolutely no cost.

Best regards,

Leigh Curry