Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why do apartment listings have such terrible pictures?

That's not from me ... I'm just passing along the message.

Don't believe me? See for yourself:

Think about this for a minute -- this is coming directly from a prospective renter:
I'm in the process of looking for apartments right now, and a ton of them just have horrible-quality pictures that tell me nothing about the place. Is there some incentive for people to keep on doing this?
One search on Craigslist shows exactly what the questioner means. Here's one example (posted by a professional management company):
What is that supposed to tell me as a prospect?

Now I'm no photography expert, but it seems to me like quality photos shouldn't be that big of an issue today, even if a professional photographer isn't in the budget.

Some Basics

I dug into this a bit further, looking for some basic tips about taking better quality photos. It didn't take long to find some great resources. Here's an example of some suggestions from Apartment Therapy:
Light: Take advantage of daylight. When using artificial light, use as much as possible. Don't use a flash as it can create shine and glare...

Wide Shot: Stand as far back as possible in the corner of a room. Try to center the good stuff in the middle and cut out as much of the ceiling as possible. If you don't have a wide-angle lens and the room is too small to capture all at once, then do a piece at a time.

Close-ups: Don't zoom in but rather step up to whatever you think is an interesting detail in your apartment. Frame it well, meaning make sure that there are other things in the photo that complement it. It is also a good idea to get above the scene rather than meet it at eye level.

Focus: If you don't have a tripod, try to lean the camera on something stable each time you take a photo. Clarity is crucial.

Perspective: Don't take all your photos from the same vantage point. Stand on a chair, lay down on the floor, get on your knees...
Great stuff. Now let's put some of these tips to use.

Taking Better Apartment Photos

We need to make it as easy as possible to take better photos, and we also need a (relatively) readily-accessible device that doesn't require a physics degree to operate.

A quick look at Flickr shows that the most popular camera used by photographers contributing to the site is a device a number of us have in our pockets right now -- the iPhone.

THIS is great news. First, because it's in your pocket, ready to fire at a moment's notice. Second, it's a respectable camera, especially if you have the latest edition (the 4S), so no need for a high-end DSLR. Third, it has a library of awesome apps to help you take better photos and share them online. Oh, and it shoots HD video, too. (I've focused on the iPhone for the purpose of this post, but there are also many photo-related apps available for Android phones ... try starting here.)

Get More Out of Your Cameraphone

So how exactly do we use the iPhone to take better pictures? Just like with any other camera, the right accessories can make all the difference. Here are just a few of the apps you might want to try to get more out of your iPhone camera:

Camera+: Features include an image stabilizer, exposure editing, cool effects and more.

Instagram: Add gorgeous filtered effects or tilt-shift blur. Share photos to other popular social networking sites.

Big Lens: Edit photos by setting the aperture, changing periphery blur levels and adjusting background to add a very professional look to your images.

Gorillacam: Take time-lapse photos, use the timer or use the built-in level to make sure your photos are straight.

Color Splash: Give photos a dramatic look by converting them to black and white, while keeping your chosen details in color.

Photoshop Express: Basic photo editing, including cropping, filters, effects, borders and more.

Flickr: Share your amazing photos with the world, and geo-tag your images to let people know where to find you.

Not one of these apps costs more than $1.99 in the iTunes App Store, and many of them are free.

Beyond the software, there are many external lenses and other accessories that you can add on to get even more out of the iPhone camera. (Tom Martin offers some great tips in this presentation.)

With a little bit of time & effort and a slim device that many of have in our pockets, we can significantly improve the photos we're posting on our property websites, ILS ads and Craigslist posts.

Now it's your turn. What tips do you have to take better property photos? What's your favorite camera or photography app?

Want to see some great photos? Check out some of the most interesting photos of apartments on Flickr.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

NMHC OpTech 2011: Top Tweets from Day One - #NMHCTech

Many in the industry have descended on Dallas for this year's edition of the NMHC Operations and Technology Conference, which kicked off yesterday with a keynote presentation from futurist Jack Uldrich.

In case you couldn't make it to the conference (yours truly included), here are some of the highlights from those in attendance at yesterday's sessions, 140 characters at a time:

Want to follow along during today's roundtable discussions and sessions? Just follow the search #NMHCTech.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How Much Bandwidth Does Your Property Need for the "Internet of Things?"

So you think a 3Mb connection for each resident is sufficient? Maybe 5-10Mb if you have "tech-savvy" residents like students?

Sorry, that's just not going to cut it.

Take a look at the graphic below, shared by Cisco. (If there's any company that knows networking, it's them.) The money stat?

"By the end of 2011, 20 typical households will generate more Internet traffic than the entire Internet in 2008."

That's only three years ago, folks.

This goes way beyond websites and email ... the "Internet of Things" includes devices that have never been part of the network before (think appliances, access control systems, lighting systems, background music, sprinkler systems, etc.). Considering that the typical apartment community is often 200 households or more, that's a LOT of bandwidth. (Netflix usage alone can be enough to slow Internet speeds to a crawl at many properties.) If we assume that a fair number of these devices will be wireless, that's also a LOT of Wi-Fi spectrum getting pounded ... so be aware of potential interference issues. And all of this doesn't even account for any devices that property owners are installing to help properties run more efficiently.

The question is, what are you doing about it now to make sure you aren't losing these connected residents later? How are your ISP partners stepping up to help address potential bandwidth bottlenecks at your property? (Even if the numbers shared here don't pan out by the end of the year, it can't be that far off.)

I'd love to hear how you're planning for the "Internet of Things" and how it will affect multifamily (positively or negatively).

by visually via

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

IPv6: The new Internet Protocol and why you should care

This is a guest post from Bill Szczytko. Bill is the IT Manager for Maryland Management who loves handling the challenges of driving prospects and creating computer programs. Read more from Bill at

* * * * * * *

Some experiences in life can turn your bad mood into good. A love note from your spouse, a smile and kiss from your kids, your mother-in-law staying for the weekend ... okay, maybe not that one.

There are other things, like learning about Internet Protocol ANY version, that do just the opposite. Why then should you continue reading any further? Sure, this topic might be considered by some to be "Boring but important" but this stuff is crucial to understanding where the internet is headed. The Internet as you know it HAS to transform over the next few years or it risks not working at all.

There's lots of Geek language in here. To help ease your pain I'll be slapping up these icons Geek to let you know when the Geekery is about to get pretty deep. Feel free to skip that section, look it up for more information, or stab yourself in the eye with your pen.

What is Internet Protocol? Does it have anything to do with Facebook?

The internet as you use it today relies on a method of communication called Internet Protocol v4. No matter the device you use, this protocol is getting you online.

LandytownLet me give you an example: let's just assume that the internet is a made up town in America. Every house in this town has its own unique address. That's no different from real life right? It would be pretty confusing to the USPS if people in the same town had the same address. How could you get your mail delivered? You'd end up with a brown bag covered magazine and someone else would have your AARP membership card. Chaos.

Next, think about how you'd get to someone's house in this town. You write down their address, look up the directions on Google Maps, and find out the route to take to get there. When you type into a web browser, Internet Protocol needs to look up the address too. It accomplishes this look up using Domain Name System. Once it finds out the route to get there, it then "drives" your packet of data to the destination FAST.

So every device that wants to use this Internet Protocol thingy needs a unique address?

Yup. In some form or another. (I'll explain that sentence in a minute.) Unlike my real world example where you're just driving over to someone's house, Internet Protocol is a two way street. Which means running over to Sally's for a nooner would require her to then come back to your house. That won't work. See, once your packet of data has been given the correct address to go to ... that packet needs to get home. It's why the packets have to be able to find each other; hence why they must be unique. Geek  The IPv4 spec (Geeks love calling things spec) uses 32-bit addresses which limits you to only 4,294,967,296 possible unique addresses. That's a ridiculous amount of addresses. Except there's one problem; by the end of this year, we'll be out.

"Honey, put the Private sign on the hotel room door and come here."

Hotel roomYou might find this really crazy, but we would've been out of addresses a long time ago except for one thing. Private addressing. I won't pretend to know the makeup of your corporate offices but I'm willing to bet they use a private address scheme. Typically when computers are in the same building, they will all communicate with each other. Geek  There's no reason why they all need to have their own unique internet address and so under the Private address scheme they can share one.

GeekGeek  Here are the 3 ranges of private addresses:

* Class A: -
* Class B: -
* Class C: -

Hey ... you! Wake up! Stay with me now. I thought I'd lost you. You were sleeping pretty hard there. Bottom line is these private IP's are not routable; meaning Internet routers will ignore devices that have these addresses. Because they aren't routable on the INTERNET you can use them for private addresses. You can then have multiple devices all talk to each other and yet share only one Internet IP address. Get it? Good ... let's move on.

So we need IPv6 because even with private addresses we're STILL running out?

You're a fast learner. Back in the mid 90's IPv6 was chosen because some seriously smart Geeks saw the end of the internet. The new version gives you an absolutely ridiculous amount of addresses that you can use. Geek  It's based on 128 bits vs 32 bits as IPv4 was. This means that we'll have 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 available addresses. Yes ... umm, THAT number. I mean honestly I don't even know how to say that. Just crazy. (It's undecillion actually.)

So if IPv6 has been out since the late 90's why aren't we fully using it yet?

Well, that's the real question right there isn't it? Remember ... every device in existence today uses IPv4. Most routers are still using it, servers, workstations, Internet lines ... the entire backbone of the internet is still utilizing it. People don't like downtime so how do you convert EVERYTHING to the new spec? For now IPv4 and IPv6 are working side by side. Remember that this is a software problem. Network cards and network switches could care less what spec you're using but still, how do you get every device to start speaking a different language and not mess stuff up?

Slow and steady wins the race

Over time everything will need to be converted. As multifamily companies just trying to grasp the impact social media has on our business, should we even shifting our attentions for this? Yes. Here are some things I think you should do to get ready:

* Find out if your IT staff is trained in IPv6. I've glossed over the complicated topics here but trust me when I tell you that reading the IPv6 specification on a full stomach is bad. If your IT staff doesn't understand IPv4, then they aren't really your IT staff but terrible imposters. Knowing IPv4 isn't enough though. It will take some reading and research before they're ready to take on IPv6. Before you just barge into the IT staff's office to tell them about this make sure you call first ... you don't want to interrupt them playing World of Warcraft. Just sayin'.

* Is your network provider ready? Is your internet service IPv6 ready? It's going to take some phone calls but before you can start using IPv6 on the internet, you'll need your internet to be IPv6. Wow, talk about redundant.

* Is everyone running an IPv6 ready Operating System? Windows XP has had support since SP2 but it's off by default. Windows Vista (CRAP!) and 7 have it on and ready by default. OS X has had support since version 10.4.8. How up to date are your operating systems and if not what will it take to get them there?

* What about your actual applications? Can they handle IPv6? This will require talking to your PM vendors as well as your web hosting vendor. Switching your network over only to find out you can't run Yardi internally would be very very bad.

So there you have it. IPv6 is coming to an Internet near you. No one is saying you need to switch tomorrow but plans should be in place to begin your transition. This new protocol isn't going to rent you new apartments, it won't turn your units faster, and it won't keep your staff motivated but it will insure that everyone can access email, your property management software and Facebook. Now, what is more important than that?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Over-Hyped Technology You Think You Need But Probably Don't Yet

This is a guest post from Bill Szczytko. Bill is the IT Manager for Maryland Management who loves handling the challenges of driving prospects and creating computer programs. Read more from Bill at

Since the advent of the AS400, we've been hankering away for technology to help us rent and manage apartments. We seek it out in the corners of the Internet, we buy into every single ILS that comes along and we attend every conference in the hope that something will help us rent that apartment we've had sitting for 6 months. We are like addicts and there are plenty of vendors out there who know it.

Skepticism is good. When it comes to purchasing though I am pretty skeptical about everything. It's good to be that way. There's nothing wrong with making sure new technologies fit. The things I'm going to talk here about ARE good technologies. Are there clear and legitimate reasons behind the hype? I'll let you decide:

Revenue Management.

This is probably the #1 technology running rampant around the industry today. You're probably horrified that I included it here. Just because the top folks are pumped about something doesn't mean the smaller fish need to give a hoot. Here's my cautionary tale:

Pushing your rents. Duh. This is the fundamental methodology for increasing your NOI. A lot of industry professionals live by the vacancy percentage. While it is certainly relevant, it is just one piece of the puzzle. It's possible to have a higher NOI with an 8% vacancy than a 4 or 5%. My point is that you should be pushing your rents anyway. Let me let you in on a little secret. You don't need a computer system to tell you that it's okay to push. You know your market, you know your personnel, don't replace that knowledge with just a computer system.

Comparable information isn't very reliable. Revenue Management systems include this data in their number generation. Most people that have been in this industry for a while know that this data is terrible. You call around ... the agent remembers what the price was last week but it's gone down since then. They're having a bad day and don't feel like researching. Or they know you're the competition and want to mess with you. Pick your excuse ... these numbers don't really tell the whole picture. Use them as a baseline ONLY. Are you comfortable using systems that use this data? Lots are ... are you?

Changing your rents daily causes chaos. How can you successfully manage and market all of your online sites and paper advertising when the price today isn't the price tomorrow? I understand that hotels turn most of their people daily and so these daily (or hourly) price changes really do benefit them. We don't turn that many apartments daily, weekly or even bi-weekly. It's hard for me to fathom conditions that require prices to jump around so often. It makes renting apartments difficult. I truly believe that the 6 through 15 month price grid can be intimidating for some at first. Is there such a thing as too many choices? Prospects just want to know how much it is per month. They saw $899 and they want that ... after all, it was just yesterday.

"Holding an Apartment" online.

Sometimes too much information is just that. Too much. Certain managers have apartments that they like to push. Whether it's a higher commission bonus or a better value; no one can do it better than your agents. The Internet offers great information to your prospective residents. They are more empowered than ever to make smart decisions. At the end of the day they want to put their hands and eyes on what apartment they are going to live in. It's a yearly commitment. It isn't a 1 or 2 day stay. Hard to convince me that most people will commit sight unseen.

Higher Conversions? I'm sure that the conversions from "holding" an apartment are higher than normal. How it can hurt you is it pulls apartments off of your availability that you might be able to rent to your other qualified people. Is it worth it to you to hold an apartment for $10? You could also be affecting your rent amounts (check my topic #1) for that unit type just because two buddies got hammered and reserved some apartments. It is a much stronger commitment to hold an apartment while in the office than online ... $10 not withstanding. I would love to see numbers on how many people actually pay the fee and what rent range the apartments are.


Blasphemy! Twitter is a fantastic medium to engage with others. It's one big cocktail party 24 hours a day. Your residents are people with lives. They have families, kids, parents, drama, and bills. Just like you and I. I feel that what a lot of residents want from their Property Management company is transparency. Come and fix their sink when it's clogged and accept their rent but otherwise stay out of their lives. For those that don't want you to stay out ... they'll use Facebook. It's a much better place to engage with your residents. Sure, use Twitter to listen to what others are saying about you. But from our experience thus far, it's been virtually no one. Do we advertise our presence on Twitter? A little. But we see no need to. No one wants to engage us there. Someday? Maybe ... but not now.


I'll be honest, when I first heard about this "thing' I was intrigued. Apple is known for pushing the boundaries of interaction with their devices. This thing is an interaction grand slam. It's amazingly cool and using it is a pleasure. Once I hit the lottery I'll go out and purchase one. For the majority of us Property Management folks is it really going to rent us more apartments? Will we see NOI increases once it hits our leasing offices? I'm skeptical.

Is being cool ... enough? As I said, you know you want one. That's the pull I think that's driving this "We have to invest in this" fad. Are there some relevant technologies you can use with it? Sure. Property Management systems will not work on it. For those of you that use VaultWare (They will never talk to me again I'm sure ... read #2) they do offer an iPad application. Sure you can enhance tours with this thing. But I revert back to my original point: will it REALLY rent you more apartments? Come on ... think about it. If it truly does that I'd have to question your leasing agents ability to rent. Ouch (sorry I know), I'm extra cranky today.

Property Management Software.

Okay, ha ha... this last one is just to see if you're paying attention. We love our Property Management software. It does everything we want it to do with hardly any fuss. They are so intuitive, aren't they? I do want to mention one thing though. I would love to see more players in the field. Yardi and OneSite are awesome software packages but they come with so many features that most smaller fish don't need. We all probably only utilize 45 - 55% of our current PM software yet you pay for 100% ... remember that.

Conclusion? Don't cancel your LRO or VaultWare. Don't delete your Twitter handle. But if you're thinking about these technologies remove the NEW FACTOR and ask yourself before you invest your money whether it's right for you and whether you actually NEED it. I urge caution and skepticism before you dive into any new technology you see.

Afterthoughts. I'm a skeptic. It's what I do. I love technology and I personally jump on the bandwagon for everything new. The companies I mentioned are all leaders in our industry and have created excellent software packages. I am trying to generate conversation, and I'm hoping you'll participate.

Happy renting, everyone.