HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - The National Center for Education Statistics projects 1,606,000 students at the bachelor's degree level will graduate as the Class of 2014. That's 1.6 million residents leaving dorms and student housing communities across the country, and most of them (absent an extended summer at mom and dad's house or an extremely well-planned home purchase) will quickly find their way into market rate multifamily apartments. And their expectations are high.
"This demographic isn't coming from cramped and dirty dorm rooms anymore," explained student housing industry consultant Casey Van Zandt during a March 19 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference webinar on digital marketing strategies to appeal to renters coming out of student housing. "In most cases, graduating students have lived in purpose-built student housing with high tech amenities and customer service, lazy rivers and roof top pools, living a life that many multifamily property managers cannot even imagine.”
As the kick-off to the AIM 2014 webinar series, Van Zandt joined Campus Advantage national director of leasing and marketing Katy Smerko and ForRent director of student media Kim Cory for a preview of their presentation to be delivered May 6 at AIM. The top takeaway: market rate renters need to be aware of the sweeping changes that have occurred with online leasing in student housing, and prepare accordingly. "Online leasing is simply an expectation," said Smerko. "Yes, they want a modern leasing office with lots of technologies. But they want to complete the leasing process online by themselves. It's not even the wave of the future anymore in student housing, it is a basic experience expectation, and they're definitely expecting a similar experience in market rate."
Adopting a totally online leasing workflow does require change management, but the benefits can be immediate. At a Campus Advantage property, Smerko's team reduced the number of steps required to execute a lease from 14 to seven simply by getting online. "It cuts out half, literally cuts out half of your staff's time consumed with data entry, leaving that much more time for marketing and customer service related projects," Smerko said.
According to Cory, passion and energy is a must for any property or portfolio-wide rollout of online leasing, even when the initiatives are accretive to the bottom line and deliver an expected customer experience to the consumer. For effective rollouts, Cory recommends:
Choose Your Moment. As with any major technology initiative, be mindful of the time of year. It's not the best timing to roll out paperless systems during peak leasing times, so attempt to kick off online leasing several months in advance of the busy season.
Net promote. Find team ambassadors among senior managers or leasing experts that can be cheerleaders on execution and set expectations on the timeline of the rollout and the opportunities for everyone to benefit.
Gamify. Use work flow rewards to encourage new system adoption. "We incentivize leasing teams on renewals and new applications," Cory said. "Likewise think about opportunities to reward them for working with one or more prospects or customers that go through an entire paperless process."
Market rate communities looking to attract the youth movement to their properties also need to be prepared for 24/7 online operations. "Our data is already showing that most online leases in student housing occur between the hours of 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM," said Chase Harrington, executive vice president for Property Solutions, which hosted the webinar and provided a look at tablet-enabled leasing and property management technologies.
"You'll find a lot of online leases that are in the queue completed sometime during the night before," agreed Van Zandt. "Multifamily still has its bell curves and large expirations that occur at certain times of year just like student housing. Online leasing is just one of our top five ways we'll be presenting at the AIM Conference to help capture this new volume of renters so much more easily. We hope to see you there."
The AIM 2014: Conspire panel on top leasing and digital marketing strategies to capture renters coming out of student housing will be on May 6 at the AIM Conference in Huntington Beach, California. Click here for more info and to register to attend this year's multifamily marketing main event.