In spite of COVID-19, the multifamily industry has soldiered on into the busy summer. Residents are on property in higher volumes throughout the day. Leasing has transformed into a technology-enabled process with self-guided and video tours, resulting in online applications and electronic signatures. Paper checks have turned into online payments. Many properties stopped accepting packages for residents. As little as six months ago, we would have not predicted such rapid change.
It is safe to say that we are operating our properties very differently than we anticipated at the start of the year. We have had office closures and a transition to appointment-only operations. More and more property staff are working from their homes leveraging a myriad of technologies to keep properties open and operational. In so quickly adapting to new business practices and in further leveraging technology, we have accelerated the demise of the leasing office.
Have we proven that we no longer need a leasing office?
These recent changes beg the question of whether property managers and leasing agents still require a leasing office in order to do their jobs. What follows are leasing agent and property manager job descriptions summarized from Monster.com:
Leasing Agent Job Responsibilities:
- Provides current and prospective residents with the best possible customer service to retain residents and lease properties.
- Discovers, engages, and advances each prospect and follow up until they have set an appointment, found a home within our portfolio, or decided not to move.
- Handles incoming sales by phone, email, and online chat.
- Provides information regarding specific communities as well as services offered with the goal of generating leases for the sites.
- Logs all activity into company provided databases in a timely and accurate manner.
- Accurately communicates the benefits and features of the property portfolio.
- Stays up to date with all promotions/leasing incentives.
- Provides accurate information to residents and prospects in a courteous manner and fills all reasonable requests or requirements.
- Maintains company’s customer service and sales standards.
Property Manager Job Responsibilities:
- Maintains property rentals by advertising and filling vacancies, negotiating and enforcing leases, and maintaining and securing premises.
- Establishes rental rate by surveying local rental rates and calculating overhead costs, depreciation, taxes, and profit goals.
- Attracts tenants by advertising vacancies, obtaining referrals from current tenants, explaining advantages of location and services, and showing units.
- Contracts with tenants by negotiating leases and collecting security deposit.
- Accomplishes financial objectives by collecting rents, paying bills, forecasting requirements, preparing an annual budget, scheduling expenditures, analyzing variances, and initiating corrective action.
- Maintains property by investigating and resolving tenant complaints, enforcing rules of occupancy, inspecting vacant units and completing repairs, planning renovations, contracting with landscaping and snow removal services.
- Maintains building systems by contracting for maintenance services and supervising repairs.
- Secures property by contracting with security patrol service, installing and maintaining security devices, establishing and enforcing precautionary policies and procedures, and responding to emergencies.
- Enforces occupancy policies and procedures by confronting violators.
- Prepares reports by collecting, analyzing, and summarizing data and trends.
If you look at these with a critical eye, you will see that the vast majority of these activities can now be done independent of the physical property by leveraging technology such as:
- Internet listing services and property websites
- Lead management software
- Video and self-guided touring software
- Online application, lease generation and digital signature software
- Online payment and screening software
- Call management and call answering software
- Web chat software with Artificial Intelligence
- Electronic access systems and digital locks
- Maintenance software with mobile access and online request submission
- Online renewal software
- Property management and accounting software with integrated budgeting and forecasting
- Procurement and AP automation software
Over time, leasing offices have gotten smaller as paper gave way to paperless. Now we see location giving way to connectivity, with physical security and maintenance becoming the only activities that require an onsite staff presence.
One longtime MRI Software client, AvalonBay Communities, is opening a new community this Fall at Kanso Twinbrook in Rockville, MD, outside of Washington, D.C. This new development comes without a leasing office and also without physical amenities. It is heavily reliant on technology for all aspects of its operations.
This new development style may be exactly what the future holds, charting a course for properties to focus on efficiency and affordability while leveraging technology and connectivity to enable remote prospect and resident service. The future may reshape the operating model for apartment communities in an increasingly connected and mobile environment.
For the first time in history, technology has created a situation where we do not have to revert to how and where we worked before the pandemic. We have fundamentally proven that we can separate the work from the place where the work was always done. We have an opportunity to rethink, to innovate and to set the foundation for the next iteration of multifamily business.