Dan Urbina: Keeping Up With Millennial Students

by Katie Sloan

Gone are the days when students would fill out a form to live in your apartment, answer your phone calls, or even write you a rent check. What IS a rent check anyway? I’m 39 and I haven’t owned a checkbook in over 15 years. So what exactly are students staring at when they walk on campus, sit in class and lie in bed? Software as a service (SaaS). This includes Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat, Mint, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder and LinkedIn. SaaS is the drug of choice for millennials, who don’t want to dial a phone number or stand around in a leasing office. They want to “tap” their way into a new apartment while “talking” to a leasing agent as little as possible. We now live in a society where time is short and attention spans are even shorter. Welcome to the future.

A Phone Isn’t For Phone Calls

Over 95 percent of all students now own smartphones, but they rarely use them to make phone calls. Even though students look at their smartphone over 150 times per day and read text messages within three minutes of receipt, they aren’t verbally talking to anyone. What does this mean for student housing managers? Basically, if you don’t communicate with prospects and residents by text message, then you are simply not reaching them. Thankfully there is student housing software that does all the heavy lifting for you. One example is Aptexx.com which empowers properties with seamless cloud-based payment, communication, mobile maintenance and surveys designed to reach students on their terms. Aptexx.com is designed to make life easier for property managers while giving students the convenience they demand. 

Next-Generation Applications

Unfortunately, the only difference between paper applications and online applications is well…online applications are online. Either way they’re both still long, arduous forms which force students to look at every field and decide whether or not it applies to them. As you can guess, students are getting property recommendations through social media, and the smartphone screen is the first place they will look when applying to live in student housing. If your application isn’t mobile-optimized, and asks a bunch of irrelevant questions, you’ve already lost them; or at least negatively impacted students’ opinions about your property.

Aptexx’s modern housing application or ‘smartapp’ is mobile optimized and also automatically skips unnecessary or irrelevant questions based on an applicant’s first few answers (see https://aptexx.com/applications). Students can even save an uncompleted application on their smartphone or laptop and come back to finish it later at their convenience. Smartapps also let students send an automated text or email to their rich uncle so he can quickly verify his guarantor income and pay screening fees with a credit card from anywhere in the world. These are the kinds of technological advances and efficient enhancements that property managers have to make to remain relevant with potential applicants. You can’t lose them when they walk out the door or visit your website. Send them a tailored application by text message as soon as they leave.

Student Surveys That Make Sense

If you’ve flown an airline or stayed at a hotel recently, you’ve no doubt received a survey that you most likely ignored. Why did you ignore it? Probably because it asked too many questions, made you scroll multiple pages, or just flat out looked ugly on your smartphone screen. Having said that, surveys are crucial to improving resident satisfaction. There are survey solutions on the market that generate response rates often 10 times higher than the national average of 3 percent. The number one metric that tells you if your managers are doing a good job is whether or not residents would recommend your property to their friends and classmates. The infamous ‘net promoter score’ is the benchmark that allows you to measure the answer to that question and take action to improve it. Surveys should be one question, and one question only. Aptexx.com frequently generates up to 30 percent student response rates. Survey response data is aggregated into action items on a user-friendly dashboard so managers can actually fix the problems to prevent negative online reviews.

Online Rent Payments Are Dead

Believe it or not, accepting rent payments online is now outdated. My condolences to those properties which have just recently adopted that technology. It used to be ‘cool’ to have a rent payment link or a “resident portal” on your website. Fast forward to 2017 and the smartphone IS the student’s new portal. Remember, students like to tap; they don’t want to “login” to a website or download an app with a username/password just for their on-campus apartment. Text them a payment link and they’re up to 60 percent more likely to pay rent on time instead of remembering to visit your website/portal. And while many payment processors offer recurring payments, most students are reluctant to set-it-and-forget-it when it comes to their largest expense of the month. Over half of all students have never even owned a check book. That means they can’t pay you by paper check and they definitely don’t know their routing number. It also means that if you’re charging more than five bucks for a student to pay rent with a debit card; you’re losing the customer loyalty battle. What do I mean by that? Most payment processors charge 3 percent when a student uses mom or dad’s debit card to pay rent; that’s over $10 in convenience fees! Look for a provider like Aptexx.com or Entrata that charges the property zero and the resident less than five bucks which is essentially a Starbucks latte.

Meet Them Halfway

I know change is hard. I know generational gaps don’t make sense at the time. Change, however, is the only constant in life and if you play by their rules, students will reward you with four years of uninterrupted occupancy. Do yourself a favor and find a robust modern solution like Aptexx.com that handles all the heavy lifting for you. Using SaaS that gives students the convenience they expect is the only way to remain relevant in today’s housing market.

— At the turn of the century, Dan Urbina co-founded eRentPayer.com which was the first company to deliver internet rent payments to multifamily housing. In 2012, Dan co-founded Aptexx.com to create the next-generation of mSaaS technology for the property management and student housing industries. Contact him at [email protected]

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