Success By Metrics

by Katie Sloan

Measuring and using metrics is vital in creating a successful student housing property.

Determining success and crafting business plans for student-housing properties requires insight from all aspects of the property and business. Tracking tools and technologies are highly useful for determining the success of a property from revenue and leasing data to occupancy, retention and resident experience metrics. While analyzing data and statistics is popular in many industries, the student-housing industry utilizes the information in calculated ways to track property performance and adapt strategies to stay ahead of the competition.

Why Metrics?
Companies use metric collection for many reasons, including tracking real-time data on property performance, identifying traffic and leasing trends and financial reporting, as well as daily operations components.

“The Preiss Company considers the measurements of specific metrics an integral part of our overall day-to-day operations,” explains Adam Byrley, vice president of leasing and programming with the Raleigh, N.C.-based company. “Our firm believes that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

With that philosophy in mind, The Preiss Company utilizes an in-house team for data and metric collection, which allows the company to easily prioritize key performance indicators (KPIs) for data collection and measurement. The company’s “management by measurement” concept has proved successful on a variety of fronts, including a 10-percent savings across the entire portfolio in water expenses after a study determined the excessive monthly water expenditures, discovered outliers and corrected the issues.

Having real-time data on a property is a huge component to operating ongoing property management strategies. Being able to adjust and revise based on incoming and current data can easily shift a property into a positive leasing forecast or help correct small issues before they become larger obstacles.

“With real-time property performance data, we can project where the property willKaty
end up in terms of physical and economic occupancy based on current trends and historical data for the upcoming school year, as well as refocus our leasing strategy based on project revenue,” says Katy Smerko, national director of leasing and marketing with Austin, Texas-based Campus Advantage.

Access to accurate metrics can be invaluable, and operators are keenly aware of the need to incorporate measureable data into their strategies and goals. “When metrics become truly valuable is when goals are set against the metrics,” explains Gustavo Sapiurka, senior vice president of Carrollton, Texas-based OneSite Strategic Markets. “The technology a company uses can provide instantaneous feedback on the progress, and based on those measurements, companies can decide on the next course of action.”

Houston, Texas-based Asset Campus Housing daily analyzes its metrics throughout the leasing season to ensure its properties are reaching the set goals and staying on pace, explains Joshua Renberg, director of technology.

By using KPIs, such as prelease percentage, current occupancy percentage, renewal ratio, delinquency percentage and closing ratio, the Asset Campus Housing is able to identify a variety of issues ranging from low-leasing properties, occupancy, revenue and weakest leasing agents and create plans to correct the problems by adjusting strategies or implementing more training for leasing agents.

Understanding the power of data collection and the importance of incorporating metrics into strategy and business plans is an ongoing process but critical to property managers and operators.

Utilizing tracking tools to assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns allows companies to easily see where improvements and actions are needed to help reach set goals for leasing and occupancy rates. But, having the data does not fix the problem.

“Crunching numbers is great, but it’s how you react to the data results that separates you from the competition,” says Renberg.

For Campus Advantage, tracking tools have taught its team the importance of measuring project revenue. Through the monitoring of economic occupancy and project revenue from true data collected during the leasing season, the company is able to make informed decisions to adjust rates or make staffing changes. This shift in focus keeps Campus Advantage from being caught off guard at the end of the season when sometimes meeting pre-leasing and physical occupancy goals does not translate to meeting revenue goals.

“This approach is crucial in tough markets where our properties are constantly increasing concessions to stay ahead of competition,” says Madison Meier, director of management systems with Campus Advantage.

Metric Technology
Currently companies are using a variety of technologies and products to collect data and metrics for properties, however some metrics need to be tracked and processed individually. Some companies, like The Preiss Company, prefer to use in-house expertise to collect data and create measurements, while other companies are using third-party software and technology, like OneSite Strategic Markets’ products, Property Solutions, Entrata and YieldStar, or a combination of in-house and third-party processes.

Each approach to collection—whether in-house or third party—has its own set of pros and cons. The Preiss Company enjoys the control of data intricacies that an in-house process provides, while other companies like to use third-party data collection programs and products so it can utilize on-site employees in other ways.

“Monitoring metrics with an integrated system is important because having a manual system in place, like Excel spreadsheets, creates additional work for the on-site staff and can result in manual data entry errors,” notes Sapiurka.

Campus Advantage has leveraged third-party products to collect data and create customizable reports that incorporate property management system information along with tracked data and metrics.

By using YieldStar to monitor and track rental rates, trends and demand, Campus Advantage has been able to strengthen its focus on reaching and exceeding revenue and occupancy goals. Additionally, the ability to incorporate metrics from the company’s property management database and create customized reports has proven beneficial to the company.

“These new custom reports have completely revolutionized our leasing efforts and take Campus Advantage to the next level in pre-leasing assets to and above the budgeted physical and economic occupancy,” says Meier.

Asset Campus Housing uses a combination of in-house spreadsheets, which are turned into real-time online databases, and the reporting capabilities of its current resident management software to track needed metrics. Ideally the company’s resident management system will soon be completely student-housing friendly so we can solely rely on it for tracking property metrics, notes Renberg.

Advancements in reporting software and systems are a constant as technology and products adapt to better serve the needs of the relatively new field of student-housing marketing. The Preiss Company relies on its own expertise in the market to develop and create the measurements and data it needs for understanding property performance.

“To be honest, we feel we can develop technologies internally that are just as good, if not better, than what others are offering for a fee,” notes Byrley. “Most technology out there can measure some items really well, but there is yet to be any one company or product that can accurately and easily measure all the items we need in a full and comprehensive way.”

Across the board, student-housing operators and owners are looking for changes in product offerings to help them better track and reach their goals. Some new products are addressing those issues, including a stronger focus on revenue management on economic occupancy versus a previous focus only on physical occupancy of an asset and online leasing platforms, as well as open API platforms that allow for more flexible reporting options.

Renberg notes that online leasing technologies is allowing more accurate prelease reporting due to automated real-time processes so properties can receive second-by-second information instead of daily counts. Additionally, Property Solutions’ commitment to an open API platform will allow for a wide range of reporting opportunities, as various websites and systems will be able to interact with the software to create custom reports and analyses.

Property managers and companies are also embracing mobile technology to capture data, such as leasing and residential experiences and facility management services. Sapiurka has seen companies use GPS tracking on mobile devices as part of facility service management as a way to manage labor costs while providing more effective residential services. With this technology, companies can dispatch technicians closest to emergencies, measure technician efficiency and track labor costs, notes Sapriuka.

The combination of online leasing and capturing on-site electronic guest cards via tablets allows companies to track property and leasing traffic, which helps coordinate staffing schedules and marketing pushes.

Even with all the advances, student-housing operators are still seeing some holes in the technology, especially in how it relates to the successful operation of their businesses.

Companies are looking for products and processes that are more tailored to student-housing needs and its unique renting cycle. One deficiency is that many standard reports are designed with fall pre-lease metrics. These reports are rarely used because the information is not useful until the lease starts, and, in the student-housing market, August is too late.

“Standard reports need the ability to communicate forecasted occupancy, economic occupancy, demographics, and revenue long before the semester begins,” says Meier.

Renberg’s concerns echo the need to adjust for a student-housing cycle, and he notes there is a real need for an accurate online marking survey database where properties can share key numbers in real time instead of through weekly communications, which are typically outdated by the time the data is reported and received by other properties.

Additionally, the technology surrounding revenue management is a concern, as many student-housing related issues have not been addressed with current technologies and software.

“Revenue management has done well for multifamily, but there is yet to be a system that takes into consideration the intricacies involved in a student-housing lease-up cycle and the effect of non-rent incentives,” explains Renberg.

Driving Force
The creation of accurate and error-free reporting is the top concern of student-housing operators while utilizing data collection and metrics. And yet, having correct information is only the beginning of the process.

“How you define and use the information to make sound business decisions separates the successful student housing managing companies from the average ones,” says Sapiurka.

Using market data and metrics—and the inherit risks of inaccurate reporting and false comparisons—to craft business plans, leasing campaigns and marketing strategies can be risky, but it’s a dynamic force that propels the market forward.

“It drives us; it is who we are,” says Byrley. “Our whole organization is driven based off the data we receive and the actions we take based on that data.”

— Amy Bigley Works

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