With Technology, You Snore, You Lose

by Katie Sloan

Tablets and online leasing are increasing traffic flow in rising numbers among renters who want to lease anywhere, anytime.

Peter JakelIt’s 2 o’clock in the morning. Most market-rate apartment residents are snoring, dreaming or fighting off insomnia while thinking about the day ahead. But not your student housing dwellers. They’re probably hanging out with friends or … signing a lease for their next apartment home?

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what Asset Campus Housing learned after sending a promotional email to prospects for one of their student housing communities. Out of the 21 leases they garnered from that one email, 45 percent were signed between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.

“Your offices aren’t open during that time frame, and if you’re doing the old paper trail thing, these kids don’t want to have to come into your offices anyway,” says Julie Bonnin, chief operating officer of Asset Campus Housing. “They prefer to do everything faceless at times. That’s just the way that Millennials operate. If we didn’t have online leasing technology, we would probably still get leases, but I doubt we would have that type of traffic flow. That’s not the mindset of our residents. They want it fast, and they want to do it on their time.”

Technology isn’t just a cool part of a Millennial’s life. It’s built into their DNA and is shaping their behaviors from how they communicate with one another to how and when they shop for an apartment home. As technology continues to evolve, so do the behaviors of Millennials, making it even more important for student housing operators to be agile and easily adaptable when it comes to tech solutions.

In a recent survey of student housing operators, Lehi, Utah-based Property Solutions found nearly 70 percent of students prefer to execute a lease online. That same survey found an interesting delta, too: The majority of student housing operators believe lease signing and document retrieval is the resident touchpoint that could most benefit from advances in technology.

“Prospects and residents want easy, convenient and technologically enabling ways to lease, pay rent and interact with community associates, whether it’s to submit a service request or discuss the amenities and features of a community,” says Ben Zimmer, president of Property Solutions. “The key is to implement cutting-edge technology that not only meets the needs of customers and operators today, but is also flexible enough to meet their needs tomorrow, when technology will inevitably change.”

Property Solutions, which develops software designed to make life easier for property owners, managers and residents, is helping operators in the student housing industry implement agile, integrated systems to meet the ever-changing demands of students and parents.

One example: Implementing online lease technology with integrated lead tracking software for ushering prospective residents through the complete leasing cycle has resulted in a five percent increase in pre-leasing year over year for the 65 percent of Asset Campus Housing’s communities currently using the solutions.

“In student housing, it’s all about how quickly you can get the information in the hands of the end users,” Bonnin says. “And things change very quickly. You may be in an overbuilt market. You may be in a market that is just struggling in general. A new incentive or special may have been just authorized by a client or an owner. How quickly can you get that information out to the traffic that has come through the door? With a click of one button and a quick email, we can push out messages to everyone who toured the property.”

Many operators, however, lag behind because the technology landscape is changing so frequently, and some solutions aren’t flexible enough to adjust efficiently to the rapid change.

“Because the environment evolves so quickly, many operators are hesitant to implement technology solutions out of fear that it will change again,” Zimmer says. “That’s why it’s important to develop custom, flexible solutions, and continuously monitor all of the emerging trends, looking for new opportunities for operators.”

One of those new opportunities that student housing operators are taking advantage of is the tablet. The mobility, computing power and paper-saving benefits of tablets have transformed the way consumers read, shop and engage with brands. Asset Campus Housing uses SiteTablet, which supplies real-time information from Property Solutions for lead management and mobile leasing, to reach students on their turf —in student community centers and off-campus hot spots.

“All of our leasing agents are equipped with tablets when we do our outreach marketing, or we’re going on campus in the community where the students hang out,” Bonnin says. “Seamlessly pulling the latest property information, the tablets give our teams the most recent data when they’re roaming local hot spots. We may not always secure a lease, but we get information about a student who’s looking and we can then continue to invite them into the community and follow up with them.”

Brochures could even become a thing of the past.

“We have all property data information available on the tablets,” Bonnin adds. “Rather than handing out paper or brochures, we’ll just go to the students and talk about the community. A lot of times, we’re doing surveys to find out what interests students on the tablet. When we’re at various housing events, we’ll use the tablets to display the uniqueness and quality of the community. We’re really trying to push our staff not to take the old-fashioned hand written guest cards.”

Zimmer says the entire multifamily and student housing industries recognized immediate opportunities the moment Apple released its first iPad. “We also realized these devices would affect customer expectations,” Zimmer explains. “Tablets significantly increased demand for online leasing because customers became even more accustomed to the convenience of shopping for everything — anytime, anywhere — with a tablet.”

Customers also became more environmentally minded because the potential for a paperless society became more of a reality from advances in mobile technology, according to Zimmer. Activities like browsing the morning news, reading books, sharing documents, and taking notes are done online and electronically more than ever due in part to tablets.

“Students in particular became inundated with the benefits of tablets, as colleges and universities, which generally have environmental responsibility among their values, quickly adopted the technology,” Zimmer says. “That made student housing an ideal place to implement tablet technology, which could help operators better connect with students practically and on an emotional level with its environmental benefits.”

When tablets were introduced at Asset Campus Housing, they were an immediate hit with leasing agents, who quickly experienced the marketing and operational benefits of having them on hand while touring and reaching out to prospects.

“We started out with each property just having a couple of iPads with SiteTablet,” Bonnin says. “Before we knew it, there was such a demand to have them that we had to get one for everyone.”

Through use of flexible, agile technology, Asset Campus Housing has better met the needs of its customers and associates, resulting in faster lease-ups and less paper.

Peter Jakel specializes in public relations for the multifamily industry. He is an account manager with Denver-based LinnellTaylor and the former director of communications for Archstone.

Peter Jakel specializes in public relations for the multifamily industry. He is an account manager with Denver-based LinnellTaylor and the former director of communications for Archstone.

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