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Brent Williams' Apartment Blog

Thoughts, comments, and ideas about the overall multifamily industry, as well as a property-specific focus on resident retention and apartment marketing.

14 Steps Towards Zero Resident Turnover

Mark Juleen mentioned a few weeks ago how there will always be resident turnover at some point, so it got me thinking:  What would be the steps to approach zero resident turnover?  Obviously, zero resident turnover is not actually possible, but if we set our goal at the best possible outcome, we are more likely to get farther along than if we try to barely move the needle.  So let’s have some fun brainstorming how to move the dial towards zero resident turnover!

Stop Pushing Residents Out The Door

1)      Customer Service and Maintenance – This is obviously step #1.  If your residents have lingering maintenance requests, or if your customer service is not up to par, then you will easily drive them from your community.

2)      Long-term Lease Contracts – Creating alternatives to the standard one-year lease that mitigate concerns over achieving rent increases.  Why do we constantly make our residents re-evaluate their living situation year after year?

3)      Apply Concessions Immediately – Obviously concessions are not recommended, but if they must be given, have it applied immediately to first months of lease.  Therefore, the lease renewal isn’t coupled with a large increase in rent purely because of the concession expiring.

4)      Release the Bad Apples – With your residents consolidated in such a small area, it is easy for one nuisance neighbor to make life miserable for several others, such as noise disturbances, trash, and other issues.  Instead of placating these bad residents, we need to have good solutions to actually enforce our leases and drive these residents out the door.  The key?  Document, document, document!

5)      Rent Increases Coupled With Benefit Increases – We obviously want to capitalize on market conditions that allow for higher rents.  But honestly, we often get very lazy when it comes to the increase, with the mentality of “Take it or leave it, we’ll find someone else to lease your apartment.”  But that means that although you have gotten your increase, you have to offset it with the turnover cost.  And besides, residents find the market adjustment “sale” to be BS – Yes, if they move out they will get similar rent elsewhere, but then at least they get a freshly painted apartment with possibly new carpet, etc.  So if we are giving big increases, why not plan in some benefits as well to soften the blow?  By escaping the turnover cost, you can easily afford some tantalizing renewal benefits if they take the large rent increase.

Inspire Residents To Actually Want To Stay At The Community

6)      Establish Emotional Ownership – The more effort you put into something, the more likely you are to stick with it.  A great example of this is Google+.  So many people will not want to join Google+ because they have already established their social circle on Facebook, as well as putting so much effort into their profile.  When it comes to renting, however, customizing and making the apartment their “home” is more difficult, although renewal upgrades are an interesting concept.

7)      Create a “Sense of Community – This is another factor that moves from pushing out residents through bad service to making them actively want to stay.  Human connections are incredibly powerful, so we should be analyzing more direct strategies to foster them.

8)      Long-Term Resident Benefits – Create a system where longer-term residents acquire special privileges, rights, etc the longer they live at your property.

9)      Resident Referrals – Not only do resident referrals provide new leases, but they are inherently resident connections right from the start.  Plus, having friends in the community essentially means you have an “undercover sales force”.  If Jack’s friend is thinking about moving, but Jack’s lease doesn’t expire for 7 months, he will actively try to convince his friend to renew!

Target Prospects Who Will Become Long-Term Residents

10)   Targeted Niches – A resident will more likely stay at a community that ties in with their lifestyle in a focused way.  For example, going beyond just “pet friendly” to a dog paradise would create multiple connection points beyond just having a “sparkling pool” and granite countertops.  For example, an unbelievable dog park will actually inspire someone to say, “Duke LOVES the dog park – I would hate to take him away from that.”

11)   Targeted Resident Traits – Some residents are predisposed to living at one place for long periods of time.  Effectively targeting these types of residents can naturally lengthen the stay for the average resident.  (Targeted traits could be professions, such as teachers potentially, and personality traits, such as those who don’t like change in their life)

12)   Target Current Long-Term Residents From Other Communities – If someone is currently a long-term resident somewhere else, that means they have the personality type to stay at your community for a long time as well.  I’m not sure how to find these types of residents directly quite yet, however.  In a non-targeted way, you could market special benefits to those that have rented/owned their current residence for over 5 years.

Exclude Prospects Who Will Not Likely Be Long-Term Residents

13)   Tighten Up Resident Approval Process – Not only do you want to proactively reach out to those who could be long-term renters, but you also want to weed out those who surely won’t.  Obviously do not do anything that violates Fair Housing, but restrict residents who are obviously more transient by requiring that they have stayed at their previous residence for longer than X years.  Also, increase income requirements to lower chance of default.

Problem-Solve To Help Residents Stay

14)   Helping Residents Who Are On Hard Times - In a time of high unemployment, we will have situations where residents want to stay but simply can’t because of finances.  We can help in a variety of different ways:

  1. Roommate Finder – Create a program that helps residents find roommates to help spread the cost of rent across multiple people.
  2. Job Finder – We already have Preferred Employer Programs to get referrals from companies, but why not reverse the situation?  Work with companies to establish a job board and special lead-ins for residents who have lost their job?  Also, provide events that will help with finding a job, such as a resume development workshop.
  3. Miscellaneous – Your community should have a list of every reason someone decided to move.  For each reason, there should be a way that you are actively countering that.

** BONUS 15th and 16th STEPS ** 

15)  Reward The Right Actions - Currently, we congratulate ourselves on new leases and give bonuses just for that purposes, but should we be celebrating what is really a fix to an earlier problem (the loss of the resident in the first place)?  If you reward new leases rather than renewals, you are setting the culture of your company to say that leasing is more important than resident retention.

16)  Train For Resident Retention Success - Raise your hand if you have had sales training as a leasing consultant.  Now raise your hand if your training on community building and resident retention concepts were as in-depth as the sales training!  Not too many of you, huh?   If we want to be successful on the steps listed above, we need to make them a priority by giving them enough resources, such as training, funding, and time!

What other concepts can you think of that would drive down resident turnover?

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  • Stan Dobbs

    Good thoughts Brent. My view is the next frontier is all about faciliting authentic relationships and community among residents. The industry has never done this well as is evident by the research on the quality/quantity of friendships in most communities. Most residents are relatively alone. Good service and responsiveness and social media platforms are indespensable as a baseline - but the real winners will focus on strategy, staffing and resourcing to create real community and relationships.

  • I really like these ideas and do many of them presently. I have an idea of doing away with all paid ads and going with social media platforms only for a full year. I would love to use those dollars on current residents only. I want to compare the turnover ratio a year later to the previous year. I also want to compare the revenue and turnover expenses. I imagine great profits. hmmmmmm

  • @Stan - I agree with you completely. Some of these factors are more important than others, and I think relationships provide one of the more "sticky" aspects in retention.

    @Milisa - You would be making a bet that I have always wanted to see happen! It's a bit risky, but it definitely stops the cycle we have in the industry, where we put more effort/funds to leasing rather than retention, which leads to higher turnover, which leads to greater need for leasing. Horrible cycle, and I've always wondered what would happen if you flipped it around!

  • Brent--I am a rsik taker!! Getting those who get to make the BIG decisions on board with my risky endeavors is another story all together! I so wosh I could do this! Imagine the guineau pig who gets to do this first and IT WORKS!! I want to be that PIG!!! LOL :)

  • Great list, Brent, and the points I cheer the most are:
    - focusing on resolving service requests quickly and properly the first time. (One of the luxuries of apartment living is not having to be a natural-born handyman)
    - increased focus on customer service. (Meaning returning phone calls and emails same day, greeting everyone warmly, truly listening to resident concerns and looking for solutions, and looking for ways to personalize each interaction)
    - retention training (the skills and tools of retaining residents are actually very different from the skills and tools of leasing and sales activities)
    And one thing I would add is looking at existing staff incentives. If my office team is offered the highest incentive for leases, and no or low incentives for renewals, they are naturally going to pursue leases. We provide incentives for residents to stay. Why don't we provide incentives for our staff to help residents make that decision?
    Great post, Brent!

  • Thanks Jen! And take a look at the bonus step #15 - covers incentives! :)

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