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Apartment Leasing: Are You Looking in the Right Places to Differentiate your Property?

City neighborhood

A headline about consumer preferences caught my eye recently. It was from the recent annual meeting of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Boston, and it read: "Walkability Now May Outweigh Transit Access in Valuing Location."  

The idea is interesting for several reasons: proximity to transit has, after all, been one of the most critical attributes of apartment locations in the urban core for decades. What can be happening in our ever more densely populated cities to push it down the list of priorities? The short answer - according to the panel of industry luminaries including Green Street Advisors and AvalonBay Communities - lies in changing workplace demographics and travel habits.

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have changed people's travel habits in major metropolitan areas, and it means that prospective residents want to be able to walk to other things besides the metro. This insight reminded me of one of the perennial issues with the multifamily sales process: agents habitually under-emphasize the importance of the neighborhood as a deciding factor for prospective residents.

How To Differentiate Communities

There are broadly three ways to differentiate an apartment to a prospect: the unit, the community, and the neighborhood. Agents and sales training programs tend to focus heavily on the attributes of the unit and the community. The neighborhood, meanwhile, remains curiously neglected as a source of differentiation, and this represents a significant opportunity for multifamily operators.

In fairness to operators, getting ready to sell the neighborhood is trickier and more nuanced than the preparation for selling the community and its units. Agents need to be good at understanding the varied wants and needs of prospective residents, how well your neighborhood serves them and how that compares to other areas that they may be considering. But the time spent becoming familiar with the neighborhood is time well-spent for an agent, as it is a uniquely effective way to build trust.

It's natural for agents to focus on selling the community and the unit, but these are both things that the prospect can only buy from the agent. That makes it hard to judge the agent's input and decide whether or not to trust their advice. There is no such dependency with neighborhoods - the prospect can buy that with or without the agent's help. When the agent helps highlight what is important to the prospect about a neighborhood, they establish trust and authenticity which has a halo effect on future decisions in the relationship.

There's No Substitute For Research

To return to our original example of transportation, agents should think about the changing preferences and the factors that influence them. Spend time walking the neighborhood both at commute time and at night. Observe how people are getting to work and what places seem to be popular during the evenings. Use a map to understand which areas are accessible via a short Uber ride or an easy transit commute. Find out the easiest ways to local schools. Having this knowledge at your disposal allows you to advise your prospect and gain their trust.

Similar fact-finding can be applied to all of the key attributes of neighborhoods, from services to health and wellness facilities to entertainment. This background knowledge enables agents to ask questions proactively as part of the inquiry process, understand what's important to the prospect, and take the first step towards converting them into a happy resident.

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