As multifamily operators consider ways to optimize the apartment-shopping experience, it's becoming increasingly clear that self-guided tours are a fundamental part of the future of leasing.
Consider the numbers from the single-family home leasing market, in which self-guided tours are a more established practice. In this market, according to an Anyone Home analysis, 17.75 percent of all prospects book a property tour. Of those that take a tour, an eye-popping 76 percent choose a self-guided one while only 24 percent tour with an agent.
Just like in the single-family market, more and more of today's apartment prospects also relish the chance to tour a home away from the eyes and ears of a leasing agent. Some just simply want as little human interaction as possible during the touring process, while others appreciate the opportunity to see a home without having to sugarcoat their reaction to an agent they like. But perhaps the most appealing reason to self tour is that the prospects can look at potential homes at a time that is most convenient to them, which is not necessarily during normal leasing office hours.
But while home-hunters want self-guided tours, many apartment operators remain leery. This is understandable: Inviting a prospect to take an unaccompanied tour of an apartment community poses some risk. To start with, current residents may not – at least at first – be crazy about the idea of non-residents walking around their community without an associate.
Next, there are the concerns about criminal activity: What if the person taking a self-guided tour breaks into an apartment home? What if they steal from the community? What if this person is an ax-murderer?
The last thing I want to do is say operators' fears are silly. It's part of their jobs to worry about such things. But I do want to say that, in the grand scheme of things, the risks are, for the most part, minimal. I also want to discuss the several steps operators can take to significantly reduce the risk posed by self-guided tours.
Operators can work with third parties to put in place a number of processes and procedures that weed out potentially troublesome prospects who are at least initially interested in taking a self-guided tour.
The first process takes the credit card number provided by a prospect to cover the self-guided touring fee and verifies the validity of the information provided to detect possible fraudulent applicants.
The second recommended process takes the basic guest card information a prospect supplies when registering online for a self-guided tour – name, email, phone and address – and compares that information against a database of previous online and real-life activity. This analysis assesses the likelihood that the applicant is who they say they are and provides a fraud risk rating of “high,” “medium” or “low.”
The first screening measure outlined above eliminates unqualified or risky prospects before they undergo the second process discussed above (the fraud-risk analysis). Of the prospects who undergo the fraud-risk analysis, only 1.7 percent are refused access to the community because of the likelihood that they are fraudulent.
Embrace self-guided tours
In the end, operators need to know that they can protect themselves from the risks posed by self-guided tours and that those risks are minimal to begin with. In fact, by having certain measures in place to assess the risks presented by those seeking to take a self-guided tour, operators can weed out unqualified or risky applicants before they undergo the formal application process.
Let's face it: self-guided tours are here to stay. Prospects love them, and it won't be much longer before they expect them to be the norm.