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Social Media means having our residents market for us. Don’t be scared…

It seems like over the past five years or so, an infinite number of marketing channels have emerged. We bought pages on listing sites, then we created our own property websites.  Now web pages are generated for our property just by having a resident “check in” on Facbook or Foursquare.  Seriously!  This makes it extremely challenging for an apartment community to have one coherent brand on the web. So what’s a marketer to do? First, claim your facebook page! This can be as simple as going onto facebook and searching for your property name to see if it has already made its way onto Facebook without your knowledge. If you see your property in the search results, click on it and take a look… It probably says X number of people like this, Y number of people are talking about this, and Z number of people were here (where X, Y, and Z are real numbers). This is because everytime someone adds an interest to their profile, Facebook automatically creates a landing page for that interest. So if they like where they live… Bam, landing page!  The same thing happens if someone checks in somewhere…it will add it to an existing page or create a new one.  While it feels like this is totally out of your control, don’t worry – it’s actually a GOOD thing. It means (a) your residents like you, and (b) they’re telling their friends about your property (by virtue of publically checking in).  So how do y......
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ApartmentRatings.com follow up: 10 tips for managing your ratings.

This is such a heated topicWrite an article about ApartmentRatings and the conversation will get heated in no time. People are passionately for or against responding. For this follow up post I wanted to dig deep and see how other companies are handling their ApartmentRatings. I gained lots of insights but the one thing I found myself doing more than anything was laughing out loud... a lot. Some of these ApartmentRatings reviews are funny. Some of the reviews and even titles are hilarious: "wore-out, cockroaches, and take advantage" "Worst apartment every lived in""It's Like Living In a Horror Movie But It Never Ends" Who knew people were this funny? Alright seriously.. let's get to it. Here are some tips for responding, trying not to laugh, and when to say enough is enough: Lame Attempt at a Not Fake Fake Review 1] Stop writing fake reviews. This first point goes out to those management companies that are doing it. People who post and read these reviews can spot them a mile away. It makes things worse. Stop. 2] Claim your listings and respond as the manager. This is controversial because it costs money to do so. Some people call it extortion but I'll leave it up to you to decide. When you respond as the manager, it shows you're active and listening, which in turn will keep your slanderous negative reviews down. People will be less inclined to post, anonymous or not, if they know you'll call them out. 3] Respond in real, non corporate language. Avoid......
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An inconvenient truth about consumer reviews

I know consumer reviews are scary.  Trust me.  Having worked in public relations my whole life, user-generated content that can disparage a brand I’ve been working years to uphold, has kept me tossing and turning more than one night.  Something you used to have control over is not totally in your hands anymore: your public image (e.g. branding, advertising, marketing collateral, and even to some degree, the press being generated about your company).  Sure, people could complain about your property, but that was typically somewhat contained.  Today, anyone can publicize their praise or contempt for your brand by going online.  What’s worse than consumers finding it?  Consumers looking for it, especially renters.  In fact, 58% of renters, who are also active on social media, told us at Apartments.com they search for additional apartment information and recommendations online when looking for a new place to live.   My name is Tammy Kotula, and I’m addicted to review websites I have to admit that over the past two years, I’ve also become obsessed with reading reviews.  Whether it’s choosing a new restaurant to go to in Wicker Park, booking a hotel or purchasing a book on Amazon, I find myself consulting consumer reviews with nearly every purchase I make.  (Check out Chris Brown’s post on the zero moment of truth). In turn, I’ve also become less bashful about interacting with brands I LIKE on social media and leaving negative reviews for the places where I have received subpar service.  Let me just add......
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Customer Service Isn’t Just Dead… It was MURDERED!

  I hate being reminded that general common courtesy (as well as common sense, a lot of the time) is just NOT common anymore. I’m left, after numerous interactions and transactions on a daily basis, scratching my head wondering where the service is. Is it just acceptable now to provide sub-par service? Is it OK to be rude to a customer? Is it just no longer a focus of companies to provide training for and more so, demand their employees provide good service? I’m truly beginning to wonder. Let me tell you about the kind of day I had… it started with Kohl’s department store. Many of you know that Paul and I are expecting our very first baby, Luke! We’ve had sort of a tumultuous pregnancy and after a scare we quickly realized we needed to start buying the essentials. On Sunday, I noticed that Kohl’s was having a sale… I also had a coupon for 20% off and free shipping (which ended that same day). While browsing their site I’d found several things we needed and promptly scooped them up (along with some savings). This morning, however, I’d received an email saying that they cancelled my order, with no further information. I was quickly frustrated. Not jumping to conclusions, I simply called the number on the email and discovered it was their fraud department. I was unsure why I was directed there, but none the less, I waited in the queue and finally spoke to a live person. I explained the......
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Property Management - Let's Talk Bare Necessities

By Colin McCarthy, J.D., Robinson & Wood, San Jose, CA In my last entry, we discussed how it was possible in this great country of ours that a burglar could sue a property owner for injuries he sustained while robbing that same property owner.  In my next entry, we will discuss why it is in the fine state of California that a tenant can sue his landlord for injuries sustained on the property which are inflicted by criminals.  But in this entry, I will get a little more practical:  we will discuss just what your responsibility is to your tenants regarding the liveability of the unit. Just what do you – the property owner – have to provide to your residential tenant to remain in compliance with the law?  Well most of this is just common sense.  If people are going to live in the premises, if you do not provide the following, not only are you not being nice, but you are breaking the law: A weatherproof environment.  The unit has to have a roof and walls as well as doors and windows that are unbroken (more on this next entry!) Electricity.  It may come as a surprise to you that most will not want to rent your unit if they cannot plug in a TV and refridgerator.  Or it may not. Plumbing.  It may also come as a surprise to you that not only would most tenants enjoy a good shower and functioning toilet, but the law generally requires it. Gas and heating.  People don’t like to be col......
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Setting Your Rental Rates

Rental ratesBy Geoff Roberts, Buildium, Boston, MA When determining rental rates, you want to strike just the right balance between maximizing your profit and remaining competitive in your local rental market. Following are some tips for finding that magic number. Look at rates of competitors As a property manager, you want to create business strategies that work for you and serve your best interests. However, you still need to be aware of competitors and the marketplace around you. When formulating rent rates, make sure you know what you’re up against. And the quickest way to do this is analyzing competitive prices. RentometerRentometer is a great web-based program that will allow you to see how you rank in your neighborhood. Just enter your address, rental rate, and number of bedrooms to gain access to a computerized graphic showing where your rates fall in comparison to other rental rates in your immediate area. Other Rental Listing SitesWhile Rentometer is great for a quick overview, remember that it doesn’t take specifics such as square footage, upgrades, and amenities into account. To make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, also look at competitive rental listings on sites likeCraigslist, Zillow, Rentals.com, Apartments.com, and local classifieds (both online and off). Look for places of a similar size, with the same amenities and upgrades and make sure that your rates are in the same ballpark. If your rental rates are higher than those of competitors, make sure this is justified (for example, your units have more square footage or were recently renovated). When a......
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Welcome Spring to Your Property

Though it may not seem like it quite yet depending on where you live, believe it or not, we’re officially a couple of weeks into spring. Over the past two years, we’ve blogged about winterizing on an annual basis. As with the winter months, you’ll want to welcome the spring season with a bit of property maintenance and some minor adjustments (and repairs, if necessary). Happily, the transition from the cold months to the warmer ones tends to be far more simple than getting ready for winter. Throw open the windows. Welcome the sunshine by opening up those storm windows, which have been shut tightly during the winter months. When the storm windows go up, the screens should go on—make sure that screens are installed properly and are in good repair. While you’re working on the windows, check for rotting along the window sills and make any necessary repairs. Check air conditioning units. Before you know it, it will be time to kick the air conditioning into high gear. Take care of preparation work now by making sure all air conditioning systems (whether it’s central air or window air conditioning units) are serviced and ready to go so that when the first heat wave rolls around, you’re ready for it. A word about window air conditioning units—they can be a bit tricky to install properly (and safely). With this in mind, consider sending out a memo to let tenants know your maintenance team will take care of installations to avert over-anxious......
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The heART of the Deal: Psychology of Apartment Leasing – the Evidence Fundamental

Our customers have been trained to question claims and promises.  People expect lies.  How do we demonstrate our credibility? Key:  I can’t deny what I see. In a situation where we are being sold we tend to approach it from a negative perspective.  We are prepared to disagree. Our brains spend a great deal of time looking for evidence to support what we have already decided is true.  Therefore, when a sales person says something that runs counter to what we already believe, we deny it by labeling it as a mistake or an out-and-out lie.  This is why it is so important to have proof of what we say—and any proof that your customer can see with their own eyes has the most power.  The strength of this proof is that when you bring it to the attention of your customer, they have to judge it independently and cannot immediately deny it.  Some examples include: A market study showing average rents or occupancies in your area - “See!  I told you that you better not wait too long to put your application in on this apartment home!” Newspaper articles, journal articles or blog entries showing rental trends, the cost of home ownership, discussing the planning, development or construction of your property, etc.  Any positive PR regarding your property should be framed in your leasing center.  More topical information should be placed in a notebook within easy view of your customers. Consumer report information on appliances – some customers question the......
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Who’s Managing The Online Reputation of Your Apartment Community?

Marketing has changed. When it comes to traditional media channels, like print advertising and television ads, you still control the communication. But in the word-of-mouth dominated online world, it’s your current and past residents who hold the power to sway potential renters. Neglect the online conversation, and your reputation could suffer. Here are a few simple ways to take some of that influential power back and set the online tone for your community: Search for Your PropertyThis may seem obvious, but many apartment communities overlook the multitude of online channels people regularly use to rant or rave about their experiences. Besides searching for your branded name in the major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing, you should also be using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to keep tabs on your reputation. Taking steps against negative posts, when appropriate, is key – most services have policies against abuse. Keep in mind that 58% of searchers will visit a competitor’s site after viewing negative search results. (Stats from OutspokenMedia.com) Set Up Google AlertsGoogle offers a free service to monitor topics of your choosing as new content becomes available online. This can be a valuable tool for apartment community managers and owners to keep tabs on what is being associated with your brand online. Simply go to http://www.google.com/alerts and enter in your community’s branded name as the search terms, selecting how often you’d like to receive notifications and how many results you’d like to see. Read and Respond to Online ReviewsYou can’t afford to ignore online ......
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How would you change online apartment reviews?

As most of you have probably noticed, the conversation around property ratings & reviews is at a fever pitch these days.  In general, these discussions center on ApartmentRatings.com, like the lively comments to Brent's post "Is Anyone Using ApartmentRatings.com Effectively."  While there is some utility to the "ratings sculpting" conversation, I feel the real discussion of value here is in brainstorming our ideal reviews model, benefiting both consumers and property owners/managers in mostly equal parts. So, in service of that idea, I'd like to start a thread here dedicate to hearing your thoughts on the "killer app" in property ratings/reviews.  If you were building tomorrow's ApartmentRatings, knowing what we know today about the evolving state of the online social graph, what would you do? Since I know it's always hard to start brainstorming against a clean slate, here are some questions to stimulate your thoughts: Is a rating even necessary?  Can we pull data from our social graph (Facebook Likes, Tweets/Re-tweets, Diggs, emails to friends, Yelp ratings, Foursquare tips, etc.) to provide an aggregate picture of a property's appeal? How important is review context?  Do you (as a consumer) need to know more attributes of the reviewer to make a judgment on it's relevance to you (i.e. current or recent resident, gender, age, interests, etc.)? What's the mechanism for properties to join in the conversation?  Public vs. private?  Is the response mechanism just a strong online reputation management program? Before posting your thoughts, please note: This is not a forum for......
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