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How Do You Reward Resident Loyalty?

Late last year, Starbucks rolled out a fancy new card, it's Gold Card, for $25 dollars. Not only can you whip this fancy little card out and impress all of your friends, but you also get 10% off most purchases, along with a few other small benefits. This Gold Card was also supposed to be an upgrade above the standard registered card, which is free and gives you free refills and a free syrup for drip coffee. So since it costs $25 and is supposed to be an upgrade over the FREE card, it's supposed to actually be better, right? Wait, not so fast. It turns out that people who shell out the cash for the fancy Gold Card don't get the standard benefits of the FREE card, which means that for drip coffee lovers, you get a WORSE deal with the Gold Card than you do for the free registered card! And they had to pay $25 to get that horrible deal!  Now granted, all of this was in the fine print of the card, but would the average person even consider they wouldn't get the original discount? I sure didn't (even though technically, I got it as a gift). So when they pull out the card for the first time, buyer's remorse smacks them across the face as they realize this sad little fact.  And who are the people most likely to get the Gold Card? Their most loyal customers, of course. Maybe Starbucks didn't do it intentionally, but......
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No We Don't...Yes We Do

Last week, before speaking at the International Builder’s Show in Las Vegas, I strolled through the casino at The Wynn Hotel, looking for a bite to eat.  The Wynn is a first rate hotel that I became a guest at through a fantastic Hotwire offer.  The rate I received indicated the hotel definitely was not seeing the volume of traffic they are used to. Anyway, I found a café, sauntered to the counter, and stood squinting to see the wall menu printed in the most visually daunting font imaginable.  I was not alone.  Three other people squinted alongside me.  The counter worker appeared and informed us they did not open until 11:30 (ten minutes away), then proceeded to stand at the cash register and stare glassy eyed out onto the casino floor.  I looked around at the people standing behind me and thought, “How difficult can it be to take an order, provide a beverage and get my cold sandwich started now?  You have business in front of you.  Take advantage of it before we turn and leave.”   Then I turned and left. Through the years I have waited numerous times for businesses to open.  Once, at Sam’s Club on a Saturday morning, I waited with 22 other people.  I had nothing else to do (like buy something) so I counted them.  Another time, I waited with a group at Marshall’s for 20 minutes before the doors were unlocked at precisely 12pm.  I certainly understand the need for staffing and organization,......
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Leasing - There is nothing basic about it, part 1 - The Telephone

In most cases, the customer's first contact with an apartment community is over the telephone.  Therefore, it is crucial that you develop and use top-notch phone techniques that project professionalism, courtesy, and enthusiasm.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  What is the impression you are giving to your customers? Selling over the telephone requires practice.  The following list of things should be accomplished when selling over the phone:Paint a picture of your property.Create a sense of urgency.Build value - don't give the price up front.Get their name and use it.Find out how they heard about your community.Establish their needs - what, when, number of occupants, pets, budget, floor, view, special features, why they are moving, etc.Set an appointment.Important do's of the telephone:DO . . .1. Have your tools ready - pens, service request, availability, guest card, etc.2. Use a greeting - Use a greeting that you are comfortable with similar to, "Thank you for calling (your property's name), this is (your name), how may I help you?"3. Assume control over the conversation - Always try to be in control of the conversation by asking response generated questions. 4. Ask for the prospects name and use it often.5. Identify the needs of the prospect.6. Create interest - Sell the most important features of your community and your apartment homes. 7. Find out the media/traffic source - Your company spends a lot of time and money each year on advertising your community. It is important to know what media......
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Resident Retention: Low Cost / No Cost Strategies

Numbers? We Ain't Got No Stinking Numbers! So, you need to obtain permission to enter, track down a late rent payment, return a phone call, or place a pre-renewal phone call.  But wait! Their phone number isn't in the system. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The sad truth is that the average apartment community has contact information for only 50% of their residents, and much of that information is outdated.  Perhaps, as an industry, we have the mindset of, "Well, at least I know where they live!" The problem is that when issues come up and we need to contact them, we can't.  Calling information, searching through their paper rental application, searching the White Pages online... It's a waste of the staff's time - and time is money!  There's a simple, yet EXTREMELY effective solution. We ask the resident for their contact information.  Sounds crazy, I know. But snark aside, by setting an organizational standard, property managers can train the team to ask for or confirm the resident's contact information at every interaction.  The impact of this basic cultural change will astound you."Well hello Mrs. Jones. Yes, I can help you with that. Oh, I see that we do not have a current phone number for you. What's the best number to reach you? What's the best email address to reach you?"  "Thanks for calling Mr. Lee. Is this still the best number to reach you: 555-1234? I see we don't have an email address for you. What is your email address?"  For whatever reason, our leasing teams......
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Pot luck anyone?

Whether it is gas prices, unemployment, or other general economic concerns, we are all chosing to spend our money differently.  Americans are rethinking their spending habits and most people are cutting out all unnecessary spending.  Dining out has been a luxury in many households.  Has it for your residents?In an effort to continue to build resident satisfaction and a sense of community, why not host a pot luck function at your property?  How nice to provide a "night out" for your residents without the high cost to the resident or the property?  The property can provide an entree and have the residents bring the side dishes, drinks, and dessert.Another idea might be to host a movie night - either for adults or for kids.  The property can provide a movie appropriate for the audience and the popcorn.  The residents will enjoy a night out and get to know their neighbors.  Instead of hosting a breakfast on the go, why not do a networking breakfast for the community?  With unemployment increasing, it would be great to be able to help people within your community meet other professionals who might be able to assist them in their search for new employment.  If budget constraints are present, you might want to reach out to your community for event sponsors.  Businesses are struggling in all sectors and are looking for ways to increase their customer base.  Improving your resident's sense of community and letting them know that you understand their circumstances and challenges will help your property reduce their turnover rates.  Plus, what is the best form of advertising out there?  A......
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Resident Retention: Low Cost / No Cost Strategies

Watching the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States today, I was struck with the message of hope now-President Obama shared with us.  It wasn’t just philosophy and feel-good jargon. It was a reminder that we’ve been through tough times before, and we have worked through those times with a sense of hope, with hard work, and tenacity. With that in mind, the purpose of this blog is to provide our hard-working property management professionals with practical tools and strategies that will enable you to hold on to those residents you do have, and even increase your net operating income despite these rough economic times.   So let’s begin.  It’s a different world than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. Technology continues to evolve by the day, hour, and minute.  The question is not, “What technology do we need?” The question is, “What technology do we have?” EMAIL.  I would venture to say it’s nearly impossible to find a leasing office that does not have at least one email address. But, do you use it to its full potential? I was speaking at an apartment association lunch club last week, and a leasing professional approached me afterward to give me her card and request a copy of the presentation I had given. She was laughing because she had to write her company email address on her card. That information was not standard issue for her property management company’s business cards.  What?????? In 2006, SatisFacts research was com......
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What to Cut and What to Keep? A Property Manager's Dilemma

The headlines are bleak. And it appears that they are going to get 'bleaker' (is that even a word?). And everyone, it seems, is cutting back. According to Chicago based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, 20% of companies are actively cutting perks and another 10% are considering doing so. You're probably getting pressured to make cuts at your property or company. So just where DO you cut? Well, I can tell you a couple of places that you shouldn't.As companies trim expenses, they're 'de-perking' perks. And one of the first perks to go seems to be the fitness center. Whether it's an in-house center, or a subsidized membership, those are going by the wayside. So now is the time to emphasize your fitness centers more than ever. And if possible, upgrade a  machine or two (if it's in the budget). I predict fitness centers will be busier than ever over the next 18-24 months. Keep the equipment in great working order and keep the fitness center immaculately clean. This could be the breaking point for a renter's decision if they've lost their work-perk fitness center.Another area you shouldn't cut: the free coffee. Customers are leaving Starbuck's in droves as this survey, commissioned by Advertising Age magazine found:60% of Americans have scaled back on fancy or expensive coffee in the past six months; 56% report cutting back just since the beginning of the year. The culprit was overwhelmingly the economy, with 90% of survey respondents saying they are doing so to......
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Be professional

Image is everything and whether you like it or not you are judged by your appearance and how you conduct yourself in the workplace.In today's competitive work force, we are all looking for an advantage over the next guy.  Whether you are interviewing for a new position, being considered for a promotion within your current organization, or trying to survive the next round of layoffs, your image will be a factor.  Your image tells a potential or current employer a lot about how you do your job and how serious you take your current position.  What is your image?First, let's talk about your appearance.  Whether your company has a uniform or dress program in place or not, you should dress in a manner appropriate for your position within the company.  Your clothes should:be neatly pressed and wrinkle free;fit and not be too tight or too loose; and be appropriate for work in style and material.Also, your shoes should be appropriate for your position and for your work environment.  For example, I don't think flip-flops or stilettos are ever appropriate footwear for the workplace.  Well, stilettos would be appropriate for some workplaces - just not within the multifamily industry!Other things to consider when evaluating your appearance would be the following:your hair - is it well-groomed?your nails - are they neat and polished?  the appropriate length?  your makeup - is it tastefully applied?your jewelry - is it minimal and appropriate for work?Secondly, I want to talk about how you communicate.  Whether it is verbal, written, or......
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Resident services or nickel and diming?

While I applaud people who think outside the box when it comes to resident services, I sometimes question how it is perceived by the resident and the thought process behind it.For example, I recently shopped an apartment community that provided sports equipment and mountain bikes for the resident to use free of charge.  With my three children and a husband who loves to play any kind of sport, I would love to live at a place that provided this equipment so that I wouldn't have to worry about finding ample storage space for the bikes, balls, and racquets that are currently scattered throughout the house.  A great resident service to provide!My next example is great in thought but not in how the property was providing the service.  I received rental information in the mail recently from an apartment community.  This community included a list of items that were available for the resident's use and the charges of those items.  On the list was a vacuum cleaner.  Great idea, I can borrow a vacuum cleaner from the leasing office.  Not so nice, I would have to pay a rental fee of $.50 in order to use it.  Really?  Is that $.50 going to help the bottom line that much?  The list went on to include many household and maintenance items and while I think it is a great idea to offer the use of these items to the resident I question the thought process behind charging a resident to use them.How are your resident services perceived by your resident's?  Do they come across as great conveniences or......
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It's All Right In Front Of You

Keeping residents and attracting new traffic is no easy feat these days.  Everyone tells you to “add value”, but there is no money to add much of anything right now.  It’s time to get creative.  Take a look around your environment.  Look at what is right in front of you – how can you add value using what you’ve got?Step into that big empty room nobody ever uses.  According to Entrepreneur, Do It Yourself weddings are back.  Between food prices and the recession, if you’re getting married, or planning a reunion or even a baby shower, renting a venue is a big expense you might not have money for.   If you have a clubhouse, you have room for a party.  Think about adding value by making an area available for parties.  If you already do this, reinforce the offer in your newsletter.  If you don’t have the ability, or don’t have a clubhouse, what do you have?  My homeowner’s association picked eight Saturday nights during the summer and offered the pool area up for private parties (for a small fee) after 8pm.  The response was fabulous.  How can you take your common areas and add value to them?If you have a guest suite offer a free night’s stay as part of a renewal or leasing incentive.  Make sure residents understand the value offered by attaching “a $$$ value” to your presentation or collateral piece.  Invite your coworkers to a challenge to answer the phone each and every time it rings.  Value......
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