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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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Too much information

Recently, I requested information from apartment communities throughout the US.  As I reviewed each of the packages that I received, I was surprised to see what was included and that even within the same management companies the differences in the materials enclosed.  It made me start to think - what should be sent when a prospect requests information?In reviewing the materials, I have come to the following conclusions:1.  A personal letter should be included to the prospect.  This letter should address whatever questions the prospect asked and should highlight the community.  It should:be free of grammatical and spelling errors,be signed by the person writing the letter, andinclude the ways the prospective resident can contact the sender and the community.  2.  A brochure or informational sheet discussing the features and benefits of the apartment and the community should be included.  If your community has a brochure, it should be included in the package.  If your community does not have a brochure, you can make an information sheet using a digital photo of the community and describing the community and apartment features.  3.  It should NOT include copies of copies of copies.  Remember, what you send to a prospective resident is your first opportunity to make a good impression.  If you are sending them information that is not professional, what message are you sending?  4.  All information that is sent to a prospective resident should be positive.  I was shocked to see the number of information packages that included community rules, NSF payment information,......
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Don't Forget the Little Things

In my travels, I am finding that many communities are experiencing a substantial and unanticipated drop in traffic.  That, coupled with increased move outs due to job loss, etc. has resulted in less than desirable vacancy rates. In addition to increased marketing efforts, it’s important and timely to keep in mind that the little things do count.  Rather than gazing out the window and wondering where all the traffic went, and speculating on when it might come back, take action and clean up your act.  A few suggestions:•    How many times have you pulled into a business thinking you might buy something, and pulled right back out because the place just didn’t look kept up?  Empty the ashtray out front.  Clean the windows on your front door.  Wash the coffeepot. Clean the golf cart.  Examine your entry mats.  Don’t forget the restrooms.•    Visit your competition.  Have breakfast with a competitor.  Find out, (as Marvin Gaye so eloquently sang), what’s going on.•    Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…your fireplace-is it on?•    When was the last time your community’s clubhouse and exterior windows were cleaned?  The difference will be clear, no pun intended.•    Pay close attention to the your appearance and the appearance of your team.  Do you all convey a positive, professional image?Above all, persevere.  Weather the storm.  Make every contact with clients and residents count.  Look at your community, your team, your competition and decide what you need to do become a community of choice. ......
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People Skills Still Rule!!!

It is so fun reading the blogs from all the pros, and I am excited to add my two cents worth.  My speciality is, and always has been developing people skills.  It is so great to learn all the ways to get traffic in the door, and to track it accurately...especially loved Toni's pointers.   I stand my ground on this; too many front desk team members, those who answer the phone when all the technology makes it ring, who converse via email with our customers, just haven't been taught, or don't practice good people skills.  Making people like you, quickly, upfront is the answer.  For at least 30 years I have preaching this sermon...and still the customer is treated with nonchalance, or "we are too busy" or some other perceived indifference.  Studies indicate that 68% of our customers "go away, don't buy, don't renew,"  because of the way they are treated by the person they dealt with.  I am sometimes asked why I keep hammering on this....BECAUSE we still aren't doing it!!! So, I'm BAAAACCCKK!!  And I will keep talking about it until common courtesy and interest in the customer becomes the norm.  We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the technology, we track traffic, we count leases, we get frustrated with low occupancy, not to menton poor NOI...only to neglect, even disrespect, the current resident who is a pain in our rear.  This person pays their rent, and on time, but we just get sick of the complaints, the attitude...forgetting......
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Do your people do the right thing even when you are not looking?

Would it surprise you to learn that in a recent study across the country where apartment communities were contacted with requests for information via the internet that less than 10% of the communities contacted responded?  In our current economic climate where maintaining occupancy is a challenge in many of our metropolitan areas, would your communities be part of the 10% or would they be part of the 90%? 

As we begin 2009, I would challenge all multi-family professionals, whether onsite or at a corporate level, to make sure that your teams are doing the basics.  Studies have continually shown that internet traffic is qualified traffic and that the number of individuals that are looking for an apartment online continues to increase every day.  Are your properties capturing all of the internet leads that they are receiving?   Are they following up with all leads in the manner that the prospective resident requested?  Are the internet leads answered in a professional manner?  If you don't know what your people are doing when it comes to internet leads, I would strongly suggest that you find out - today.  The only thing you have to lose is qualified rentals!


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Continental Pilot Gets It Right - A Lesson In Customer Service

So as many of you know, I was fortunate enough to go to Italy last week, which I might blog about later on. But for now, I want to focus on my trip home, which included a 9 hour flight to Newark, New Jersey and then another 3 hour flight to Houston. Unfortunately, there was bad weather in Newark (and more on the way), so we ended up being stuck on the tarmac for 3 extra hours. Terrible, huh? Surprisingly, not so much. Granted, I wasn't thrilled with the 3 hour delay stuck in the airplane, but it was strangely not nearly as bad as other delays I've gone through, solely because of the way the pilot handled the situation. Immediately when he found out that we were stuck, he took the time to tell us EXACTLY what was going on. He gave us the impression that we now knew every piece of information possible. Then he said he would keep us updated every 20 to 25 minutes, which he did consistently. One of the biggest frustrations in delays like this are the uncertainty. Are we going to be there for hours? What's the hangup? Is the flight going to be canceled? Are we going to be able to get a snack while we wait? Answering these questions didn't take away the frustration of having to wait for three hours, but it allowed us to sit back and relax, confident that we would had all the information possible.   Back when I......
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When a Letter Isn’t Enough

My very lovely fiancee and were having an oh-so exciting talk about the mail we got a few days back when something out of the ordinary came up. She said that she received something in the mail from Publisher's Clearinghouse, cleverly disguised so she opened it up instead of immediately chunking it. But what really shocked her was that the letter was personally signed. She even took the time to examine it in order to see the pen indentation on the page. She was so amazed that she made a point of telling me how impressed she was. Now granted, it was probably just some lackey spending days on end signing these pages, or maybe even automated in some way, but the important thing was that it made an impact. It was no longer impersonal, there was actually someone that had touched that letter, and that made a difference.



(Louis XIV Signature, in case you were curious...)

This of course got me thinking about our own correspondence and how personalizing correspondence is all relative. Many communities send out signed renewal letters for something their resident spent over $10,000 for in just one year. Publishers Clearinghouse just wanted her to buy a few magazines and they were able to provide the same signed letter. When receiving junk mail, getting a signed letter was impressive, but when your resident spends thousands and thousands of dollars on your product, do you really think a signed letter is really enough?

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Getting Proactive with Social Media

In the many conversations at the few (although innovative) property management blogs, we've talked about using social media in different circumstances - in this case, using social media to monitor your company's reputation, reacting to those posts to provide excellent customer service, and even leading the conversation in a positive way when it comes to your company. This article is great about discussing two out of three of these uses: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/services/2008-05-20-online-reviews_N.htm
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