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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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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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Marketing Your Walkability

I just got done checking the walkability score for my home address at www.walkscore.com, and while my home didn’t score very well, my client’s apartment community did.  98 out of 100 – a “walker’s paradise”.  Real Estate listing services have started to list property walkability scores as a prominent header on listings, and www.coloproperty.com   just released a feature that allows their visitors to search properties by Walk Score.  The Walk Score Tile displays the Walk Score of a property and a map of nearby amenities, and it's simple to add the tile to your property listings, website, or blog .  Perfect for apartment communities and/or portfolios. Check it out, get your score, and if it’s good, let people know just how walkable you are.  
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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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We're Joking, Please Don't Contact Us

Sometimes, apartment companies and communities get so focused on filling up their communities, they forget about the residents who are already living there. A perfect example of this is the community website, which consistently offers 95% of its features to prospects and a measly 5% for residents. Although this is throughout the entire website, one facet is glaring in its lack of respect and recognition for its residents: The contact page.  Unbelievably, these are actual REQUIRED fields in several apartment community contact pages!
  • Date of Move.  Are they supposed to anticipate when they will be leaving your community?
  • How Did You Hear About Us (with the only options available being: Internet, Newspaper, Word of Mouth, Drive By, and Other). I guess residents are considered "Other" to this community.
  • How Many Bedrooms Would You Like?

How exactly are residents supposed to respond to these questions? And what type of message does this send to the residents, anyway? By not having a feature that pertains to residents, these apartment communities are essentially telling them that they don't really care about what they have to say.

(As a side note, some companies have a "resident" section that allows them to contact the community, which is fine, but as a suggestion, these companies might want to link to that function on their other prospect contact page. The average person is going to miss that "residents" link half the time and go to their property page, and you don't want them feeling ignored.)

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Isn't our business supposed to be personal?

First of all, I want you to know that I am all for technology.  I have a cell phone, a laptop computer, voicemail, an email account, and a Facebook account.  I love that I have access to information and can communicate with the touch of a finger.  I love the fact that I can communicate with someone across the country in the middle of the night if I want to.  It is amazing.Now for the reason for my post today - I am so sick of not being able to talk to a live person.   I can't tell you how many times I have tried to reach someone only to get a digital recording and the prompt to leave a message.  I can't count the number of times that I have called communities, left a message, and never received a phone call back.  I can't tell you the number of Regional Managers that I have tried to contact, left a message, and never received a phone call back.  What if I am a resident with an emergency?  What if I am a prospective resident in desperate need for an apartment?  What is I am a family member of an employee trying to get in touch with someone because of a family emergency?Technology is great but it shouldn't be abused.  People want to talk to a live person.  They want a phone call back.  They want to know that their needs and wants are important.  While I understand this problem isn't unique to......
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Thanksgiving: Verb Word It!

As a young child, I had an English teacher who was obsessed with what she called, "the verb words," because they were active and led to more and more action in writing.  She used to make us stand up and act out all the verb words in our papers when we read them to the class.  I liked the writing part of that class, but the acting out "verb word" madness not so much.  I was the fat kid, you understand.  But what I did take away from that teacher is the importance of action, not only in our writing but also in our doing.Thanksgiving is next week and what have you done to shine your community spotlight on this holiday? It's traditionally a day of family and football for many of us, so how can we make our residents feel like family today?  A few of the great retention ideas I've heard out there are:Sending handwritten notes to residents telling them that you're thankful for their residency at your community and mentioning a specific way they make it betterPreparing and serving a GIANT Thanksgiving dinner for the residentsA step up on plain jane thank you cards, one community is sponsoring a float in their local day after Thanksgiving parade with a giant thank you to their residents on the side of itThose are just some of the great ideas I've heard tossed around this week!  The float one has me really excited and I don't even like parades that much!Another......
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Satisfied Residents Are Not Enough

Came across an interesting blog post today about customer satisfaction. The Consumer Electronics Association prepared a satisfaction survey earlier this year that discussed customer satisfaction and their decision to buy again from that provider*. Well, as you can see, having a satisfied customer doesn't really get them to the goal they anticipated. Instead, only the "Very Satisfied" customers seemed to really be impacted enough to be a repeat customer.

So why didn't "satisfied" produce greater results? Without more information, it's really hard to say, but I wonder if these results go back to Hygiene Theory I blogged about several months ago. What if being "satisfied" really just meant that the company had met their basic expectations, and nothing more? In other words, they provided what they were supposed to provide, but didn't "wow" them or go above and beyond. Those who were "Very Satisfied", however, may have felt that their basic expectations were met, but there were also additional perks that really provided the reason to continue to buy from that company.

Of course, this is all speculation, but it's worth thinking about. Regardless, it does show that providing adequate service or a product that just barely gets the job done won't cut it with your customers.
* Could not find source document

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