It’s no secret that advertisers use all sorts of airbrushing techniques to erase a model’s imperfections. Who would possibly want to buy a product represented by an imperfect spokesperson? Would that dress or those accessories be less desirable when photographed on someone with a fuller, dare I say normal, physique?
Recently, models and celebrities have rallied against dramatic retouching – some have even demanded magazines and advertisers stop the practice altogether. Misrepresentation can severely damage ones brand. Bottom line, no one benefits from the bait and switch.
Prospects turned residents have complained for years that apartment communities have misrepresented their product in much of the same way. Relying on model apartments to demonstrate a level of comfort and oftentimes quality are the breeding grounds for mistrust between resident and management. They can also result in disappointed residents at move-in and negative online reviews.
“They showed me a model and told me that the apartment that I was getting would be exactly the same. Believing them I put down my deposit. The day before I was supposed to move in I was finally able to see the apartment. It was horrible-completely different layout, the balcony was dirty, the laundry room shelving was falling apart and the kitchen cabinets were scratched and looked old. Luxury no way.”
“Everything in the model home is PERFECT however, the actual homes are just rough. They have been used so long that they are falling apart. As I mentioned before my kitchen is awful. Also my shower makes this awful LOUD noise every time I shower; it is just getting old and worn out.”
“I was in love with the apartment that they showed me however little to my surprise that was just the model … The real ones are more outdated. I didn’t find this out until I drove 500 miles to move in.”
There are benefits to model apartment homes, however. Models are showpieces and can help prospects envision furniture placement and even inspire decorating ideas. But they must be shown with caution. Here are 5 tips for communities with model apartment homes and ways to avoid the move-in “meh”.
1. Show the actual apartment home whenever possible – As found in our “2015 Today’s Online Renter Study”, when asked what had the greatest impact on a prospect’s rental decision, viewing the actual apartment ranked #1. Viewing the model apartment was at a lowly #12. Given the amount of money communities spend on models (furniture, utilities, non-revenue generating, etc.) the biggest bang for your buck is to allocate those dollars to turning vacant apartment homes and getting them move-in ready as soon as possible. Invite the prospect back for a return visit to check out the actual apartment home before making a monetary commitment.
2. Show as close to what the prospect will be renting as possible – Leasing associates are masters at selling but nothing is worse than having to say things like “Well, in the actual apartment, there isn’t a wall here, the bathroom is a little smaller and the kitchen is more of a galley style instead of this layout”. With every mental alteration a prospect has to make, the more confusing it becomes to determine if the actual apartment home is right for them.
3. Virtual tours put things into perspective – Once an apartment home is made ready, break out the cell phone and go on a virtual tour…room by room, feature by feature. Create a YouTube channel for the community and upload the videos to it. Prospects would much rather hear “Although a 2 bedroom isn’t available to show today, I do have a video tour of that exact floorplan”. It also shows the prospect you are proactive and sincerely want them to become a member of your community. Virtual tours are great closing tools as well and can be sent along in your follow up emails (include the URL link in the body of your email).
4. Use the model/upgraded home for comparison shopping – If there is a price variation due to upgrades, features, etc. it’s helpful for prospects to physically see the differences. Pointing to specific areas that determine the change in price can help put things in perspective and clearly justify the increase.
5. Put it in writing – Written documentation is golden should problems arise at move-in. Summarize any differences between what was shown and what will be delivered; have the prospect sign off in acknowledgment. Attach the original to the guest card and provide the prospect with a copy. It would be helpful to reiterate the differences in your follow up correspondence – keep copies of those as well.
When competition is tough and viable prospects are hard to come by, communities may be tempted to rely on models to secure a lease. Not a big deal if the final product matches up feature for feature – huge deal if it doesn’t. Rocky move-ins tend to be rocky residents; setting expectations at the prospect stage can help smooth the road ahead.