Gabriele Preston started this conversation with her great blog about apartment competitors and Mark Juleen continued the discussion on ILS's as apartment comps. I'd like to expand their discussion to include another group, single family housing. When I first jumped into property management, I was amazed at how our industry has seemed to have given up the fight against this competitor, and to this day, it never ceases to shock me when I hear a leasing consultant actually congratulate a resident for leaving to buy a home! It seems that our own employees have bought into the belief that we cannot compete against the "American Dream". Do we have a self-esteem issue, or have we not clarified what the true benefits are of apartment living?
This has been especially apparent during the foreclosure crisis recently. Of course, there are issues with credit-worthiness of some foreclosed residents, but this was our opportunity to make a giant push against single-family housing. We could have institituted a marketing push to show the apartment industry with their arms open, saviors to those losing their houses. This would have gained us market share and great press. But this concept was not on the radar.
Ultimately, I think we haven't established ourselves as worthy competitors to single-family housing because we haven't coalesced a central list of benefits for living at apartment communities, which makes sense since these benefits have been relatively unimportant in our struggle against other apartment communities. We talk about great maintenance, but only in relation to our comps. We don't even mention the fact that single-family provides no maintenance at all. This concept of "hassle-free living" could easily be our driving force in a push against single-family housing.
I think the most challenging aspect of this type of competition is that we need to establish ourselves as an industry, rather than independantly. Think about the "Got Milk?" campaign, which wasn't coordinated by one company, but rather by the California Milk Processor Board, and turned into one of the best received and executed marketing programs in history. It raised awareness of milk in ways that were never apparent before. Even recently cited on Wikipedia, "In 2008, the campaign capitalized on the poor economic condition of Americans and used financial adviser and talk show host, Suze Orman, in an effort to advertise milk as a smart and nutritious commodity to purchase. Why can't the multifamily industry pool its massive resources and start a campaign touting our great features?
There are benefits, and potential benefits, to living in apartment communities versus single family housing, and I think it's time we showed some guts!