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The short-term rental industry has come a long way. Once mainly for vacation rental property owners with a few properties, business leaders in multifamily have started to add short-term rental units to their portfolios. Kigo Senior Vice President Matthew Hoffman says the industry has a lot to offer multifamily owners and managers if they keep their eye on the ball. And now is a good time to either dip a toe deeper into the market or expand portfolios.

On Brad Larsen’s national podcast, Property Management Mastermind, Hoffman said the foundation of the short-term rental industry is getting sturdier with institution of policies and procedures that have driven its multifamily counterpart. And regardless of the size of the property management company, there’s money to be made in short-term rentals.

“This has been an evolving, up and coming industry,” Hoffman said. 

Building success in short-term rentals and staying protected

In the podcast, Hoffman shared best practices and advice, touching on the benefits of good reviews and how owners and property managers can cover their assets to generate good revenue in NOI for the long term.

“It’s been very exciting as we see short-term rentals burgeoning year over year,” he said. “The growth over the next two years, going from global industry from $120 billion to $190 billion by end of 2020, is significant as we see short-term rental supply really converge with hotel supply and sit alongside the same accommodations as guests are looking for all the amenities of a home.”

Apartment operators can get started by opting by creating short-term rental units from those that have previously been slow to rent long-term. This is a great way to boost occupancy.

But, he adds, expansion or extending a brand into a new market comes at a price, and owners and management companies should take steps to protect themselves against risks inherent to the industry as well as evolving rules and regulations.

Multiple-night bookings and insurance protect against damage

Property managers are often concerned about damage by unruly guests, something that has unnecessarily shed negative light on the short-term rental industry. Truth is, Hoffman says, guests are generally responsible, just as they are when staying in hotels.

However, there are always exceptions. And property managers need to arm themselves by requiring guests to have a stake in the game through multiple-night bookings and putting up some type of security.

Longer stays typically generate the types of guests who treat the home or unit as if it were theirs and are less likely to destroy furniture and amenities. The bad players are typically one-night bookings for a big gathering, when damage is more likely to occur.

Some short-term rental companies require a deposit, but even $500 or $1,000 up front isn’t always sufficient. A trashed unit can cost far more to get back into the marketplace.

Hoffman says the industry is shifting toward requiring guests to purchase an insurance policy that fully protects the unit. The policy can be baked into the cost of the rental nights.

“There needs to be a non-refundable fee built into bookings that covers the damage,” he said. “This fee is paid by the guest and provides insurance for damage in the unit while a guest is staying there.”

Managing the nuances of changing regulations and short-term rentals

Hoffman believes the industry will adapt and endure but advises that owners and management companies don’t go it alone when negotiating the sometimes rocky road of city, state and national regulations and taxes.

“The property management company is constantly in the know and can operate this model and work with a partner who can handle this side of the business,” Hoffman said. “That’s what I recommend for any multifamily or single-family owner or management company getting into this space. Work with a third-party company.”

Meeting travelers with right accommodation, location and price

For companies considering to opt into short- term rentals, there is no better time, Hoffman says. U.S. travelers are demanding a five-star experience outside of the hotel arena and there is plenty of room for growth.

Short-term rentals are seeing the confluence of homes and hotels similar to what Europe has seen over the years, he said, as well as the maturation of the traveler. The industry also is seeing some hotspots in Nashville, Denver, Dallas and Clearwater Beach, which are prime growth opportunities along with urban markets in Dallas and Chicago.

“In Europe, we saw the evolution of the traveler,” Hoffman said. “It was about renting an accommodation for the right price and location. What you will see with the U.S. traveler is that it’s no longer going to be the type of accommodation, it will be the right accommodation, right location for the right price whether it be hotel, multifamily unit or single-family unit. That is what’s going to be happening.”

RealWorld 2019 will offer educational sessions about how multifamily professionals can get started in short-term rental management. Register today!

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A casual observer would assume that vendors and contractors sell energy projects to multifamily building owners. In reality, the energy managers and other internal champions connected to those buildings wind up doing most of the selling.

They’re the ones who lobby to gain consensus among their peers in property management, facilities, and engineering, persuade senior management to prioritize the initiative, and ultimately convince capital budgeting to approve the needed funds. And if the residents’ cooperation is needed to make the proposed initiative a success, those residents need to be sold on the idea as well.

With all of this selling going on, energy management professionals are smart to embrace two winning strategies commonly seen among the world’s top sales professionals. The first is understanding all of the benefits of your proposed initiative and then expressing them in ways that resonate with your prospect. The second is ensuring that all communication with your prospect is both compelling and concise.

Let’s talk about the benefits. First, understand all of the benefits your proposed initiative could provide: utility-cost financial, non-utility-cost financial, and non-financial. While utility-cost financial benefits may be the most obvious, they are rarely the most compelling.

Non-utility-cost financial benefits include improved resident retention or attraction, higher rental rates, lower capitalization rates, and/or higher asset value—all of which are factors that handily trump energy savings. This is especially true in situations where residents are submetered for a large portion of the building’s energy use and would receive the lion’s share of any savings.

Moreover, some seemingly non-financial benefits (that is, securing a high Energy Star score as a result of improved energy performance, or seeing a rise in resident satisfaction as a result of improved thermal comfort or better lighting quality) can drive additional non-utility-cost financial benefits (that is, improved resident attraction/retention).

Take the time to explore these types of interactions between benefit categories.  Fortunately, there are plenty of case studies where energy-efficiency and other sustainability initiatives have produced a wide variety of benefits beyond utility-cost financial savings. Compiling the evidence you need for your proposal should be fairly easy once you start looking.

In all things, communicate the value

There is a second important dimension of sales professionalism that energy managers would do well to embrace: ensuring that each and every value proposition is communicated in a compelling and concise way.  Have the benefits of your proposed initiative been reframed so that they can be measured with the yardsticks that your decision-maker is already using to measure success?

For example, could you equate your project’s annual energy and maintenance savings to a number of additional rental months, or a certain percentage increase in rental rate, at the subject property?

Of course, no matter how compelling your proposal is, if no one reads it, project approval will remain elusive. Given the ever-shrinking attention span of today’s decision-makers, your value proposition must be communicated in a single-page narrative combined with a one-page financial analysis. The narrative should have a compelling headline, quantitative targets that will be met if the initiative is approved, and a rationale for change that focuses on the why rather than the what, how, how much and when.

The one-page narrative should also include a high-level summary of projected costs and benefits; the steps taken so far to advance this initiative; and, one or more specific action steps that the reader is being asked to take. All of these points need to fit on a single page, blank on the back, that can be read in less than four minutes.

The financial analysis should also fit on a single page. It should feature all of the cash inflows and outflows over the analysis term.  It should clearly list both the popular metrics (simple payback, return on investment and internal rate of return) and the proper metrics (net present value, modified internal rate of return, and savings-to-investment ratio).

Keep in mind, while the popular metrics are very commonly requested, they typically lead to suboptimal decisions, particularly when you’re proposing higher-first-cost, longer-lived, premium-efficiency solutions. For that reason, both the one-page narrative and any oral presentation of the proposal should migrate the discussion away from the popular metrics and toward the proper ones in order to support the wisest decision.

Take the time to delineate the various benefits. Reframe those benefits so they genuinely resonate with decision-makers.  And finally, use one-page narratives and one-page financial analyses to make your case. Remember, if your proposal isn’t read, it can’t be approved. And if it is read, and if your prospect can easily understand how your initiative would make the subject property easier to manage and/or more valuable, your chances of securing approval are greatly improved.

This article originally appeared in the Journal of Utility Management.

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Classic apartment marketing is becoming just that. What once was considered as being the four cornerstones of sales pitches – the 4Ps of product, price, place and promotion – are being transformed by those digital devices that consumers hold dear to their hearts, and hands in a new way.

Smartphones and tablets continue to define the apartment search experience and shift marketing strategies that are now focusing on choice, convenience, cross-devices and creative story-telling. Dial it in as the 4Cs of multifamily.

“(Mobile devices) have really been a conduit to this change,” LeaseLabs President Steven Ozbun said. “They’ve disrupted this industry that surrounds us.”

The commotion has resulted in a marketing mega trend that is changing the way companies of all sizes are pitching their brands.

User experience

Consumers often using multiple devices to search for products. A search for an apartment may start over a cup of coffee on a smartphone and span over one or two more devices before a purchase or commitment is made.

“It’s a fragmented user experience,” Ozbun says. “I’m looking for apt on my smartphone, I hop on my tablet and look for an apartment, then go to my tablet to look at an apartment I just saw on my smartphone. Then I go to laptop to fill out a form because I’m comfortable there.”

Along the way, prospects get very transparent information about competitor pricing and amenities that may sway them in a different direction even if they feel bound by a certain brand. The brand has to be re-enforced and stay fresh by providing multiple options, all of which need to be equally viewable across all devices.

To stay a step ahead, communities must pledge options and an invigorating search experience through multiple devices that address specific prospect needs. The way into the prospect’s palm is through people-based marketing, intricate customer journeys and bottom-line analytics.

“There has been a change in consumer expectations, and the way we can get in front of consumers today has changed, thanks to mobile devices primarily,” said Ozbun, who along with Senior Vice President, Business Development, Brock MacLean recently kicked off a  webcast series focusing on multifamily marketing.

Here is a sneak preview of the new 4Cs of apartment marketing, according to Ozbun and MacLean.

1. Choice

Choice of product, and not so much product in itself, is the first cornerstone of the 4Cs. Ozbun cites how Coca-Cola is a good example of how a company that’s already a house-hold name is re-enforcing its brand through multiple flavors. Today’s consumers are not so much concerned about just having a Coke but a specific kind of soft drink tailored to their needs, MacLean says. The company recently introduced a line of specific flavors, which generated $22 million in sales during the first quarter on shelves).

“It’s about giving options to people who are already committed to that brand but want a choice in flavor,” he said.

2. Convenience

It’s no longer about price but convenience when prospects are looking for an apartment, Ozbun said. Mobile devices have empowered consumers with fast information, causing their shopping expectations to heighten. Instant gratification and instant satisfaction are the operative words.

“Consumers have this expectation now, I want something and I want it now,” he said. “I need you to deliver it in an hour to my door step and I’ll pay an extra hour. Thanks again to that smartphone.”

3. Cross-device

In classic marketing product positioning on the shelf was key. Now consumers expect to see product equally displayed on all devices because they migrate from one to the other throughout the customer journey. About 40 percent all transactions begin on one device before finishing on another, Ozbun says.

“If your product is not viewable or available on a smart phone in the same easy way it is on a desktop, you’re going to lose a huge portion of your market share there,” he said. “Especially with mobile usage surpassing desktop and laptop usage, really focusing on that mobile experience  and making sure that customer journey is cohesive across all devices is more important than ever.”

4. Creative storytelling

Consumers want to be told a story so they can have some sort of emotional connection with the brand of a product or community. Many brands have mastered creative story telling aided by scrolling-page website architecture. Having all brand touchpoints connected help to tell that story more cohesively.

Ozbun noted that Harvard Business Review recently stated that 64 percent of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand. Tom Shoes and Warby Parker, two companies that are philanthropic in their marketing, are among those that stand out, he said.

Multifamily has a great opportunity to tell a compelling story because living space is a personal decision. Tell a story, be memorable, MacLean adds. Airbnb with its Bélo proposition and Biscuit’s adventure with HomeAway have succeeded in the vacation rental space with unforgettable campaigns.

“There’s a great opportunity for multifamily brands to come up with some good core values, effectively share that story so consumers feel good about renting or leasing an apartment from that brand as well.”

Reaching prospects through analytics

The path to purchase is a very twisted, fragmented journey today. Google Analytics is trying to piece that journey together through probabilistic and deterministic matching, processes that identifies consumers based on their log-in tracks across multiple devices.

Clean attribution marketing analytics offers greater understanding about how different interactions effect movement along the customer journey. For multifamily, the applications can provide operators will clean leads that are more likely to convert to leases.

“This is game game-changing,” Ozbun said. “It is a big step from where we were. Showing clean attribution modeling has been something that everybody can debate about. This is a step in the right direction to really having a clean understanding to what is driving that first contact and driving that conversion.”

Watch “Multifamily Marketing Trends Destined to Transform Your Business” to see how apartment operators can leverage the 4Cs into effectively marketing to today’s consumers.

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Leveraging data analytics improves NOI, Gen Z and Boomers are primed to make an impact on multifamily, maintenance is having greater influence on apartment brands and service animals are still a hot topic in the apartment industry.

These topics and more were on the minds of multifamily professionals who converged in record numbers in June for Apartmentalize, the National Apartment Association’s premier education event, at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The four-day conference re-affirmed that the industry is hitting on all cylinders and it’s doing so through diverse approaches.

NAA CEO Robert Pinnegar said that this year’s conference was a hit with more than 10,000 registered attendees and vendors.

“This is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, conferences we’ve had,” he said while strolling the Exhibit Hall, which was filled with more than 600 booths and displays.

Sessions focused on proven marketing strategies at some of the industry’s top property management companies, where brand awareness is being increased through analytics and simply appealing to the human touch.

Benchmarking is all about being great

Out of the gate, attendees were eager to learn as one of the first education sessions drew a standing room only crowd on Wednesday. RealPage Deputy Economist Jay Parsons spoke with BH Management’s Brandy Daniel and Camden Property Trust’s James Flick about how performance benchmarking is driving business.

“All of us what to know our score, not just how we are doing but how we are doing relative to the market around us,” Parsons said.

He compared the pursuit of topping the multifamily field to his son’s baseball team that dominated its local league and found the competition much stiffer while playing tournament games against some of the best teams in the state and country.

“You realize we really got some work cut out for us and we’re raising that standard,” he said. “We want to be great, not just for our little area, our little submarket, our little niche of the world. But we want to be great at the highest level.

“All of us want to be great at what we do, and that’s what benchmarking is all about.”

COPE-ing with content at Lincoln Property Co.

Sheri Killingsworth, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Lincoln Property Co., said sharing content shouldn’t be limited to posting a website blog and walking away. While the company has consistently blogged for about a decade, Killingsworth took content sharing to a new level through several campaigns the promoted resident storytelling over multiple platforms.

One gave away a $20,000 apartment makeover to the resident who contributed the best story about living at Lincoln property. Another, #LPCLiveInspired, gave residents the opportunity to share tips on living healthy, green, smart. Just information, says Killingsworth, that is still living on the company’s website but was posted over multiple channels and resulted in plenty of traction. More than 3,200 hashtags and 7,800 website sessions were generated from the #LPCLiveInspired campaign.

“It’s all about taking this content and using it in more than one instance,” she said. “You COPE with your content. Create once, publish everywhere.”

Killingsworth spoke with Steven Ozbun, Senior Vice President of LeaseLabs, and Alexis Murrell, National Director of Marketing and Communication at Olympus Property.

Best practices for managing a public relations crisis

NAA’s Frank Mauck and Todd Usher offered best practices on managing a public relations crisis. Among them were to identify a spokesperson who’s calm, cool, thrives under pressure and communicates clearly. Experience talking to the public and media is a plus.

When speaking with media, they advised choosing a method – whether using a statement or direct to the media – and being human, empathetic, candid and responsive. It’s important to own mistakes and clarify or apologize if needed.

Responding quickly is also important, but you don’t have to make your case at first. It’s okay to buy some time and follow up later.

And don’t don’t blame on others or downplay the situation.

Maintenance teams are shaping apartment brands

Mary Gwyn, Chief Innovator at Apartment Dynamics, said maintenance performance has become a key metric for a healthy apartment brand that generates renewals and new leases.

“Like it or not, all of your residents are looking at you every day and judging you based on curb appeal, maintenance quality and whether you deliver,” she said.

On-call maintenance is no fun for the technicians and the front office, so property managers can help themselves by following three tips to ease late-night service requests:

  • Be respectful so technicians know they are valued even though they may be pulled away from dinner or a night out to handle a request
  • Educate residents about best practices to prevent service issues to begin with
  • Troubleshoot calls to find a solution before calling the technician
Doggone Express Education sessions

At an Express Education sessions in the exhibit hall, a game of “Fair Housing Jeopardy” quickly went to the dogs. Attendees burned through the Animals category before tackling accessibility, criminal history and other Fair Housing Act topics, an indication that service animals remain a hot topic in the industry.

A big problem, says attorney Terry Kitay, is the rise in online companies that provide unofficial documentation to customers who want to sidestep Fair Housing laws so their pets can be classified as service animals and live at no-pet properties.

“It’s a big hot topic these days,” she said. “The biggest problem apartments continue to have is instances where residents are claiming their pets are emotional support animals. The real problem is there are people with disabilities who really need those animals because of those disabilities, and they need to be permitted to have the animal accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.”

In a follow-up session, attorneys from Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP, offered a refresher course on service/assistance animal protocol as it relates to the Americans With Disabilities and Fair Housing acts.

One interesting note: Trained miniature horses, which are recognized by ADA with dogs as an approved public accommodations service animal, could become more popular because they have advantages over canines.

Attorney Shawn Bankston noted that the benefits of miniature horses include similar training time as with a dog, easier house-breaking, fewer allergens to humans and longer lifespan.

Gen Z is here and Boomers are coming in waves

Gen Z has arrived and it’s a very different generation than the Millennials, says Kate Good, who is Senior Vice President of Development and Operations at Huntington Residential in Houston.

“It’s the most diverse generation and they demand inclusive identity,” she said.

She said the generation believes in contributing to the greater good of things, which is an opportunity for apartment marketers to engage.

“They are looking to participate with you,” Good said. “This can be part of your marketing, what are you doing to contribute to the world.”

Meanwhile, a wave of 55-plus renters is coming, says Alexandra Jackiw of Hayes Gibson Property Services, and the industry needs to be ready. Downsizing Boomers entering multifamily is nothing new, but she anticipates more are on the way and want to live in a mixed-aged environment. “And I don’t know if we as an industry are ready for that,” she said.

The impending Boomer wave was one of six hot topics reported by NAA at the conference.

In the market for a New York City apartment?

Apartmentalize wasn’t without inspirational – and humorous – moments.

Mindy Kaling led the opening general session by sharing her rise from a comedic film festival in New York that earned her a spot as a comedy writer, and eventual star, on NBC’s “The Office.” She emphasized the importance of a good education and hard work that has led to an extensive film and television career.

While she didn’t have a specific message geared toward multifamily, she did note that early in her career she and two roommates looked for a place in New York City to live. Their search began in the trendy SoHo in Lower Manhattan, where they quickly realized their meager salaries combined wouldn’t go far.

So, they settled for a railroad apartment in Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn. Cramped, yet cozy, the renter experience was something that Kaling has always treasured, albeit short-lived as soon after an NBC executive discovered her at the film festival.

“The Office” took her to the glitz of Los Angeles, but starting out was hardly glamorous. As a comedy writer, she logged long hours every day just to keep her job. Her transition to becoming an actress wasn’t easy, she said, and mandated just as much work.

Now an accomplished actress, comedian, writer, producer and director, Kaling doesn’t mind sharing that she could afford something in New York City with a little more pizzazz. She often travels to the Big Apple for film work and hinted that she’d consider buying an apartment there.

“So if any of you know anybody who can help me …,” she quipped.

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U.S. Energy Information Administration Administrator Linda Capuano told the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives in February that the U.S. energy industry is in a transformational time. She punctuated that statement by noting that, for the first time in almost 70 years, the U.S. will be exporting more energy than it imports by the end of 2020.

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2019, EIA projects the U.S. will remain a net energy exporter through 2050. U.S. energy export growth is driven largely by petroleum exports, including crude oil and products, and by additional liquefied natural gas exports.

In two years, America will export 1.2 million barrels of crude a day, more than will be coming into the country, according to EIA.

Capuano said the trends have become clearly established and that they will continue for the next few years before slowing and stabilizing. The U.S. produced almost 11 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2018, exceeding the previous 1970 record of 9.6 million barrels per day. EIA expects that U.S. crude oil production will rise above 14 million barrels per day and remain there through 2040.

“The United States has become the largest producer of crude oil in the world, and growth in domestic oil, natural gas, and renewable energy production is quickly establishing the U.S. as a strong global energy producer for the foreseeable future” said Capuano.

While it is expected to become a net energy exporter, the U.S. will rely on heavy and medium crude oil imports, the report says. The U.S. will mostly produce light and sweet (low-sulfur) crude oils, but refineries along the Gulf Coast are geared for heavy, sour (high-sulfur) crude oil grades.

EIA noted the impact of sustained low natural gas prices and declining costs of renewables on the electricity generation fuel mix. Natural gas will maintain its leading share of electricity generation and will continue to grow, increasing 5 percent over the next 30 years. Electricity generation from renewable sources is expected to nearly double in share from 18 percent in 2018, to 31 percent in 2050.

Aligning to protect your interest

It’s making more sense for rental housing properties to work with a utility management provider to stay on top of a constantly changing energy market. In a recent webcast, RealPage Vice President Jason Lindwall noted that significant changes are happening in the energy sector that impact multifamily housing.

A big advantage of working with a third-party provider is having someone on your side as conditions change. Lindwall noted that Duke Energy’s proposed 12 percent increase in South Carolina and Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy are creating market volatility.

Last fall Duke Energy proposed to the Public Service Commission of South Carolina to increase residential customers’ rates by 12.1 percent and commercial and industrial rates by 8.3 percent. The company justified the rate increases, which would take effect in June 2019, to pay for power plant modernizations and improve reliability and service enhancements, as well as to manage coal ash responsibly.

The company expects to get the commission’s decision in the spring.

PG&E, based in San Francisco, filed for voluntary reorganization Jan. 29 in the wake of the devastating wildfires that have blazed through California in the last two years. At issue is $30 billion or more in expected costs related to the wildfires.

The company said on its website that the filing doesn’t mean that it’s going out of business and that bankruptcy won’t impact electric or gas service for customers. That may be the good news. Said AARP Advocacy Director Blanca Castor to NBC news affiliate KCRA, “The fact that PG&E is filing for bankruptcy is not good for anybody. It’s not good for consumers. It’s not good for the state. So, it’s bad all around.”

Castor fears that rates will go up and burden Californians on fixed incomes.

Market watch

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opened an investigation in February and ordered hearings into three interstate natural gas companies to determine if the companies may be substantially over-recovering their costs of service, resulting in unjust and unreasonable rates.

FERC also found that nine gas companies have complied with the filing requirements of Order No. 849 and terminated their FERC Form 501-G proceedings without any further action.

FERC is concerned that the level of earnings for each company may exceed their actual costs of service, including a reasonable rate of return on equity.

The investigations and hearings will determine whether the existing rates are just and reasonable in accordance with section 5 of the Natural Gas Act (NGA). The Commission has not yet determined a just and reasonable return on equity for each company, and therefore set this issue, among others, for hearings before FERC’s administrative law judges. FERC directed each pipeline to file a cost and revenue study for the latest available 12-month period within 75 days of the issuance of its order.

For more information on how to reduce costs through energy management essentials, watch the webcast.

This article originally appeared in the Journal of Utility Management.

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Student housing is unlike other types in one very important way: once a year, at the very same time, most of the residents vacate. And around two weeks later, the rooms are rented again. This “turn” is a short period in which an awful lot has to happen – the most significant being the inspection, repair, cleaning and preparation of the vacant units.

These days, automation has made what has traditionally been a stressful transition so much easier that it’s a wonder there are still properties relying on paper.

Creating a streamlined process

If you own or manage student housing, you’re aware that the following factors and more will come into play during the turn. It’s quite obviously a situation computers are ideal for: juggling multiple time-sensitive criteria to enable a streamlined, tightly controlled process.

  • Move-in and move-out scheduling
  • Move-out inspections (cleaning/repair assessment)
  • Service vendor sourcing and estimates
  • Service vendor insurance
  • Product vendor sourcing and estimates
  • Product delivery and storage
  • Job progress and completion tracking
  • Final inspections
  • Vendor payments
  • Deposit deductions
  • Deposit returns

The advantages of automation start long before the turn, assuming like most properties you plan well ahead. This is the time for sourcing and selecting vendors of the products and services you’ll need during those critical weeks, and a mish-mash of documents, contact managers, Rolodex’s and sticky notes is no match for a neatly organized electronic vendor management system. Software solutions for student housing now enable vendor sourcing, estimates, insurance verification, invoice management and payments.

During move-out or even pre-move-out inspections, portable devices become the heroes. Staff can use cell phones, tablets or other devices to enter cleaning and repair assessments directly into the property management system while viewing the unit. This not only eliminates duplicate data entry, but also the oversights and discrepancies that come with it. And because there’s no time gap in collecting information, there’s also no risk of returning a deposit to someone whose room damage simply hasn’t shown up in the system yet.

What’s more, the same mobile devices can be used to snap photos of damage as backup when angry parents call to ask why they’re not getting their money back.

You can even give vendors access to the system, letting them adjust status themselves as they complete jobs, alerting staff that they’re ready for inspection and sign-off.

A bird’s-eye view

Automation now provides a birds-eye view of the status of every unit in the property. RealPage’s solution uses color-coding to communicate status at a glance. Instant access to status allows staff to assign and shift vendors depending on priority, and to quickly answer requests concerning move-in dates.

Visibility into progress at the properties, along with the ability to view vendor, purchasing and other information, also benefits the corporate office – eliminating the need for phone calls or laborious reports. And it enables consistency across properties, with standardization of things like damage charges and policies.

Going vertical with vendors

Certain big-box vendors such as Home Depot have now integrated their catalogs and service offerings with solutions providers including RealPage. This means you can now source and schedule products and services all with one vendor – even have the vendor store and deliver products as needed to avoid storage problems.

The biggest advantage of having an integrated single vendor, of course (as with RealPage in the rental housing software business) is that a single entity handles everything from top to bottom, and takes responsibility. This can be big advantage over cobbling together multiple vendors, trying to coordinate them and dealing with finger-pointing when, say, the painter arrives before the carpenter is finished.

Of course, many properties have their favorite vendors, or wish to invite competitive bidding between entities rather than use a single source.

For many student living properties, technology has transformed the turn from a dreaded annual nightmare into a seamless and elegant process that unfolds smoothly through its stages until the final room is checked off as ready for move-in. Today’s solutions will save you time, money and innumerable headaches, so check into them if you haven’t already.

Learn more how to turn the turn into more revenue. Download this eBook!

(Editor’s note- we have updated and republished this article to benefit readers new to Property Management Insider.)

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As websites for multifamily communities continue to evolve and showcase the latest in immersive content offerings, many have interpreted this progression as a move away from the impact of copy on apartment marketing. Some might think you can just slap a few known keywords on the page to help Google find your website and then expect the visual assets to really sell your property, right? Not so much.

Rather than shifting priorities, potential renters and search-engine algorithms alike have broadened their expectations. Your site needs to fire on all cylinders, and that includes engaging, informative copy.

Here are just a few reasons why high-quality copy is here to stay:

SEO

While slick new sites dedicate more page real estate to hi-res photos, videos, and virtual tours, prospects don’t find your apartment website by Googling a picture. In other words, copy has always been the necessary driver of web traffic, and no successful SEO strategy treats written content as an afterthought.

Of equal importance, quality matters. Search engines have grown smart enough to recognize poorly written site content that’s stuffed to the gills with keywords but not much else. Generic copy will read as lazy filler to both your prospects and search engines, and neither will generate the leases your apartment community needs.

Context & consistency

Professional pictures of your community may be worth a thousand words, but the images alone are often disconnected and removed from the bigger picture. Expertly written copy complements your visual assets by providing context and consistency to your property’s narrative. Are your building’s historic roots a core aspect of your brand? Or maybe your neighborhood’s growing popularity, with a range of local businesses and attractions? Is your apartment complex pet-friendly? Strong copy communicates the feel of your community —and the key takeaway for your audience—in a way that’s difficult for pictures to distill. From there, clear, encouraging calls to action instruct prospects regarding the next step they should take in the leasing process.

Efficiency

How much time does your leasing office spend answering the following (or similar) questions:

  • Are those real stone countertops or fake?
  • Is your fitness center open 24 hours?
  • Is your pool heated or seasonal?
  • Do all apartment units come with the wood-style flooring or just some?

By providing more information on your website, you preemptively answer the preliminary questions prospects have about the apartment community. The less time your leasing team spends returning calls regarding basic questions, the more time they have for community tours, following up with qualified leads and preparing for resident move-in days.

If your community utilizes an online leasing platform, then truly effective copy can instill the confidence a prospect needs to begin the application process based on your website alone.

The bottom line

Good copy turns searches into traffic, traffic into prospects, and prospects into applicants. If your current site copy lacks the necessary punch to deliver on any of the above, it’s time for an update.

At PropertyPhotos, we specialize in full-service content creation, including homepage copy written by professionals in the multifamily industry. Contact us today to learn more about how our site copy and other skilled writing services can improve your apartment marketing strategy.

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eBills are no longer a new idea or technology, and the statistics back it up. Payment processor Fiserv reports that over 50 percent of Americans receive some bills electronically, and 78 percent of households are receptive to the idea. In fact, the majority of consumers receive at least a mix of paper and paperless bills. The clear conclusion: Paperless billing is here to stay.

The impact on the environment is even greater. For every person who switches to online billing, six pounds of paper and 23 pounds of wood are saved annually. And this is important to consumers. Sixty percent say that environmental impact played a part in their decision to move to electronic billing.

The impact of paper billing

Paper billing, alternatively, has a much different fiscal model. The cost to a business (where most of the cost in creating paper bills usually lands) has continued to grow in the background, creating yet another rising overhead expense.

Every paper bill created and sent costs, on average, an estimated $1, according to a New York Times article. While that might be considered the cost of doing business, it is also lost revenue. A dollar for every bill, times every customer, adds up when the number of customers reaches the millions.

Where should the cost of paper bills land? During the Great Recession, some businesses began passing this cost forward, charging customers for the privilege of receiving a paper bill in the mail. This caused, not unexpectedly, a market recoil.

Suddenly charging customers for something they have received free for decades—especially in the form of a request for payment, doesn’t connect well. Social media can be a harsh way to learn the consequences of such a decision.

eBilling: A win-win for residents and property management companies

What approach should multifamily take? First, present eBilling to residents as the win-win that it is. Extoll the benefits of eBilling from quick bill delivery, to the set-it-and-forget-it of autopay, to the potential for fewer late fees and a better environment. Remind residents that big physical file folders virtually disappear if they choose eBill— replaced by a new space-friendly virtual file folder on their PC.

Or, if they choose, they can forgo the process of physical filing altogether. Many providers keep a record of customer billing activity for at least a year, available and viewable at any time. It makes light work of billing questions, payment activity and other financial record keeping when everyone can easily compare information from the same location. It also means better transparency and greater retention.

Consumers have already embraced technology in virtually every facet of life. It’s time to fully embrace eBilling. Learn how RealPage Resident Utility Billing Services can help. 


This article originally appeared in the Journal of Utility Management.

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Finding the right vendor in the right area has long been a challenge for multifamily operators. And for third-party service companies, getting new business has been difficult, sometimes forcing them to resort to door-to-door solicitation.

But the gap is about to get tighter.

This summer, RealPage is launching a new vendor management platform designed to make it easier for real estate industry service professionals to connect with apartment operators. Vendors and property managers can find common ground and get down to business quicker.

Vendor Marketplace, a new feature of RealPage’s vast spend management platform set to launch at RealWorld July 21-23 in Orlando, offers property managers the ability to better search a single source of vendor information that contains well-qualified, reputable vendors to connect with them about their products and services. Companies in RealPage’s vast vendor database can be found through more robust search criteria and greater visibility.

The application improves functionality and simplifies RealPage’s existing vendor management software into a single solution that integrates with the company’s other products, all for no additional charge to existing customers.

Finding the right vendor – or being seen by a property management company – is a short click away.

Taking the guesswork out of finding the right vendor

The service is rolling into the multifamily space at a time when property management companies are spending more time on controlling expenses than increasing ROI through bumping rents. RealPage’s spend management solution encompasses various features within Vendor Marketplace but users have had to move in and out of solutions to access vendors. With RealPage’s unified log-in, customers can access the company’s database of hundreds of thousands of vendors that work with multifamily properties.

In a recent webcast, “How to Optimize Your Vendor Program With Winning Results,” RealPage Vice President, Spend Management Sara Jones said the new platform takes the guess work out of picking the right vendor, especially for site level associates who may not be aware of corporate spend practices.

“They may have a preferred vendor with a negotiated contract that they could use but unfortunately the sites are not aware or don’t know how to access those vendors,” Jones said. “So, they just pick one.”

The new vendor-focused platform enables anyone in the organization with access to search the database or find preferred vendors.

Vendor Marketplace features multiple ways to search for new vendors dedicated to real estate industry. Products and services offer a particular category – appliances, building repair, etc. – and additional searches can be made through naming convention or key words. Searches can be filtered by area – local and national – and for minority businesses.

Providing vendors better visibility and ability to market

Vendor Marketplace is as much about improving the match process for service companies and product providers as it is for the property management companies.

The expanded search and filtering process offers greater visibility, something that 400 vendors said they needed in a recent RealPage external survey.

Also, vendors will now be able to better market their products and services through a content-rich profile that enables videos, photos and service/product descriptions. No need, says Jones, for vendors to knock on doors, which is a manual, time-consuming and hard-to-scale process that distracts them from their core business activities. Profiles will also contain badges that lets searches know if the vendor participates in Vendor Credentialing or is a catalog or e-Invoice user.

“This is their opportunity to really showcase their business,” Jones said. “They have the ability to clearly indicate what they do, the multiple services they offer and their service areas.”

Once a multifamily property representative finds the right vendor the company can be contacted via email, “a big hit for our vendors.”

In addition, vendors can see how many times their profile has gotten a hit, which Jones says will encourage them to continue to participate in the program.

Simpler way to connect for business opportunities

From searches to credentialing to billing, Vendor Marketplace is making it simpler for real estate service and product companies to unite with apartments.

“We are excited to add integration touchpoints to applications like Vendor Credentialing and RealPage Accounting,” Jones said. “These integration will help with consistent vendor information and reduce duplicate records, which causes accounts payable nightmares.”

Ready to mitigate vendor risk and manage vendor compliance? Learn more about how to optimize your vendor program by watching the webcast.

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of those terms used so liberally that you’re never sure whether you’re being snowed by marketers. But in the context of RealPage’s new AI-based resident screening solution, the payoff is so obvious and easily documented that there’s no question it’s bringing about a revolution.

The ROI is proving to be absolutely remarkable: millions saved and billions added to asset values, based on an average of $31 in per-unit savings over the course of a year without negatively affecting occupancy or revenue.

All other screening solutions available for multifamily continue to rely on older methodologies for sizing up the likelihood of applicants paying their rent. They’re based on statistical and FICO scoring models, which are relatively imprecise in determining likelihood of rent payment. And the records are actually becoming thinner due to reduced credit card debt.

Knowing this, and under pressure to keep occupancy numbers up, leasing agents are turning more often to intuition and overrides, opening up properties to more risk and even Fair Housing or HUD violations. Without the most accurate screening, you’re always in danger of either turning away potentially good renters or moving in bad ones.

And what happens if there’s a downturn or spike in the market? The old scoring models simply can’t keep up with a rapidly changing rental environment where criteria need adjustment to reflect new local economic realities.

A second leap for resident screening

RealPage’s first major contribution to improving screening accuracy, one that still hasn’t been matched, was the addition of over 31 million records from actual rent payment histories to the mix of screening criteria. This was driven by the fact that the #1 indicator of whether someone will pay their rent is whether they’ve paid it in the past. Some people have a history of consistently paying rent even when falling behind on everything else. These are renters you don’t want to lose simply because they’ve been late payers on credit cards in the past or their income is modest. And only RealPage can pick them out of the applicant pool.

But the new AI technology represents an even greater leap in screening accuracy. It taps into both financial and rental history records as before (in addition to criminal records, of course). Yet now it applies machine learning and AI to these records, intelligently assessing financial records most closely correlated with rent payment. After all, what’s the use of records that only loosely reflect a person’s willingness to pay their rent? And with today’s thinner credit files, it’s critical to fully leverage data that are truly meaningful.

In fact, the new solution does not even consider rent-to-income as a factor due to its poor prediction of rent payment. It’s a metric that actually makes screening less accurate. Properties can still set income minimums, but no longer are their screening results polluted by a figure that is often faked, and a bad predictor even when accurate. This is the sort of improvement you would never adopt based on mere intuition, but that AI demonstrates clearly to be absolutely rational.

Unbiased insights for smart leasing decisions

With a new level of confidence in screening accuracy, leasing agents are less likely to invoke overrides and make other “intuitive” decisions that can lead to financial loss or Fair Housing violations.

One important thing the AI considers is the local applicant pool, because of course you won’t be applying the same standards in a market where an industry downturn has left renters hurting for cash as you do in, say, a market of affluent people with great credit. After all, you don’t want to ding occupancy. The whole point is to reduce financial loss without compromising occupancy or revenue. The new RealPage solution evaluates how risky an applicant is compared to the local applicant pool, along with other data (including property and market occupancy), to determine a risk profile and make a recommendation.

Because it’s nimble, the AI-based technology adjusts itself on a continual basis to keep up with fluctuations in local markets. And it’s continuously learning, so even though the technology is already delivering huge financial benefits, it will only get better and better over time.

The financial rewards of the new screening solution aren’t just pie in the sky; you can actually document them in analytical reports, aided by the Risk Advisory Services consultants who offer complimentary reporting and risk assessment.

RealPage Screening integrates with all major leasing software solutions, so even if your core software isn’t from RealPage you can still take advantage of this cutting-edge technology. With multifamily managers and owners rapidly adopting data analytics to judge performance, it’s a great way to prove you aren’t being left behind in the critical decisions that determine the quality of your resident base and their ability and willingness to pay their rent.

Learn more about how RealPage AI Screening will reduce your bad debt.

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