Innovative technology has been driving the multifamily housing industry forward in today’s market, particularly in the past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several digital tools previously considered add-ons, such as virtual tours, ID scanning, and 3D imagery, became must-haves in the industry, which was forced to market apartments virtually to overcome pandemic-related restrictions.
Leasing agents exercised an abundance of caution when showing apartments at the beginning of the pandemic, but, with COVID cases waning, the additional digital tools have created an abundance of options for touring and lead management. After years of delay, the industry has embraced digital disruption at unprecedented speeds, and operators have been more than happy to join the ride.
Zumper has been one of the firms at the forefront of these breakthroughs, both through virtual touring and artificial intelligence (AI). Zumper chief sales officer Natalie Cariola says she believes technology and innovation are crucial in the multifamily industry.
“If you are not looking to integrate modern technology into your business, your company, products, and customers risk being disrupted by someone who will,” Cariola says.
It isn’t unusual for companies to be slow to embrace innovation simply because they’re comfortable with the traditional ways of doing things. However, that comes with a risk. You can manage without new technology, but your competitors will likely leverage tech to drive better business outcomes, not to mention the on-demand services that consumers want and expect.
Many of the digital technologies that were adopted over the course of the pandemic have existed for years, but the industry—and consumers—was slow to adopt them. In the early stages of the pandemic, strict municipal lockdown orders forced that adoption to take place, and many will become mainstays moving forward. Cariola says apartment rentals are a prime proving ground for new technology.
“Our industry has an enormous opportunity to redefine the apartment rental experience similar to what we’ve seen in the mobility industry, or even in retail,” she says. “There is tremendous demand, an endless list of prospects who need places to live. New technology can help move the industry from what amounts to digitized classified ads into something that better aligns with the demands of today’s consumers.”
Providing renters with a better and easier experience for search, discovery, and transaction is a huge boost to both renters and apartment owners. For example, with zStories, Zumper’s new social media-style listing technology, the firm delivers 18% more leads to multifamily customers.
Multifamily Executive spoke to Justin Wald, Berkshire’s marketing director for the Western region, on the benefits of using technology to help drive results for the industry. Wald cites his recent test of Zumper’s Signature Virtual package, including zStories and Powerleads AI. By leveraging zStories and Powerleads AI, Wald says he was able to move occupancy rates at a Pacific Northwest property from 88% to 95% and increase lead velocity by over 60% in less than 40 days.
“When we target consumers with tools that align with contemporary consumer behaviors, it benefits both the renter and the leasing team,” says Cariola. “Renters have a more satisfying search experience, while leasing teams see a better ROI.”
AI is also being used in new and impactful ways with top-of-the-funnel marketing. Using a tool like Zumper’s Powerleads AI can help identify the prospects most likely to lease, streamlining the vetting process. “Whether you own a condo or a 500-unit property, you are getting inundated by inquiries,” she says. “It’s a lot to manage, and often more than owners can easily manage.”
Zumper found that 78% of leasing staff believe having more data on prospects would help them improve conversions. By using AI and machine learning to provide predictive insights and data, they can not only identify higher quality leads, but they can provide a faster leasing process, too.
Even as we move closer to a post-pandemic world, technology is helping meet apartment searchers’ continued demand for “self-service” and “contact-free” service throughout the leasing process. Most property management software programs offer self-scheduling so prospects can more easily check for availability, Cariola says. In addition, new access to self-guided or virtual tours allows prospective residents the freedom to visit apartments in a way that best suits their needs.
“Some people appreciate the freedom of opening up cabinets and closets, checking out the bathroom, and taking time to furniture-plan without being accompanied by a salesperson,” she adds. “There are certainly efficiencies for leasing teams as well.”