March 23, 2016

A property manager’s work is never done. Contrary to what some people might think, getting prospects to visit a community and secure an apartment lease is not the hardest part of property management. With all the technological advancements, property managers now have the whole leasing process streamlined, from property marketing and advertising tools to resident screening and payment processing.

But once the residents are in, the ball is solely in the property manager’s court. The landlord is responsible for keeping residents happy and willing to renew when the time comes. Ask anyone involved in the business of operating or maintaining apartments, and they will tell you that providing value and fostering resident loyalty are key when trying to build a profitable business.

We’ve decided to take a closer look at property management techniques and highlight a few industry best practices that can help property owners boost resident retention and maximize turnover.

1. Create inclusive environments.

Renters generally look for the same things in their apartment choices, be the young professionals or empty-nesters: fair pricing, a safe neighborhood and a comfortable environment enriched with great amenities that can complement their busy lifestyles.

Location plays a major part in people’s decision to settle down, and most often it’s mixed-use developments that catch their eye, typically because they offer pedestrian-friendly environments where people can live, work and play in one place. Usually featuring walkable infrastructure, these communities are particularly appealing because they provide easy access to great amenities such as dining, grocery, and retail, as well as mass transit for convenient commutes.

Additionally, mixed-use communities score high in terms of sustainable development as they make more efficient use of land and infrastructure. Parking facilities can be effectively shared by residential and retail users - as long as their peak parking hours do not overlap substantially – thus reducing the need for additional development. By locating homes and jobs within easy commuting distance, traffic congestion is also significantly reduced, which can be a deal breaker for those weary of spending hours in traffic jams on their way to/from work.

A good example of fine urban living is Bozzuto Group’s Cadence at Crown, a 538-unit apartment community in Gaithersburg, MD. Developed by Bozzuto Development Company and built by Bozzuto Construction Company, Cadence at Crown is now managed by Bozzuto Management Company. The community features a premier location, in close proximity to the shopping, dining, and nightlife of Downtown Crown, Gaithersburg’s upscale mixed-use community.

Cadence offers a convenient commute to DC, Virginia, and areas throughout Maryland with its easy access to major roadways including I-270, I-370 and 495. It is less than a mile from Shady Grove Metro Station on the Red Line and allows for easy access to both Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.

2. Focus on customer service.

When prospects first enter a community, they tend to pay more attention to the vibe and the general looks of the community, but once in there, their attention shifts to more practical details. Whether or not the community has a Facebook page becomes less important and focus turns to the responsiveness of office staff, customer support services and timely response to maintenance requests.

The easier you make it for your residents to live there, the longer they’ll stay. Submitting work orders immediately after a resident calls about a leaking faucet or the air conditioner not working, and following up after the job is done, can send customer satisfaction through the roof.

Property management company Tarragon Property Services executes the complete leasing process online and provides convenient online resident services - all with RENTCafé. It’s one of the reasons why their properties consistently boast near-full occupancy. “Our site managers love that RENTCafé is intuitive, easy to use, and fully integrated with our Yardi Voyager® property management and accounting system,” said Jane Griffith, marketing manager for Tarragon’s multifamily division.“When prospects fill out guest cards online, we eliminate paper and redundancy because we don’t have to reenter a separate guest card into Voyager.”

 “RENTCafé also includes a resident portal. Once those prospects become residents, they like being able to pay rent online by credit card or checking account withdrawal, submit maintenance requests, and communicate with the office staff,” she added. “Since adopting RENTCafé, our occupancy is way up. We’re consistently at 96 to 98%, and sometimes 100%. RENTCafé has absolutely played a role in that.”

3. Add value through green improvements.

Electric vehicle charging stations, rooftop farms, drought-resistant landscaping and green envelopes for parking spaces might not have had a place in apartment communities in the past, but they are now a recurrent feature of multi-family developments.

While striving to deliver a more sustainable living experience, many developers and property owners build their communities around green principles. And with good reason. Alongside the obvious environmental considerations, “green” has become a word that sells. Residents recognize the benefits of green living and want to live in enhanced buildings. Lowering their carbon footprint and improving quality of life while saving money have become priorities for many apartment dwellers and will turn into retention drivers if advertised as such.

According to a survey of 200,000 residents conducted by the National Multi-Housing Council and Kingsley Associates, 71% of respondents said they would love to see green amenities in their apartment buildings.35% percent of residents expressed a preference for both green principles and green practices to be adopted, while 23%required green practices and 14% required green design, as noted in the 2013 NMHC/Kingsley Survey of Apartment Resident Preferences.

As a key promoter of healthy communities, BRE PropertiesInc. integrates multiple green practices and sustainable elements into their apartment buildings. Green highlights include high-performance faucets, toilets and showerheads, smart irrigation systems and drought-tolerant, native landscaping, energy-efficient windows, lighting, and plumbing, low- or no-VOC paints and carpets, and household hazardous waste recycling. Additionally, many BRE communities use solar panels or participate in renewable energy source programs, and work on implementing sustainable driving programs such as Zipcars and electric car charging stations.

By living in rental units enhanced with ENERGY STAR® appliances, programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent and LED lighting, residents can enjoy healthy living while saving big bucks on utility bills as well.

4. Promote healthy spaces.

Many developers and property managers around the country have taken the sustainability pledge and enforced smoking bans to increase livability in their communities. Related Companies was the first major landlord to ban smoking in all 40,000 of its rental residences in 17 states.

The initiative was adopted as a way to protect residents from the health hazards associated with second-hand smoke which can reportedly drift in from unit to unit. Naturally, the move sparked a lot of controversies, mainly focused on libertarian principles (as smoking bans affect private behavior), but the upshot is more than worth it. Implementing no-smoking policies in multi-housing communities can help prevent fires, reduce maintenance costs and may result in insurance discounts as well.

5. Prioritize niche amenities.

When marketing to a specific renter demographic, it’s useful to know exactly what your target group expects from your apartment community, and then try to deliver. Many renters will choose to stay put if your community caters to their lifestyle needs and budget. If you’re targeting Millennials-those born between 1980 and 1995, also called Generation Rent - you may well expect them to appreciate alternative/non-motorized transportation options such as bike-sharing and walkability, resident portals for submitting maintenance requests online, fast internet and free WiFi, as well as pet-friendliness and resort-like swimming pools.

Sometimes it simply boils down to this: the sooner you acknowledge your tenants’ expectations, the higher the chances to succeed in attracting and retaining residents.

What is your strategy for increasing resident retention?

About the Author: Amalia Otet is a news editor and creative writer, exploring topics such as smart construction, housing trends, lifestyle, and renewable energy. She has been a frequent contributor to the Balance Sheet corporate blog as well as a real estate editor for Commercial Property Executive and Multi-Housing News Online.Follow Amalia on Twitter: @AmaOtet

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