Matt Weirich devised the concept of a video leasing platform after a painful apartment hunting experience when he graduated from Purdue University and moved more than two hours away to Chicago. Weirich says he made the drive six weekends in a row to tour more than 40 properties in person before settling on where to live and signing a lease.
“How can we streamline this process?” he wondered.
“I knew it was a pain point for me, as a consumer. What I saw online on the apartment websites was never what I actually wanted to see at the property itself,” says Weirich, co-founder and CEO of Realync, a multifamily video leasing and engagement platform that enables apartments to host their own custom live video tours and create personalized pre-recorded videos for prospective residents.
“If I’d been able to see what I wanted to see and narrow that down to about 20 properties, I could have cut out half of my trips to Chicago and really honed in on where I wanted to live and what kind of property features mattered most to me,” he says.
Tap into technology to help renters research online
Prospects prefer to do most of their research online and don’t want to waste time visiting more than a few properties, so why not give renters what they want and assist them in the leasing process by providing helpful content in as many formats as possible?
“We make so many buying decisions using research tools online, and consumers are starting to appreciate the convenience of not having to come in to the office and fill out forms,” says Katrina Greene, Senior Regional Manager at Sheehan Property Management.
As part of their lead follow-up process, Sheehan property managers email prospects personalized Realync videos to highlight property features like the fitness center and pool, and to do walk-throughs of individual units a prospect shows interest in.
“Our tour numbers are starting to decrease, but leasing velocity has stayed the same,” Greene says. “We still have to put in the effort to get the lease, but we are doing it with the help from multiple software platforms.”
Why add video tours to apartment websites?
Video content is projected to account for more than 80 percent of all web traffic by next year, continuously increasing the value of video content marketing.
“I think, from the sales team’s standpoint, video tours are hugely beneficial,” says Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing at Mission Rock Residential, which oversees more than 105 apartment communities across the U.S.
“In today’s climate, it doesn’t even matter which market, it’s all about eCommerce for consumers—and that even includes finding a home,” Eppsteiner adds. “Especially the millennial generation, they’re more mobile and move from market to market, be it for a job or they just want a change in lifestyle and will move if they think it’s an enhancement.”
While physically showing up at a property used to be the only way to sign a lease, much of that process has migrated to a digital platform. Prospects can pre-qualify and apply for a lease on many property websites after using online technologies to gather all of the details they need to make a decision.
“Right now, we have online leasing happening, where people can and sometimes do lease sight-unseen—if they have access to all of the right information,” Weirich says. “Residents are on a spectrum. On one end is the prospect who is going to have to come back 20 times before they make a decision, and on the other end there’s the person who will sign a lease based on one photo posted on Craigslist.
“Realync is helping onsite teams capture more of that spectrum that’s currently underserved, or at least the experience is below the level they’d like when it comes to doing research online and truly experiencing a property,” he says.
Embedding video on website presents challenge
When property managers send a prospect a Realync video, it’s a unique link that delivers data back to the property on how that prospective resident engaged with the video content. In that scenario, the property has already made contact with the lead and is following up with personalized videos based on what they know about that person’s buying needs and priorities.
Videos simply embedded on a website, while incredibly powerful for driving traffic and engagement, don’t deliver to multifamily professionals the same in-depth analytics possible with other kinds of content. To overcome this digital challenge, Realync recently partnered with PERQ to integrate tour videos into the AI-driven website conversion software. In the first four months of initial testing on two property websites with PERQ, the videos ranked second for online lead-to-lease conversions and second for overall engagement on the sites.
“Historically, when embedded videos were put on a website, we had no way of tracking anything about the person who watched them. We could tell how many views and unique visitors, but nothing beyond a macro view,” says Realync Director of Operations Jordan Easley. “Now, PERQ is able to carry that through to an actual conversion point and then tell us exactly who watched the video and other important details about that person.”
PERQ’s technology identifies and tracks individual leads who engage with the videos and other interactive website experiences like a budget planning tool and neighborhood assessment. The in-depth prospect data gathered on the website helps property managers create more specific personalized videos to email prospects after they visit the website, increasing the effectiveness of the lead follow-up.
Equip your strongest sale team members to leverage live videos
Eppsteiner calls the virtual tours on Mission Rock’s property websites “a game changer” for the on-site leasing teams, because consultants can digitally provide the highest quality customer service; however, she advises it takes a top-notch leasing agent to maximize the marketing impact of the videos.
“When you utilize and leverage a virtual tour in the sales process, you have to have a strong sales person who is incredibly dedicated to customer service,” Eppsteiner says. “They can walk the prospect through where their new home would be. From a prospect standpoint, virtual tours are equally important by aiding in their search. They can actually see the community, and then engage with a higher caliber sales team.”
For leasing specialists worried AI technology and virtual tours will put them out of a job someday, Easley says only underperforming agents who don’t look at multifamily leasing as a long-term career path will be eliminated by the efficiencies that technologies grant overburdened leasing offices.
“Instead of eight leasing agents at a property with a couple of underperformers, maybe you have six and reinvest in those best six, equipping them with technologies to help them perform even better,” Easley says. “It delivers a better experience for leasing agents and prospects alike.”
Easley points out multifamily property owners and regional managers win by saving money with increased efficiency and likely making more money by improving online lead conversion rates. Your best leasing agents win with bigger commissions split between fewer people and will be more satisfied with their job when given tech tools that improve their results.
Give prospects intimate access without resorting to self-guided tours
In the residential housing market, there’s a growing demand for self-guided tours, where homebuyers can access and see a property at any time without an agent present.
“The real estate industry in general, starting with the single-family home industry, is moving very quickly to 24/7 open houses where the prospect tours the house by themselves,” says Bob Romine, owner of R.C. Romine & Associates, a marketing and advertising firm that primarily serves multifamily property clients. “Yes, there’s a lot of hesitation on it within the multifamily industry.”
With the trend of self-guided tours making waves in the housing market, several multifamily leasing experts we spoke to say they fear renters may start demanding similar access to available apartments.
“It’s certainly a buzzword phrase in multifamily lately,” Weirich says. “The hesitation is really two-fold. For one, there’s a security concern, particularly if the community isn’t tech-enabled and set up for self-guided tours. That’s a really big issue. Secondly, are we going to get rid of leasing consultants as we know them today? The answer is no. The leasing agent is still an important part of the process no matter what technology they use.”
Live video tours hosted and personalized by a property’s own leasing staff may offer the perfect solution to the multifamily industry’s conundrum of self-guided touring that raises questions about security and safety of the other residents or lack of insight from the leasing team. Self-guided tours also eliminate the opportunity to build the relationship between the leasing agent and prospect that’s critical to instilling trust in a property they may call home. And, in reality, self-guided tours would likely be hosted in a model unit and not the actual apartment available to lease, Weirich points out.
“Realync videos are unit-specific tours and connected to a leasing agent who can answer your questions, and instill trust and transparency into the process,” Weirich says. “We feel like we’re the marriage between streamlining the leasing process to be able to experience it from anywhere, but also enhancing it with a physical leasing agent still being involved.”
Nurture out-of-market leads with virtual tours
Renters moving from afar and seeking an apartment outside of their current market are the most obvious target for apartment tour videos, although they’re also helpful to prospects who live in town but want to eliminate several properties from their list of potential apartment communities before booking tours to see their top few choices in person.
“We have a lot of student housing growing on the platform because of international students,” Weirich says. “It’s incredibly helpful, whether moving two hours away, or to another state or even another country.”
Sheehan leasing consultants often utilize the videos to reach out-of-market prospects, sending separate customized videos of the amenities, neighborhood, specific units available, and sometimes even videos of the staff welcoming them to the community.
“Virtual tours, or rather actual video footage of the unit, have allowed us to be more effective salespeople to prospects who are out of state or live outside of the U.S.,” Greene says. “They are able to make a confident buying decision without physically being here.”
Author Kristy Esch, PERQ