The great setting of expectations

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Good customer service begins with onboarding. Studies have shown that residents who are satisfied at move-in tend to remain satisfied through renewal and those who are unsatisfied tend not to renew.

But resident onboarding is one of the most time-consuming processes for apartment managers and one of life’s most stressful events for renters.

The onboarding process sets the tone for the landlord tenant relationship and conveys the landlord’s expectations, rules and costs of tenancy. As such, onboarding should establish clear channels of communication between landlord and prospective renters with the goal of creating a positive and long-lasting relationship.

Transparency in the community’s specific terms of residency, including rules and fees, is even more important today in light of President Biden’s intense scrutiny of what his administration refers to as junk fees.

The renter experience that starts with the application process and ends when the tenant moves in can be seamless, quick and without conflict or cumbersome, complex and time consuming, the latter of which can lead to resident loss and bad reviews.

Although seeking lower rent is the number one reason renters say they move from one apartment community to another, a survey conducted jointly by the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and Kingsley Associates, suggests that subpar customer service not only results in loss of renters, it also damages a community’s reputation. Nearly 79 percent of survey respondents stated they won’t even visit a property if it has a bad online reputation.

From manual to automated

The move-in process known as onboarding traditionally was managed manually with emails, spreadsheets and by fielding phone calls from potential renters, but having a streamlined automated system makes the process easier. Today, artificial intelligence-based tech runs background checks on potential residents and reviews details like income, credit score and references.

Apps like Updater not only handle and simplify the application and screening processes, it helps renters work through a comprehensive list of tasks that must be completed before they can settle into their new rental home. These apps are web-based platforms accessible on laptop, phone or tablet that can be tailored to each individual property and are designed for portfolios of all sizes.

On the management side, they enable onsite teams to track potential renter’s every step on their journey to becoming a resident while cutting hours of labor from the process.

“Our research shows that onsite teams spend an average of more than four hours processing move-ins each week, with some spending up to six hours. That’s a substantial amount of time and resources spent each week, month and year on making sure residents are approved and ready to move in,” said Jenna Weinerman, head of marketing for Updater, a moving app that helps both renter and landlord through the onboarding process.

“Management teams using Updater can manage and track a renter’s progress using their own Updater dashboard and guide them through the process, while automated reminders ensure all move-in tasks are completed on time. Our two-sided tech makes it faster and easier to manage move-ins from one place,” said Weinerman.

The Bozzuto Group, the 14th largest property management company in the U.S., according to the NMHC’s 2023 rankings of the 50 largest apartment managers, has used Updater since 2015 across its 91,000-unit apartment portfolio.

Prior to partnering with Updater, Bozzuto teams spent hours working through all the usual manual to-dos like answering resident questions, documenting move-in details and following up on tasks.

Using Updater, the company reported saving one to two hours on every single move-in and reducing the time it took for new residents to be move-in ready from five to 10 days to two hours per move.

“Updater has been instrumental in helping us remove friction from the move-in process for both our residents and onsite teams. It was important to Bozzuto that all changes to the process for onsite teams be simple and deliver clear value,” said Jenna Miller, senior director of marketing at Bozzuto, adding that while new platform rollouts always present challenges, the excitement around the rollout of Updater has been unmatched among the company’s teams.

Landlords can brand and customize apps like Updater for their specific communities and send prospective renters a link and invitation to sign on, set up an account and get started on their move-in tasks.

Updater automatically syncs between most property management software systems, including Yardi, Entrata and RealPage, and can be personalized to meet each community’s unique move-in requirements.

Last year Updater added the ability for leasing teams to manually sync a resident’s information with the property’s core management software at any time, without having to wait for a once-per-day automated sync. The new feature provides management with the ability to send welcome letters to new residents faster or choose for welcome letters to be sent automatically upon certain criteria.

Provider partnerships

Updater has established a number of partnerships with preferred providers valuable to renters, such as rental insurers. Although renter’s insurance is not required in the United States by law, many landlords are requiring it at their properties as a term of a new lease or lease renewal, although state and local laws may vary.

A recent partnership between Updater and Atlanta-based Assurant, Inc., a leading global business services company that supports, protects and connects major consumer purchases, has made Assurant the app’s preferred renter’s insurance provider and allows renters to bundle payments to this provider with their monthly rent.

“Assurant is our preferred renter’s insurance solution due to its ease of enrollment, comprehensive coverage and competitive pricing. However, the Updater app accommodates and integrates with other renters’ insurance providers if preferred by the community. We also give consumers the option to select and purchase those other providers, as well,” said Weinerman.

Assurant’s products will be available in the Updater app for residents of properties that require renter’s insurance. Residents can seamlessly purchase and, in certain cases, bundle the premium with their rent payment.

“With Cover360, site teams enjoy the benefit of more automation and less time spent on administrative tasks. The Assurant Cover360 self-service portal enables residents to enroll in seconds without the site team’s involvement. This ease of use improves the resident experience, leading to increases in program participation and ancillary revenue and a reduction of expenses,” said Ryan Lumsden, president of Assurant Renters Solutions.

Insurance is just one partnership that Updater has established. According to Weinerman, Updater offers integrations with the majority of essential products and services that renters need, from moving supplies to moving companies, television and internet providers, utility hook-ups, the ability to change addresses and even voter registration.

Bozzuto found that 98 percent of residents at its properties, who expressed interest in setting up TV and internet, chose their community’s preferred provider.

The final step

After a resident has been approved, the last step before delivering the keys is completing the lease that should cover all loopholes regarding the tenant’s stay and protect the rights of both the landlord and tenant.

Using online systems like Updater allows renters to receive updates on their application status in real time, and see all fees such as security deposits, pet fees and pet rent, maintenance fees, common amenity fees, late payment fees, notice fees and penalties that may be community specific.

“Updater only displays move-in fees that the leasing team chooses to showcase to new residents and gives the team full control and flexibility to make swift changes as needed and on-the-go,” said Weinerman.

New app for small owners

Independent mom-and-pop landlords own the majority of rental units in the nation. Many don’t have the financial clout to purchase the same costly suite of tools that make it easy for big companies and REITs to manage their properties.

The Avail Renter Profile app, which is part of the Realtor.com network, is geared toward the smaller landlord who cannot afford to invest in automated tech or expensive property management systems.

By setting up a renter profile on the app, apartment hunters can save time and money by sharing their rental information through a shareable link. A renter profile consists of the information landlords normally require on a rental application, but in a format that can be shared through the online link. Prospective renters also have the option to add their credit, background and eviction report to their profile to avoid having to pay an application fee when applying for more than one rental property.

The shareable link will automatically direct landlords to Avail, where they will find an overview of the applying renter. Creating a renter profile is free and only requires an investment if renters decide to add credit, background and eviction checks for a one-time fee of $55.

The Renter Profile provides landlords with verified and secure information about a rental applicant that they would normally request through a rental application, saving both parties money.


Author Wendy Broffman