I’ve written a lot about my background as an advertising guy and the influence that has on me as a real estate investor and apartment operator. When we walk properties and evaluate deals, I’m always thinking about the overall brand potential for the asset and specifically how we are going to be able to position and market this property relative to the competition.
Where we operate (Texas)–and in our preferred value-add space–our interiors are usually pretty similar to our competition. It’s tough to really differentiate your product. Most operators are putting in Vinyl flooring, resurfacing counter tops, getting new appliances and updating light fixtures and door hardware. They turn out looking really nice, but everyone is operating in a pretty similar fashion. There is only so much you can do in 850 square feet and with a limited budget.
The exteriors, leasing center, clubhouse and amenities are really where you can separate from the pack, and where we spend a large amount of time and capital focusing our efforts. In this article, I want to highlight the things we like to do to our leasing centers that immediately draw a prospective resident to our property and make it a place current residents want to hang out.
Create A Hotel Lobby
You know what they say about only getting one chance to make a first impression. The leasing center is that chance. It’s the first thing prospective residents are going to see, and sets the tone for the type of property it is. In our leasing centers, we want it to feel open and inviting and think about it like a hotel lobby. Rather than have leasing managers stuck behind offices with doors ajar, we position then in “front desk” like stations where they can easily welcome guests that walk in the door. In our most recent project, we are going to completely flip the layout—moving the manager’;s office to where the current resident entrance is. The existing office has high ceilings and is closer to the entry of the property. By totally rearranging the office, we are going to create a more inviting entry through double doors and create a dramatic and welcoming entry when people walk through the door. Potential residents will have a good vibe from the second they walk in the door.
Be on Brand
I know, I can’t get away from the marketing talk. But we believe it’s important. When we rebrand an asset, we are creating a brand to appeal to our target demographic. We want potential residents to know the property is under new management and that we are investing in the property—and that this is a place designed for people like them. Again referencing our current project—we are targeting 28-35-year old professionals. The property is surrounded by professional employment bases and the lease audit shows that’s the biggest demographic. So the leasing center is designed to cater to that group. We are steering clear of the really loud, bright colors you see so much in apartments these days, and opting for modern, rich furniture that feels just a little more established and will appeal to the target demographic we are aiming for.
Think About All Residents
I’m talking about pets. Our properties are all Pet-friendly, and we set that tone from the beginning by making sure we have pet stations inside the leasing centers. Whether it’s a built in water station, jar full of dog biscuits on full display or little dog toys with the property logo on them, we want residents to know their dogs are welcome from the minute they walk in the door.
The same is true for kids. If our property is in a highly desirable school district and we are targeting parents with kids, we’ll make sure to have a little corner set up to appeal to kids. Whether that’s a TV with an Xbox, kid-sized furniture and few toys, etc—the point is to make all our residents feel welcome, and set the tone from the beginning.
This also allows our leasing consultants to better serve the guest. Maybe their dog isn’t with them, or their kids are at school. They will notice these little touches and typically ask about them—which cues our leasing staff to show them a unit with a private dog yard, or one of our bigger units to house their kids.
Sign Them Up
We do all our lease applications online, so they can apply from wherever they like. But what better time to apply then when you are sitting in our newly designed leasing center? We create a computer station that serves two purposes. Obviously #1 is after a property tour, our leasing agents can help walk them through the application right then and there. But having a couple of flat screen monitors built in to your leasing centers sets a tone that the property is updated and modern. Oh, and we can dual purpose those computers as the business center for current residents. But rather than hide them away in a dark room, we pull them into the open to help create the environment we want to set.
Do the Little Things
We know if you are stopping in our office you’re probably shopping other apartments as well. And we work extra hard (and spend extra money) to make it welcoming and modern. But we also aim to do the little things better than anyone else.
A quick an easy example: Have a “wow” fridge. Rather than just offer someone a bottled water, we stock a fridge with all sorts of drink options. Soda, flavored water, energy drinks, etc. It creates a memorable moment when you open up this fridge stocked with an array of colorful options and its an easy win. Also, do underestimate the power of handing out dog treats—people remember those things as they make their decisions.
I can’t emphasize how much a leasing office matters in setting the tone with residents and ultimately keeping the property full and profitable. The next time your looking at an apartment or an investment, think about how much your impression of opportunity is swayed by the way the office looks.