THE NUMBER ONE, MOST IMPORTANT, NEVER FAIL INGREDIENT IN RESIDENT RETENTION
By ANNE SADOVSKY
What is it? COMMON SENSE! Let's keep this simple. We have begun to see the resident as the enemy...after all, there are so many of them and so few of us. Plus, they act like they own the place. And on top of that, they all have problems on the same day and then take it out on us. They are rude, demanding and arrogant. Who needs them anyway?
I do, and so do you. Without them, we'd be out of business, and no business means no job.
Let's look at some simple common sense tips/rules/ideas that just might change our negative feelings toward our customers and make us more successful at keeping our residents.
1. Understand who the resident is. They are often difficult. Most of them live stressful lives, have demanding jobs, family problems and financial constraints. Sound familiar? Wow, they're just like us. The only difference is that they have us to take it out on. So next time someone is being mean to you, have a little empathy. Practice magic words like "I'd be upset if that happened to me" and mean it. If you don't take their behavior personally, and instead realize that the world has just gotten to them on that day, perhaps your behavior, your response, will be a little different. If they were always easy, always nice, your boss could probably find someone for less money to do your job. So think of yourself as a peacemaker, a junior grade psychotherapist, and the world's best professional problem solver.
2. Treat your peers with respect and kindness. They are your customers, too. Your service tech, your groundskeepers, the accounting office, your supervisor; they are your "in-house" customers. And you are theirs. The way you treat each other becomes a behavioral habit, and reflects in the way you treat your "outside customers"; the residents.
3. Begin to see that the residents create your paycheck. The more happy and satisfied they are, the longer they stay, the more they pay, the more they refer their friends, then their friends stay and pay, and on and on. The reputation of your community grows more and more positive, ultimately creating long term high occupancy. The money you are paid does not come from your company, it comes through the company. It comes FROM the residents.
4. Remember how nice all of you were when they came in looking for an apartment, how everyone in the office went out of their way to say hello? We offered them refreshments, the best chair in the office and gave them our undivided attention. You know, ladies...sort of like we treated our boyfriends when we wanted them to become our husbands. So why, after they have become our residents (or our husbands) does all that love and attention stop? We even complain that those darned residents come into the office and eat all the cookies and drink up all the coffee. Why wouldn't they? After all, that's how they thought it would be after they were married! (oops, I mean after they moved in!) Big advice coming...we have to keep selling to them every day if we want renewals, just like we sold to them before they signed on the line the first time. Contrary to popular belief, and to the way we treat them (just like our spouses) we do not own them forever. We have to never stop selling! Budget for retention and renewal, send little cards and flowers, spring for lunch once in a while...you'll be pleased with the results.
5. Rewrite your "rules and regulations." If they sound like you're the Federal Government or their parents, get rid of all those "you have to, you must, you can't, do not" beginnings to every sentence. Title them "Resident Guidelines" or "Helpful Handbook" and use lot's of please and thank yous and we appreciate your cooperation beginnings instead. Feel free to reference the policies as a "legal addendum" to the lease, but please know that you'll get more cooperation, and put a better taste in their mouths, when you say it nicely. And yes, they are just as legally enforceable when said politely.
6. It's tempting to give up on social activities for your residents...I know, you plan parties and they don't show up. Take a look at the 'invitation.' Do you roll up a photo copied black and white piece of paper and rubber band it to their door knob? You know, one that says something like "if you have nothing better to do on Friday night, we're having a dumb little party from 7 to 9?" The invitation is more important than the event...make it exciting, give it a theme, use great colorful paper, tie on a balloon, shape it like a heart, attach it to a candy bar...THINK! what would make you excited to attend a party? Get a resident social committee together and let them help plan several events...if they help make it happen, they'll help market it. The day before the party, call every resident personally and remind them, telling them you really want them to be there. And a few door prizes will further your cause!
7. Why wait until 60 days before their lease is complete to start with surveys and friendly treatment? All that should begin on move in day. Plan a program where they are contacted at least 4 times during a 12 month lease.
Ask how they're doing and if they need anything and remember their name when they pay their rent. 68% of customers who stop doing business with any given business do so because of some perceived disinterest toward them by someone on the front desk.
8. Take a long look at the documents you use to invite them to renew. I know, I know..your company or the State or somebody expects you to use "the forms" but certainly you can add a cover letter or invitation that is personalized and is warm and friendly. Words like "renew" instead of "expire" and "we want you to stay" have a powerful impact. In consumer focus groups we've learned that they hate fill in the blanks type form letters. So make it personal and individual.
9. Please remember that they are not stupid. They see the free rent banners and ads just as the prospective renters do. When they ask "What will you do to get me to stay?" you'd better come up with something better than "We'll shampoo your carpet." Even if they received some kind of incentive at the beginning of their lease, remember that they could move out and move back in, or move elsewhere, and receive that "special" all over again. Then you're out not only two to four weeks loss to vacancy, but cleaning, painting, utilities, advertising costs, locator fees PLUS the incentive to the person who finally does rent it. Move outs today cost the housing provider around $2,000. Offer a $400. renewal bonus! Take care of all the disclaimers right up front...non cash, non rent, non refundable, non accruable...then offer a menu of what the resident can use their "allowance" toward. For example, complete paint for $200, a ceiling fan with light kit for $100, a microwave for $150, carpet replacement for the whole $400 on a long term lease. Make up your own list and your own game plan, use your own amounts and numbers, but do something! If you snooze, you lose.
10. Last but far from least, remember the Golden Rule...better yet establish a platinum rule. Treat others, renew residents, exactly as you'd like to be treated and renewed. We have taken the customer service aspect of our business way to lightly. We've always focused far more on leasing than retention and look where it has gotten us. There will always be job transfers, marriages and divorces...and yes, with low interest rates there will be house purchases. But let me repeat the statistics...68% move out because of the way they are treated, and there IS something we can do about that!
THE MAGIC ACT OF FOLLOW UP
By ANNE SADOVSKY
I have a very strong opinion regarding the leasing process and our success, or the lack thereof! From 35 years of experience, and from watching this process daily, I believe with conviction the following:
One-third of the people who contact your property are going to lease, no matter how well, or even how poorly, they are handled by the staff. They may choose your community because of the location, the price, the floor plan or the amenities. So you can count on around 30 to 33 percent of the prospects to lease.
One-third will NOT lease, no matter how good you are, how cute you are, how persuasive you are or what the special is"¦it simply is not the place for them, the rent is more than they can budget, it's too far to the office, whatever! So count on losing a third of them, even if you are a team of leasing super stars.
The MAGIC is in the last one-third! Here's where your skills, your training, your personality and your gentle persuasion come into play. Just think, you could double your capture rate by converting this 30 to 33 percent of your prospects to residents. And much of the secret to this success is in persistence!
Here's a scary fact"¦75% of the prospects who call or visit your apartment community do not lease on the first visit. Over and over we talk about follow up, we have the latest and greatest technology telling us who called and when and how to reach them, we fill out guest cards manually and on line. AND YET we lose mammoth numbers of leases because we simply do not respond to inquiries on a timely basis or keep in touch with the prospective resident. Why?
Many people are into instant gratification..if we can't get the lease NOW we move on to the next one. It takes a lot of patience, and again persistence, to keep in touch with people who are on the fence, who aren't moving for a few months, or who are simply hard to reach. And yet in focus groups and surveys, renters tell us that they chose the apartment more because of the personality, friendliness and the tenacity of the leasing consultant. I once had a prospective resident tell me jokingly that he was leasing from me to get rid of me! I took that as a complement, and a lesson.
It takes only a bit of courage and time to pick up the phone, say hello and that you are thinking of them. It takes just a few minutes and a stamp to send a cute post card or note, and even less time to Email a message or E card. Think how flattered you are when you receive a "you're on my mind" greeting. Our challenge is that we feel that we are bothering them, whereas they are pleased to hear from you.
Practice a little MAGIC"¦get in the habit of keeping in touch with your prospective renters. I often joke and say, "They are mine until I read their name in the obituary column."
The magic of the 'other third' can and will double your capture rate!
SUPER STRATEGIES FOR SOFT MARKET LEASING
By ANNE SADOVSKY
When times are tough, the tough get going! You've probably heard that clichÃ© before, yet what does it really mean? These are tough times in our industry, and never before has the "You" factor been as important. Today's soft market requires skilled leadership, high performance leasing and professional resident retention. We are very inclined to blame our occupancy problems on the economy, low interest rates, being overbuilt and anything else we can think of. But the real truth is that we can raise our capture rates, and our occupancy, by drastically improving in the following areas.
First, know that the sky isn't really falling. This isn't the first soft market and it won't be the last. This business is very cyclical. A change of attitude is really what is needed. All we talk about is negative; how bad it is, how unqualified the traffic is, how bleak the future looks. Let's look at some things we can do to improve the picture.
1. Make your community unforgettable! How? Be the friendliest and most helpful staff the client encounters during their apartment search. The industry has a reputation for being disinterested, rude and too busy for the customer. Change that and make the customer the most important factor in your business day. They see 11 to 15 apartments during their search, and see at least 7 to 8 communities. Does yours have the best curb appeal, is the office organized, does you on site marketing say "we want you?" Be absolutely sure that the onsite staff is trained in "people skills' We typically spend 75% of training time on admin and product, and 25% on customer oriented behaviors. Reverse it!
2. Do you have a dynamite web site? Can the client see, apply and pay a deposit on line? Can they choose and hold the apartment of their choice? If not, make it happen and make it happen now. Be sure that every leasing consultant has access to a marketing computer and responds immediately to inquiries. We live in instant gratification times"¦do it now or lose it!
3. Create a five point hot list"¦what are the 5 top selling features of your property? Use this list in your advertising, on the phone, and when talking to the customer. Stay focused on the positives about living in the community.
4. Create and use a "Rent Versus Buy" campaign for your company. Our biggest competitor is house buying, and we just accept it as uncontrollable. There are so many myths about the advantages of purchasing a house; the consumer is so uneducated about the reality, that they believe that if they pay $1,000 rent that they can live in a house for the same amount. Not so! Last year in the Dallas - Ft. Worth Metroplex, 35,000 houses were foreclosed on. Many were first time buyers who thought they could buy and pay out exactly what their rent had been.
5. Be sure your marketing and advertising efforts are unique"¦too may print ads look the same, one website is barely distinguishable from another, the flowers and flags and balloons look the same. Get creative in grabbing the prospect's attention. Sales is a numbers game"¦the more traffic you create the more leases you will get.
6. Get testimonials from happy residents and use them in your marketing efforts. We do not take advantage of third party marketing.
7. Be competitive in pricing. Sorry, but it is the dollar that drives the traffic in today's economy. Don't get fooled by the hype "You don't have to give specials and deals." I don't like it either, but if everyone around you is, it's tough to compete without it. Just be sure that you are smart about it. You don't have to reduce rent or give specials across the board. Choose the difficult to lease apartments, the ones that are in over supply, and especially the ones that have on the market for more than 30 days. Thirty days vacant, loss of $1,000. Sixty days becomes $2,000 and ninety days becomes $3,000. At the end of 30 days vacant, meet in the apartment, look at what needs to be done to move it, look at the rent, and take action. Better to spend a few hundred than watch the "loss to vacancy' escalate.
8. Get focused on resident retention. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush! Reward them for staying, deliver the best customer service and maintenance in your area, and ask them to stay. Have a "We value you" attitude, from the owner to the porter. Make it your company philosophy and slogan. Get over treating the resident as the enemy. Without them you don't have a business.
If this all sounds like nothing new, nothing innovative, just common sense, ask yourselves one thing. Are we performing to these standards? If not, you don't need something new; you need to practice the basics
MARKETING OUT OF PETTY CASH
And other cheap ways to get lot's of attention
By ANNE SADOVSKY
HELP! We need traffic and we've blown our budget"¦what do we do now?
As we approach the end of the summer, many of us are in the same situation"¦ too much year at the end of the budget. And of all years for it to happen it has to be this one, when the economy is down, there are too many new properties, and we have more vacancies than we've had in years. These are the times when we have to dig deep into our creative genius and pull a few rabbits out of some hats, so here are a few tips that cost little but are truly effective.
MAKE THE PROPERTY MEMORABLE.
Today's prospective resident visits five to eight properties and sees eleven to fifteen apartments before renting. What are you doing to make your property the one they remember as they are thumbing through all those brochures and floor plans thrown in the back seat of their car? Rule number one, those brochures and floor plans have to be so great looking that they hate to throw them away"¦great paper stock, color, photos and graphics, plus reminding them of everything they loved about the property. That does cost money, but hopefully those were done in the past and are paid for. What makes them most effective and the property memorable is the handwritten note that you make part of every collateral piece you send out the door with them"¦just a "loved helping you with your apartment needs"¦we're here for you at Happy Hills Apartment Homes." Hand write it as they are sitting there with you and use their name as well as signing your own. The same rule applies to even your business card. If you have a name that you can rhyme with something, or use as a gimmick, do it! I always use "Don't forget"¦.Anne CAN find you the perfect apartment home." It may sound corny, but it works.
Make the apartment itself unforgettable. You may have great models, but are you taking time to show them. It has been proved over and over that models get people excited about the possibilities for their own apartment home, including decorating ideas. Make the models and the vacancies you're showing even more memorable by displaying a really neat move in gift"¦a beautiful silk plant in a basket or a picnic basket packed with non-perishable goodies. My favorite is a shallow basket filled with a package of dry pasta, an attractive jar of pasta sauce, packaged to stay fresh bread sticks, a can of ripe olives with a great looking label, a small can of parmesan cheese and large bottles of soft drink and sparkling water. Add a couple of nice plastic plates and some colorful forks, napkins and a few small chocolate mints; even an inexpensive paper tablecloth. Make it showy and colorful, then put a sign on or in front of it that says, "Your first night in your new home, dinner's on us." Shop at Sam's or Costco, buy the basket and paper products at a discount store and for $12 to $15 you've made an impression!
MAKE THEM REMEMBER YOU
Be the friendliest leasing consultant they meet during their apartment search. We only have a minute or so to make them like us when they walk through the door, so that makes our smile and greeting even more important. Stand up, move away from the desk, introduce yourself and shake hands. If there is a round table or group of chairs where you can sit and visit, go there instead of sitting behind that barrier called a desk. Build trust by telling them what you will do for them to help them accomplish their mission. For example, say "I want to help you find the perfect apartment home, and if I don't have it here, I'll help you find it elsewhere." Tell them how long you've been in the business, and how good you are at what you do. This is no time, nor the job, to be shy.
Third party selling is a great tool that this industry rarely takes advantage of. Ask several of your happiest residents to write a one paragraph testimonial, make their photo, and with their written permission, enlarge it to eleven by fourteen, frame it with their remarks and hang it on the wall in your office. Start a "gallery of satisfied customers" and include a variety of people- ages, colors, and family situations. Always keep fair housing in mind when using resident photos. Prospective residents will believe your happy customers even before they believe you.
Buy photo stickers of yourself. They are available through Great American Business Products catalog, or at some of the discount stores. There is also a Polaroid camera available, which produces self-adhesive photos. They are about the size of a postage stamp and look super on your business card, by your personal note on the brochure or floor plan and on the thank you cards mailed after the visit.
Make your follow up calls! We get 60 to 70 % of our leases on return visits..and our clients tell us we are the only ones who called and invited them back. Get it out of your head that you are bothering them. If they gave you their number they are expecting your call. Be brief and warm just as if you are checking in with a friend. Be sure and mention something they loved about the apartment, or even something personal like "I know your little Yorkie, Henry, will love it here, too.
GETTING ATTENTION AS PEOPLE DRIVE BY
As tired as it may seem, we still have prospects come in because they knew the balloon bouquet meant something special was going on. Just get rid of those wilted, half deflated yucky colored balloons. There are so many new colors, shapes and textures available today, you can experiment. I recently used a couple of butterfly and dragonfly balloons in brilliant jewel tones, tied in and floating above the flowers at the entrance. Talk about WOW! marketing"¦people stopped to ask us where we got them, then ended up leasing. I first saw them at the grocery store, now they are at party stores as well. They don't last forever, but they make a statement.
You can create a high impact by coordinating your balloon colors with your signage, banners and flowers. It makes a big splash of color that passers by can't miss. If appropriate, use some pink flamingos, big twirling sunflowers or some other gimmick. Get creative, surf the net, go through some catalogs and let you imagination run wild. Another way to grab attention is to have the staff dress in bright Hawaiian shirts, khaki shorts, big straw hats and hold a big colorful umbrella while standing in front of the property waving and handing out bottled water. It might be fun to wear pajamas and hand out orange juice doughnuts. Make a big fun poster that says "you'll love your apartment so much, you'll hate to leave home in the mornings."
E MAIL MARKETING IS CHEAP AND MORE WELL RECEIVED THAN FAXES
Design a great E-mail campaign, use color font, make it fun, find a gimmick and work the locators. Realtors are often a great source as well, especially if you accept short term leases. They sometimes have clients who sell their houses before they have another one purchased or finished. Initiate a relationship with local employers, get to know the Human Resources Director and offer employee discounts. Update them with your current availability and specials by E mail. Always get E mail addresses from prospective renters and develop an ongoing relationship while they are looking"¦send them your monthly newsletters, invite them to social events, advise them of available apartments and specials.
SPEAKING OF SPECIALS
We all hate them but they are in fact running rampant. If everyone around you is giving one or two months free, try a different gimmick.
A LOOK AND LEASE option helps create urgency. Offer an additional incentive to lease within 24 hours of the first contact to the property. We've successfully offered an additional $250. off the first month, or no deposit, or a free move, or a new vacuum cleaner or DVD player. Be consistent with the offer and stick to the terms, no exceptions. It costs a little more but it's still less than vacant apartments.
In summary, it starts with the customer liking and trusting you. You have to be unforgettable, as do your models and vacancies. And get creative"¦things that might have seemed bizarre two years ago may be just what you need to do today to get the traffic in the door. It is after all, up to you!
HAS "CASUAL FRIDAY" CREATED A "TOO CASUAL" WORKFORCE?
By ANNE SADOVSKY
Statistics indicate that we Americans pay close observation to one another based on these three primary principles:
1. 7% on the content of what we have to say.
2. 38% on the way we look and move.
3. 55% on delivery"¦the way we say what we have to say.
As we take a look at number two, all you blue jeaned, t-shirted, Birkenstocked workers of America now have permission to hate me. But a fact is a fact"¦almost 40% of your impact on others is related to how you look!
Let's take a quick look at the history of corporate attire. In the agricultural era, we worked in overalls, straw hats and muddy boots. The industrial times saw us at work in hard hats, rugged denims and steel-toed shoes. As we became more of an office work force, we took our professionalism very seriously, coming to work in suits, neck ties, bow necked blouses and high heeled shoes"¦not very comfortable, a little up tight, but we looked good!
After years of being strangled by our neck ties and bow blouses, we wanted a little break, and "casual Friday" came into being. Just one work day a week when we could loosen up, open the neck of our shirts and blouses, be rewarded for a job well done and breathe while toiling away at our jobs. We started all this with some rules"¦starched khakis, loafers, pressed polo shirts, no panty hose and the jacket went by the wayside.
As we stepped into the world of high technology, some brilliant person decided that many of us no longer had live contact with our customers, so it didn't matter how we looked. Casual Friday became 2 days a week, then three, then everyday. And as is the habit of we human beings, we began to take advantage of what "casual" means.
For example, until recently our company was located on the fourteenth floor of a beautiful high rise, suburban office building. Since we were on the top floor, we spent quite a bit of time on the elevators. A computer company leased the entire 10th floor, had a huge workforce and obviously embraced the "no one sees us, dress as you please" concept.
Therefore we rode on the elevators with people who looked like they were going to picnics, or were working in their gardens or on their cars, or worse yet, just rolled out of bed and came to work as they were. Until that time, I had spent little time reading messages and studying logos on give-away t-shirts, nor had I seen as many dirty toenails hanging out of worn out sandals. It was a whole new workplace! This wasn't just "casual Friday;" it was "sloppy everyday of the week."
A question began to form in my mind"¦. just how much quality work really got done, how was company morale and how much respect for one another was there in that environment? What kind of social skills and attitudes were projected when people came to work in what looked like pajamas and yard work clothes? So I began a little research, talking with employers, clipping articles, consulting that primary source of information today, the internet. Here are my conclusions.
1. I do not believe that we need to go back to neckties and high heels for work. It was probably the same demented person who invented both. We don't have to suffer to look professional, especially in property management, where we do more than our share of walking, stair climbing and sweating.
2. However, there is no doubt in my mind that we take our work more seriously and have a more positive impact on others, in addition to experiencing improved morale, when we look our best.
3. I do not think that we have to dress in military uniform-like attire to get the job done well (although our armed forces and many private schools hold to that theory.)
So what does work? Today, our lifestyles are fast paced, stressful and hectic. Clothing has to be comfortable and easily maintained, yet attractive and yes, professional, in order for us to fulfill the requirements of the beginning statistic number two"¦38% of our impact on others is based on how we look!
Many multifamily companies now require that their onsite team members dress in "professional attire" or matching apparel. On resort or casual properties we often see khaki walking shorts and knit shirts with the property logo, and it works. But it only works WELL if the clothing is ironed, the socks and shoes are clean and white and the people wearing the "uniform' are appropriately groomed. Matching attire is also a great equalizer. Perhaps there are two women working in the same office. One is married to a successful executive, and works because she simply enjoys it, not because she has to. She works in $300. dresses. The other is a single mom of three, receives no child support and works to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. What little clothing she buys is from discount stores. Her morale is greatly improved by being able to dress in the same manner as her coworkers. Matching attire also lets your customers know who is part of the company team.
On the other hand, we don't have to dress alike in order to be taken seriously and to impress our clients. As long as our own clothing choices are work appropriate, clean and pressed, fit appropriately and we are well groomed, it works as well.
In summary, think how you feel when entering a place of business and encountering a sales person who needs a shave, wears a wrinkled shirt, has bad breath and needs a haircut. Doesn't it make you question the quality of the business, their products and their salesforce?
Taking pride in how we look does impact our performance, it does make an impression on our customers, and all my research indicates that people who dress for success receive more promotions, are better paid and ARE more successful.
So, what are you wearing to work tomorrow?