Did you hear? Mr. Jones in unit 210 just lost his job in a very competitive industry and without any severance. There’s more! Tim and Amy in 202 recently got engaged, Mrs. Martin over in 312 is going through a divorce, and the Porter’s son in 121 was just diagnosed with cancer. Oh, and Maria in 324 received a major promotion last week! What’s that? You didn’t know any of this?
At times, it feels that our industry can be a cold world where leads are nothing but marketing costs, applicants are just calculated risks, and residents are little more than sources of revenue. The phone rings on-site to the collective groans of an office staff bracing for more complaints from so-and-so who is always calling in to complain about such-and-such. Didn’t that lead see the sign that says the office closes at 6:00? What audacity to walk in and ask for a tour at 5:55! Don’t even get us started on renewals and evictions.
This is, granted, a negative view of things. There’s nothing wrong about a business that focuses on the bottom line— in fact, it’s essential. As I have had an opportunity to live and breath in the soft side of the industry, the part where the little interactions we have each day with our prospective and current residents add up to something larger, I’ve noticed a few things. I’ve also asked a lot of questions. For example, does it really matter if we know our residents? And do we truly know what they want? Can that knowledge affect the bottom line? Do we often enough treat people like, well, people? Does that matter? Are we so rigid in our policies and protocols that we are missing out on opportunities at every turn?
I don’t have all the answers (yet), but I am on a quest to find them. This month, the Leasing Center will handle over 80,000 calls. That’s a lot of interactions. A lot of observations. Somewhere in there are some answers that can improve our industry, I’m sure of it. Here is a collection of a few of those observations, in no particular order:
- Moving is stressful. We hear hundreds of stories each day from prospective renters all over the country looking for a new home. Some of them are moving due to very favorable circumstances, others are not. All of them want to get the process over with as painlessly as possible. All of them want to be heard.
- A home is more than a unit. A unit is a collection of amenities. A home is a sanctuary. Amenities are important, but we have found that 84% of prospective renters are influenced, for better or for worse, in their decision to rent from a particular community just by the quality of their initial interaction.
- Many residents feel like they are not understood. Unfortunately, we run across simple opportunities to make them happy squandered by rigid policies all too often. When a loyal resident of many years has their request for new paint denied because of an obscure corporate rule, or they have been waiting weeks for a simple fix, it’s hard for them to get very excited about any other incentive, perk, or event you may be promoting.
- FHA laws come with side effects. We worry about everything we say, what we can ask, what we can’t ask. For all the good FHA laws do to create equal opportunities for renters, they can also create impersonal chasms and forced conversations that erode the quality of our collective interactions. Over 28,000 FHA complaints were filed last year in our industry. Most were surely the result of something unintentional.
- Relationships matter. Knowing who your residents are and what they want is important, even if you don’t know all the details of their lives. Do your residents want the upgraded units or the lower rent? Do they want flexible lease options or to be rewarded for longevity? Do they want more community features or faster response times to maintenance requests? Accurately answering these questions won’t just improve your relationships, it will affect your bottom line.
Over the hundreds of properties we handle calls for, one thing has become clear— no two properties are alike. Each property is a unique blend of geographical characteristics, architectural personalities, and cultural influences. Finding the right answers for your property first requires asking the right questions. So, how well do you really know your residents?