ATTRACTING AND RETAINING TENANTS In this monthâ€™s issue, we asked our esteemed RENTT (Rental Executives National Think Tank) panelists to share their thoughts on attracting and retaining tenants. They discussed traditional and new ways of attracting tenants, marketing properties when there are no vacancies, conducting background and credit checks, using ILS websites, and the future of apartment hunting. The goal was to gain a better understanding of the best strategies and techniques for finding and keeping tenants, as well as using technology and resources to make it a more efficient and effective process.
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George Van Noten Senior Vice President, Property Operations, Minto Properties Inc.
Margaret Herd Vice President, Residential Property Management, Park Property Management Inc.
Damien Roussin Managing Director, Dorset Realty Group
Imran Jivraj Director, Property Management, Macro Properties
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RHB: Welcome, everyone, to RHB Magazine’s RENTT panel. Thank you for taking the time to participate and share your insights and experience. We are sure that our readers will learn a lot from your responses. Today we’d like to take a look at how you attract and retain tenants. To begin, what traditional and new methods do you use to attract potential tenants?
Margaret Herd: Park has built a reputation as a landlord that helps us to keep our buildings either full or with very low vacancy. Rent specials are not what drive clients to our properties and they have minimal impact in generating leads to our buildings. That said, we do not offer big promotions. Currently, only a few of our buildings will offer either $100 discount on first month’s rent or a $100 complimentary laundry card.
George Van Noten: There are a few opportunities we leverage. We are constantly optimizing and testing digital approaches and channels that allow us to interact with consumers in new ways; Internet Listing Services, social, paid search and, most importantly, optimizing our own web presence. At the same time, we focus and invest in resident and community activities that allow us to foster deeper more meaningful connections within the communities that we serve.
Damien Roussin: We do not offer any rent incentives at this time.
Damien Roussin: We use three main avenues to reach potential tenants: building signage with contact information, online classifieds pages and our company website. We recently tried and moved away from a “text for info” service.
RHB: Do you still market your properties when you have zero vacancy? If so, why?
Margaret Herd: We use the same traditional means of advertising as most companies in the industry, such as local newspapers, magazines and Internet listing services. We also use new methods of advertising such as social media and Google AdWords.
Damien Roussin: Yes, of course, with building signs and on our website. We encourage tenants to come have a look at the properties and to join a waitlist if they’re not pressed for time.This way, when a vacancy comes up, we have a number of quality prospective tenants to follow up with.
Imran Jivraj: It’s safe to assume online ads are now considered traditional. We have successfully transitioned from print Ads to ILS platforms. However, we do find print signage in destination locations sometimes work well. Since we are in small markets, Kijiji works for us.
RHB: What rent specials (if any) do you offer? How much of an impact do rent specials have with increasing lead volume to your rental properties? George Van Noten:The most important aspect of reaching any consumer, whether this is through special offers or other means, is with an understanding of who they are, where they’re located and what they’re looking for. Not all consumers are focused on the same things. Certainly, when it makes sense, pricing strategies can impact lead traffic, but we let our understanding of the customer guide our decisions. Imran Jivraj: Depending on the city and market conditions, we have to be creative with incentives. Traditionally, landlords offer free rent, rent abatements, gifts, etc. These incentives were moderately successful. We have moved away from this venture in high vacancy markets and are finding that tenants are more focused on non-chargeable amenities and services.
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George Van Noten: Absolutely yes. It is our goal to sustain a conversation with our current and future residents at all times. With digital technologies we have the flexibility of turning the tap up or down depending on leads and availability but it’s important for us to always be present in the market.
Margaret Herd:Yes! Anything done in the virtual world will have an impact on SEO. It takes weeks for a property to start showing up in the first few pages of any online search engine after you keep them offline for a while. The price we pay to rebuild our online presence is definitely higher than the investment to keep listing properties where vacancy has come down to zero. Imran Jivraj: We do scale down on marketing. However, we do continue to market the assets to ensure the key assets are always top of mind for desirable tenants. RHB: Let’s talk about the next step in the process. What types of background checks or credit checks do you do during the screening process?
George Van Noten: We use a “basket of criteria” when assessing applications that includes landlord reference checks and background and credit checks provided by globally recognized companies. All of the information gathered is considered during the review. Margaret Herd: Park also obtains previous and current landlord information, personal references, proof of income, employment confirmation, if applicable, and a credit report, to perform proper tenant screening. Imran Jivraj: Credit checks are done based on market demands. Work and previous landlord references still play a critical role. However, a quick Google search of the potential tenant can result in informed results. Damien Roussin: We do standard credit checks and inquire with previous landlords, if available. RHB: We all want to keep good tenants in our buildings. What strategies or techniques do you employ to encourage good tenants to stay?
Damien Roussin: Our buildings are 100 per cent full today with very few move-out notices coming in. We ensure this remains the case by continually improving our buildings’ common areas and upgrading building amenities to ensure our tenants are happy to stay for the long term.
Imran Jivraj: We have to be true to our creed. In small markets, we work with rent structure, and in high demand markets our services have to be impactful with no room for errors. Low turnover and tenant loyalty help drive our retention strategy.
We offer $100 complimentary laundry cards as a gratitude gesture to those not moving out. RHB: Let’s talk about Internet Listing Services, or ILS websites, which have become a key resource in attracting potential tenants. What are the greatest challenges when dealing with ILS websites?
George Van Noten: From a technical perspective, the greatest challenges or limitations would be lack of connectivity to property management systems to facilitate real time pricing updates or changes in availability. The other challenges we see are the limitations to the consumer experience. It’s difficult to showcase value through small images and text. There is so much more advanced technology that should be brought to bear to deliver rich content experiences like virtual tours and video – improving the experience rather than simply offering a digitized classified ad. Margaret Herd: The biggest challenge used to be updating online listings. Canada does not have a national ILS provider as we see in the US, which makes us work with many different ones. Park uses a system that syndicates all our listings to most ILS vendors we currently advertise with. The system is fed by our website and pushes the changes we make to our building webpages to almost all ILS venues we use. ILS companies that are not partnering with the system provide us with access to secure websites where we can edit our listings. All together these options have drastically minimized the problem of keeping information in those listings up-to-date.The biggest problem we currently have in the industry is new or small ILS companies that are trying to find their space in the market. Many times they will scrape our listings to generate traffic to their websites. They will never update those listings and end up generating non-qualified traffic to our buildings. Damien Roussin: Keeping property info up to date on several sites can be administratively challenging. For that reason, we stick with one site and work to keep our properties in the top results.
George Van Noten: It’s an important focus to give all our residents a voice and a genuine feeling of involvement in Imran Jivraj: We would like constant monitoring of the direction of their community whether it be social, where the ads are placed. environmental, or upgrades to the living experience. We also strive to bring neighbours together and foster RHB: What features or services do you wish the ILS relationships that can help a community to prosper. websites offered? Sometimes creating these opportunities is as simple as developing a dog park or volleyball court to encourage people to interact and socialize. George Van Noten: Seamless connectivity to allow for real time updates and the opportunity Margaret Herd: Our leasing team receives a report to deliver richer more differentiated content of all tenancy agreements coming to an end within and experiences. In this age of real time access 90 days in their portfolios. They will contact those to information, consumer expectations are residents to inquire about their intention to renew heightened. It would be incredibly valuable to their lease or staying in a month-to-month basis. leverage this kind of paradigm for renters.
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Margaret Herd: There is so much we can do with technology these days, especially when it comes to mobile devices. There are millions of apps to provide answers to almost any need or question a human being may ever have, but it feels that we are a little behind in our industry. I wish ILS vendors would come up with options to use location services and send push notifications to possible renters based on their location and browsing habits. Something similar to iBeacons or Geofencing, completely tailored to our industry. Damien Roussin: I don’t have any suggestions right now. Imran Jivraj: Same here. Margaret and George made some great suggestions. RHB: What does the future of apartment hunting look like? George Van Noten: We believe technology will continue to play a bigger role and evolve to provide the consumer greater insights into the offerings available, access to richer content like the streaming of virtual tours and videos, greater levels of personalization, and consolidation of inventory into a single easily searchable source. The actual rental process will also be streamlined with paperless transactions being facilitated more quickly online.
Imran Jivraj: Future apartment hunting will be based on purely geographical location at the micro level and the age category of the renters. Renters will pick their location and then select their desired landlord after considering the landlord’s online reputation, safety and security, proximity to amenities, proximity to family and access to transit.
Damien Roussin: I think virtual tours will become so advanced and will provide such a real experience that tenants could reliably “view” properties from their home, perhaps with real-time Q&A. It would save time for all parties, increase the number of apartment/tenant options and eliminate disruption to current tenants.
Margaret Herd:The millennial generation will eventually rule apartment hunting and landlords will have to adapt to their way. One stop shop will be the way to go and human interaction will become less requested or necessary. Integration with social media will become crucial. We will need mobile apps that will fully integrate with our property management and accounting systems, providing renters with real-time availability information. Prospects will then be able to check availability, apply for a particular suite, be approved online and sign their leases with electronic signatures without ever having any contact with someone or actually seeing the apartment, all within a social media platform, using their mobile devices and within minutes. Once the application is approved and lease is electronically signed, their connections/ friends will receive information about their new address in their news feed, immediately advertising that property to thousands of people. That is also going to be a new way to do referral programs. Part of this technology is already available. Companies are only reluctant to use it, but that is our future. Of course, when that becomes a reality the laws that regulate this industry will have to be reviewed. RHB: Thank you all for your insight and experience.
RHB Magazine worked with our friends at Rentals.ca to develop the questions for this discussion. Thanks to Marcelo Gondim, Marketing Specialist of Park Property Management, for his assistance.
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