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In its attempt to grow revenue this year, CoStar’s Apartments.com seeks to save money for property managers.
With uncertainty in the rental market and broader economy, efficiency is weighing heavily on the minds of multifamily operators, two executives at Apartments.com told Inman in a recent interview.
On-site staffing is often the biggest, single expense for multifamily operators. At the same time, prospective renters are willing and able to do in-depth searches on properties as long as property managers provide them with the information they’re looking for, according to Jay Lybik, national director of multifamily analytics at CoStar.
“The residents or future residents today, they don’t need to be wooed and hand-held like people did in the past,” Lybik said. “They want to know what’s the rent what’s the property look like. Boom, boom, boom.”
With that in mind, CoStar outlined key features it has begun offering operators.
Speeding up the process
Renters now have more choices as apartment builders are capping off a period during which they built more units than at any time in the past 50 years.
That added supply means renters have more choices of where to live, and apartment owners are expected to face more pressure to keep units full. At the same time, uncertainty around a possible looming recession has slowed demand down from COVID-19 highs.
“All the economic issues translate into we’ve got fewer people looking,” said Stuart Richens, vice president of product and operations at Apartments.com. “Unfortunately a lot of management companies just don’t reply to leads as quick as they should.”
The company has focused on offering its clients features that can answer and create leads that will get apartments filled efficiently, Richens said.
Nearly half of the renters CoStar recently surveyed said they had not received a call back about an apartment inquiry within three days, Richens said.
“Renters want to move much more quickly,” Richens said. “They’re accustomed to efficiency and demand and aren’t necessarily getting the response they want.”
More information for renters
The multifamily industry historically sought to give enough information to get a prospective renter interested and generate a phone call that would be a sales opportunity, Richens said.
CoStar has worked in the past two years to give apartment owners and property management companies more tools to give prospective renters additional insights into specific units rather than community-based data.
“We’re paving a lot of new ground there,” Richens said.
That includes photos of the view out a unit’s windows, 3D tours and more photos. The company has begun adding information about units that are offering concessions on rent or possible price changes by lease term or move-in date, Richens said.
Better educating renters
Richens said about half the people searching Apartments.com are looking for a place to live in a new city.
“About 36 percent of renters report to us that they would lease site unseen,” he added.
The company is focused on giving its clients the tools to educate renters on specific units. The goal with adding more tools to the apartment listings is to “better educate the renter on your property, move them down the funnel much more quickly [and] have a self-serve environment,” Richens said.
“We get a lot of feedback from our customers that their leasing staff is more taxed than ever,” he said. “The more questions we can answer within apartments.com the better.”
Bringing AI into the mix
Apartments.com is starting to test the ability to use artificial intelligence in the form of chatbots.
“The state of the art in the technology, which is starting to lean into natural language processing, is getting really good,” Richens said. “We’re seeing that renters don’t have to call and reach out and wait to get contacted back. They can book tours directly through the chatbot.”
In an era when many renters prefer to text rather than get on a phone call, Richen said, AI and chatbots present an opportunity to develop leads for property managers who are looking to keep occupancy levels high.
“Most importantly, those leads are high quality,” Richens said.
Letting renters apply directly
Ultimately, Apartments.com is working toward giving renters the chance to apply for apartments directly.
“We’re creating a bridge between Apartments.com and the leasing portal,” Richens said. “Apply directly by clicking the link and ending up in the leasing portal.”
“We want to create this whole picture for them,” Richens said. “If they’re not able to visit and tour, we want that experience on Apartments.com to be good. Then they can lease quickly by going to that application portal.”