The COVID-19 pandemic left no sector untouched — including the multifamily industry. As people transitioned to work virtually, priorities for living spaces changed essentially overnight. The pandemic has accelerated trends that had begun prior to 2020, and operators and investors are evaluating future possibilities and considering their options.
Attracting New Renters
Even before last year, multifamily housing had begun to evolve in the amenities it offered as more people seek residences in live-work-play communities. These communities, which offer a variety of housing options, walkable environments including workplaces and recreational options for eating and entertainment, offer many benefits.
When COVID hit, resident needs and priorities changed, too. People chose to spend more time inside, bubbled with their own cohorts. Many also focused on wellness, too — and these trends will continue.
In the early months, multifamily operators pivoted quickly to virtual touring and leasing to support social distancing. Apartment hunters used Zoom and Skype to tour living spaces and amenities within the complexes. Recognizing the need for exceptional customer service, multifamily operators developed new standards and implemented best practices to position their sector for a strong recovery.
Elevating Virtual Leasing
Even before the pandemic, virtual leasing innovation had been growing in popularity. Social distancing required for safety accelerated its use. Today, multifamily operators have diversified their leasing strategies to better engage prospective renters via:
- On-demand access to recorded tours
- Live, personalized tours via FaceTime, Whatsapp, Messenger, Zoom, and other technology partners
- Self-guided virtual tours created with 3D space capture and collaboration tools from companies like Matterport, RealityCapture Experts, and Virtual Space US
- Self-guided in-person tours after hours with remote locking technologies and unique access codes
- Website chat bots
Operators have also made use of referral platforms like Rentgrata, which incentivizes word-of-mouth referrals from current renters and connects potential renters with residents.
Cultivating Partnerships Between Concierge Services and Property Managers
Want to really attract — and keep — renters? Increase their satisfaction by enhancing their experience. Partnering with vendors within the community supports them, you, and the renters.
Amenitized partnerships like dry-cleaning and laundry services pick up and deliver items right from resident units. Alternately, consider in-unit cleaning services which offer discounts when partnered with multifamily operators.
Contactless delivery exploded during the pandemic and drove emerging innovations even further. Minnow Pods offers food drop-off cubbies to safely and securely keep meals until residents collect them. Parcel Pending reduces contact points with a physical locker system to protect packages from “porch pirates.”
Clear, consistent communication has never been more critical. Partnering with companies like ActiveBuilding, Zego Mobile Doorman, and Valet Living has enabled multifamily operators and property managers to provide a strong communication loop for residents. These companies foster relationships while offering self-service, mobile connections to every aspect of apartment living.
Connecting to and supporting businesses within the community has never been more important. During the pandemic’s early days, enterprising operators cultivated partnerships with local restaurants. These partnerships helped support restaurants as they pivoted to delivery and take-out only by connecting those restaurants with residents hoping for a meal sourced from somewhere besides their own kitchens.
Designing Distanced Activities
Zoom fatigue? It’s real. It’s also forced event teams and property managers to think creatively about how to engage residents. The solutions have given rise to unique opportunities that also feel special, curated, and exclusive because many activities must limit participants to comply with COVID regulations. To maintain that exclusive feeling, many managers have said they plan to continue offering these sessions for smaller groups even after the pandemic ends.
A gathering involving food? It almost doesn’t get any better! Some apartment communities have begun to offer cooking classes. These personalized, intimate gatherings — led by a chef — give people a chance to meet local experts and personalities while learning and sampling new recipes.
Is the large local gym still closed? Apartment managers have coordinated fitness classes with local studio instructors — a boutique fitness experience designed for small group participation at home to maintain social distance but still feel part of the community. Many plan to continue these sessions into the future, too.
Want to use your brain differently or learn a new hobby? Some apartment managers and event teams have partnered with local organizations to offer curated craft experiences. Companies like Sprout Marketing collaborate with property managers to design resident events for their apartment communities. Others offer practical help, where on-site maintenance teams offer DIY repair classes to teach residents basic skills like changing HVAC filters or resetting garbage disposals.
Other community-building activities that have grown in popularity include distanced happy hours and drive-in ice-cream trucks, virtual bingo, and outdoor movie nights.
Rental Trends and Projected Recovery
According to a TransUnion Rental Housing Financial Impact Study, while the percentage of rental applications has decreased overall in dense-urban, urban, suburban, and rural geographic categories, more millennials have opted to rent rather than own.
- 32% of rental households don’t view the American Dream as including home ownership
- 26% of homeowners wish they were renters
- 20% of those surveyed don’t ever plan to buy a house
The capital markets world highlights the multifamily sector’s resilience. Private investors’ strong appetites and ready availability of attractive agency debt softened the impact of the 2020 recession. Unlike the 2008 recession, last year’s market tumble caused far less damage to financing and investment activity.
As investors and multifamily operators look ahead through 2021 and beyond, they see a weakened demand but not to the extent of past recessions. In fact, RealPage data states the September vacancy rate of 4.2% was only 20 basis points higher than prior to the start of the pandemic. Rents dropped last year, but they’ve begun to climb again.
Multifamily operators, building and property managers, and event planning teams recognize the value of elevating resident experiences through a well-balanced blend of intentional and exceptional customer service, engaging social/community events, and best-in-class communication.
Creating a strong sense of community starts by cultivating relationships among the multifamily team and the building residents. Ensuring residents feel comfortable and at home is the foundation for creating value, positive experiences, and satisfaction every day. If you’d like to know more, we invite you to reach out to Anthony Scandariato, Co-Founder and Managing Principal for Red Knight Properties, a privately held boutique multifamily and mixed-use real estate investment and property management company. He now heads the newly formed Multifamily Group under the CREA United umbrella. This group is growing and looking for other multifamily advisors like architects, engineers, and financial professionals.