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How Covid Has Forever Changed the Multifamily Leasing Industry

Patrick Antrim April 22, 2021


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Apartment searching and Multifamily leasing as we know it has changed dramatically. The current pandemic has significantly shifted the means in which apartments are being marketed and leased.

The pandemic prompted a much-needed advancement in how we work with potential renters wherein advanced technology is matched with well-trained leasing professionals. We explore the future of multifamily leasing and what you can do to prepare.

John Carlson is celebrating his 20th year working at Mark-Taylor. He was an out-of-work engineer when he started with them in 2001 and has never looked back.

Carlson’s mission is to make sure the company constantly improves.

Mark-Taylor has three core initiatives, one of which is people. He wants to make sure his employees feel at home with his company.

“They really are the foundation of the organization,” said Carlson. “The employee experience matters to me, so we’ve doubled down on that over the last six months.”

Patrick Antrim notes that leadership starts at the top and trickles down. Carlson has worked his way through multiple generations with Mark-Taylor and is now a leader himself.

Carlson says you have to be able to stick around through different market cycles. He was with Mark-Taylor through the recession in 2008 and the recovery thereafter.

Rent went up significantly during that time, clients reached their highest NOA. Carlson thinks the Multifamily industry became complacent in some capacities after the recession.

It’s important to adapt. That’s why one of the company’s mantras is, “Be better than yesterday.”

Carlson is even trying to see the pandemic as an opportunity to learn and grow.

In May 2020, just after the start of the pandemic, Mark-Taylor realized it was renting more apartments with their office shut down then they had before. So, the company focused for months on breaking down their business and figuring out how to optimize what each person in every position is doing.

Carlson wants to re-think how everything is done at the site-level and re-design the business.

“We’re looking at, how do we modify our behaviors, our culture and adapt and utilize technology? We’re in a technology revolution,” said Carlson, adding that this particular revolution is coming at light-speed.

Keeping things with clients personal and human amid all those technological advancements can be a challenge.

Carlson says his company has been adapting constantly. For instance, they began to add virtual guided tours and have now switched to include self-guided tours. Now, those two things make up as much as 75% of the tours completed at all, taking out the human connection.

He also says he wants to create what he calls a “white glove experience” for the customer.

“From the first time they search, through their leasing process, through the move-in, their living experience, and the move-out. Because we get dinged on the move-out. They could have a phenomenal experience, be a resident for five years, and the move-out process is negative, and you get a one-star review. So how do you have that white glove approach from start to finish?”

Mark-Taylor is using technology to ensure that experience stays positive throughout.

Their CRM is a big help with that, showing multifamily leasing agents who’s looking at the property, who’s calling, who exactly the consumer is, and where they’re coming from. The old model of having a leasing office with limited business hours where people can learn about the property is not going to work moving forward. The company has to be available to the consumer at the exact moment the consumer shows interest. That means connecting with them 24/7 through AI, making the process as simple and easy as possible, and then finishing the deal with a five-star experience at Mark-Taylor.

The pandemic has shifted the mindset for the executive team.

“The question is, from a leadership perspective, how do you adapt and grow your business to take advantage of the technology, while maintaining the personal edge?”

For Mark-Taylor, that starts with making sure your employees are happy and that they understand the ‘Why’ aspect of their jobs. If they don’t understand why they’re doing something, they might not execute it well. Giving orders without listening to the employees’ feedback can also do a company in.

Carlson believes in transparency. He does live chats with his employees and tries to answer even the hard questions. That connection might take some time but will lead to success.

It’s also important to work with potential clients. If they’re having trouble, help them out! The technology has to be easy-to-use and it has to run smoothly. If it doesn’t, you need someone on hand who can help in a timely manner.

“We’ve always been a boutique personal touch organization,” said Carlson. “We pride ourselves on that connectivity, assuring that you have that concierge-level, high-touch approach. So it was odd to see a prospect come through one of our sites and not talk to us.”

Carlson compares self-guided tours to self-checkout at the grocery store.

Antrim points out that other stores and industries and the technology that’ve been adopted have made consumers more adapted to self-guided tours.

Carlson thinks that change would have happened even if the pandemic hadn’t sped-up the change. The next step, he says, could be someone moving in without any interaction in-person.

Mark-Taylor is focusing on investing in technology that can be built upon as new technologies develop. It’s also important to make sure that customers are comfortable with that technology. For instance, in-person tours are still available for those who want it.

Analyzing the business and understanding how it worked was important to figuring out how to re-shape and reformat the day to maintain efficiency. One example of that was finding out that if customers want to have face-to-face meetings, they should be able to book that time.

As for verifying customers’ identities, that was a challenge with the shift to things being virtual. Mark-Taylor wasn’t sure it was a good idea to just let anyone in who expressed an intention to rent, but it didn’t want to be bothersome or burdensome to those potential renters. Making it easy to scan your ID to enter a unit will be vital moving forward.

This journey has come with a lot of surprises.

Mark-Taylor did an assessment starting from March 15th 2020, and did a year-over-year comparison for that same time frame. They found web sessions increased 45% and lead conversions were up 26%. That amount of success with less access to property managers was surprising. It turns out, consumers want to handle things themselves, they don’t necessarily want contact with the staff.

The staff being able to adapt quickly to a new process was also a surprise, and something Carlson is very proud of.

The way those teams are used may change.

“We asked every employee to take extreme ownership,” said Carlson. “By that I mean, if they’re looking at ways to be better themselves but also better the business, we’re asking, we’re getting feedback, we’re trying different things to ensure the multifamily leasing consultant of tomorrow is focusing on high-impact items, efficiency, doing things that really matter.

An assistant manager in 2019, did bookkeeping, was a salesperson, was a resident counselor, was a manager when the manager was away, might clean units if we’re short staffed. They’re doing all these things without a lot of efficiency. So how do we carve that up and make sure that if someone wants to be a bookkeeper, we take advantage of their skillset.”

Carlson explains, roles are likely to adapt. People should focus on their interests and their talents, and companies should mold around those assets.

Antrim asks Carlson what advice he’d give.

He says he has a lot of it.

He emphasizes that focusing on the “why” has been important. That helps the company to understand whether potential employees fit the path Mark-Taylor is interested in. It isn’t just about being talented and educated and motivated; you have to be motivated in such a way that fits your organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re coming from the Multifamily industry. Carlson points out, he came from an engineering field before he got to where he is. If you have someone with the right attitude who fits the company’s principles, you can train them to fit their new career path. That’s more important than previous experience in Multifamily.

Carlson says all arrows point to Phoenix, Arizona. People are moving from what have tradi- tionally been known as major cities, and many are moving to Phoenix.

“Go back to 2009, 2010. No one wanted to be near Phoenix. It was like the plague.”

Now, Carlson says the industry is what he calls “anti-fragile.”

“I think we really learned from our bad decisions pre-recession. We were a construction-heavy, single-family home market. I think through great leadership and the state level and local level, Michael with ASU, investment in education, diversifying our work force, ensuring we have the right talent to focus in on organizations that want to move to Phoenix, they’re looking for just that. We have that today. We’ve become more competitive in the pro business space.”

Multifamily has always assumed that job growth means apartment growth. Carlson says the pandemic has shown that isn’t necessarily the case. The question will be whether that changes again or if remote work becomes more common.

There has also been a big boost in supply, as more Multifamily homes are being built. That could have unanticipated affects.

Carlson says the fundamentals of investment into Multifamily still exist. Go after deals that make sense in good locations. Go after things that are high-quality. It’s also important to understand the exact market you’re dealing with. Get to know the municipality, the sub-markets and so on.

Carlson says it’s very important to get involved with your local associations so that you can get to know other people in the industry. For him, that’s the Arizona Multihousing Association, which has been around for over five decades. There, people and even competitors come together as one voice to make sure the industry as a whole is successful.

Carlson says the Multifamily industry has been under attack, having to deal with things like rent control and a shift away from apartments. That’s why it’s important to talk with local council-members and lawmakers to prove you are trying to develop homes for people and have no intention of being a bad landlord.

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Patrick Antrim

Patrick Antrim is the Founder of Multifamily Leadership, LLC, a thought leadership platform providing streaming content around technology, innovation, and leadership. He also produces two of the highest level events in the Multifamily Apartment industry. The Multifamily Leadership brand is preparing Multifamily Leaders for the FUTURE. They honor the Best Places to Work in Multifamily®️ at our annual leadership Innovation summit.

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