By Melissa Bartolucci Delgado, vice president of asset management at Cityview
Virtual leasing has been integral to maintaining multifamily leasing momentum throughout the pandemic. In early 2020 we weren’t sure if anyone would want to move during COVID-19, but soon it became clear that more people than ever were prioritizing their living spaces and often seeking more space – leading to a steady stream of potential renters at our properties. Cityview had already started to roll out the tech-enabled leasing model prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated that implementation at all of our properties throughout the Western U.S., allowing potential tenants to tour properties in the comfort of their homes. Whether for safety, flexibility, convenience or to comply with local or state restrictions, virtual leasing offers a variety of benefits that aid tenants and owners in leasing at multifamily communities both during and after the pandemic.
The key for us in successful virtual leasing is to replicate the in-person experience as much as possible through personalization. Our leasing professionals host one-on-one tours via Instagram, Facebook Live, video conferencing apps or any other platform the potential resident prefers. Tenants can ask questions in real time, view a variety of units and amenities and receive a full tour of outdoor and common spaces. The goal is to provide a safe and convenient experience while making the tour personal, interactive and informative. We have been able to close just as many, if not more, leases virtually as in person at many of our properties, indicating that potential residents can get the information they need to feel just as confident they have a full understanding of their new living space using technology.
Virtual Leasing Success
Haven – a 227,257-square-foot mixed-use community located in Culver City that Cityview delivered the first phase of in December 2019 – achieved more than 85% lease-up in the midst of an extremely challenging leasing environment, in large part due to virtual leasing. With close proximity to jobs and rapidly expanding Silicon Beach, the highly amenitized 97-unit building offers carefully curated experiences for residents that also allow for social distancing – such as an expansive rooftop deck featuring an open Airstream trailer that serves as a coworking and community space. Beyond virtual leasing, we also created a virtual move-in process and virtual reservation system housed on the resident portal where residents can book time slots at popular amenities such as the pool to avoid overcrowding.
Balancing In-Person and Virtual
More people have been willing to resume in-person touring in recent months, as restrictions start to ease, COVID-19 numbers improve and more of the population is vaccinated. At 27 North, Cityview’s student housing project catering primarily to those attending San Jose State University, virtual tours comprised 18% of all tours from April 1, 2020 through early March 2021, while 25% were self-guided and 52% were in-person. Compare that to the 62% of tours that were conducted virtually at the property from April to June 2020, and it’s clear more prospective residents are getting comfortable touring the traditional way. However, it’s also evident that virtual leasing is here to stay. It remains a solid leasing option for those who don’t feel safe being in person, are located elsewhere and looking to move or simply find it more convenient to tour from their device. The self-guided tour is another option for those who prefer it to be in person, but with limited in-person contact during the pandemic.
Additional Uses of Technology
Virtual leasing isn’t the only technology we’ve utilized through the pandemic. At Haven and other properties, Cityview has rolled out virtual maintenance appointments. We are still offering an in-person option, but for simpler requests or in situations when residents would prefer no one enter their unit, we coordinate Facetime or video conferencing appointments where our maintenance personnel walk residents through how to fix a minor issue in their unit. This virtual option has been popular with our residents and is another one we expect to continue after the pandemic due to convenience and ease of scheduling for our residents.
Virtual Leasing Post-Pandemic
Cityview expects virtual leasing to continue to be in high demand after COVID-19 and plans to continue investing in this resource, given the increased flexibility and convenience it offers prospective residents. We have a new generation entering the renter pool who are more accustomed to interacting and making purchase decisions on their devices, ensuring that virtual leasing will remain an attractive option even when safety isn’t a primary consideration. The option is also helpful for those who may be located farther
away from a potential community, whether across town or across the country. Leasing office hours don’t always line up with everyone’s schedule, furthering the appeal of virtual leasing.
The multifamily industry will see a continued push for automation and virtual contact, both through virtual leasing and technology-enabled tenant relations and services. Owners and operators should consider investing in technology in order to stay competitive while maximizing resident retention and engagement, both during and post-pandemic.