Multifamily executives must constantly evaluate new technology hardware and software products at the same time they are integrating current tools, upgrading legacy systems and training staff to take advantage of underutilized components of programs they already have in place. As quickly as things are changing in this area, it can be a real challenge to keep up.
It can be difficult to know exactly how social media like Facebook and Twitter contribute to the bottom line in apartment communities. Many apartment managers and owners feel obligated to maintain Facebook fan pages simply because all their competitors have one. But is it as critical as a clean pool, nice landscaping and a friendly, knowledgeable staff? According to a large survey of apartment residents conducted by J. Turner Research, only 8% had ever visited a community’s fan page.
On the other hand, many apartment managers are using social media to improve their rankings in the search engines at the same time they’re slashing their print advertising budgets. Plus, the only cost associated with a Facebook page is the staff time to create it, and occasionally update it. A small price to pay for an online presence that never goes away.
There are now more Americans with cell phones than either internet access or cable TV, and an estimated 70 million of us regularly use mobile web browsers. Google recently released Android, a software package for mobile devices, and on Feb 16, 2010 they announced that 60,000 cell phones with Android are shipping every day. Apple recently marked their 4 billionth app download, so as you can see, mobile devices are here to stay.
UDR, a Colorado-based REIT that owns 45,000 apartment units nationally, says that 9% of its web visitors in 2009 used phones for access, viewed over 400,000 pages and created 97 mobile leases. No doubt these numbers will continue to grow.
UDR was also the first to create an “augmented reality” app for multifamily. A potential renter can point their phone’s camera at an apartment and see pricing and availability data superimposed over the live picture. After launching in September 2009, UDR had over 125,000 downloads by the end of the year. Other firms have already created similar proprietary apps and more are sure to follow.
Another large and growing trend among apartment communities is the development of integrated websites that serve tenants and free up staff for other duties. Already, residents can pay rent online and submit work orders. Some properties even send out lease renewals with incentives for renewing early online. Freed from these mundane and time-consuming tasks, onsite personnel can spend more time showing apartments and performing other duties that increase resident satisfaction.
As you can see, technology is beginning to rapidly change the world of apartment management. I’m sure that apps for the iPad are already in development that will continue to accelerate this trend for the foreseeable future.