Apartment Leasing

Here to Stay: Self-Guided Tours Are Not a Pandemic Anomaly

by Todd Katler

There’s been some discussion in the industry in recent months about the leasing data operators have seen during the pandemic.

Some people have said that the circumstances of the past year have been so unique that the data is almost irrelevant. The way prospective renters have interacted with communities is so unprecedented and so unlikely to be repeated that the information is an anomaly and doesn’t hold lessons for moving forward.

I disagree.

To start with, generally speaking, I don’t think the data is all that different from the pre-pandemic era. To be sure, a few data points have changed: the percentage of prospect calls that properties miss has gone up. That’s understandable with fewer associates on site and more prospects calling properties instead of visiting them in-person. 

There’s been a little bit of a shift between after-hour and office-hour tours. Again, this makes sense with the proliferation of self-guided tours and limited office hours.

Speaking of self-guided tours, there’s been some talk among operators that these tours are fading in popularity as the pandemic wears on. Again, that’s not what I’m seeing. If anything, they are growing in popularity. In fact, there was a 3.23% increase in self-guided tours nationwide in March 2021 when compared to June 2020, according to Anyone Home data.

Part of this stems from the fact that self-guided tours are simply the way more and more prospects want to visit a community. For me personally and many of the people I know, people don’t want an associate hovering over them while they shop for anything, including an apartment home. Now, people do want an easy way to reach an associate if they have a question or need some help.

Another reason for the growing popularity of self-guided tours is that these experiences are simply getting better. In the past, a lot of communities offered self-guided tours just by keeping their model units open for prospects to visit by themselves. Yes, that technically is a self-guided tour. It does check the box, but it’s not the carefully curated, cultivated experience that’s becoming more common today.

With today’s online tour schedulers, prospects can easily book their self-guided tour by themselves, and an automated message will remind them of their upcoming visit with the option to reschedule if needed. Many apartment communities also email an intelligent site map of the property to prospects who are going to take a self-guided tour to show them where they should park and exactly where the buildings and the units they will be visiting are located. In addition, when self-guided tours are paired with smart home locks, properties can send prospects a welcome SMS text message when they unlock the door to an apartment home, highlighting unit-specific features and amenities.

The fact is that self-guided tours may have risen to prominence during the pandemic, but they are here to stay. The key to lead-to-lease conversion in today’s apartment market is to give prospects a chance to trade in their own currency – i.e., interact with a community in the way they want to – and self-guided tours are a critical element of this. 

Consider: While self-guided and agent-led tours convert fairly similarly on their own, lease conversion increases by 38% for communities offering both options. Allow prospects to shop the way they want to shop, and you will reap the benefits.

The past 12 months have been hard on us all. Apartment leasing – and, obviously, life in general – have felt upside down at times. But the leasing experience during the pandemic is not an anomaly. Instead, with its proliferation of touring options like self-guided tours and video tours, it points the way to the future.

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