Centralized leasing is a concept that was slowly building momentum prior to the pandemic. A property management approach that is proven to save money, time, and effort, it frees leasing professionals to focus more on the most critical responsibilities they have when serving residents.
This makes so much sense in today’s world.
Development toward a centralized leasing approach was taking place at several management companies and software service providers before the pandemic. But then, adapting to the restrictive COVID-19 way of the world, the apartment industry was forced to pivot in a way they had never done before.
Some say that in 2020 the apartment industry advanced 10 years’ worth of technological capability in 100 days. By doing so, onsite teams, already short-staffed and overworked, applauded.
Finding Comfort in ‘New and Improved’ Technology
Today, as the industry finds comfort in conducting leasing through “new and improved ways,” Knock® introduces its newly launched customer relationship management (CRM) system’s Centralized Leasing Suite. It has proven impactful to the companies that piloted the program this year and is now available to the masses.
In a nutshell, Knock’s platform removes most of the top-of-funnel tasks that onsite members faced when identifying and managing highly qualified leads from sources such as its websites, drip-email campaigns and ILSs, for example, shortening the resident-prospect life cycle.
It’s more than that.
Cross-selling has always been a worthy approach for when leasing agents determine that prospects might be happier living at another nearby community in their portfolio. When you have connected with a qualified renter, you don’t want to lose them!
Noah Echols is Vice President, Marketing for CARROLL, an Atlanta-based multifamily operator with 30,000 apartment homes across 85 properties nationally.
“We were developing our own centralized leasing process before the pandemic and then when COVID-19 hit, it just expedited the process,” Echols says. “At that point, we had to. Onsite leasing was shutting down. We saw such enormous success in this approach that we’ve since rolled it out across our portfolio permanently.”
CARROLL had a centralized team in place to handle the top-of-funnel functions, but its employees all had to toggle back and forth between different accounts for each property. It had phone trees in place, but that whole process wasn’t as smooth as it could be.
“With Knock’s CRM upgraded product this year, things came together seamlessly,” Echols says. “We can now work more easily across our portfolio. There’s so much visibility into the data we have for each property. And the results are astounding.”
Bumping Up Performance Metrics
With an AI tool it built to sort through leads at the very top of the funnel, CARROLL’s centralized team manages all leads across channels directly through Knock to generate more tours for less money.
“We saw an instant 10-point bump in our prospect to visit ratio and a 5-point bump on average in visit-to-application since onsite teams were freed up to focus on the people in front of them,” Echols says.
Echols said in recent months he’s noticing a big move by the apartment industry to centralized leasing.
“There are huge cost savings in centralizing parts of the onsite activity,” he says. “We can dedicate less expense to resources for leasing tasks and focus more on resident experience. It’s a win for everyone.”
Echols says call centers have “tried to do something similar in the industry for a long time, but their lack of a connection to the local property limited their ability to drive positive results. This in-house method that is enabled by Knock’s centralized leasing tool allows us to scale lead management tasks without the need of expensive and less-effective third-parties.”
CARROLL, too, is in the process of remaking its leasing professionals’ job into a more comprehensive relationship-driven role with the prospects.
“We’re moving toward our leasing team conducting the tour, handling the application, and then the onboarding to the apartment home, all from our centralized leasing office,” he says. “This is more along the lines of how it’s done with a real estate agent and single-family homes. And AI continues to help us to answer the prospect’s most common questions early on such as rent amount, availability, and the application. Humans handle the more complicated questions.”
Complementing the Apt Company’s Brand
A centralized relocation department is something GSC Apartments created and has operated effectively for the past nine years. Adding Knock’s Centralized Leasing Suite is taking it to a higher level.
“The purpose of our relocation department is to complement our brand by establishing an exceptional first impression in managing incoming calls, drive traffic to our on-site teams either virtually or in person, and assist prospects in getting to the application process faster,” GSC Apartments’ Marketing Director Morgan Ellis says.
A concept many in the industry have considered and debated, Ellis speaks proudly of how it has helped the leasing teams perform, giving them time to focus on residents and prospect visits in the leasing offices.
For GSC, that approach will now get many times better. The Richmond, Va.-based company with 20,000 units and 60 communities spread over five states participated in the Knock pilot program that it helped to beta-test in January and put into operation in June.
The platform improves many workflows, including the referral cross-selling process. When prospects contact a GSC property, Knock’s platform presents the leasing professional with the latest availability, pricing, touring schedule, amenities, and other features of the community in seconds.
“Knock’s is more customizable and efficient than what we had been using,” Aimee Worthy, Assistant Director, Apartment Information Services at GSC, says. “The amount of time this saves our team – and the prospect – is phenomenal. We don’t have to open multiple website pages, windows or forms and re-enter information, or really, even pick up the phone to call a sister property.”
GSC previously used a call center-based platform in one of its regions that was slower and more cumbersome. Since June, the company has seen a 25 percent increase in prospect visits who were forwarded internally through the cross-sell feature. Its relocation department’s “time on the phone” has been reduced from an average of 10 to 11 minutes per prospect to about five or six.
The prospect’s guest card is also easily transferable, saving team members at both communities from extra or duplicative work.
“Any communications history that has been captured is preserved,” Worthey says. “It combines the info from one prospect who might have filled out multiple guest cards onto one, single guest card. The system helps us to identify the lead’s source. No longer do we have to rely on manual source tracking.”
No More Heavy Phone Handsets
And gone is the need for the leasing team to pick up heavy phone handsets, Worthey says. Knock’s new system allows for calls in and out that are managed through the employee’s desktop computer.
“We simply click buttons on the screen and begin speaking,” she says. “The caller ID displays the person who is calling and the property they are interested in, as well as their guest card information, which allows for a more “personalized” call. There is instant connectivity to the API.
“The bridge between Knock and our property management system for guest card information to be updated in both platforms instantaneously. There’s no more, ‘Hold on for a second’ during the process.”
“Having this, and an ‘Apply Now’ button as part of it, has been great,” Ellis says.
Shortening the Prospect Life Cycle
The improved lead-sourcing functionality and reporting from Knock has also been a difference-maker, Ellis says.
“The prospect life cycle is so important with what we do,” Ellis says. “Reports that Knock produces for us shows us what works, and what doesn’t. It helps us to understand where prospects are coming from. It validates and helps us to strategize on any decisions we make about how to adjust our marketing spend. Additionally, it allows us to determine where we have opportunities for staff training.”
Knock CEO Demetri Themelis recognized that centralized leasing strategies aren’t new to multifamily, or Knock for that matter, “but we’ve added some incredible new features to support clients who want to be more aggressive in building out a centralized model,” he says.
“The pandemic, labor shortages, and the endless desire to improve customer experience and lower operating costs has forced operators of multifamily to reconsider how teams are built to support both customer experience and business outcomes. To achieve all of those goals some operators will require a centralized model, so we’ve beefed up our existing set of features that support cross-selling and are now making a Centralized Leasing Suite available to everyone.”