The Surprising (and Easy) Way to Engage Your Residents

It can be difficult for property managers to keep in touch with every aspect of a community and the residents who live in it. But keeping a transparent relationship with residents is important for facilitating trust and improving resident retention.

Finding an effective way of creating that transparency is often where the difficulty lies. One of the easiest, and most overlooked, ways of providing transparency is by resident billing.

Many residents will never have any interaction with their property manager outside of move-in/out. Sending them a bill each month provides multiple ways to engage residents and build a positive relationship. You’re wondering how, so let me explain.

First, resident bills provide an opportunity to present clear and accurate information about their rent, utility usage, and any other ancillary fees. Not having full insight into what they are paying each month can easily erode trust between property managers and residents.

Timely bills that are easy to pay are important, too. An effective billing program is consistent and gives residents the tools to pay it on time with little to no effort. The tools are there for online delivery and online payment – even payments via text.  Rent/bill reminders and auto-pays are even better.

Let’s not forget about user experience. A good user experience when receiving and paying a bill will make residents feel confident about their property manager. Let residents have a choice between receiving hard copies of their bill or an electronic version. If they choose electronic, they will benefit from having a “Pay Now” button linking to the payment site conveniently placed within the bill. It certainly makes paying rent much easier than having to drop a check off at the property management office.

An effective resident billing program does more than present charges. It also serves as a way of communicating personalized information that is not only pertinent to a resident’s community, but to them as individuals.  Maybe there is a pet costume contest that you want all of the pet owners to know about.  Perhaps you are repaving the parking lot so everyone will need to make alternate arrangements for 12 hours.  It may be that you are launching an email address gathering campaign and you want everyone on paper billing to submit their email. The possibilities are endless – and the returns can be too.

 

Originally posted on PayLease.com

Where Do Your Residents Live? Tips for Collecting Resident Email Addresses

You are a community manager. You know where your renters reside, right? You know their unit number and their building. You, of all people, are “in the know” when it comes to someone’s location.

But if this is true, then why is it so hard to reach them? You have mailings, flyers, bulletins, Happy Hours and pool parties. And yet, your renters are uninformed. They didn’t know the parking lot was being re-painted. They didn’t know the gym was closed for equipment repairs. And they certainly didn’t know that they could pay their rent online. How is that possible?

Because while you know where they reside, you may not know where they live. And where do they live? On their devices. If your renters are typical Americans, they have a smart phone attached to them around the clock. They may not know where their children are, but they are within 3 feet of their cell phone at all times.

Can you use this technological appendage to your advantage? Absolutely. Make gathering email addresses part of your resident routine. Then you have one more way to reach them – in addition to (or replacing) the mailings and flyers and bulletins…you can send emails about cool events or property news. And you can send rent reminders directly to the device that they will not leave home without.

Here are the best ways to collect resident email addresses:

  1. On the rental application. Clearly there is an expectation that you are gathering information and an email address is just another piece of data that they are typically willing to volunteer at this stage in the relationship.
  2. Contests. As you strive for community engagement, hosting contests and give-aways are a common way to connect. Make an email address required for entry into the contest.
  3. News they can use. If you share meaningful information like rent reminders, the value of this communication will be evident. Word will spread from neighbor to neighbor about the quality of the email information, which will entice more residents to share their email address.

Once the email address is acquired, you can use it to further your electronic relationship with your resident. You want to connect with them and you want them to enjoy living at your property. But let’s face it – you also want them to be good renters and part of that equation is paying their rent on time. By establishing a robust online payment engine AND using their email address to send rent reminders and confirmations, you are helping them and helping yourself at the same time. It’s all about reaching them where they live, in addition to where they reside

Written by Kristin Runyan Originally posted on PayLease.com

Commit to Unit Owner Education. Reward Yourself with a Better Community!

For years, I have been writing about the importance of communication as it relates to community association living. I have stressed how important it is that you tell your story well and that you tell it often. Condominium newsletters, HOA newsletters, letters, websites and any other tools used to communicate need to educate readers about what is happening within their associations and why.

There has never been a time when communication and education efforts between Board Members, Property Managers, and unit owners have been more important. Community Association Volunteer Leaders at many events that I attend often indicate that there seems to be a vacuum of education between Board Members and unit owners regarding the responsibilities of each as it pertains to creating and maintaining a healthy and vibrant community association.

Let’s Begin at the Beginning

Educators have long asserted that the learning process begins at birth. The birth of a community association resident begins when they purchase a unit within your association. What can we do to begin the education process when a community association unit is put up for sale?

Currently, there are no regulations requiring the education of realtors as to the rights and responsibilities of folks who choose to live in community associations. In their profession, realtors are compensated in the form of commission which is only earned upon the successful completion of the sale. They are not required to notify the potential buyer of their rights and responsibilities prior to the completion of the sale.

Potential buyers are generally interested in the appearance and upkeep of the unit and the overall look and feel of the community. Again, there are no regulations regarding their education about their responsibilities once they become unit owners. In fact, as is often the case, their first dose of education often comes when they violate a rule or regulation resulting in a violation letter or fine. In a worst-case scenario, this can create a potential long-term conflict between the community association and its residents. At the very least, it can create a poor start to a new unit owner’s experience.

CAI has published a two-page pamphlet called “Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities – Principles for Homeowners and Community Leaders” that is available, free of charge, athttp://www.caionline.org/info/readingroom/Publication%20Excerpt%20Library/rights.pdf

If a community were to adopt these practical guidelines and distribute them freely to realtors and potential purchasers, I think many of the problems that surface because of poor initial education efforts could be avoided. As a disclaimer, CAI says: “Like many worthwhile endeavors, community living cannot be free of conflict. Utopia does not exist. With all of their inherent advantages—and there are many—community associations often face difficult issues. While adopting Rights and Responsibilities will not eliminate all conflict, its adoption can stimulate communication, promote trust and cooperation, clarify expectations and build a greater sense of community. CAI urges you to take advantage of this opportunity.” And so do I.

Education is an Ongoing Process

Education, by its very nature, never ends. It is an organic and ongoing process. It also takes work and commitment. As a leader within your community, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to assume that all of your community members are educated as to the efforts of the Board of Directors and/or Property Manager. In fact, it is far better to assume that they don’t know what decisions you are making or why. Educating them as to what is happening and why is an excellent use of your time.

Recent regulations are, in large part, aimed at providing unit owners access to the business proceedings of the Board. I suggest you take it a step further and engage your fellow unit owners with education about the challenges facing the Board and the decision-making efforts being made on their behalf. Dedicate a portion of your condominium or HOA newsletter and website to education on a regular basis.

 

Originally written by Bob Gourley on MyEZCondo.com

5 Inexpensive and Creative Ways to Market Your Community

If you’re looking for ways to market on a tight budget, here are some simple ways to stretch your marketing dollar. Whether it’s for resident retention, or to create more prospects for your community, we’ve got you covered!

Use Four-Legged Friends to your Advantage

Everyone has pets these days! Communities who don’t allow pets can lose up to 60% of their potential resident pool. So marketing to your four-footed friends (and their owners) is a given. Consider having a “Pet of the Month” feature on your community Facebook page. You’ll get lots of entries, and the winning pet owners will undoubtedly share your content with their Facebook friends. You’ll get exposure, happy residents and maybe some prospects in the process.

On the resident retention side, make sure to host a “Yappy Hour” once a month as well. You can probably get a local pet store to kick in some dollars for food if they are allowed to market to the residents who attend. Yappy Hours are fun for everyone. Stock up on dog treats and have plenty of water dishes and toys around for everyone to play with at the event.

Make Model Units Memorable

If you’re looking to add some interest to your model apartments, don’t leave out some unique and different items to create interest. “Statement pieces” – basically very unique pieces of furniture are well worth their investment. People will remember the model and probably want to take a selfie or two of themselves with the statement piece, especially if it’s a great chair that photographs well.

Theming your models can also create greater interest and even help create a storyline with your prospects. OneEleven, a luxury high rise in Chicago, features a one bedroom apartment they simply call “Brad”. It’s obvious upon arrival that Brad is a single male who LOVES to bike in the Windy City. His bike is prominently placed on a rack in the dining area, and his closet has biking shoes and clothes. Leasing Professionals talk about Brad and his lifestyle while they tour the model with prospects. Both memorable and smart!

Looking for more model magic? Planned Property Management has a “Magic Fridge” at every one of their communities. What is a Magic Fridge? It’s a refrigerator loaded with snack food and beverages – both healthy and unhealthy. And no prospect leaves a Planned Property Management building without stopping at the ‘fridge for snack and a drink before they leave.

Don’t forget to put some funny and interesting items in as well. One of my favorites is a framed Hershey bar with signage that says, “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS”. I’ve never had anyone break the glass, but it might be wise to stock Hershey bars in your model just in case.

Get Creative with Signage

Eye-catching signage is critical as well. Make sure your bootleg signage features photographs as well as text. A photo of a cute puppy or kitten carries a much stronger message than one that simply says “Pets Welcome”. Balloons don’t have to be boring, helium ones attached to your sign either. Find an eye-catching, creative and fun balloon sculpture. They are not expensive or hard to find.

Banners don’t have to cost a fortune either. Staples sells amazing banners that you can create yourself. For less than $20 you can have a full color banner with custom graphics and verbiage. And best of all, they can be created online and ready for pickup in less than four hours.

Amenities don’t have to be Expensive Either!

Add unique amenities to your communities without breaking the bank. Creating a lending library of resident-donated books is easy. Upgrade the pool area by installing a mister fan. Installing a USB outlet in the master bedroom of your apartments will cost about $25 for the materials and will be a huge hit with today’s tech savvy renters. Use chalkboard paint to create a message center in your kitchens of your available apartments. Chalkboard paint is available from any hardware or paint store for about $10 for a 30oz can.

Add a Personal Touch

Other ways to stand out that don’t cost a thing? Take a tip from the AT&T store and walk every prospective resident to the door when they are leaving your property. Or create a signature ‘goodbye’ like Walgreen’s, whose “Thank you and be well” is universal.

Speaking of free marketing, your PayLease team has some great freebies to help you market your online payments plan to your residents and prospects. Ask them how they can help you to succeed.

It doesn’t cost a lot to stand out. You just need to take the initiative and go for it.

Written by Lisa Trosien. Originally posted at PayLease

Easy Ways to Connect with Residents: Technology Edition

Apartment community amenities have changed radically over the years. Back in the 70’s all you needed was a pool and a tennis court. Resident tastes are more complicated these days. Some apartment communities now place their focus on ‘comfort’ amenities, such as spa rooms and yoga classes.

Others put the focus on our four legged friends with such things as ‘doggie detail rooms’, ‘catbitats’, canine agility courses and even adding catnip to the community herb garden.

But all communities, regardless of size, know that to be successful today, you have to provide the latest technology amenities for your residents. Here are some technology amenities that residents will appreciate, and even better, make your job easier.

Wi-Fi

One technology residents absolutely will not do without these days is Wi-Fi. While there are apartment buildings that offer free Wi-Fi to all of their residents, those properties are in the minority. Most have realized that offering free Wi-Fi in the common areas of their properties (pool, clubrooms, etc.) is sufficient and can be offered in lieu of the business center. Residents can simply bring their own devices to the Wi-Fi enabled areas and just log on for access. And what pairs nicely with free Wi-Fi? Free coffee! Residents LOVE their coffee and Wi-Fi!

Online Payments

No one wants to drop a check off at the management office or go through the hassle of mailing it. Online payments are easy for the resident, who can pay anytime, anywhere. They’re even easier for property managers, who don’t have to worry about manually processing payments. Residents can even schedule recurring payments so they never have to think about a payment and you can rely on timely funds each month.

Text Alerts

When it comes to communicating with your residents, texting is the way to go. Residents are more likely to read a text message versus an email, which makes it a great way to communicate important announcements like the water will be shut off, the parking lots will be getting striped, etc. There are some of the great texting programs available these days at a reasonable fee.

E-Sign

E-Sign applications are a big time saver for both residents and property managers. Residents can renew their lease without the hassle of coming into the management office! They simply ‘sign’ their renewal electronically – so simple and so convenient.

Package Acceptance

Do you accept resident packages? New services are available to help you streamline this task. It will electronically notify your residents that a package is available for pickup.  Residents can electronically add “agents” to their account, allowing their roommate, loved one, assistant, co-worker, parent, etc. to securely pick up items on their behalf.

Written by Lisa Trosien. Originally posted at PayLease

5 Easy Ideas to Connect with Residents

If you are a property manager or rental agent you know that Customer Service is the New Marketing. And I have to agree. Social media and online reviews only seem to be getting bigger and bigger…so amping up your customer service arsenal only makes sense. But what does that really mean?

For some, it means increasing your number of resident events. Our industry saw a big jump in resident event programming in 2013 and you can plan on that only getting bigger and better. Residents want to connect, not only online but in person. What can you do to help foster that connection? How about at least one monthly activity that’s focused on getting your residents to know one another, and one activity that focuses on you and your team serving your residents better.

5 Easy Ideas to Connect with Residents

  1. Ice Cream Sunday:  A make-it-yourself sundae bar for everyone at your property is always a hit. You might want to wait till the weather breaks in those colder states, but this is a guaranteed winner.
  2. Pre-Pool Party Opening: Nothing makes people feel like Winter is on its way than either a pool opening bash or a pre-pool opening bash. Shorts, tees , picnic food, limbo contests…who cares if there is still snow on the ground in your market? Give people something to look forward to and they’ll appreciate it.
  3. Gate Giveaway: Instead of the tried and true “Breakfast at the Gate”, offer something along with the goodies that makes the giveaway more memorable. How about a St. Patrick’s Day theme in March with green cupcakes? Or even McDonalds’s Shamrock Shake coupons? And if you’re a high rise, you know you just do this in the lobby since you don’t really have a ‘gate’.
  4. Pet Portraits: Give your residents a chance to have their best friend photographed in the best possible light by offering pet portraits. If you contract with a photographer, you don’t have to pay a thing, and your residents only pay if they like the portraits!
  5. Move Night: Get some family friendly flicks to show on the flat screen in your clubroom. Let the families bring the blankets and the pillows and you serve the refreshments and popcorn. Start off with something the little ones would like and maybe work your way up to some scarier fare for the teenagers and Moms and Dads (so the little ones can go home and miss the scary stuff!).

It’s important that you plan your activities well in advance so that your residents can make room for them on their calendars. The more time they have to plan, the better turnout you will get for your event.  These tips can also be used with the HOA board to bring residents together.

Written by Lisa Trosien.  Originally posted at PayLease