The real estate landscape is ready to leverage technology to maximize its potential across the rental market. 

By Georgianna W. Oliver

October 25, 2022

It’s been 75 years since Bell Labs rolled out the first transistor and revolutionized the world of electronics. Since then, technological innovation has been about making devices smaller, faster and more powerful.

But while most of the conversation has been focused on equipment, an equally important transformation is underway: using technology to improve the consumer experience by making time-consuming processes less cumbersome.

One of the areas where this change is about to transform an entire industry is apartment leasing, where every step of the process is ripe to be replaced. Welcome to the world of the 30-minute lease, where a seemingly endless list of steps that can take days to complete can now be condensed to less than an hour.

Where to start?

It all starts with customer expectations. People have been jumping through hoops to rent apartments and houses, and there is an acceptance that this is simply the way it has to be due to risk management and fraud prevention. Applicants dutifully fill out lengthy application forms, wait days to schedule a tour, fill out credit applications and then wait to see if they get accepted. After this, there is more paperwork, several payments, utility sign-up and then FINALLY, a renter gets their keys. It is an aggravating and lengthy process, but it’s a bit of a rite of passage for millions of Americans.

Not for us

That’s all changing now, as millennials and Gen Z have become the dominant demographic in the United States. They are the first digital native cohort and are used to living their lives online and getting things done instantly. These people have never gotten a busy signal or waited in line overnight for concert tickets. They expect instant service and instant results and simply aren’t willing to put up with outmoded and inefficient approaches to renting their new home.

Look at Airbnb vs. hotels. Airbnb’s frictionless experience and diverse accommodation options make it the preferred choice for Gen Z over hotels. It’s quick and easy and meets their expectations.

Savvy property management companies must adapt to their customer’s needs rather than expecting people to cater to them. That’s the essence of effective customer service.

But how?

Once companies choose to improve their leasing operations, the big question is how to do it. It’s not just a matter of installing new software and hoping for the best. Instead, it requires a deep understanding of the inefficiencies in the rental chain and fixing those steps as part of a holistic approach to reducing the time it takes to get a signed lease.

Toughest part

Each step of the renter’s journey has distinct tasks that must be completed in order. If even one of these is slow, the entire leasing process grinds to a halt. One of the most inefficient parts of the equation is getting renters to tour available units.

There are several tools for virtual tours — online tours with images and videos of a community that you can view from wherever you are, anytime. But virtual tours will only take prospective clients so far. They often know the neighborhood or part of town they want to live in. They want to actually see the apartment in person before they commit to signing the lease. They want to tour in person and on their own.

It’s time to reimagine the property tour radically.

For starters, renters need to be able to schedule tours on a moment’s notice, no matter what time of day or day of the week. Unlike a virtual tour where you are looking at images, a self-guided tour is a tour physically at the community, even if the office is closed. There is no need to connect with an agent to take the tour.

What if the leasing office is closed at 2 p.m. on a Sunday? Previously, applicants may have begrudgingly put up with delays, but renters under the age of 35 aren’t going to wait days for anything. They will look elsewhere for housing. Scheduling tours is often the biggest obstacle when it comes to stretching out the time between vacancy and leasing.

Tour24 self-guided tour data shows that 64% of tours are same-day tours, and 24% happen within 15 minutes of scheduling time. 24% means the potential renter is right outside the community and wants to tour immediately. Why not make it easier for them?

Technology + Service = Delighted Customers

This is where technology and customer service intersect in the apartment industry. By implementing new technologies to offer property tours, leasing agents can eliminate a significant roadblock while delighting future renters.

Scheduling a visit is often the first interaction people have with leasing teams. If it is a positive and efficient experience, renters will have a favorable impression. On the other hand, if delays and miscommunication mark the process, they will most likely choose to live in another community. Because even in a tight rental market, customers ultimately have the power of choice and always want to select the best option.

A self-guided tour system can verify an ID in real-time, direct someone to the available unit, open the smart lock and give an audio tour of the potential home, all by using a mobile phone. They can even ask questions and start the leasing process during the tour. It’s less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

There is no single magic bullet that is going to make the leasing process 100% efficient because there are so many areas that need to be updated. But by replacing old modalities of offering tours and replacing them with a more convenient approach, forward-thinking leasing teams can eliminate one of the most significant drains on productivity and customer satisfaction. You only have one chance to make a first impression.