Ensure a seamless 24-7 and mostly paperless connection with your young renters.
When it comes to the rental market, student renters have always been a prominent demographic. Yet in recent years, students have become more important than ever to property managers because they hold the potential for fruitful and long-term relationships.
Think of it this way. As the housing market ebbs and flows, the rental market reflects those changes. Right now, a variety of economic factors have created low home ownership rates, which has spurred a rise in renters – a trend that's not expected to change any time soon. This is especially true for millennials, many of whom face student loan debt and employment struggles upon graduation. These student renters may be forced to delay their home ownership dreams for some time. Unlike former student renters who often purchased homes within a few years of graduation, a large percentage of today's student renters will probably rent for many years to come.
Yet while these young renters represent an essential part of the rental market, it's important to realize they won't settle for just any living environment. On the contrary, these student residents have specific preferences when it comes to off-campus housing – needs that smart property managers and apartment firms must consider if they want to attract their business. In addition to seeking sustainability programs and modern amenities, these student renters often prioritize one deciding factor when it comes to choosing their new home: technology.
We have found this to be a dominant theme for countless property managers using our property management software. Many of our clients come to us because their software is outdated, they are bogged down by routine processes or they have inadequate web presence. If any of these factors apply, these companies will have a tough time offering the tech-friendly features millennial residents want.
Remember, we're talking about the first generation of "digital natives" moving into our communities. These young renters have grown up with conveniences they consider a mandatory part of daily life. Properties that fall short of those expectations will likely be disregarded in favor of more tech-savvy properties.
So just what do property managers need to offer these millennial renters? AppFolio has found that two dynamics can make or break a property's popularity with student renters.
Build an Appealing Online Presence
When looking for their next home, student renters will search out properties online - and they'll expect to find information on community amenities, appealing and accurate photos, resident testimonials, and easy navigation for completing applications and obtaining more information. Make sure all of your digital assets are mobile-friendly; you can guarantee that students will search for properties on their mobile devices, so your sites should work (and look aesthetically appealing) on all smartphones and tablets.
Students are savvy searchers. They'll go straight to Yelp and other review sites – so encourage satisfied residents to post reviews. If you find a negative review about your property, offer courteously – and publicly through the same forum – to resolve the issue. Also critical: an engaging social media presence. Twitter and Facebook are a great way to connect with future and current residents, post images of vacant apartments and promote community events or special deals. Remember too that you're courting student renters, so post content of interest to that group, like articles on campus safety, the most fun places within walking distance of your property, or internships. By branding your property management company as a place that's sympathetic to student needs, you'll quickly gain a reputation as an enjoyable living community.
Offer Digital Convenience
The stereotypes are true; when it comes to Generation Y, you're doing business with a group that prefers text and email to phone calls and has often never written a check. That means your new residents will want to fill out maintenance requests and make payments online. The same goes for applications and signing leases. Instead of asking potential residents to come to your property, walk through a model apartment and fill out paperwork, put residence photos and videos online and let applicants submit their applications, along with the necessary identification documents like drivers' licenses and social security cards, all online.
Also remember that students rarely follow a nine-to-five schedule. Part-time jobs and unpredictable class schedules can mean they'll need to communicate with your office at atypical times, rather than making calls during office hours. The solution: creating an online resident portal for rent payments, correspondence and service requests. Finally, remember that student finances vary widely. Some might make payments with a credit card while others might receive checks from their parents and want to make payments in cash. AppFolio Property Manager, as an example, accommodates this need by allowing both online payments and physical payments, and offering an Electronic Cash Payment feature that allows students to pay their rent with cash at convenience stores, at any time of day or night.
There's no doubt that student renters aren't exactly like the other residents in your communities – yet their needs and expectations reflect the wave of future residents coming up behind them. Design a marketing and technology infrastructure that appeals to student renters now, and you'll not only attract the students of today, but the residents of tomorrow.
Nat Kunes is the director of product management at AppFolio. AppFolio Property Manager is a comprehensive, Web-based solution designed expressly for the needs of residential property managers working in multihousing settings. Kunes is an expert in development and product lifecycle management, with nearly 10 years of implementation experience.
Nat Kunes is the director of product management at AppFolio. AppFolio Property Manager is a web-based solution designed for residential property managers working in multifamily settings. Kunes is focused on development and product lifecycle management, with nearly 10 years of implementation experience.