Industry Voices

Patricia Moralez: Renewals Built for Student Housing

As the VIP SWAT Manager for Threshold I do quite a bit of work helping our clients achieve goals by working with the on-site teams at each property. Whether they need a boost in traffic, an improvement on closing ratios or just some general training, I help build programs that turn into success.

I love seeing a property team learning and helping the teams achieve more. One area I’ve seen a need in is renewals. Renewals really begin at move-in; it’s the first impression that can go a long way in ensuring your residents are happy and want to live with you the next year.

While there's no trick or mystery to earning your renewals, it always comes down to valuing and respecting your residents, and following up and showing them sincere concern and interest when they call or submit a request for service. In my opinion the old way of doing things has never let me down. Don't get me wrong, I always add in a bit of something new, but I always utilize what works. The key component has always been the delivery and tone of the message. Whether I'm asking for the commitment or offering an incentive, the delivery has to be sincere, believable and something they can't refuse.

Begin with the basics:

  • Good old fashioned customer-centered service. Residents will always remember how they've been treated all year round when we come asking for the renewal. I still remember what I learned during my JPI days, and that is the renewal process starts the moment they sign their first lease with YOU. You can't get their business and then treat them like they don't matter after they move in. Even if you have a high maintenance resident or helicopter parents to deal with, at the end of the day you've just increased your property’s income.
  • Email your residents AND their guarantors every time you're offering a new renewal incentive or a new rate. If your community has not met their renewal or leasing goals by that magic date, consider offering your renewals the same incentives you are offering new prospects. Don't assume they won't change their mind about staying. Sometimes residents are too busy with finals, getting involved with organizations and other important things like hanging by the pool and keeping up with their social life. The last thing they are thinking of is reading another one of our offers. But the parent who is usually their guarantor might notice and call you and their son or daughter to get them into your office to renew! I've seen it happen many times where teams give up on their renewals. A little extra effort can mean a jump in pre-leased occupancy that you weren’t expecting.
  • Knock-A-Thons! They really work but you must be prepared and work smart by dividing and conquering the property. This is the only way to do it all in a day or two depending on the number of beds you have. Keep in mind, with student living, timing is everything. You want to plan Knock-A-Thons around your residents’ time and when you know they'll be home. A visit in person is better than a call.
  • Feed them every chance you get — students love free food! Offer something better than breakfast on the go. Make them a good old-fashioned midnight pancake breakfast. Creating different food theme days are always a hit at the properties I’ve helped. It’s rare that we don’t walk away from those events with renewals or new leases. The residents look forward to them and are always thankful. Whatever you do, keep it real, keep them in know, keep them included and keep it free and fun!

Patricia Moralez is a VIP SWAT Manager at Threshold Agency.

Veronica Romney: Reputation Management — No Simple Task at Student Housing Communities

Responding to reviews at student housing communities is more challenging than it seems on the surface.

Dealing with the youngest subset of millennials, after all, comes with greater expectations and requires a different approach when it comes to ratings and reviews. Apartment operators who believe they can use a response methodology similar to the one they use at non-student housing communities often encounter difficulties. Students live their lives online and have the expectation that their feedback will yield timely responses and tangible results.

They also are likely to pass on your community if it doesn’t have strong ratings. According to the results of a study by Entrata on reputation management, 63 percent of students indicated that reviews have a significant impact on the decision-making process when searching for an apartment. In addition, 38 percent of students indicated that a 3-star rating is “too low” to consider renting an apartment.

Complicating the process further is that subsets exist within the student population. Juniors, seniors and Master’s students, for instance, might perceive reviews differently than a sophomore renting for the first time. These are only some of the obstacles student housing operators face.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you better connect with students when responding to reviews:

  • Don't copy and paste responses. It can seem disingenuous to see the same, canned response over and over. While this concept transcends student housing reviews and should be an across-the-board rule of thumb for reputation management, it is particularly important here. Authenticity is key to the student demographic, and anything that comes across as a canned or pre-written response will not be perceived as genuine.
  • Speak their language. Corporate-sounding responses may not resound with the student audience. You don’t have to go as far as saying, “Hey bro, we’ll totally be there tomorrow afternoon to fix that busted-up washing machine.” But a chattier, less formal response will resonate much better than something that looks like a lawyer wrote it.
  • Respond quickly. As noted, today’s students grew up exclusively in the digital age and have even higher expectations when it comes to response times. A middle-aged individual who left a review often won’t even take another look for a few days. In the age of instant gratification, students probably have an alert set up on their phone for when the community responds. And rest assured, they’ll let you know about it if the review has been out there for a week and hasn’t been responded to.
  • Demonstrate that you're listening to an even higher degree. Students have more of an activist bent than other populations and they demand to be heard. This goes back to not using copy-and-paste responses. Even with positive reviews, make sure to show you’ve read the review by composing an individual response that mentions some of the statements in the review. It’s even more important with mixed and negative reviews to demonstrate that you have acknowledged their concerns.
  • Take action. Students have grown up in the social media world and are used to companies giving them lip service. If you don't take action on what you say online, you could make the situation even worse. After acknowledging their concerns, explain what you’ve done to address them and what you plan to do moving forward. At the very least, invite the resident to speak in person. Better yet, reach out on your own. Naturally, there are going to be times when the reviewer is over the top or has a misconception about what he or she is complaining about. Rather than calling them out online for their inaccuracies, offer them a chance to speak in person, and you can address the issue there.
  • Generate positive reviews — the right way. While it’s important to cultivate positive reviews in an organic sense, such as asking a satisfied resident whether they’ll share their experience online, make certain to not cross the authenticity line by writing fake reviews or incentivizing residents to write them. One student participant in the Entrata survey indicated: “Be realistic. When I see reviews that look fake, I immediately cross the place off my list. If I see good reviews and then go to a place and it doesn't match the photos or reviews, then I cross it off.”

As you’re well aware from leasing season, students can be a challenging bunch. Having an    acute awareness of how to respond to them in their social media comfort zone will only assist in efficiently operating your community.

While many apartment operators perceive reviews – particularly scathing ones – as an annoyance, keep in mind that reviews are free market research. You are not going to find more genuine, raw feedback anywhere else than on Yelp, Google Plus, Facebook Reviews, Twitter or ApartmentRatings. When you utilize the feedback to make your community better that will make the reviews consistently better as well.

Veronica Romney is director of marketing suite products for Entrata.

Satyen Patel: The Evolution of Construction in Student Housing

Universities across the country are seeing an increased demand for state-of-the art student amenities. New dormitories are at the top of the list for many universities as their student population grows. But, as those of us in the industry know, construction on school campuses presents a number of unique challenges not shared by many other construction projects. The demand for on-schedule production, reduced waste, limited interruption and the need to stay on-budget are key factors that have little room for error.

Gilbert Davila: How to Fight Aggressive Property Tax Assessments

The student housing market is robust, generating strong market data that tax assessors are using to support increasingly aggressive property tax assessments. Thus, student housing owners must monitor their property values and arm themselves with the tools to fight excessive valuations. 

Craig Meddin: Why You Should Care About Online Shopping

The e-commerce revolution has changed consumers’ shopping patterns and generated downstream repercussions that business leaders like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett were out in front of early on. These e-commerce icons, of course, are early adopters of new technology who made fortunes by anticipating the opportunities associated with e-commerce. Back in 1996, Steve Jobs said, “The heart of the web will be commerce.” Warren Buffett sees online retailing as a massive growth opportunity, as evidenced by Berkshire’s recent acquisition of online retailer, Oriental Trading. Jeff Bezos, a founding father of e-commerce said this: “Your margin is my opportunity,” meaning his goals are to flood the marketplace with as many online purchases as possible (increasing package deliveries as a ripple effect). Is it working? In the United States, of all e-commerce growth in 2014 and 2015, Amazon accounted for 60 percent.

Jet McGuire, Norman Eastwood: Baylor University — Building Up, Not Out

Walkability is the latest industry term entrenching itself into the lexicon of nearly every student housing investor and developer. Not only is it changing vocabulary, it is clearly a market driver. Add to the mix, the increasing desire for luxury, purpose-built communities geared towards students. The net result of the two trends is altering both Waco’s student housing market and skyline, as developers shift their views from the ground to the sky to meet the latest demands of the student population.

Alexis Krisay: Summer Leasing Necessity — Selfie Tours

Engaging your prospects through Selfie Tours is this summer’s hidden gem to ensure that your property stays top of mind and is the first place they think of when making their last minute housing decision. While students may be out of the market for the summer holiday, they are not out of reach.

Tactics like selfie tours and digital tours of your property allow prospects — and their parents — to see the personality of your property through the leasing consultants’ eyes and enable them to feel like they are there walking through the property. These videos can then also be repurposed for social content and boosted on Facebook to target the top infill cities that your property’s prospects live in.

Alexis Jones: New Federal Rules Mark Cultural Shift for Many Companies by Redefining Limits for Exempt, Nonexempt Employees

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, will require many student housing management companies to re-examine the classification, pay and job responsibilities of property-level employees in order to comply with the new rules by the time they take effect on Dec. 1.

FLSA was created in 1938 to define standards for the number of hours worked in a workweek and overtime pay, requiring most employees in the United States be paid overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek. That said, FLSA provides exemptions from overtime pay for those who fit specific categories defined by their job duties, not their job titles. To qualify for exemption, employees must meet two tests: a duties test and a wage test.  

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