As we approach the one-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic, it is undeniable that COVID-19 has had an impact on the way we go about our day-to-day lives. Across every sector of commercial real estate, we’ve had to pivot and adjust all aspects of our business — including the massive and timely process of moving residents in and out of our communities.
Prior to the start of the pandemic, GMH Capital Partners had implemented an efficient move-in process that was mostly contactless. Over the course of the last year, we refined and perfected the process across our student housing portfolio to meet the new demands brought on by a public health crisis. Here’s how we did it:
Trending Prior to 2020: The Speedpass Move-In
Before the pandemic, we offered a contactless move-in process called the “speedpass,” in which students could bypass the traditional in-person move-in process if the resident and their guarantor electronically signed all of their required documentation in advance of the move-in, had a $0 account balance and their insurance was in good standing. Upon arrival, those approved in advance were directed to a VIP area where the resident remained in their vehicle, signed for their pre-programmed keys on an iPad and were granted immediate access to their apartment.
This was not a requirement in the past, but about one third of our residents opted for this process prior to the pandemic as a move-in day perk to jump the line. In order to streamline contactless operations, we decided it was a necessity if you were to be moved in during this very unique and unprecedented fall semester.
During the pandemic, we adapted our processes to ensure that the entire staff took extra steps and precautions to remain compliant with CDC and state guidelines across our student housing portfolio. After reflecting with our executive and on-site teams, we found that this move-in process went smoother for all parties involved — parents, students and our employees — than it had in previous years. As a result, we’re streamlining our operations and implementing a contactless move-in process for the foreseeable future.
Less Congestion with Spaced Out Move-In
To ensure we didn’t have all residents moving in at the same time on the same day, we spaced out our move-in days this past fall semester, which ultimately created less congestion across all asset classes. What typically would have been a one- or two-day move was spread out over a longer time period of two- or three-days, helping with the flow and allowing us to maintain a safe social distance.
We found that this method was easier on the residents and their parents, but required additional strategic planning for our teams. We hired an ample amount of professional movers to be on-site to assist our residents to expedite, control and streamline the move-in process all while maintaining a safe environment, which made it more efficient for incoming residents and their families.
In previous years, we moved all of our residents in floor by floor at all of our communities. This year, we pivoted away from that method to ensure that residents were appropriately spaced. From congested parking lots, to building and lobby entrances and elevators bays, we wanted to ensure that we complied with state and local regulations. We found this extremely beneficial in maintaining flow throughout all of our various asset classes and we intend to replicate this process in the future.
Streamlining Deliveries Before Residents Arrive
Now more than ever, residents are ordering all of their apartment necessities and having items shipped directly to our communities prior to move-in. With the new reality of COVID-19 and more people shopping online, we saw an influx of packages like we’ve never seen before. In order to ensure we didn’t have a package nightmare, we did our very best to deliver packages for every resident prior to their arrival so they were ready to nest on the day of their move-in. Many parents and students commented this made a great first impression and started their semester off on a high note, so we’ve decided this protocol is here to stay.
Different Forms of Communication
Something that our executive team always looks forward to is traveling to our various student housing communities to attend move-in days. Everyone from our CEO and legal team, to our HR and accounting teams often travel during this time. This typically gives our team an opportunity to bond with parents and make face-to-face connections.
While COVID-19 made it challenging to offer that interaction this academic year, it didn’t stop us from getting to know our future residents remotely. We were in constant communication via email and phone and still created a warm, safe and approachable environment for our residents. We’re hoping that in the future we can bring back the personal interactions and social environment across our entire portfolio and create everlasting memories once it’s safe to do so. For now, we’ll continue to make the best of communication via email and telephone and social distancing.
The Way Forward: Contactless Move-Ins Are Here To Stay
The speed and ease of contactless move-ins are sure to solidify that they are here to stay. We’re starting to see major housing providers implementing these new processes. Although the pandemic altered every aspect of how we conduct business, we’ve adapted new protocols that have influenced and streamlined our operations for the long term.
While some real estate players have gone beyond just adapting and are flourishing, others will fade. By implementing new cutting edge technology and procedures, leaders in the student housing sector who are willing to pivot to meet new demands as a result of the pandemic will be able to best serve their residents and ensure their own viability for the future.
— Rand Ginsburg is the senior vice president of asset services for GMH Capital Partners. In this role, Rand is responsible for the management and leasing of the company’s national multifamily and student housing portfolio.