This month I am focusing on commercial real estate technology trends. An area that I specialize in at Creative Choice Group is providing affordable housing options to residents both in Florida and around other parts of the US. Affordable housing is an important driver to our economic stability and a key element in providing an employable workforce for local businesses across a variety of segments. Affordable housing most frequently includes multi-tenant buildings (MDUs) and can often include subsidies from government funds. But what probably does not come to mind when thinking of low cost housing is how technology can play a part for owners, investors and yes, even the tenants.
The Internet is changing how consumers across the globe want to interact with businesses. This is no different for affordable housing providers. Property managers are quickly learning that prospects and residents are accustomed to online services in all aspects of their lives, including their rental searches, school and work environment. A recent study reported that 70% of rental prospects used the Internet to start their apartment searches vs. tooling around the neighborhood looking for a new place. Additionally tenants are using the internet to complete housing applications, pay rent, submit service requests, and communicate with their landlords.
As a result, property managers and owners are starting to make key investments in their online presence to help increase operational efficiency, centralize and consolidate their business information, maximize their bottom lines, and remain competitive.
With all the focus on technology, what do you think has the biggest scope of influence? A website portal is the top item. Some of the reasons why are noted below.
1. Online marketing – Integrating key information from the property management database like floor plans, photographs or brochures can offer a prospect a virtual tour of the property without ever stepping inside. Additionally, since a portal typically includes a content management system, editing copy on a website is easy for local managers, reducing dependence on high cost designers and webmasters.
2. Prospects – A website can help earn priority placement by implementing Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Having your property show up on the first page of a search creates a competitive advantage for any type of business. It is a great way to find new tenants but also reinforce the value to existing residents. Our Etech Global Solutions team has generated tremendous growth in the last 15 years. Our robust website and online presence have been a big part of that success for sure.
3. Applications –Affordable housing managers can use online portals to capture waiting lists or even help future tenants start the application process. By allowing the prospective tenant to enter their personal data into websites, you can eliminate data entry by staff members.
4. User Interfaces – Setting up an “Account Management” page for residents is another great way to reduce support costs. And while it may seem impersonal, for many consumers having access to their own personal information 24 x 7 is a huge benefit vs. waiting for the front office to open between 9-5 p.m. Giving direct access can enable functions such as: payment verification/status, confirm or submit service requests, and make appointments for lease renewals.
5. Money. Taking payments via a portal is a paperless, convenient self-service option for residents’ that also offers great efficiency to the property manager. The portal enables payments to be auto-applied to resident charges and posted real time – which improves cash flow for the business and eliminates the administrative burden of handling checks. Plus, having an automated system with scheduled notices and formalized communication helps to structure the collections process and avoid unnecessary claims or law suits.
The adoption of technology is gaining ground for all socio-economic categories – i.e. young and old; rich and less fortunate. Leveraging a user portal and creating a website for your housing locations will not only help automate work functions for your managers, it will enhance your tenant experience and put you on the map for future growth.