Many properties have been experiencing higher turnover and higher vacancy due to changes in migration patterns and the economic challenges stemming from the Covid pandemic and government reactions to it. With all this turnover (and potential turnover), it has become more important than ever to give priority toward retaining your existing residents rather than primarily focusing on marketing and leasing the vacant units.

When you think about it, even if you are 10 or 15% vacant, that still leaves you with 85 or 90% of your residents that could still choose to move – or to stay – later this year. Smart operators are focusing on retaining the 85+% of their residents, rather than waiting and hoping they don’t have even more vacancies to fill.

Here are five areas for you to focus on over the next 30 days and throughout 2021 to reduce your turnover and improve your bottom line:

1. Adapt to the evolving expectations of residents.

Apartments are no longer just a place to sleep. For many people, they have become their home, their work, their school, and even their gym. Those who accept this fact, and create new amenities and services for their residents, will have a step up over their competition. These do not have to be large changes. Even actions such as adding coffee service in the lobby, holding virtual trivia games or cooking classes for your residents, or creating socially distanced events will help enhance that sense of community and involvement.

Review the physical features of your community. What can you do to adapt them to current resident wants and needs? Right now, there is a preference toward outdoor amenities that will allow for social distancing. If you have not already done so, it is time to upgrade your outdoor spaces and create socially distant pods where people can meet. If you don’t have outdoor space, can you enhance your lobby or other common areas? Perhaps you can arrange the furniture to create social distanced settings or upgrade the filtration system in your HVAC to make people feel more comfortable being indoors.

People want to feel safe. They always have. But it’s no longer enough to be in the good neighborhood or to have monitored security systems in the more questionable areas. Safety is now about not getting the virus. Make sure your common areas look clean, smell clean, and that your cleaning protocols are broadcast to your community. When residents feel that management is proactive about taking care of resident needs, they are less likely to start looking elsewhere unless they need to due to financial circumstances.

Technology has also become more important in our industry. Most people have adopted contactless solutions for leasing, for taking maintenance requests, and for communicating with their residents. Now would be a good time to explore and adopt some new technology that will enhance your residents’ lifestyle or make things more convenient for them. Whether it be smart locks, smart thermostats, or other prop tech, adding some of these items to your building can enhance resident convenience and also help differentiate you from the competition.

2. Focus on establishing and enhancing Community

Realize that, now more than ever, people are craving some sort of connection. While we can’t return to normal, or at least the normal that we knew prior to Covid, there is plenty you can do to bring your residents together. Some ideas include:

  • Host a virtual class
  • Host a virtual happy hour or community chat over Zoom
  • Bring in a food truck or deliver meals to your residents
  • Hold an outdoor socially distant sing-along or music party
  • Do birthday drive-bys, conduct interactive games, and more

People will connect physically as well. Friends will take their dogs on a walk together, others will do socially distanced events, and some will drink or just hang out together. By you focusing on creating community and getting people to meet each other, you will enhance the lives of your residents and help give them a break from the 24/7 lifestyle that is now your apartment community.

Creating a sense of community has always been critical in developing longer term resident retention. Nothing about that has changed except people can’t physically get close together. But the more people know their neighbors and make friends with those around them, the less likely they are to move unless financial circumstances force them to. Connecting them, even virtually, will help boost your retention.

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3. Be proactive on your pricing.

It is not a secret. Most tenants are aware of what is going on with rents in your local market. In fact they may even have a better idea of what is happening than you do. Unfortunately, they might also have a more pessimistic view than the current reality due to all the headlines they are reading in the news.

If the market value to re-rent your apartment is now 10% less than it was a year ago, it makes no sense to try and keep your residents at their current rate. Most likely, if you do that, they will choose to move and then not only will you have to accept the 10% lower rent from the next tenant, but you will have all the costs involved in turning the unit and it sitting vacant until you re-rent it.

Work with your residents. You might not have to drop the rent all the way to today’s lower price. After all, there is a cost, both financially and in time and hassle, for your resident to pack up all their things and move. But if you are proactive in adjusting your rents to more accurately reflect the market, you will most likely be able to retain both your residents and your cash flow.

4. Enhance your customer service.

Increasing your communication and upping your service level may be your least costly of the tools you have to keep residents today.

Upping the frequency of your communication, whether it be via text, email, smart phone apps, or the good old phone call) will go a long way. Many residents at other apartment communities have commented that communication from management, or lack thereof, made a significant difference in their decision to stay or move. Make it a goal to expand both your means of communication and the frequency with which you reach out to residents.

You already know it’s important to respond to resident complaints, but enhanced customer service is all about being proactive. Sit down and make a list of the most common resident concerns you receive. Whether it be parking issues, noisy neighbors, or safety concerns, how can you address these issues? For future issues, what systems can you create to address them as quickly as possible?

But don’t just focus on fixing recurring problems. Given the changes in apartment use due to the pandemic, what can you do to make the lives of your residents better? Not sure what to do? Ask your residents. Getting feedback not only gives you ways to improve, it shows your residents that you care.

One of the qualities of excellent customer service is focused attention, asking your residents for their opinions and feedback demonstrates your concern. Use online tools like SurveyMonkey or just make it a point of asking residents when you interact with them.

It is also important to be open to negative feedback. Don’t get defensive here! Getting the equivalent of the one-star review gives you a chance to see the areas people are complaining about and gives you an opportunity to fix them before they lead to people moving out.

5. Turn your maintenance into renewals

Your maintenance team, of all your staff, will likely have the most contact with your existing residents. It is time to think of maintenance as marketing for your community. It is not only important to think about the technical aspects of getting the job done right, but also the communication of making your residents feel both safe and appreciated.

Your maintenance team can influence the resident’s perception of value at your property more than the rest of your staff. Their professionalism, promptness, and courtesy can significantly impact your resident’s decision to renew their lease – or to leave. You can spend countless hours and dollars training your office staff on ways to improve the customer experience, but unless you spend a similar amount of time training maintenance, in most cases you are throwing your money away.

And even if you are doing proactive upgrades or construction projects that your residents want to see, construction is still an inconvenience. You can’t do much about that, but there is a lot you can do to communicate with residents and help the project go as smoothly as possible. Give residents the information they need like estimated timelines and the contact information of key people involved in the project

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Despite all the change that is happened this past year, the core fundamentals have not changed. High tech, high touch has been a mantra since the 1980s. Keep the focus on your existing residents while you go digital in order to stay connected.

Most people don’t want to move but they will if they feel they’ve been neglected. When residents don’t feel like they are a priority, it erodes the relationship and makes them less likely to stay long term. If you want to be proactive about reducing the amount of turnover at your property, take some time to focus on enhancing the resident experience.

Building strong relationships is the key to a successful multifamily property. Focus on your existing residents before you think about getting new ones. It will be one of the best decisions you make in 2021.