The COVID-19 virus has changed the way we conduct our daily lives. It has led us to wear masks in public, do curbside pickup for our purchases, and keep our distance from each other. It also is changing the way we look for a place to live. Gone are the days where real estate agents hold busy open houses with a sign in sheet at the front door and snacks on the kitchen counter. Instead agents and property managers are looking for ways to limit prospects’ exposure to the agent and to each other.
This has many of them adopting new technology such as self-guided tours. Like many solutions that have become commonplace during this pandemic, self-guided tours will likely be here to stay long after it is over as they prove to be more convenient for the prospect and more efficient for the listing agent. We are used to so many things being “on demand” like our movies, our transportation, even our groceries. Property tours will likely fall into the same category.
If planned correctly, self-guided tours are easy to integrate into existing operations. While techniques for self-guided tours may vary a little depending on property type, the industry can benefit from having access to a general, comprehensive review of best practices.
For security and safety reasons, only vacant units should be used for self-guided tours for security reasons. Some properties can designate a vacant model unit for the purpose of in person showings and self-guided tours, both of which can be scheduled in the same system to prevent double bookings.
When it comes to model units, selection is important. You want to ensure the unit is representative of the majority, but you also want to give prospects an idea of how upgrading could benefit them. It’s advisable to select a unit that also highlights the quality of finishes, gets great light throughout the day, and emphasizes the convenience of other amenities and/or the neighborhood. You want to show off the views and features that make your property special, but you also want prospects to have a realistic idea of what it will be like to live in the space.
Some properties may choose to use vacant units for tours rather than designate a model unit for this purpose. In that case, property management should refer to the preparation part of this guide each time the touring unit changes to ensure consistency in user experience. The preparation is still minimal, and it’s a positive for the prospect because they can actually tour their potential unit.
Preparing the tour space
One of the most important aspects of preparation is thorough cleaning and sanitizing, either directly after or before each tour. Right now, properties may also want to request that cleaning staff leave a dated note or temporary sign on the unit’s door, indicating that the unit was just sanitized. These can be prepared ahead of time and made accessible for cleaning staff to use, and they will help ease prospects’ minds throughout the process. How often cleanings are scheduled will depend on the property, the areas toured, and the frequency of tours, but erring on the side of caution is recommended.
Properties also need to consider what kinds of standards they want to uphold for visitors entering the building, including prospects. Is everyone expected to wear masks or gloves in common areas? If so, you may want to consider offering these items for prospects. Where the items are kept is determined by how the self-guided tour is conducted. It’s important to keep in mind that any property can offer self-guided tours, and they don’t need any kind of special infrastructure to do so. What they do need, however, are locks, thermostats, sensors, and a hub. SmartRent uses a “starter pack” of hardware to make it easy for owners that might not yet have the connected devices.
Because automated self-guided tours do not require users to get a physical key or check-in with staff, leaving these items like masks and gloves in the unit will probably be easiest. In the past, many open houses required visitors to wear shoe coverings to protect the floors. This is similar, except that most people already have masks for personal use.
Communication with prospects (before tour)
Communicating with the prospect is a vital part of the self-guided tour process and can set the tone for a great user experience, hopefully resulting in a signed lease. Poor communication, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. Property managers need to have a system in place to ensure that each prospect receives consistent, thorough communication throughout the process.
Once a prospect expresses interest in a self-guided tour, they may also undergo a brief verification process for security purposes. SmartRent’s platform already has this feature built in, but properties can also do this manually via an email requesting photographic identification. After the verification process is complete, the prospect can schedule their time for the tour. This can also be done through an automated platform or entered into existing software manually. These contacts should also be added to a customer relationship management (CRM) database to ensure lead capture and continued engagement after the tour.
Once a time slot for the tour is confirmed, you will want to send the prospect any important information they need to know to have a seamless experience. This should include a map of the tour route and instructions for access. You may also want to include a property or neighborhood map, digital tours or photos of the property and units, brochures, and any additional marketing material. This information ensures prospects have a good understanding of the property they are going to visit, but also allows them to share the listing easily with others.
Right now, properties may also wish to communicate social distancing guidelines, including requirements to wear masks or gloves and where to locate these items. A brief explanation of cleaning protocols is also useful as it shows prospects that the property is doing its part to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Communication with prospects (after tour)
Finally, communication with the prospect should also provide an opportunity for them to have any questions answered prior to the tour and follow up with them after the tour is complete. SmartRent’s platform features an “Apply Now” option, which automatically appears on the user’s device once the tour is over. Alternatively, providing resources to apply via email (or manually) is a good starting point for follow-ups.
For prospects that don’t apply on the same day as their tour, property managers should schedule a reminder to follow-up within a specific amount of time. This process needs to be consistent with every prospect as well.
Once a system is in place for self-guided tours, they can become an easily maintainable leasing or sales channel. Using technology to provide this service to prospects makes the set-up and maintenance even easier and serves as lead-generation software that can be integrated into a property’s CRM. It frees up leasing agents’ and property managers’ time, while still ensuring business continuity. People like having more control over their experiences, and self-guided tours provide a way for this to happen when it comes to looking for a place to live. Self-guided tours are rising in popularity during the pandemic and look like they will be a large part of many properties’ marketing mix long after.