Real estate is a people business. No amount of technology will change that fact. But, people need to be communicated with; there is nothing more central to success in real estate than good communication. Luckily, recent innovations in real estate technology make communications seamless across all fronts but particularly in the area of leasing and property management. The relationship between tenant and landlord is a complicated one. Good communication is vital to avoid friction between residents (in both commercial and residential properties) and property management. Communication is also important for the non-stop marking process and irregular maintenance calls that take up much of many large buildings’ resources. Communication systems should be seen as a true business asset. Companies that have sophisticated communication systems, with modern technology at its backbone, perform better and are much more scalable.
In over a decade of focusing on real estate tech, working for AppFolio, I have spoken to thousands of property management and investment management firms thinking about their technological systems. It’s the insights from these conversations that highlight some of the challenges facing the real estate industry. One of the main pain points I hear about is finding ways to use technology to help streamline the communication workflow. The world is changing around the real estate industry. We live an on-demand world. Tenants and prospects expect their living and working experiences their physical world to reflect their digital one: connected, intuitive, responsive and frictionless.
Take the leasing process, for example: it’s tricky and often a stressful experience for prospects. In tight, metro-area markets, where demand outpaces supply, prospects might feel like they are spinning circles just to get in front of leasing agents and visit open units. Many of their queries go unanswered and apartments come off the market rapidly, so prospects tend to feel like a mere data point in the renter pool instead of a valued potential resident.
Advances in technology are altering the leasing process, making it succinct and more enjoyable for everyone, curbing angst many prospects feel while on the apartment hunt. A great example of this happens right in the initial stages of the leasing experience, where communication is often most critical. Prospects will find, generally online, an open unit they’d like to check out and then take the time to make the first inquiry about seeing the unit. In the past, prospects calling on off-hours might not hear back until the next day or might never hear back at all. Without even a confirmation of receipt of the communication the prospect is forced to continue research into other available units.
Today’s AI advancements aid leasing agents in this initial leasing phase, answering easy questions and scheduling future followups. The frustration of waiting to hear back on queries is completely ejected from the leasing equation, making for a much more productive and pleasant apartment hunt, on the prospect’s side. This helps busy real estate professionals focus on more strategic business initiatives. Technology is getting to a point where prospects take more control over the entire leasing experience, allowing them to self-schedule unit showings and enter open units via lockboxes with one-time access codes.
Outside of leasing, tech is enhancing communications in the resident living experience as well. Maintenance is, of course, one of the biggest issues and sore-points in the resident experience. Whether it’s a recurring maintenance issue or a slow-to-respond staff, lack of communications and resolve can be a major cause of friction for residents. However, chatbots have allowed the residents to use their preferred method of communication: text. Now a quick text about a maintenance issue will get a chatbot’s response immediately. It can go as far as place a work order for the property management team, making maintenance becomes less of a nuisance and more of a simple process. Not only do residents get their issues placed in work orders, right off the bat, but the chatbots will also update residents as to where the process stands throughout the day, while property management teams are working on the maintenance issue. Again, tenants expect things fixed in their physical space like they are in their digital worlds, updating in the background while life goes on.
It’s a changing world, but new technologies are making communications so much more effective for today’s residents, advancement by advancement, step-by-step. Communications will always be pivotal to success and a good renter experience, so it’s important for organizations to not shy away from new and sometimes foreign technologies like artificial intelligence. Technology advancements will continue to roll in, AI will make sure of them. Property owners and managers should start thinking about their communication infrastructure as part of their portfolio. It is an asset, one with identifiable net present value and almost endless future value potential.