Service is key to retaining tenants in today’s apartment market

apartment conferenceby Brian Wasag

The business of managing apartment properties is becoming akin to the hospitality industry. That’s according to members of a Designing and Managing Assets panel during last Thursday’s Metro-Chicago Apartment Summit at Germania Place in Chicago.

Taking part in the panel were moderator Bane Simic, Associated Real Estate Group; Milan Rubenstein; Windy City RE, LLC; Jeff Michael, Horizon Realty Group; Michael Slater, Slater Realty and Investments; and Andrew Ahitow, Chicago Apartment Finders.

Slater said providing excellent service is key to retaining tenants.

“For us, retention is everything, and it starts with the service,” Slater said. “We treat this industry now as a hospitality industry and we must respond and communicate effectively with all of our tenants, good, bad and indifferent.”

In terms of amenities, Slater said it is important to make upgrades to kitchens, bathrooms and fixtures.

“For tenants, it is their home,” he said. “They want to be proud of it. They want to show it off to their friends and family and we want to build that type of ambience for them.”

Michael said technology also is an important amenity that tenants are seeking. Internet connectivity and Wi-fi are staples.

“It’s just like providing water and electricity,” he said.

He said more people are working out of their home and their home is becoming a combination of a home and office. Wi-fi connected thermostats and lighting controls also are becoming popular.

“People today are demanding,” he said. “They have very acute tastes.”

Michael agreed that service also is important for tenant retention.

“It’s a big investment to get that tenant in the door,” he said. “You have to work really hard on providing the service to keep them.”

Some services include the ability to pay rent online.

“You have to make it more inconvenient for them to move than to stay where they are,” he said.

Rubenstein said his company does a lot of cosmetic upgrades to attract young professionals, such as granite countertops, hardwood floors, tiles and crown moldings. It also provides compact layout apartments for a much lower price.

In terms of marketing, Slater said his company relies on traditional mediums as well as social media. If tenants are happy with his company’s service, he encourages them to tell their friends.

Michael said online reviews also are very important in terms of marketing, adding that companies almost need to hire a full-time person to stay on top of what people are saying on sites such as Yelp.

Ahitow said online reputations are difficult to manage in the apartment business.

“The people that like to complain are the ones that are on there posting complaints,” he said.

Rubenstein recommended posting listings online five times per day in order to ensure those listings remain on the first page of a given Web site.

When it comes to challenges facing the industry, zoning can be a particularly difficult issue, according to Ahitow. He said the keys are to hire the right attorney and to attend neighborhood groups.

“They are difficult and they want to see that you care and that you’ll be involved in the project,” he said. “The aldermen are very careful about listening to the neighborhood groups and when they don’t support your project, they typically will not sign off on your zoning change or your improvements.”

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