One of the biggest pain points in the rental housing industry today is the competition for talent. Not only are owners and operators competing with each other for great team members, they are competing with literally every other industry! Many companies are evaluating innovative ways to try and make up for the lack of employees, and technology is definitely on the list of potential solutions. COVID-19 accelerated the rental housing industry’s use of technology in new and different ways. The adoption of innovation has created an enticing opportunity to effectively fill ongoing gaps created by staffing shortages.
Two years of pandemic and the sudden shift to remote work and social distancing requirements led to a new dependence on technology. The average American was forced to learn, accept, and rely on technology in a variety of aspects of daily living:
- Parents navigating children’s remote learning
- Contactless deliveries / pick ups
- At-home entertainment - Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Hulu, etc.
The silver lining is that as we continue to be challenged with staffing shortages, we have more tools and resources to assist in coverage than ever before. In addition, we have a nation of renters who have either embraced, or resigned themselves to the fact of, technology touching nearly every aspect of their lives.
Here are innovative ways some rental housing companies are filling the staffing gaps.
While many of these technologies have been around for a while, it wasn’t until the pandemic created a necessity that many companies sought these solutions out.
Chatbots are a highly effective qualifying tool on a community’s website because they can answer critical questions a prospect may need to know but might not be patient enough to find by searching through the specifics of a web page or waiting for a return call or email from a leasing agent. These bots can provide the information and keep the prospect engaged long enough for them to take that next step to schedule a tour.
Virtual tours allow leasing agents to either walk through a home while on video conference with a prospect or provide pre-recorded videos of the home or floorplan. Whether using one’s own cell phone to record a walk-through of a vacant unit or partnering with a supplier who can provide best practices, tracking, and a formal, interactive platform, this approach has enabled business to continue despite the restrictions on face-to-face interactions.
Self-guided tours have become a new darling on the scene when it comes to the leasing process. The process can be as low tech as a prospect trading a government-issued ID for a key and property map, or as high tech as an app that provides a walking route, narrated highlights, and a unique access code to enter the specific unit. Prospects appreciate the freedom to linger where they like and explore the areas of the community that might not necessarily be on the typical tour route.
Centralized leasing takes all of the above leasing options to the next level allowing one leasing specialist to potentially manage the touring process for multiple properties. In addition, by centralizing the leasing process, the specialists can focus on one aspect of service: the leasing experience. When sales for multiple properties is centralized, the opportunity allows for an on-site team member to focus on the resident experience. The difference? A 300 unit community that under the traditional staffing model may have had a Community Manager, an Assistant Manager and a Leasing Agent may now be able to operate with only a centralized Sales Specialist who serves multiple properties and one on-site Concierge, who manages customer service and the resident experience.
As the role that is currently the most difficult to find, hire, and keep, maintenance team positions are seen as the most challenging to supplement with technology. And yet, many innovations have been introduced, even for this critical, hands-on role.
Do-it-yourself videos developed by the company’s maintenance teams have been one popular and successful way to address the most basic service needs. Not every resident is willing to roll up their sleeves and try to fix an issue, but those who are willing are enjoying the step-by-step instructions and satisfaction of re-setting an electrical outlet or garbage disposal. A popular added touch is the availability of a basic tool kit that can be checked out from the front office. Whether to use a screwdriver to tighten a screw on a switch plate or borrowing the hammer to hang a family photo, many residents have welcomed the DIY option.
Virtual consultations have added the personal touch to the DIY option by having a maintenance technician walk the resident through the troubleshooting or repair. Some repairs may be found to be too complex or a bigger issue than originally thought, but residents appreciate the speedy access to diagnosing a problem with the maintenance tech and either learning how to resolve it on the spot or scheduling an in-person repair.
Third party maintenance providers have experienced a significant increase in-demand, and range in services from seasonal tasks, such as snow removal, to preventative maintenance, and full turnovers. In addition, however, services have been introduced that help streamline the diagnostic process so that residents are walked through assessing the issue. A third party service can order parts, prioritize requests, schedule external vendors, as well as the in-house maintenance tech to help reduce the number of trips an on-site team member typically racks up in a day.
Employee turnover and staffing challenges will continue to be a point of pain for the foreseeable future. However, with the increasing adoption of a variety of technologies, residents are more willing and able to adapt to technology solutions to address many leasing and maintenance needs. This creates an exciting – and relieving – opportunity for rental housing owners and operators to integrate new solutions that fit best with their current and evolving business models.