Living in the time of a pandemic has pushed us into the digital realm faster than ever before, leading to an unprecedented boost in new tech solutions that allow us to continue to work and live while respecting social distancing norms and minimizing health risks.
For apartment dwellers, technology companies like Yardi Systems, our parent company, provide the software and equipment that support the full apartment life experience, from finding a home, leasing, to resident life with zero face-to-face interaction. On the apartment search side, the hottest new feature in apartment technology is self-guided touring, which enables digital scheduling and access to rental units so you can physically tour them without an agent, safely and at your own pace.
The need for social distancing is turning self-guided tours into mainstream apartment leasing technology overnight. To uncover how popular this new tool is among renters, we recently asked about 3,500 Americans searching for apartments on rentcafe.com what would generally make them more comfortable touring and leasing an apartment, and specifically how open would they be to visiting properties using self-guided tours.
I could really see myself living here! — Renters embrace self-guided tours
In spite of having an array of options to tour virtually, most people would still like a solution that allows them to cross the threshold of their future home in person. In fact, given the choice, 83% of respondents said they would use self-guided tours:
Digging into renters’ opinions on self-guided tours, we uncovered that not only they would take an agentless tour during the pandemic, but that this technology will likely remain an integral part of the leasing experience after the crisis, in addition to agent-assisted tours.
Follow up survey questions reveal flexibility and safety are at the top of renters’ minds. The main reason most renters would take a self-guided tour is to view apartments at their own pace, ahead of concerns for social distancing (See Slide 2, Reasons you would take a self-guided tour). This means that apartment seekers appreciate the opportunity to enjoy a space without an agent present, and picture themselves living there. This is exactly the feedback property managers who adopted the technology are receiving.
Executive Vice President at The Management Group, Jamin Harkness, was among the first to implement this new technology. When asked about the feedback he’s received so far, Harkness’ answer was in line with renters’ needs: “So far, we’ve had a very positive response; we can see it both on camera and through follow up calls. We see our potential residents just taking their time, sitting down, and enjoying the space and snacks we safely provide. Their comments are so positive they almost seem scripted, we’ve actually heard things like “I could really see myself living here!”. It’s also a new experience for our prospects, so they appreciate us walking them through the process on our website and through personalized pre-tour videos.”
When asked about the features they would expect from an agentless tour, 62% of renters revealed they would like flexible tour durations, closely followed by online scheduling (See Slide 3). At the same time, almost half of the 17% who said they wouldn’t take a self-guided tour still want to view apartments by themselves, provided they could ask questions in person (See Slide 4).
On a more general question about what would make them more comfortable while apartment hunting, the most common response was better online information, while the second most popular response was the option to take self-guided on-site tours, tied with the belief that existing options are safe enough (See Slide 5).
How self-guided tours work
Self-guided tours make visiting apartments with zero face-to-face interaction easy. You pick a date and time from an online calendar, select a guided or self-guided tour and confirm the appointment. You then go though a quick and easy ID verification process and receive an address and access code to tour an apartment. Smart locks and thermostats let you in and ensure a comfortable temperature for your tour.
1. You schedule an appointment on the property’s website
2. You get your ID verified quickly and safely
3. You get an access code for the apartment
4. You enjoy touring the place at your own pace!
A majority of renters will undoubtedly adopt the self-guided tour. It makes apartment viewing safe, flexible, and it gives them space and freedom to connect with their potential homes at their own pace. Coupled with digital resident services such as rent payments with Alexa and in-app maintenance requests, renters get the benefits of a fully digitalized renting experience.
What remains to be seen is how fast property managers will adopt this new technology and make it available to renters nationwide. Harkness himself explained that he’d been meaning to implement self-guided touring systems for a while and is very happy with the results thus far:
“We always wanted to explore self-guided tours but the only real option on the market was very expensive and did not fully integrate with our other solutions. We need automation in place. We also need the data, tracking, and reporting to get actionable insights and information, which products like Yardi’s self-guided tour system provide, along with scalability. We rolled out on April 24th. In the first 17 days, we had 26 scheduled self-guided tours, 2 ID verification fails (this lets me know the system is doing its job), and 13 net leases. I will take a 50% prospect to lease ratio all day!”