Saturday, December 20, 2014

Monthly Archives: November 2010

Guest spotted in my first podcast today. Yes… FIRST. We talked about all the different kinds of metrics you can follow regarding your leads. In addition we talked about how we manage our leads at Maryland Management. I only lost my train of thought once… (so embarrassing). Seriously though if its something you’re interested in, here’s the link:

Blog Talk Radio Presents Managing and Measuring Leads

You can’t learn how to become good at podcasting by not doing it. At least I wasn’t wearing earrings.

Happy renting everyone.

2

Thankful ForTurkey day has come and gone this year. I over ate to an extreme and was sound asleep by 9:30. Anyone who has small kids can understand how stressful a day like Thanksgiving can be. But seriously… I’m really thankful for that.

What else am I thankful for?

I’m sure thankful for my kids. I love them. I’m thankful for my wife… who gave birth to them. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I’m thankful for my old job. Without it I never would’ve found and fallen in love with my wife. I’m thankful for my ex-girlfriend. Without her I never would’ve moved to Maryland and gotten that old job. I’m thankful for York College. If I didn’t go there I never would’ve met my ex-girlfriend, never moved to Maryland and wouldn’t have gotten that old job. I’m sure thankful for my parents’ high school band. Without it they never would’ve met, fallen in love and had me. Speaking of parents I’m thankful for my wife’s. Without them their daughter would never have been born and there would’ve been no need to meet my ex-girlfriend, move to Maryland and work for that old job where I met her.

Life is nothing but the domino effect

It’s funny how life is really nothing but small decisions compounded on one another. Some of those decisions might impact your next 20 minutes and some might impact you for generations. Imagine what would’ve happened if on the day my father signed up for the band, he was sick and stayed home? Or I never talked to my ex-girlfriend in the basement of my fraternity house? I could be named Charlie and living in New Jersey as an accountant. Or I could just be living in New Jersey in the basement of my parents house. The outcomes and possibilities are staggering.

Thankful for everything

I’m sure glad things worked out as they have. The next time you think about whether to go to McD’s or Burger King for lunch just remember that it could have an impact on your son’s son’s son. Too deep? Probably. It’s why most of us are just thankful for the things around us; those that we often take for granted on a daily basis. This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for EVERYTHING; even my ex-girlfriend.

Cost Per Lease is a terrible metricDue to our desire to measure everything, we inundate ourselves with reports. Some of these reports are invaluable and others have us spinning our wheels. One that is given way more credibility in this industry is the cost per lease. This report’s goal is simple; figure out if you’re spending money on lead sources that aren’t producing. I get why you want to measure that. Let’s all be honest here, measuring it accurately is very difficult.

Daddy, where do leads come from?

It isn’t how it used to be; not anymore. The internet has completely changed the landscape. Years ago when someone said they came from the Apartment Guide chances are that was where they found you. Probably the only place. In 2010, someone might start their apartment search on Google at 11pm in their PJ’s on the couch. By midnight they’ve seen your property on a pile of different websites and submitted a prospect card through your internet site. Which source do you hope to measure from?

There are several schools of thought on this one:

  • First source.
  • Last source.
  • Multiple sources.
  • Average of all sources

So we’re starting off with bad data?

Yup. In addition to figuring out which source gets the prize you also have the unreliability of the prospects themselves. They aren’t concerned with how they happened to find you. Only you are. Oh wait- there’s one other thing too. According to the NMHC Tech Conference from last week, 70% of ad sources are attributed to the wrong one. Our very own agents? Oh brother.

Does Rent.com setup the appointment, convert them to an applicant, and get them to move in?

Umm.. no. That’s the leasing agents job. Using cost per lease doesn’t take into consideration the effectiveness of your agents. It puts the blame squarely on the source instead of on you. This to me is the biggest problem with CPL as a metric. It’s like blaming the gun for shooting someone. If you aren’t converting… find out why. Maybe what you’re advertising on these sites isn’t good enough, is misleading or (dare I say it) your people need some additional training.

Is Cost Per Lead better?

Yes. If you use a lead tracking service and/or a call center you can improve the accuracy of your sources dramatically. (I’m assuming “Last Source Wins”) At the NMHC Tech Conference, they discussed trying to keep your cost per lead below $50. Analyze how effective these lead generating sites are at generating leads (and at how much money) and leave the conversions to the agents.

What other things should we be focusing on?

Pull your lead to appointment ratio report, and leads to application conversions. Make sure your agents are doing the best they can to convert as much traffic as they can. Careful though… if you put too much emphasis on conversion you risk the danger of watching your lead numbers decline. Humans have a funny way of trying not making themselves look bad.

Top of the funnel just makes more sense.

Top of the funnelDespite the propensity of mislabeling leads you do need some way of finding out what is and isn’t working. I would rather rely on the information at the top of the funnel. There are too many other influencing factors. Once a lead source hands the lead to you, it’s your responsibility to convert.

Measure your people.

Give them realistic monthly goals. Teach. If you have 200 apartments with a 50% turnover, that means you’ll need to rent 8 apartments a month. If the office has 2 agents, they’ll need to move 2 people in weekly. One move in per person per week. That’s a realistic goal and it can give people something more tangible to strive for. Overcoming 8% vacant is fuzzy math. Moving in 1 person a week is a better measurement and makes it easier to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Conclusion

Cost Per Lease is an unreliable metric. It assumes that your leads attribution is being done correctly. It doesn’t take into account how effective your agents are at converting and it puts the burden of the blame for non conversion on the sources themselves. This sort of thinking in my opinion is wrong. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Happy renting everyone.

Thanks for Stuart Miles at Free Digital Photos.net for the picture.

4

I was excited to go Christmas shopping with my wife on Sunday for the kids. After struggling to find a parking place and fighting off the crowd, my excitement quickly died down. Within 10 minutes of arriving at Target, boredom set in and I was surfing the internet on my DROID Incredible. I glanced up “Will you get off that thing and help me?” in time to see a row filled with merchandise for the new Disney Tangled movie. My first thought was that this movie isn’t even out yet. Then it got me thinking about how fantastic Disney is with their branding. Some Property Management companies choose to brand their properties and some don’t. Why?


Disney’s Marketing Machine

We know what the Disney brand stands for. Quality, family friendly programming and Hannah Montana. They excel at building secondary brands to reinforce their primary one. When you see an unknown entity like Tangled your first thought might be to ignore it. When you see the Disney name associated with it you know immediately what type of movie you can expect. Disney has build up their brand image to the point where it doesn’t matter what they release… people will watch it and buy it.

Is this really relevant for us little guys?

However, we don’t have Disney’s money or muscle. Their example does illustrate how branding effectively can really influence your customers. If you are a real estate developer and have a good brand image, people will be interested in seeing your new property because you have a name they can trust. If you have several apartment communities clustered in the same area of town with similar amenities and pricing, creating a brand image is one way you can separate yourself from the competition. It’s clear there are serious benefits. So why doesn’t everyone do it? Let’s talk about it:

Too much time and money

You’ll need to create logos, disparate social media programs, good catchy slogans, and find a consistent “voice” across your brands. Spread that across 40 or more properties and you’ve got quite a burden to manage. Effective branding takes 1 of two things (best case is both): 1) Lots of time to nuture it 2) Money. Just look at Disney. They’ve had plenty of time AND they are loaded.

You don’t need a brand to give GREAT customer service

Give good customer service, in fact go the extra mile for your customers. Customer service isn’t free but it’s the best way to get people to engage with others about your product. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising… just do it right. Changing your culture to make sure you provide the best service possible is an effective change you can make without creating brands.

Apartments are different than kids toys and movies

I’ve never seen a commercial for an apartment complex; never even heard a radio ad. Apartment marketing is out there but unless you’re looking for it generally you aren’t going to find it. I think the majority of searchers are leading with their price nose first and location nose second. Can you get your branding to overcome those obstacles?

Branding your properties isn’t for everyone. Some companies take the plunge and with the right strategy can be very successful. Let’s get the conversation started. What do you think?

Happy renting everyone.

I make mistekes all the time. In fact I like to tell my boss “All the mistakes I made today were to learn.” 3 years ago I was asked to redesign our website. If my boss was to ask me to grade the end result, I would say a B. If you cornered me alone I would probably say B- or C+ depending on my mood. Don’t misunderstand, the site IS effective and overall I feel that it’s a good one (You be the judge by visiting) but maybe because I was so involved in the whole process I am more judgmental. There are things I love about it and there are things I wish I had done differently. Lately with all of the new technologies and the growth (more like explosion) of social media my redesign itch has become more and more prevalent. Here are some key things I’d like to implement on our next website redesign:

The website’s template colors do NOT have to match the logo.

We have a dark logo. (Dark green and burgundy). We added some light brown colors for contrast but darker colors make the site feel claustrophobic. Sites today seem to be going with the lighter colors; white, lighter yellows, greens and browns. The new site will use a lighter palette thus making the site feel more comfortable. Bottom line is it’s important to pick the right colors because they can really shape how someone feels about your brand. Check out this great article: Empathizing Color Psychology in Web Design

Outsource.

Whether you outsource to multiple design teams (SEO experts, graphic experts, social integration) or a single shop; make sure you outsource. We are Property Management experts. (okay maybe not all of you) I am an IT guy and I program our internal applications but that doesn’t mean that I have all of the know how necessary to create a Webby Award masterpiece. (Trust me I don’t) Take your time and shop around; make sure you start looking within your own industry. Hire the experts who know your business.

Better Integration with Facebook and Twitter.

Years ago we weren’t talking social. Most people in here never even lifted their heads above their cubicles. Now we NEED the Twitter feeds, Facebook like buttons, and latest Facebook status updates. I’ll be the first to admit it; I didn’t see this coming 3 years ago but I feel it’s a requirement to have now especially if you’re selling something. It brings your web presence full circle, encourages conversations and can increase your page views. Plus .. it’s FREE!

Blogging.

Blogging can keep people on your site longer, can make you seem like a big player in your industry (even if you aren’t… seriously folks I speak from experience here), and it’s a good way to get people to come back. Our next site will have wordpress installed and ready to go.

Reviews / Comments.

It would be awesome to pull up a property page and allow the prospect to write comments or leave a review. I mean why give all the reviews to Google or apartmentratings.com? By providing your own you can help with your SEO and empower your prospects or residents to converse about your brand. Win, win. In addition because you are creating this section on your own website, you can choose to remove those grammatical train wrecks without having to pay a yearly fee.

I’ll pay more attention to Search Engine Optimization.

I’m not a SEO expert. I know that I need better keywords. Setting up your links like Baltimore-Apartments/AmericanaSouthdale.html works very well. Blogging and putting up relevant content will also help with your search engine placement. Do you want to learn more about SEO and how to do it? Here’s a great how-to right here. Don’t want to read about it? Outsource. But I already said that.

Personalize the experience.

This is something that Amazon does very well. I want to allow my prospects to register (but don’t have to) where they can receive personalized service when they visit again. “Hello Mr. So-and-so I see you searched for a 2 bedroom yesterday @ Neverland Apartments… are you still interested in that?” or show communities on their main page that offer the price range they are looking for. In addition we’ll capture their email address if they register so we have an outlet to contact them. It isn’t cheap (or easy) to implement but it can sure heighten the interest in your apartments if you’re tailoring the content for their specific needs.

Happy renting everyone.

Thanks to Tiger Color and BlogSpot for the images.

Poor Thanksgiving. It seems that as soon as Halloween ends, I start to hear Christmas music in the stores. I saw my first Christmas commercial over the weekend; the DROID one with the snowman. As much as we’d like to wait to start our holiday planning until after Thanksgiving, we just can’t. The time to start coming up with ideas and strategies for your holiday community events is now. I am hoping that this blog post can turn into a collaboration… I will throw some ideas at you but I would really love to hear what you have tried, done, thought of, etc. Here are my low to no cost ways to celebrate the holidays at your community:

Dear Santa Letters

Setup a post office box, drop a post on your Facebook page (or newsletter) and get parents to have their kids write to Santa. They can send it to your newly established post office box. Then just before or after Christmas post all the letters in a newsletter or some other media. Here’s a twist: Hire a Santa to give replies (hopefully with a lot less innuendo as the Old Spice guy) and post them to your YouTube page.

Santa Time!

Visit from Santa

Get Santa to stop by your community and hand out Candy Canes and/or other treats. Often times you can talk to your local fire department and see if they can drive through your community. Some fire departments will use the firetruck to tow a sleigh. Awesome to watch the look on the children’s faces. Here’s a twist: Have Santa come to your leasing office for a day. Fun for everyone.

Christmas card contest

Get your residents to send in their Christmas cards. (Normally these are those family photos) Judge the best one and put it up on Facebook, newsletter, or your front window. Here’s a twist: Create leasing office cards and mail them to every resident.

Decoration contest

This idea will be touchy for some communities. Some people have lease restrictions so create this contest in compliance with your rules. Maybe you can restrict it to their windows or their balcony. This is another way to get the community talking. Here’s a twist: Don’t forget to decorate your leasing office… over the top works best

Movie Night


If you are a community that frequently has movie nights then pop in your favorite Christmas movies and bring your residents in. If you can’t then buy a whole pile of your favorites and allow your residents to “rent” them for free during the holidays. Don’t forget to stock up on Christmas Vacation … one of the all time favs. Here’s a twist: Have a contest to name famous quotes from Christmas movies. “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”

I hope I’ve gotten your creative juices flowing. Do you have some ideas to share? Come Tweet them on #mfholidayideas or join the new group on Multifamily Insiders!

Happy renting everyone.

Thanks to Boians Cho Joo Young from FreeDigitalPhotos.net for the image.

Aaahh.. campaign sign imagesIt’s election day. Over the last few months we have been inundated with political signs, waving street folk, ads, phone calls, and door to door visitors. Don’t get me wrong; I love the process. Having the ability to vote (and using FourSquare to check in at my polling place … did you?) is what living in a free society is all about. After many months of the gluttony that is political advertising, there must be something we can learn from all this. I’m happy to report that there is.

Placement

These political ad signs sure seem random; almost as if they were just staked scatter shot like at a shooting range. Much thought has gone into these sign locations though. Think about it, why would you place your advertising where people won’t see? Of course you notice when they are on the busy street corners, traffic heavy roads; places where you get good visibility. Same goes for your advertising, put them where the eyeballs are.

Persistence

The best day for political signs is day 11 after the elections. That’s the day that they legally have to come down. Truth is our disdain for them is precisely why these signs work. You see them everyday. If you’re like me you drive to work using the same route. These signs become a part of your daily routine. You’ll notice when a sign is missing or broken. You’ll chuckle at the occasionally defaced one. You can’t help it. This same persistence is what makes all roadside advertising so effective. Day 1 doesn’t make you buy but by day 30 you have to in hopes that it will make the sign go away. How can you be persistent and not get the restraining order? Find your balance.

Brand Awareness

Most political signs aren’t meant to teach you about a candidate. Okay maybe how to spell their name but certainly not where they stand on health care, budget deficits or bridges to nowhere. What they are designed to do by using persistence and repetition (see #2) is to make you aware of a name. That’s it. A name. You can do one of two things: A) Research their positions on your own or B) push the button on election day based on just being aware of the name. In the land of elections most of the time B) is all you need. To be aware of a name can be good enough. Products? Services? Sure, sometimes that can work too. If people are aware of your brand you’re already ahead of the game.

Social Media

Yup the big DUH. This buzz word is overplayed almost as much as Justin Bieber. According to Dan Garfield from orangesoda 97% of political advocacy groups use social media including Twitter, Facebook, and/or YouTube. The average politically oriented Facebook page has 32,588 fans. WHAT? SERIOUSLY? The level of interaction using social media is the most ever for this mid term election. Sure Barack ran to the White House using it in 2008 but its use in 2010 has in some cases even overshadowed that. The fact is candidates are taking their campaigns to where the people are. Remember point #1. Read this excellent Mashable article about how political campaigns are using social media. We could spend all day talking about that. I’m just trying to keep this post moving along…

Different Media

Don’t be afraid of the big bad paper. It isn’t dead. Mailings aren’t dead either. The evidence of that has been in my mailbox these last few weeks. No fewer than 4 political mailings a day. Phone calls? Yes. Those too. 3 or 4 a day. Door to door? Once or twice. I’ve mentioned the political signs. We’ve been getting a bit of a break from the normal car ads on TV and been getting bombarded with negative political ads. The point is they are coming at us with every conceivable media. Internet, TV, print, radio, Morse code, door-to-door. No medium is dead to political campaigners. That fact alone should tell you that it shouldn’t be dead to you either.

I voted!Before you remove your “I VOTED” sticker today, take a minute to remember that you participated in one of the many things that makes this country so great. We were part of the process today. Seriously, what’s better than giving a politician 2 more years of standing around, making empty promises, and spending our money?

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to share my story with all of you. Perhaps it’s my generous nature or the fact that I’m really frustrated and am hoping someone out there will listen. Although my current leasing team has never bothered to know it, my name is Tim Milfauly. Bill Szczytko was gracious enough to let me use his account to publish this and for that I thank him. Take these little nuggets of wisdom and make sure you don’t make the same mistakes my Apartment complex did – to anyone – ever.

When I call the office, I want to speak to someone.

I’m glad you have specials for $899 and “for after-hours call the emergency number”. I’m calling DURING hours and yet I have to hear your beautifully rehearsed and canned speech about how great life at Neverland Apartments is. I live here and I don’t think it’s great; mainly because I can’t speak to someone about my broken air conditioner … for the 10th time.

Your office staff is constantly changing.

I mean seriously… Ming-ming was nice but she lasted 3 weeks. Dora the manager lasted for 2 months. She was helpful but I heard she ran away with Boots the landscaper. Zoe I think spent her days surfing on that Facebook and filing her nails. I can’t name them all because they didn’t last long… what are you doing to your employees? Firing squad?

Maintenance? You call that maintenance?

Air conditioners should not be held together with Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue. Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue? Yes. I saw it with my own eyes. I’m glad you have MacGyver on staff but I’d like an air conditioner that works correctly without having to bang the side. I called several months back about my door lock not turning. You wouldn’t let me redo it myself (per Section 23B Rev a# draft 4.03122 of my lease) so I had to wait 2 weeks to lock my door again. That isn’t service; it’s my Apartment Complex holding out a sign that reads “Come here Criminals! Steal my stuff!”

Your Resident Service is so outdated.

I’m sure a lot of your residents don’t need to contact Resident Service. Good for them. I unfortunately had to. Your system for handling complaints is antiquated. I emailed you… and you called me back at home the next day while I was at work. I tweeted on your account and I heard nothing. I should’ve known something was fishy because your last Tweet was almost 2 years ago. Facebook? Ha. How about Nobook. Your last update was about the Christmas Pot Luck lunch. It’s November right? If you are going to participate in this whole social media thing shouldn’t you actually be participating? I’m not an internet expert but I do find it more convenient than stopping by the office. Apparently you don’t agree.

Your Sense of Community stinks.

My friend won a photo contest at his apartment complex several months ago. I see signs all the time for Bingo night at Carolwood Apartments down the street. Why don’t we do anything like that? Your sense of community is watching a group of your residents gather round the broken drop box trying to shove their rent in. Awesome.


Rent Increase? How dare you.

If all of this sounds crazy and ridiculous (Ed note: it is) then the topper is being asked to continue my lease for next year with an increase in my rent. Huh? Have you not studied my experience over the past year? You should be paying me money. When I tried to explain this to your Manager Flavor of the week, I was told that it was brought on by market conditions. I couldn’t even get this manager to talk it over. I was already planning on leaving but it would’ve been nice if they made an effort to care.

So there you have it. My point of view. I hope that my experience isn’t typical at Neverland Apartments. Doesn’t really matter if it is; I’m leaving at the end of the month. My lease at Carolwood Apartments starts December 1st. (I love Bingo)

Happy renting everyone.