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October 28, 2010

posted by: Carissa Drohan-Jennings

The Next Generation of Apartment Websites

The Internet has truly evolved over the last decade and it's become a focal point in our daily lives.  Each morning we wake up and check our email.  At noon we visit our favorite social networks or do some personal shopping online.  By the afternoon we've visited a handful of websites and sent numerous emails to colleagues and associates.  During the evening we still can't unplug, as many of us still check into the web to see what's going on.  The fact is, we're so addicted and plugged into the Internet that we sometimes get mad when we're on vacation and the hotel, resort or campsite doesn't offer wi-fi.  Whether or not this dependence on the Internet is healthy for us is not the point.  The point is, we're all on the Internet and landlords should be too.

It may not surprise you that an Ipsos Reid poll taken in March of 2010, showed that Canadians actually spend more time online then they do watching television.  In fact, Canadians are spending more than 18 hours a week online, compared with 16.9 hours of watching television.  That statistic is also on the rise from last year's 14.9 hours. Over the next few years we can expect that the Internet will continue to grow in its popularity and that means that landlords should continue to ramp up their online marketing. 

This article attempts to highlight various trends that either are, or are soon to be appearing on rental websites. 

 

The Youth Are Highly Social and So Too Should Be Your Website

Social network and social community sites have only really been around for approximately 4 years but their popularity among those 18-34 is growing.  Currently, nearly two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds (63%) have visited an online social network or community, and more than half of (55%) have placed a personal profile on at least one.

What Does This Mean For the Apartment Industry?

As this demographic shifts and ages they will continue to be involved on the Internet.  This means that in the coming decade, landlords must start developing online communication tools to appeal to this Internet savvy demographic.  They choose to communicate and interact online, so developing tools that allow then to do so will be key in keeping their attention and patronage.

Coming Trends

Currently there is a shift in the apartment industry, as many property managers begin adding resident portals to their apartment websites.  These portals allows residents to communicate and interact with other residents in a social network.  It also lets them communicate with the landlord online.  Online rental payments, maintenance requests and contests/polls are popular features of these portals.  I predict that these types of portals will rise in their popularity among renters and we'll see more and more landlords adopting them as part of their websites. 

 

Let Your Residents Rent Your Units For You

Recent research from Rubicon Consulting found that customer reviews actually can influence a customers purchase decision.  In fact, they are only out done by word-of-mouth reviews.   

What Does This Mean For the Apartment Industry?

There is a huge opportunity out there for the landlord to embrace customer reviews and allow their residents to promote their product.  We all know how well word-of-mouth referrals work at generating quality leases, so customer reviews could be the next best thing.  If your residents are truly satisfied with the service they receive then they will be your best advocates.  They live and breathe your product everyday, and your prospective renters know it.  Let them have a voice.  You may be quite surprised at the results.

Coming Trends

We've already seen many property managers allowing residents to talk amongst each other in discussion boards and forums.  It won't take long for them to become comfortable with allowing public conversation about their buildings.  Once this happens then we'll probably see then adopting a customer rating or reviewing system on their rental websites. 

 

If You Like This, You May Like…

What do Amazon, Google and Ebay have in common? These companies each have predictive search technology.  Although the functionality of their predictive searches are different, their objectives are all the same – they aspire to help users find easily find the content that is relevant to them.  These companies are providing enhanced customer service to their users by helping them in their search. These predictive search tools are ideal for apartment websites that have an abundance of content, as it allows otherwise buried content to rise to the top.

What Does This Mean For the Apartment Industry?

Predictive searches are a great addition to any rental site because they help renters find the buildings that suit their criteria.  By keeping track of the buildings that the renter is looking at, a predictive search tool can suggest similar buildings to the renter.  Much like Amazon is able to suggest books that other readers have bought that also bought your book, so too can a predictive search suggest a building. 

Predictive searches will increase the customers success at finding a building that meets their needs.

Coming Trends

Although I have yet to see a predictive search on a rental website in the Canadian apartment industry, I predict that we will see some in the coming years.  Our company has already developed a semi-predictive search that allows users to specify the location or price of a building while the search tool generates results that fit their needs.  The next step with this search tool will be to gather up the buildings that they've looked at and then email it to them a day later. 

 

It's true that the Internet has become the focal point in our daily lives but I believe it's a good thing.  It challenges companies' everyday to adapt and re-invent the way that they market to their customers.  It pushes them to break the technological boundaries and it improves the way we can communicate with one another. Whether or not you're an Internet fan is a moot point.  You can't choose to ignore online marketing any longer.  It's here to stay and your renters expect to find you on the World Wide Web.