The apartment move-in process can often frustrate both tenants and property managers as it is not just the physical move-in. It is all the processes that need to be done before that moving truck ever shows up.
By John Triplett
Landlords and property managers know that tenant communication is one of their biggest challenges. Technology can improve that communication, including digital tools that improve the move-in experience. Millennials especially appreciate easy-to-use technology from apartment management.
“The issue for the resident is the average American takes 10 to 15 hours to just deal with the actual process of moving,” said Ash Bell, vice president and executive director of property management for moving website Updater.com, in an interview with Rental Housing Journal.
“And it is not only the physical move, but the process of moving. Think of all the things from utilities, to forwarding the mail and the businesses you interact with on a day-in-day-out basis. All those companies need to be notified of your new address. You need to turn off utilities at your current place and turn them on at your new place. If you’re moving into an apartment that requires renter’s insurance, you need to get that renter’s insurance to protect your assets,” Bell said.
And the list goes on.
“You need to book a moving company. You need to reserve an elevator if you’re moving into a class A property in the city. There are just hundreds of tasks that a person needs to deal with when they look at moving,” Bell said.
Communication is key to solving apartment move-in issues
“Single-family management is the same as multifamily as far as some of the move-in problems,” Bell said. With larger multifamily properties, “maybe they have it on more of a mass scale because they may have a 400-unit property that has people moving in every day, where with a 50-unit property the likelihood is that we only have one or two moves a month. But it’s still all of the same issues.
“There’s just a lot that every stakeholder in running a property encounters when it comes to moving,” Bell said. And it is what he looked at in developing the technology.
Three moving stakeholders in multifamily:
- The resident
- The site team
- The ownership
“Those are the only three stakeholders so any time you look at processes or technology, you have to filter through those three stakeholders. If it brings value to any one of them, it’s something you should consider. If it brings value to all three, you’ve got to do it,” Bell said.
An apartment move-in customer service tool
Vikki Sherman, senior director of marketing at Fairfield Residential said, “I think it’s a challenging time in a customer’s life, so we really approach the move-in process in particular, as well as the move out, in the eyes of the customer. We’re trying to make their lives easier, simpler, better, the whole process improved, so that they have a good experience when they’ve got a lot of other things happening.
“Oftentimes there’s a big life event that is preceding the move, kind of causing a move, whether it’s an addition to the family, a marriage, a divorce, something big in their life that’s happening. So the move has different nuances depending on that, right? It could be a very happy occasion. It could be a sad occasion, and so, in essence, we just want to make sure that we’re offering them something and making that transition a smooth one, and a positive one for them.
Benefits to property management
“The benefits from the property management side of a tool like Updater is, it’s very easy for us to onboard, and implement, and be able to quickly provide the extra level of service to our customer,” she said regarding her company which manages 44,000 units across the country. “In 2017, Fairfield averaged about 1,500 move-ins per month across our portfolio.”
“Updater is very, very quick. They do a lot of the heavy lifting. The email invitation for the resident to use the service is automated, so it’s not anything manual that the property manager needs to do, yet they’re able to give this time-saving tool to a future resident,” Sherman said.
Jennifer Staciokas, senior vice president at Pinnacle, seconded what Sherman said about the customer service aspect, “I would say it’s saving more time for the renter than it is for the property manager. For the property manager, the value to them is that it’s an added amenity that they can offer to their renters to make their move-in seamless.
She said the property managers are “making sure that they’re letting their clients, as customers, know, ‘Hey, you’re going to be receiving an email. This is the benefit that you’re going to receive from it, and this is what you should do to utilize that service,” Staciokas said.
How many tenants use Updater when it is offered?
Staciokas said Pinnacle saw more than 9,000 moves last November (they have 165,000 units) and invited a total of 9,799 residents to use the tool. She said about 70 percent of the tenants adopted and used at least some features of Updater.
Sherman said that overall they have seen about an 80 percent adoption rate of the tool in their properties.
“We actually see really good usage of the tool,” Sherman said. “I don’t have the official open rate for a whole year but I would say in the last 90 days, we’ve seen about 80 percent of those emails get opened, which is an incredible open rate to begin with. We see about 60 percent of those invites be accepted. Meaning, someone opens it, they read the content, they say, ‘Yes, I’m interested in this tool.’ Then, the actual usage ends up being at about 50 percent, which is great. I mean, it’s hard to get a customer’s attention during that busy time.
“You know, the really fun thing about Updater is, they give you a dashboard. So you can really kind of quantify the results. We find that residents are using about half of the services offered within the Updater tool because there’s things like connecting with utilities, there’s changing your address, there’s sharing your move digitally on social media, there’s moving services.
“So when we quantify the tools that our residents are using, and the number of residents over the last 90 days, our residents have saved over 3,000 hours. If they had to manually change their address, if they had to call all these utility companies, they would have spent quite a bit more time,” Sherman said.
Three top items most tenants use in apartment move are:
- Change of address
- Utility changes
- Local offers where they can save money
Reducing frustration for the property management team
“Our customers, today, are expecting things to be frictionless. They like things to be easy. They like things to be quick. They’re used to doing things online. The ability to offer a customer what they want and need I think definitely reduces frustration for a property management team,” Sherman said.
“We’re meeting the demands of today’s customer and it is also a feel-good, right? You’re saving your new resident time. You’re making their move-in experience better. Ultimately, you’re improving the satisfaction with the process.
“Once you have happier customers, you yourself are able to focus on the things to make better next. I definitely think it reduces some frustration on the property manager side, in that aspect.
“On the customer side, I think our industry certainly has a reputation for doing things in an old-school manner. This is one more way that we are meeting that demand of the tech-savvy customer who finds doing things on paper in a manual process to be not in their normal day-to-day experience, right?
“They’re shopping online. Having food delivered to their house. They’re doing all these things in a digital world, so it makes sense that not only can they lease online, and pay rent online, but they can coordinate some of their move-in details, as well,” Sherman said.
Updater integrated with many companies
Bell said Updater is integrated with all of the major property management software companies. And Updater white labels (allows apartments to put their own brand) the service so the apartment community gets the credit and it can fit with core property management tools.
“We’re doing all the heavy lifting. The property gets all the credit,” Bell said.
He said having a good move-in process helps tenant retention and “statistics have shown that that move-in experience – how things go during that time – increases the likelihood that they will renew.
“Why waste all those dollars that you deal with from a marketing standpoint to get somebody attracted to your property and ruin it with a really bad move-in experience? If you give them a great moving experience, you’re helping there,” Bell said.
A sales tool for the property
Bell said Updater can serve as a sales tool for the property.
“So if I were a leasing associate and I were taking you on a tour of apartments, I would let you know as I’m showing you a model unit,” Bell said. “I’m showing you the workout facility and the pool, and also say, ‘One of the things that we want to let you know is we understand that moving can be very time consuming and stressful. So one of the things that we do, is we provide a free moving concierge, digital moving concierge to every one of our residents that move in here, and it’s our gift to you.
“ ‘It’s going to help you with sorting the mail, booking a moving truck, getting those utilities turned on, getting the renter’s insurance required, notifying businesses of your new address. You name it, you’re going to be able to handle it within Updater. And that’s just how much we care for our residents,’ “Bell said.
Cost of Updater to the property
In terms of the cost of Updater.com to the property, Staciokas said, “Using the app is a time-saver, and it’s really viewed as an amenity to make a seamless and successful move-in for the renter.
“I had several meetings with Updater before we decided to move forward. To me, it was really a no-brainer decision, because it was low-cost for a high-value amenity, which is going to translate into potentially more rentals moving forward,” Staciokas said.
What size are the properties using Updater?
Bell said the company has many of the top industry leaders deployed.
“We have 30 of the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) top 50 fully deployed. I have another couple that are in partial deployment, meaning they’re doing it in phases.
“We are all over the place from a standpoint of size, we can have anybody. Obviously as the NMHC top 50 goes, typically so goes the market. But we have some of the largest single-family providers in this space. We have some of the smallest single-family providers. We have people like myself that have a few properties that utilize our platform,” Bell said.
“The average size I would say is probably the average size in the industry, which is 5,000-, to 7,000-unit portfolios. But again, we have people that have two properties, and we have single-family companies as long as they’re utilizing one of the single family property management providers we integrate with.”
Bell said the site has features specific to property managers and others specific to residents. The site sorts them by login. “So residents see something different when they log in than the property manager,” he said.
Updater, based in New York City, has just under 100 employees. “A lot of people often say with startups, “Are they going to be around, are they going to be here five years from now?” Bell said. “Well, absolutely yes we are. We’re a very stable company. But I think the biggest thing that I would want to stress is that we’re really excited about some of the features that are coming down the pipeline.”
The nation’s leading moving app for property management companies. The company works with real estate brokerages, mortgage lenders, student housing, and others to streamline the move-in and out process. The company describes its tool as “Turbo Tax for moving,” helping with all the tasks involved in a move. Updater works with over half of the NMHC Top 50 Managers and Owners, including full rollouts with Greystar, Fairfield, Pinnacle, Avalon Bay and Village Green, among others. The company was named NMHC’s Apartment Innovator of the Year in 2015, #3 Best Place to Work in NYC according to Crain’s in 2016, and Most Innovative Tech Company of the Year by the American Business Awards in 2016 and 2015.