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APTVirtual recap: Top takeaways from NAA’s 2020 conference

Apartment operators talk technology, COVID-19 during NAA’s 2020 Conference

So many things make the National Apartment Association’s (NAA) Apartmentalize the most-attended event in our industry. Thought-provoking sessions. The energy of the exhibit hall. An exciting locale each year. The blowout parties, ahem, networking events.

But alas, mingling amongst thousands of our peers was not in the cards for 2020. Luckily, NAA recognized that now, more than ever, our industry still needs to come together. So instead, NAA held its first-ever APTVirtual. From the comfort of our own homes, the NAA 2020 Conference let attendees partake in some of the elements that make it such a worthwhile event.

NAA’s mission is always to keep its members up-to-date on industry trends. And hoo boy, did we have things to talk about this year! APTVirtual was the ultimate platform for everyone to swap war stories about COVID. From how it’s impacted renters to how business operations have evolved, there’s been a lot of change in a short period of time.

Hearing story after story about each company’s response to COVID made one thing clear: the multifamily industry is in the midst of playing catch up. Our industry is known for being technology laggards. But now, management companies have to get on board with the latest technology to stay afloat in the new normal. As I heard numerous panelists at NAA’s 2020 Conference say, “we’re moving at warp speed to get up-to-date.”

So what are the shifts multifamily companies are making right now? Here are the top operational priorities for multifamily companies.

Self-Guided tours are in high demand

How to implement self-guided tours was, without a doubt, a hot topic at APTVirtual. Not only were there three sessions devoted to the topic, it also came up numerous times during other presentations.

That’s because the pandemic has shifted this amenity from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have.” Apartment hunters still want to see vacant units in person. But, they want to do it in a socially-distanced way and on their own time frame. Communities that are catering to these preferences are winning prospects over. Some communities are seeing upwards of a 70% conversion rate from self tours.

Best practices for self-guided tours are still evolving. But one thing was unanimous among all panelists. That is that leasing agents are still a very crucial part of the process. After the prospect leaves the community, it’s extremely important for leasing teams to make a follow-up call. Ideally, this happens within an hour of the tour. Leasing agents still need to answer questions and close deals. Self-guided tours are not intended to replace leasing agents.

There’s also still hesitation among some management companies that self-guided tours will create problems with security. This can be overcome by collecting a photo ID and a credit card for anyone opting for a self-guided tour. This gives the community protection in the event something is damaged or stolen from the unit.

Packages are crippling communities

Amazon Prime is awfully handy in the midst of a pandemic, isn’t it? Residents (and likely you, too!) are taking full advantage of the membership. That’s only the half of it. Between online shopping, meal kit subscriptions and grocery deliveries, packages are overwhelming community offices.

And, the online ordering doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon. In the session, Amenities Reevaluated in Post-Pandemic Times, an executive from Bozzuto Management revealed the results of a resident survey. Eighty-six percent of residents said they will keep relying heavily on online shopping for some time.

So what are on-site teams expected to do with all of these packages? Many of the companies who attended NAA’s 2020 Conference are pulling the trigger on package locker systems. This eliminates much of the work required for accepting packages. And, if you have a community app, residents receive an instant notification when a package is placed in a locker. This lets them claim packages in a timely manner so it isn’t taking up valuable space.

Residents are demanding improved wi-fi connectivity

Wi-Fi connectivity in apartment communities has a reputation for being slow and unreliable. That doesn’t fare well when everyone is working from home, doing remote school, and binge watching Netflix. With the internet in high demand, spotty is unacceptable to renters.

Plus, residents want to stay connected as they move around the community. A survey of Bozzuto Management’s residents revealed that internet amenities are high on their priority list. Sixty-seven percent wanted to see outdoor spaces with internet connection. And 66% say high-speed, specialized internet is something they want in their unit.

Reliable Wi-Fi isn’t just a demand from residents. It’s critical from an operational standpoint. Want to join the self-guided tour bandwagon? Then you’ll need to have a strong, universal signal across the community. Without it, your prospect will have difficulty gaining access to the areas they expect to see. That’s not the first impression you want your community to make.

Many of the APTVirtual panelists vouched for property-wide Wi-Fi as a way to cure the connectivity challenges. Since it’s commercial-grade, it can support a number of devices at once and lets residents stay connected as they move throughout the community. Plus, it offers higher security, which can ease the minds of residents who are constantly at home online.

Resident engagement apps are gaining popularity

Community apps were growing in popularity before COVID hit. Now, they are becoming a vital way to communicate with residents, and build engagement among the community. Plus, they give residents self-service options for apartment-related tasks. Paying rent, submitting work orders, and registering visitors is all something that can be done through the app. This is especially important in COVID times because it limits face-to-face interaction with their community manager.

Communities are especially relying on community apps to help manage common areas. Places like the gym, pool, and lounge areas are still spaces residents want access to. But, there needs to be limits on the number of people in each space at a given time. Community apps lets residents reserve those spaces at a time that works for their schedule.

Well, that’s our roundup of NAA’s 2020 Conference. If you missed out, don’t worry. Sessions are still available on demand through the APTVirtual website.

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