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Building Success: A Real Estate Podcast – Live from MRI Ascend 2019

How can property managers utilize digital amenities to go above and beyond for their residents? PayLease CEO, Dirk Wakeham, sat down with “Building Success: A Real Estate Podcast” host, Nicholas Frank, to discuss how communities are becoming more connected. This interview was recorded live at MRI Ascend 2019 in Anaheim, California.

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Building Success: A Real Estate Podcast – PayLease Interview

Nick Frank: First and foremost, how are you enjoying the conference? How are things going for you?

Dirk Wakeham: Well first of all, I grew up in orange county so it’s great to be back here. I love that. I had a great time at the House of Blues party last night. It was just a great, great party. It’s been great, we’ve had a chance to connect with a ton of our customers which is always good to do.

And not only that, but you were here in Anaheim this year, and they just announced we’re going to be in San Diego, so coming on back again, which is pretty great as well. So let’s start with you, who you are, where you’ve come from, and what brought you to PayLease.

Sure. So ironically, my mom and dad were in the apartment business, that’s how I got into this whole tech/real estate thing. They bought an apartment building about 5 miles from here in 1971, and that was how I sort of learned the apartment business and then was always kind of a technologist. I worked for a local real estate firm here in Orange County for a bunch of years and was kind of in their IT departmentment. And then I eventually started my own company and sold that to Real Page and worked there for a couple of years and then I got the call from the owners of PayLease to come and help them try to figure out a strategy for the company. 

“We’ve got some customers who have given us some great data around this notion of residents engaging with other residents, and if they do that, they are almost twice as likely to renew their lease.”

Great, and kind of focused on what you’re focused on now with PayLease, I wanted to talk to you specifically about resident engagement, occupancy – super competitive landscape, right? So many communities that are offering different amenities, and we’ll get into amenities here in a little bit, but let’s start with the occupancy thing. The clients you’re speaking with, people that you know in the industry, what are some traits that you’ve seen with successful property management companies to keep the occupancy up, to keep the residents happy?

One of the things we’ve found, and we’ve got some customers who have given us some great data around this notion of residents engaging with other residents, and if they do that, they are almost twice as likely to renew their lease. So if you’re living in a place where you’ve got a neighbor who can come let your dog out, or you’ve got somebody that you go play cards with one night a week – you just like living there and you’re much more likely to renew your lease. When we talk about engagement, many cases people talk about how does the management team engage with the resident, that’s clearly important, but how do you create and facilitate engagement across the community in a way that’s sort of safe and secure but makes it feel more like a community, and not just a place I go stick my head at night.

And what you’re actually doing with the people there and amongst themselves… it’s interesting because it feels to me very much like what senior living was decades ago where it was all about building that community so people felt not only safe, which is important in that industry, but also that there was a reason to be where you were. And keep you sticky with the community.

Yeah, they did a really good job in that industry of curating those experiences. I think we’re not going to see that level of curation in traditional, conventional multifamily housing, but if it can sort of evolve naturally where people are like, “hey I got a neighbor friend” or “I got this” or “I got that,” we think it will sort of evolve naturally. And we’re trying to figure out how we can use our tech to facilitate those kinds of things in the benefit for the owners occupancy where they’re not having to go fill vacancies because somebody just moves down the street for $20 cheaper. If you’ve got friends there, and you like it there, you’re more than likely to stay.

“Our mission is to provide tools that allow property managers to go above and beyond for their residents”

Yeah, and some of the other things as well that I wanted to touch on is this whole digital amenities concept, and providing additional “above and beyond” resources. What are some of the things that you’re seeing currently that are kind of the big deal?

Well obviously, PayLease, our mission is to provide tools that allow property managers to go above and beyond for their residents. So we’re focused on a lot of those digital amenities, I’ll call those kind of first generation. But things like, allowing the management team to communicate with the resident in the way in which they want to be communicated with, whether that’s text, whether that’s phone, whether that’s email, and really being sort of agnostic to how you communicate. We’re focused on those things as one of the engagement platforms. So that’s about it for that.

“There’s projected to be about 1.5 billion IoT devices by 2022 worldwide, everything is going to be connected. So how do we use our tech and property manager tech to facilitate that and turn it into an amenity.”

So digital amenities, and then we’re talking community, and bringing people together. What aspects of that community, of bringing them together, is kind of paramount for some of these properties?

Well again, we think being able to facilitate that communication from resident to resident in a way that’s not allowing a resident to go and sort of stalk another resident. Or you know, communicate when they’re not wanting to be communicated with. Allowing the management team to communicate with them in the way in which they want to be communicated with. And then, obviously, using some of the smart apartment technology to create a much safer and more secure environment for the customers, for the residents, allowing them to facilitate the entry of a dog walker for example, or to customize their unit for the way in which they want to live, having their thermostat set to the right temperature when they get home. So they’re not blowing the air conditioning all day long. So things like that, and those will evolve into other opportunities as IoT gets cheaper and more common, there will be a lot of other ways. There’s projected to be about 1.5 billion IoT devices by 2022 worldwide so everything is going to be connected. So how do we use our tech and property manager tech to sort of facilitate that and turn it into an amenity.

Yeah and what’s really interesting for me is as we keep growing this tech and growing different ways to engage and automate the processes the same time, there needs to be this balance right, with the personal touch as well as not being too intrusive. Can you speak to that? How do you marry those two things so that it’s a comfortable place to live without being too intrusive? It’s an automated and efficient place, but there’s still that human element?

It’s a great question. I tell this a lot to my team. You know I travel a lot, and I’m a National Rent-a-Car guy, and I’m the “premier executive” whatever with National Rent-a-car, and the privilege I get for being their best customer – is never having to talk to them. I get to show up at the airport, I get in the car, and I drive away, and that’s the privilege I get. Now, there are others that may want to talk to somebody and they still facilitate that, but I think the lesson here is that the property manager needs to be prepared to use the method that that resident wants to be communicated with so that it’s not too intrusive. If I want to pick up the phone and call because I’ve got a water leak, I want to pick up the phone and call and I want somebody to answer the phone. If I’ve got something that’s not an urgent message and I want to send a text for that or fill out a service request on an app or on a website, I should be able to do that.

That’s interesting, the whole personalization of how you engage that resident when they get to your property too is paramount versus treating them all equally across the board. It keeps them wanting to stay there because they feel like they’re a part of that community that’s actually cared for and wanted, which is great.

And some people, again, they want to interact differently. We’ve also got some data that shows that residents that self tour – so they show the property maybe after hours and they’re able to use our automated touring technology that we’re building to go and see the unit unattended without the assistance of a leasing agent – are actually almost twice as likely to rent than if they had a tour. And we’re still trying to explain why that is. Maybe they feel more comfortable, they can be more open with their roommate or their spouse, they can spend as much time in the unit as they want, and not feel like they’re wasting somebody’s time, they can picture themselves living there. But those close rates are quite a bit higher when there’s actually not a human involved. And so I’m sure there’s still people that want a human tour, but those that want – “I just want to go check it out, I want to see if I want to live here, I want to imagine my furniture in here, I want to open the door and stand on the patio and see what the breeze is like or whatever” they’re able to do those things. 

That’s really interesting, so can you explain that piece of tech that you guys are developing as it relates to that, because that’s a new avenue I haven’t heard before.

So obviously we’ve got smart apartment technology, it’s one of the 4 core products we’re building, and the core of that is a proprietary hub that connects to the Cloud through a variety of methods, either wifi or through a cell network, etc. And then we’ve got locks that allow, that sit on the door, that allow a code to be issued. That code can be issued for a very short period of time. So if a resident wants to go to the property managers website and then say – hey I’d like to tour – they can provide some basic credentials, they get a code that’s good from 6:00-6:45pm, and we’re able to track the entry and exit to see if they actually used it. We can pre-set the air conditioning down so that when they get there, the apartment is comfortable. And then the code only works for that 45 minute period of time.

OK that’s awesome, and I think I get it, I think I get that comfortability of people being able to go on their own, being able to talk candidly about a unit, and everything that’s going on and feel the, you know, take their own pace, look through every cupboard, all of that sort of thing, that’s fantastic.

And maybe not getting sold to, right? This generation, I know the auto industry has faced a similar challenge in that the buyer shows up at the auto dealership, they generally know more about the vehicle than the salesperson does, because they studied all the stuff online, they understand, they’ve done all the research, they’re read all the reviews. So they just want to sort of go see it, touch it, feel it. And again, many of the car dealerships have had to evolve away from “I’m going to sell you a car” to “here’s the car, you’re welcome to drive it, let me check you out.” And I think the real estate industry will evolve similarly in that regard.

And that’s exactly what happened with online shopping too, people care more about the reviews that they can find online and being able to look at it on their own time, and that’s a great way to evolve that industry as well. That’s awesome. So what else is going on at PayLease?

You know, we’re busy, we acquired Zego, which is our smart apartment technology, we’ve been busy integrating that. In the next ten days we’re going to be launching our Payments 2.0 version or our next gen payments as we’re calling it. Using the Zego technology in the mobile application to facilitate our rent payment, and you know, we’re just out trying to continue to grow our business.

Right. So any information on you or on PayLease, where can people find you guys?

We’re on all the major social media sites @PayLease on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. You can find me on LinkedIn, Dirk Wakeham. And obviously our website at

Excellent, well thank you so much, and I will let you get back to the conference, I really enjoyed our time today, and you take care, Dirk.

For more information on the Building Success podcast and to stay-up-to-date on episodes, visit

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