I think it should be a requirement for people who work in the multifamily industry to rent an apartment at communities they don't directly work at for at least 5 years, moving at least once every 24 months. What would possess me to make such an outlandish request of my fellow industry compatriots?
One word: EMPATHY
Empathy goes a long way in making us adequate at our jobs. Without being able to see things from the other side of the leasing desk, we run the risk of not only alienating, but eventually also losing our residents and clients. Personally, I've moved twice since relocating to Seattle, and each time was a daunting task, and not just because of the 20+ boxes of books that I have accumulated over the years, but because moving, just the act of planning to move and trying to ensure that the execution goes well, is an incredibly stressful experience!
I've been told countless times that residents make their decision to renew with in the first 48 hours of moving in to their new apartment. This means that it doesn't count how good your tour went with them anymore. If you can't deliver the goods wrapped up in amazing service when they come toting boxes, you might as well have not even rented that apartment. What you have in that moment on move in day is a second first impression.
Please don't confuse my meaning here. I do not mean that you get a second chance to make a first impression. That's not going to happen. But what you do get is your first real interaction with your resident as their management team, and it will set the tone for their time with you. Come in with a bad attitude and decide that the problems are THEIR problems, and you've got an unhappy resident who counts down the days until they can move out. Make the move in day not only pleasant but memorable and remarkable, and resident retention starts at minute one.
I offer up some suggestions today to make more move in day magic!
- Always offer a pre-move in appointment with your resident- Give them time to sign the lease in a moment that isn't costing them 20 dollars an hour for the truck rental as you explain lease addenda A through K. Not only does it give you time to throughly explain the lease to them so that there are clear understandings and expectations on each side, but it shows the resident that you care enough to keep in mind the stress of moving day right from the start.
- Walk the unit with a punch sheet- Be proactive! The steps we take to turn an apartment, and the standards that the apartment should meet to be considered "market ready," or, "move in ready," are the same each time. The day before move in, grab a checklist and a last minute sparkle kit* and take 20 minutes to really walk the unit that will be turning into a home. Better to catch that there is debris on the patio or something in the toilet before you have to quickly react with your residents watching.
- Don't just hand them the inspection sheet- Too often I'm seeing this out there. Mr. and Mrs. Jones move in. They sign their lease and it's a particularly busy day when the phone is ringing and there are people constantly needing attention in the office. The leasing consultant, trying to streamline and prioritize their day, hands the new residents their move in inspection form and asks them to just bring it back after they've filled it out. The problem with this is that there's no personal touch to it. The first 5 minutes in a new home stick in most people's minds, and best that you and your excellent customer service are part of that memory. Plus, it's better for everyone in the end if we can all agree that yes, in fact there is a large stain in the dining room carpet, sign off on it and have a copy.
- Information Packs- I'm not just talking about how to switch your cable over and a couple of coupons for dry cleaning here. Make them personal. In the move in process, we learn where people work. If we take three minutes and print out a Goggle map with directions from their new home to their place of employment, and maybe include a few hints about ways to get around the local area traffic, people will remember. If it was mentioned in the tour that they have a dog and love to go to dog parks, take a moment to highlight the dog parks closest to your community on the map. If you know they love seafood, pizza or even little local cafés, point those out. If you just listen, you'll be surprised what you can remember about their discussions. When you remember the little things, people remember you.
- Pets are People too!- At least they are to the people who have them. Americans spend over 41 billion, that's BILLION with a B, dollars a year on their animals according to Business Week magazine. Consider adding something like a logo-ed leash or even a small bag of treats tied with some pretty ribbon to your move in gifts for new residents with furry friends. Learn the pet's names and take a picture of them on move in day. Next time there is a cat or dog brought in to the office, you'll have a better chance of finding which family is really going to miss Fluffy when they get home that night!
- One Box- Take a moment and pick up one box to carry it in to their home. It's a small gesture, but it's one that won't be forgotten because it's something most people wouldn't think to do. Frankly, I don't want to carry in my own boxes, why would I pick up yours? Have your porter or maintenance tech stop by an hour or two later and repeat the gesture while introducing themselves to the new residents.
- Don't give away every surprise- Your resident finding the nice pitcher of Lemonade and stack of plastic cups in the fridge next to the handwritten welcome note will be something that's not only refreshing, but also memorable, and more importantly, mentionable. If making lemonade takes too much time, try leaving bottled water in the fridge. Take the extra dollar and put some toilet paper in the bathrooms too. There's nothing more inconvenient as a new move in than discovering that you're missing toilet paper a moment too late and doing something as simple as just leaving the mini-model as a small move in gift and eliminate this awkward moment. Also, to soften the home upon move in, you might consider leaving your new resident a plant for their home. House plants can run as cheap as $5 at Home Depot, and add a touch of life to what can seem a sterile environment.
- Follow up with more than a phone call- The day after your new residents have moved in, don't just call them for the follow up on their move in process. Stand up, leave your office and go deliver their move in gift in person, taking the opportunity to follow up with them face to face so that you have the advantage of reading their non verbal communication as well.
It doesn't take much to make a move in remarkable. What I'm suggesting might add some extra time to the process, but it doesn't add as much time as it takes to turn the apartment and re rent it 12 months down the road, nor does it add as much cost.