By: Shad Bookout
Last week, the team at PackageLog ran an interesting article talking about the “invisible residents” at apartment communities. The article touched on a very meaningful message that is often forgotten in the world of conventional apartments: communication and meaningful connection to your residents. Whereas the same theory can be applied to the student housing market, it has a different set of challenges that must be overcome. The needs of student renters can be different from those of conventional apartments. In order to learn more, we interviewed two of best minds in today’s student housing industry:
(BK) Brianne Kocher, Marketing Director for the Collier Companies, previously managed two separate student housing communities.
(CS) Chelsea Seidman, National Director of Client Services for The Postal Solutions Companies, has also previously managed two separate student housing communities. In addition, she served as a regional manager for Inland American Communities.-
QUESTION: What percentage of a student housing community’s residents are the above described “invisible” residents?
(BK) Hopefully, you (and your on-site team) have built a relationship with the students from the beginning. But you do have to remember that these are kids who just moved from home, have a new job, their classes are hard, and they are overwhelmed. Communication often becomes a big challenge, and dealing with the leasing office is nowhere near their top list of priorities. But if you have that communication built from the beginning, these items should not be an issue. It is all about the communication.
(CS)Disconnected residents are only a small portion of the student population, but they are out there. It could be that they are just more private individuals. Or, maybe it is a schedule conflict. But, because they are not engaged with you, you must make extra effort to engage with them. Because of all of the social interaction “touch points” they have as part of living there, most residents will find something that enables them to connect to the community. As time goes on and you host more and more of these events, you get used to seeing your residents. You should pay special attention to the ones whom you do not instantly recognize and try to connect with them. Make sure that they are remaining invisible by choice and not by discontentment.
QUESTION: Is it your experience that these residents typically renew their leases, or are they the “one-time-only” type of residents?
(BK) Invisible residents are more difficult to get to re-sign their leases. In many cases, you may not have built the relationship as well as you though you did. “If they do not feel that it is their home, they will not renew.” Many do not address maintenance situations throughout their time there, and what could have been a small problem became a big problem. As these challenges built, the residents became more disconnected with their apartments, making it harder and harder to break through to them. Despite how busy it gets in the office, your number one priority has to be your residents and making sure that each of them individually feels welcome.
(CS)Especially in student housing, we try to create a sense of community. “Just because they are not engaged does not always meant they are unhappy.” Part of the challenge is the diversity of the community. You have to work harder (even more so than in conventional offerings) to make sure that you are providing enough opportunity to appeal to everyone. If you succeed, you will see huge amounts of renewals because the residents are connected to the community and each other. It is the ones who do not make that connection that are the first to seek housing elsewhere.
QUESTION: How early should the process of renewal marketing begin?
(BK) Just like in conventional apartments, renewal begins at the very first contact of a prospect. It comes down to trust. You have to earn the trust of your residents and, if you fail to do so, they will not lease. Likewise, if you do not keep that trust, they will not renew. In students housing, you may even have markets where future residents are beginning to reserve apartments nearly a year out. Connecting to your resident and making sure they understand that they must decide early if they are going to renew is crucial. The personal connection of getting a phone or in- person meeting not only gives a better chance of renewals, but also gives you a chance to connect in a more meaningful way and gives you a chance to connect to the invisible residents. The “Renew Today” bandit sign that so many communities rely on can serve a good reminder but will not connect in a meaningful way. That comes down to the efforts of the leasing office.
(CS) Just like in conventional housing, first impressions are everything. But when it comes to the physical marketing for student resident renewals, the world is completely different. Your student residents will have only moved in 10-12 weeks ago when they start receiving requests for renewal. A lot of this is driven by the culture of the University starting its enrollments and on-site housing selections far in advance of freshman arrivals. The privately held student housing market has responded with trying to capture as many renewals as early as possible in order to know how much room they will have available for new student applications.
QUESTION: What recommendations do you have for student housing management teams to get active engagement from these residents?
(BK) Social media and mass email and text are always the norm. But when these fail, it falls to the property management teams to pick up the phone or visit. Today’s student renters have a very different view on relationships.
When a prospect is looking, they typically approach you in the method that they prefer connected back. But when they move in, they want a more personal connection. On-site teams often forget about this, due to the businesses of the day. They might even be more comfortable using the previously-mentioned tech methods. But it is important to change from our daily dynamic, put ourselves in the resident’s shoes, and try to connect to them. You must move from being “just a leasing person in the office” to “I am taking care of someone in their home”.
When it comes to the student residents that are invisible, having an understanding about who lives at your community, and being transparent, open, honest, and present in the moment creates an environment that will help your students want to stay because it feels like home.
(CS) Marketing campaigns are developed for the entire community. Banners, door hangers, and mailers are the first phase. As students begin to show interest and respond to these, you begin to see the ones who are missing these messages. As the renewal funnel narrows, you see more and more that there residents that you have not heard from. These may need a personalized approach to make sure they intent on renewing, or we can see if there are other things that we can assist with.
Communication is everything. It has to be an ongoing effort and the residents have to feel comfortable speaking to you and your staff, whether it is about maintenance issues, roommate issues, or anything else they may have going on. It is this level of connection that is most meaningful to the residents.
Parents are also a big factor. Many student residents may have their parents speaking for them. When concerns are being voiced, the reply must be visible to both parties in these cases. When issues are dealt with, it is important to make sure that all parties see the work so that there is no disconnection between the office, the resident, and the parent. You must be connected to the parents as much as the resident themselves. Since many parents are also on the lease as guarantors, many feel they need the same level of communication as the student residents themselves.
Many of the challenges of creating a meaningful connection to student housing residents revolve around the daily in-office struggles of time and distractions that come as part of the industry. To help you combat this, and have more time devoted to you residents, the teams at US Postal Solutions and PackageLog have created a unique line of products to help you save time, save effort, and make a greater impact on your residents. Whether it is student mail management, package management and notification, or helping create new, unique amenity offering, we are here to help you have the time and resource to better connect to your student housing residents. To learn more about how we can help you, click here.
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Postal Solutions is the nation’s leader in the student housing mail delivery management industry, for both on/off-campus mail management services. The Postal Solutions Companies offers mail delivery management services, inventory / asset tracking software, and parcel logging software / package tracking software. For more information regarding The Postal Solutions Companies, please call us today at (866) 378-8157 or visit us online at www.uspostalsolutions.com.