1 Leasing Specialists -- New Skills for a New Millennium By Carol Levey and Neil Fjellestad Published in NAA Units magazine -- May Issue, 1999 Have there been significant changes over the past five years in the apartment industry? You better believe it! For example, remember the good old days when we would show and sell and show and tell? It’s now all about a Leasing Specialist’s ability to effectively communicate to a wide variety of customers on all levels. What about listening skills? We have learned to listen to what our customer wanted and needs versus the old style of leasing apartment homes, which was based on availability instead. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. We have come to realize that the Leasing Specialist needs to have comprehensive product and market knowledge. Today’s typical customer is much more sophisticated, not to mention better educated about the rental housing market. Sometimes even more than the on-site team. When we speak of product and market knowledge, it is no longer enough just to know your rental rates, fees, deposits and pet policies. Today’s customer is more interested in price per square foot, measurements of each room, square footages, when the community was built, the quality of construction, how many cubic feet in the storage area, how services are presented -- are they bundled and how does your community compare to the competition. In other words, you are comparing “apples to apples” and tying dollars to each feature. Several of these examples include: -- Garages, attached or detached, range from $60 to $150 -- Washer and Dryer Connections, $35 to $50 -- Location and view, ranging from $10 to $300 and even more. These ranges will vary based on the sophistication of the market, the management company and the demand. These are just a few of the basics. We have not even touched any Fair Housing issues yet. These issues include occupancy standards, qualification of criteria and ADA. Our legal liability is much greater today than it has ever been. Our Leasing Specialists are now involved in outreach marketing programs that entails making personal visits to third party relocation companies as well as contacting human resources or travel departments with major employers to generate quality traffic. What about technology? In addition to everything else, we can now expect the Leasing Specialist to be computer savvy. Handling Internet leads, which can be a full-time job in itself, requires immediate action on behalf of the Leasing Specialist. Let’s go back to the basics now. Leasing Specialists also need to handle the move-in process, including all paperwork and ensure the apartment is market-ready, resident retention, customer service and service requests. Excellent time management skills are essential to the successful completion of these tasks. Accountability has become even more crucial. We are not just talking about closing ratios and occupancy levels, conversion telephone ratios and how many potential customers who call are converted to walk-ins. The success of the community is directly related to the skills of the Leasing Specialist. The Leasing Specialist must also track and follow-up with each customer that calls or visits the apartment community which must be handled in 24 to 48 hours. Since we know potential customers are looking much further in advance, approximately 90 days, the follow-up is on-going. The Leasing Specialist needs to be able to provide more in-depth information on day-care, schools, rapid transit, drive times, freeway systems, interim housing, furniture rental, moving and storage information etc. 2 The multi-family housing industry has finally started to realize the importance of the role of the Leasing Specialist and their future career path within the organization. Leasing Specialists are now being utilized as floaters and trouble-shooters throughout many organizations. Corporate level management has come to recognize the importance of the Leasing Specialist’s ability when interacting with existing or potential investors. Due to the employment shortage in most markets, there are even more companies today that offer temporary Leasing Specialists. The benefit to the owner or management company is that you will have a well-trained professional who can step on a site immediately with a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished. A number of organizations are catching onto a trend that has become popular in other industries. These are call centers. All leasing inquiries are forwarded to one location at which time they can be electronically dispatched. In certain situations, a Leasing Specialist will personally escort the customer to various communities. Our industry has traditionally had the tendency to burn out good people. We need to supply better orientation programs regarding company polices prior to starting on-site. We also need to have in place educational programs. These programs enable us to retain our employees. It is clearly evident that employee turnover creates customer turnover which negatively affects NOI and ROI. We need to understand, no matter what anyone’s area of responsibility and accountability, that we need to do one thing and one thing only and that is lease apartment homes. To do this effectively, we need to understand what our customer wants and needs. They need to trust. They need to be given choices. They need to feel in control. We can only earn their trust and respect through communicating in-depth product and market knowledge. We have come a long ways, but still have a ways to go. Our customers need to feel that we care and that our word is our bond. If we don’t know the answer to their questions, we have the resources at hand to acquire that information. In conclusion, what we need to lease apartment homes includes: -- Product Knowledge -- Market Knowledge -- Effective Communication and Listening Skills -- Understanding Legal Aspects -- Ability to Adapt to Changes Through Technology Let us not forget the most important attributes: a winning attitude, energy, enthusiasm and a genuine respect for the customer. This sounds relatively simple. If so, then all that is left is the implementation process.