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Digital Indispensable Tools are Today’s Classifieds

A vibrant website is a must for successful landlords. Here are 10 tips for making the most of it.

Long gone are the days when renters checked the classifieds. Today, landlords need a professional online presence to attract a steady flow of applicants and keep vacancy time to a minimum. Here several experts share what features matter most for this key marketing tool.

WRITE LIKE A REALTOR

Do renters have any different wants and needs compared with home buyers?  One real estate entrepreneur recommends that anything you see on a home buyer site should also be on a rental site.

“If home buyers like school data, for example, so do renters,” says Greg Rand, founder and CEO of Own America, which provides brokerage services to investors for the acquisition and disposition of single-family and multifamily residential homes.

If you can tout assets similar to those in house-for-sale descriptions, that helps attract renters, too. So emphasize sought-after features such as curb appeal, stable neighborhoods, gourmet kitchens, a spacious layout and newly remodeled units.

“Too often, things that are learned about home buyers are not applied to renters. They are just moms and dads and couples and people who like the same things, regardless of their status as renter or owner,” adds Rand.

STAY TECH-SAVVY

Thanks to ever-changing technology, it’s easy for a website to look out-of-date fast unless you stay current on new website features and trends. Are you making the best use of video? Is your site mobile-friendly? And does your content make smart use of top key words?

Rand says some of the newest and coolest features being added to the top home buyer sites include on-demand showings, great mapping and a commuter score. Commuter scores are a selling point that you can highlight by linking to sites that rank commute time. WalkScore.com ranks the most walkable cities, while other sites feature current lists of the best places for public transportation, bicycling or short commutes.

Continue seeking out what’s new in websites to prevent yours from becoming stale and ineffective.

LOCATION, LOCATION

One landlord says that while it may sound surprising, not every renter has a smart phone with Google maps, so include directions to your property.

“You wouldn’t believe how many times I have to give directions to people even though they have the address,” says Jimmy Moncrief, a banker and landlord in Tennessee and founder of www.realestatefinancehq.com.

So make it easy for them to find you – and rent from you.

VISITORS WANT VIDEO

Videos allow you to showcase your brand and your properties. Renters feel more comfortable having “seen” the property they’re considering. Plus it helps you rank higher in Google, thanks to “dwell time,” or the amount of time people stay on your page.

“This has drastically increased my quality of leads when I do a video walk-through,” said Moncrief.

Contrary to what you might assume, Moncrief shows both the highlights and potential low lights. He’s found that honestly wins the day – and the renter.

“I do a video walk-through explaining the features – and importantly – even show the negatives like small closets,” says Moncrief. “I start at the outside of the property so they can see everything. I try to keep the length under four minutes.”

SHOW YOU RETAIN RESIDENTS

One pro landlord is known for his resident-retention strategies and encourages landlords to have a customer loyalty program. Mr. Landlord, as Jeffrey Taylor is called, is an author and trainer with 30 years of experience.

As part of his program, called “3-Star Resident Program,” Taylor offers one property upgrade or improvement to each resident every year as an anniversary gift. It’s a unique selling point with prospective residents who are told, “We reward our long-term residents!”  He showcases this advantage by placing his Anniversary Gift Request Form on his website.

“By offering residents an anniversary gift each year, it not only serves as a selling point to prospective residents, it increases resident retention of current residents,” says Taylor. “This form provides an online visible reminder to both prospective and current residents that long-term residents are rewarded each year.”

The form allows potential residents to see that they’ll have their choice of upgrade and can submit a request months in advance. The property improvement will be scheduled shortly following the resident’s anniversary date – and the resident has something to look forward to.

“The owner likewise can feel good that the anniversary gift was requested because, in essence, the resident is letting the owner know well in advance that the resident plans on staying for another year beyond the next anniversary date,” says Taylor.

MAKE IT MOBILE-FRIENDLY

“Tenants want to search for vacancies from their smart phone,” says Ron Garcia, principal broker of The Garcia Group, providing services in Oregon and Washington. Garcia is also a board member of the Rental Housing Alliance of Oregon.

The everyday landlord may not realize many prospects are searching from their phone at a coffee bar, or scrolling through potential apartments when they’re standing in line at the grocery store.

Garcia adds that owners of large rental pools or property managers need to take it one step beyond that and create their online presence using SEO key words.

MORE ONLINE, LESS PAPER

Provide robust online content such as screening applicants through your website.

“We screen online – we do not use paper applications,” says Garcia. “That way, per Federal Housing guidelines, we can determine which application comes in first and treat it fairly, instead of pitting one applicant against another.”

Garcia is a proponent of providing full information on rental websites so applicants see they’ll have easy access to important information once they’re residents. Beyond the ability to apply online, explain who pays for which utilities, communicate move-in and -out procedures, share the background of the landlord and management and include a link where residents can initiate maintenance requests.

“Also, provide up-to-date information on vacancies in a hot market,” adds Garcia.

Other content can include floor plans and an interactive neighborhood map showing what’s nearby, such as restaurants, shopping and schools.

TRACK YOUR TRAFFIC

Chris Urso is managing partner of URS Capital Partners, based in New York. The company, which invests in apartment communities across several states, is serious about monitoring all its traffic on a weekly basis.

“We’re tracking all of our traffic to see where it’s coming from and 95 percent of it is web-based – not just our website but all digital platforms collectively that we’re using,” says Urso.

Urso says your company website and Craigslist should be the minimum number of platforms where prospects can find you. Whether content is on those sites, on apartments.com, or other platforms, synchronize your message, pictures and features so your communication is clear and consistent.

Keep visitors engaged by showcasing a key selling point with a pop-up feature on the front page. For example, highlight renovations or a new pool and back those up with professional pictures to grab their attention. Ensure your prospects stay with a functional site that’s easy to navigate.

CALL TO ACTION

Include a call to action that’s visible on your home page – whether it’s to view availability, look at current specials, apply or schedule a tour today.

“There has to be a significant call to action as soon as that prospect lands on your page because chances are they’re looking at it on a mobile device 90 percent of the time,” says Urso.

Urso says his company constantly tries to perfect its follow-up with leads. The company sends auto-responders, more personal emails from management and, ultimately, interaction with leasing agents/salespeople.

“The odds of a person going online, filling out an application and scheduling a move- in for next week or next month without actually talking to a person or seeing the property are very slim. So it’s all about the follow-up,” says Urso.

Salespeople describe the benefits of the property and try to schedule a tour.

“That’s where we see a lot of our results come from: the follow-up,” adds Urso.

EXCELLENCE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE

Even for part-time landlords overseeing a duplex, professional website features are not out of reach. Entry-level property management software can have the ability to tie in to a website so the things that the prospect sees and back-office operations are integrated together in one system.

“One of the first deals we did was a 37-unit building, and we didn’t have a big team. So we used TourVista, and it cost us less than $1,000 a year to have a nice, clean, interactive site where I would get leads emailed to me directly every day,” says Urso.

He recommends investing in a top-notch website whether you’re a beginner or a pro.

“Don’t ignore the web today, because you’ll be left in the dust,” adds Urso.