What COVID-19 College Closures Mean for Property Marketing

Coronavirus has disrupted the college housing industry. Find out how property marketing can help navigate the uncertainty as students return to campus.

The coronavirus outbreak has impacted just about every part of the economy. Colleges and college housing have not enjoyed any sort of exemption. Some schools still aren’t sure they’ll reopen for physical classes in the fall. Even if universities open, many families have concerns about their ability to help students pay for it. Because of this, college housing property managers and owners face an uncertain future and a more competitive market. Learn more about marketing to college students during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.

Marketing to college students for property management impacted by COVID-19

Before a college marketing agency can predict the outlook for housing, it’s important to consider the forecasted state of college enrollment. Even if universities and colleges will open their doors for the fall semester, enrollment may diminish.

A college consulting firm, Simpson Scarborough, conducted a study of prospective freshmen and reported some grim news:

  • One in five of these students said they would have to delay college plans because of changes to their family finances. An additional 11 percent said that they were not yet certain if they would have to delay their freshman year or not.
  • Over half of respondents reported negative changes to family finances, even if they could still attend school.
  • For students who had already attended college but hadn’t yet graduated, over forty percent said their family had suffered financial setbacks because of the pandemic.
  • One of the firm’s founders, Elizabeth Scarborough Johnson, said they conducted the study at the end of March. Sadly, she expected that the number of students delaying college would continue to rise.

Out of all the current college students surveyed, 97 percent said that their own college offered online classes to replace the canceled on-campus schedule. At the same time, most of the students found online learning less satisfying than in-person classes. In fact, only five percent said that they they liked learning online better. To be fair, these students had initially signed up for a college campus experience, and the professors in charge of the classes may have had little experience teaching online before they urgently needed to adjust.

In any case, Ms. Johnson said she believed this common attitude among students meant that students were eager to return to campus life as soon as they could. While the coronavirus has disrupted colleges right now, she believed things would return to normal once the crisis had passed.

How can college marketing for student housing deal with coronavirus uncertainty?

Nobody blames college housing for the coronavirus. At the same time, property managers need to focus upon a few aspects of their brand reputation. Even if it’s not their fault, some people will judge them on the way they handled the unexpected crisis.

StudentHousingBusiness.com, an industry journal, spoke with private owners of student housing. Besides having concerns about the future, the property owners said that they urgently struggled with the problems of lease cancellations and maintaining healthy buildings.

Lease terminations

Right now, many private property managers haven’t appeared to demonstrate much flexibility when it comes to leases. For example, the news in Austin, Texas ran a story about parents that had to pay Landmark Properties $12,000 to terminate their daughter’s lease when pandemic-impacted finances made it impossible for her to attend college at Texas A&M in the fall. That sum amounted to rent for six months out of the twelve-month lease.

As specified in the lease, the property management company gave the family an option to find somebody to sublet the lease. With the state of college enrollment, the parents failed to find anybody to sublet online. While Landmark was within its legal rights to stick to the terms of the lease, it certainly did not do its brand much good to get publicity from this sort of news story.

While some property companies haven’t yet shown much flexibility with lease terminations, Student Housing Business found that many properties have tried to work with residents in other ways. For instance, some companies have waived late fees and deferred evictions and collections.

Maintaining safety

Meanwhile, property managers with current tenants should follow the best practices from the CDC guidelines. These may include closing down common areas and shared amenities, deferring nonessential maintenance, limiting office visits, and sanitizing all accessible areas multiple times a day.  Both students and staff may need some additional guidelines to help maintain sanitary conditions.

Communicating with all stakeholders

Christian O’Lone serves as the regional property manager for DMG investments, a private student housing company.  He said that his company has not been financially impacted yet because they attracted displaced students from on-campus housing to replace students who had left.

In addition to taking safety measures, he says that it’s very important to communicate and educate staff and current or future tenants. Because of this, he believes that one of the largest impacts of the outbreak to property management will be increased activity on advertising platforms and social media to compete for residents and keep stakeholders in the loop. As an example, Peak Housing has been producing videos to instruct student resident in the right way to perform simple maintenance tasks, such as changing light bulbs and air filters.

Tips for marketing to college students during and after coronavirus

Even though college housing usually doesn’t house families, it’s considered part of the multifamily housing market. Andrew Bowen has worked in property management for this kind of housing for almost 30 years. Incidentally, he got his start when he applied to serve as a resident assistant in his residence hall at the University of Santa Barbara.

He told RealPage that he felt particularly qualified to speak on the topic because his oldest child had to return home from the University of North Texas to finish his classes online. He also mentioned that he tried and failed to scour the lease to see if there was some sort of clause he could use to get out of making more payments.

In other words, Mr. Bowen could understand property management marketing concerns both from the perspective of the property and the student’s families. Based upon his experiences with college housing and many years operating multifamily housing, he has some suggestions that can help with marketing to college students and their families.

Remain aware of optics

Property management needs to understand the impact of the coronavirus on family finances, both because of shrinking investments and job losses. Renters will look for value, so properties may need to explore some very competitive incentives that will help reduce rental costs, even if that means sacrificing some popular amenities.

In some cases, it may be time to take a page from the hospitality industry and introduce some more flexible lease cancellation options. These can certainly encourage families to choose one apartment over another in these uncertain times.

Keep up with the situation

It’s important for properties to work with their associated colleges and universities to learn if colleges will open up for on-campus learning next semester. On that note, parents and students will wonder about the same thing, so it’s possible that the demand won’t increase until these announcements get made. Property managers might need to expect delays in demand.

Get ready to react fast

Since the current situation may shorten the typical leasing cycle to a few weeks and not several months, marketers may have to also compress their normal marketing funnels. They should get their marketing plan in place and make certain that they can set in motion as soon as they have enough information to act.

Keep communicating with prospects and current lease holders

Mr. Bowen noted that he stopped receiving renewal emails from his child’s apartment complex. He also stopped getting promotions from the other apartment complexes they had visited before deciding on the current one. He says that instead of communicating less, property managers should communicate more.

Actually, this shortage of emails and messages from many college housing companies can prevent a good opportunity for the properties that do continue to stay in contact. Even if the property doesn’t have new information, it’s a good idea to let people know they’re waiting for official announcements and working hard to preserve a safe, healthy environment.

Properties should make lists of prospects from the past few years and send emails to acknowledge that both they and the students struggle with uncertainty and how they’re working to plan for it. They can also send out the same sorts of messages through ads and social media.

The future of marketing college housing to college students and families

Eventually, students will return to campuses. When universities first open, they may suffer from decreased enrollments, particularly for the first few semesters. For properties to compete, they need to strive to keep their properties healthy and consider more aggressive promotions and flexible terms. Most of all, they should stay in communication with their current residents and prospects to let them know they understand the uncertainty but are still making good plans.

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Your Property Branding Is All Wrong

If your property branding isn’t expressing the identity of your multifamily development, you’re not communicating your value to new or existing residents.

Why bother with branding?

Executive Magazine contributor Samantha Chalmers realizes that residential real estate managers may view branding as less important than optimizing operational efficiency and offering attractive amenity packages. “But make no mistake,” she warns, “one of the most crucial elements of your portfolio is your brand.”
 
Ask yourself how your apartment complex or multifamily development differs from other residential properties within a radius of five to ten miles. Then set yourself apart from the competition by launching a branding campaign that capitalizes on your specific strengths and driving values.
 
Do you own or manage a LEED-certified green community? Ms. Chalmers stresses the importance of engaging in comprehensive and highly strategic multifamily marketing to establish a brand name that is consistent with energy consciousness and environmental sustainability. In other words, when promoting “composting stations and community gardens,” property managers would be unwise to “place a print ad in a Range Rover catalog” or “serve coffee or water in Styrofoam cups in the leasing office.”
 
Use what makes your residential complex unique to tell a compelling brand story with a memorable organizational identity. The challenge is to make your brand come alive in the hearts and minds of your target audience. With a solid property development marketing strategy, you can develop a meaningful and evocative brand that consumers can see, feel, hear, taste, and even smell!
 
What follows are just a few key tips to help you make the most of your branding efforts and tell a cohesive story across all elements of your marketing plan.

Lead with your logo and put your best foot forward

Although small in size and scope, the logo may be the most important component of your branding efforts. After all, if your multifamily property development were a person, your logo would serve as its public face. This critical representation of your marketing identity should communicate the values that your complex holds as well as the benefits that your complex offers.
 
Jessica Ervin, professional digital designer and contributor to the leading Internet marketing blog The Next Scoop, presents the Apple logo as an ideal embodiment of this principle. “The apple bite is a perfect example of brand storytelling,” she writes. “Apple defined their core values of user-friendliness, good-looking designs, and simplicity through their simple logo design, product design, packaging, UX and UI.”

Craft your messaging with your narrative in mind

With your brand firmly united under an appropriate and captivating logo, you can begin crafting on-brand messages across all facets of media marketing and customer interaction. In her Executive Magazine article, Samantha Chalmers identifies differentiation as the most critical aspect of your messaging strategy. In other words, you must communicate a company narrative that is unlike those of your closest competitors.

Your company messaging embodies everything from the promotions that you present to the advertisements that you place to the face-to-face interactions that you have with your residents.

Although it is great to set yourself apart with your unique qualities, Ms. Chalmers warns against relying on cheap gimmicks to brand your residential complex. She quotes LMC West Region Marketing Director Kristen Mete Kingi, who says “I think there are circumstances where you can become too ‘theme-y’ with a building or brand, and that can turn people off.”

Design your website as the hub and heart of your brand

“Owned media” is a buzzword in the worlds of marketing and public relations for a very good reason. Encompassing all online media channels that a company maintains directly and controls entirely, owned media includes your official website as well as all of your social medial pages and blogs. Among its other benefits, owned media gives businesses the distinct advantage of carefully crafting and strategically curating all content and messaging. This makes it the best place to spell out the narrative of your brand.

Although your digital outreach should have multiple arms, consider establishing links to drive all traffic to your website. By making your website the hub of your online marketing efforts, you can also make it the heart of your brand. Using finely honed text as well as collaborative graphics, pictures, and videos, you have the power to tell your brand story on your website with absolute freedom and precision. 

Consider environmental branding and signage with care

Just like your logo, the promotional and identifying signage that you display on-site goes a long way toward defining your residential property development in the hearts and minds of your consumer base. But signs and banners are just one component of the larger marketing category of environmental branding. Briefly defined, “environmental branding “ refers to all efforts to represent brand values and communicate brand narratives on company grounds and within the brick-and-mortar environment.

In the multifamily residential housing sector, environmental branding is a key driver of both resident loyalty and on-site sales conversions. Use your property grounds as an opportunity to tell the story of your brand, whatever it happens to be. From the color of your interior walls to the types of refreshments in your sales office lobby, everything you do and say on-site reflects upon the power and quality of your brand.

Secure quality professional marketing assistance

If you want to learn more about the benefits of real estate branding that tells a compelling story, contact a representative of Bigeye today. This innovative marketing agency has the knowledge and skill to develop a brand narrative for your multifamily property development that captures its unique spirit and remains consistent across all marketing channels.

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How to Strategically Target Students for Your Apartment Community

Students have long been a key driver in the rental real estate sector, but how do you reach out to this crucial consumer demographic through an effective marketing campaign?

Why should you target students?

The very thought of renting to college students strikes fear in the hearts of some apartment community owners. The international real estate firm Joe Fairless acknowledges that student-focused rental properties “may end up with messes, parties, and careless behavior,” but this detracts little from the awesome power of the student demographic in the apartment complex sector.

Because students are often far from home while attending college, they must find temporary housing either on campus or off. And as the price tag on dorm living continues to rise, more and more students are turning to off-campus apartments. 

Other benefits of specifically targeting college student renters include predictable periods of annual tenant changeover and frequent upfront rental payments from parents/guarantors. 

Tips for reaching out to college students

Here are just a few things to keep in mind when targeting college student populations with your apartment community marketing campaign.

1. Consider Price and Value First and Foremost
 
On the subject of cost, Multifamily Executive Magazine quotes Campus Advantage COO Scott Duckett, who points to the fact that many students grew up during the Great Recession. “That turned them into more cost-conscious consumers,” he says. Whatever the reason, today’s college students are more price-conscious than ever before. However, apartment marketers would be wise to keep class differences firmly in mind as well. In short, different students will have different lifestyle expectations, but they will all want to get the most apartment value for their buck.
 
2. Remember the Importance of Location
 
Is your apartment community close to campus? Is it close to public transportation or trendy shops, bars, or entertainment options? Students often get around on foot, so be sure to highlight location in your marketing materials.
 
3. Mitigate the Risk of Property Damage

Because student renters are typically less fussy than other consumer demographics, they may be perfectly satiated with older appliances and more basic decor. This can significantly reduce your overhead costs. To help protect your property, be sure to collect a reasonable deposit and clearly explain your deposit policy to every tenant. 
 
4. Offer Key Amenities

Basic and practical amenities such as fast Internet and dedicated parking spaces may be deal-makers for some students. Other perks that commonly attract students range from on-site fitness centers to secure bicycle storage.
 
5. Take Advantage of On-Campus Advertising

Depending on the specific policies of the colleges/universities near your property, you may be able to advertise on-campus and/or on official college/university websites. This is a great way to specifically target your consumer base and save big on your overall marketing costs.

6. Focus on Social Media
 
Multifamily Executive Magazine echoes countless researchers in declaring social media the absolute best place to reach the modern-day student. Not only do students use social media heavily, but they tend to respond positively to social media marketing.

For more information

If you want to learn more about the value of college student renters and how best to target them in the consumer marketplace, contact a skilled and knowledgeable apartment marketing and property development marketing professional at Bigeye today. A foreword-thinking agency with an eye on the future, Bigeye has a proven ability to connect with students of all ages. 

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Investing in Your Resident Retention Efforts To Reduce Turnover

While the majority of apartment complex owners understand the importance of reaching out to a targeted consumer demographic in order to fill vacancies, far fewer place enough emphasis on avoiding vacancies by effectively marketing to existing residents.

Financial and business experts agree that keeping current tenants in place is one of the best ways for apartment complex owners to build long-term value and boost overall ROI. Citing market information from Forbes Magazine, the National Apartment Association discusses many reasons that this holds true.

For example, attracting new residents often requires the delivery of contract signing bonuses, initial rent discounts, and other marketing tactics that can significantly damage your bottom line. By retaining your existing tenants, you can not only avoid these profit-destroying offers, but also eliminate costly vacancies and foster a climate of ongoing community satisfaction and togetherness. 

Key tips to keep residents engaged and avoid costly turnovers

So what measures can you take to increase tenant retention? Here are just a few key marketing tips.

1. Show Sincere Appreciation with a Gift

The value of saying “thank you” far exceeds the monetary price of a small seasonal gift or renewal bonus. Consider showing your appreciation for loyal residents with a gift card for a local shop, restaurant, or coffee shop. This can go an incredibly long way when it comes to fostering a positive community environment, increasing overall tenant satisfaction, and reducing your turnover rates.

Although more costly than a gift card, apartment upgrades, such as a new carpet or a fresh coat of paint, will also increase your overall property value, making them gifts that truly keep giving. The property video tour app Real NYC suggests thinking outside of the box with gift ideas like making a donation to a worthy charity in a resident’s name. Just be sure that you are tailoring your gifts to meet the specific wants, needs, and values of your customer base.

2. Keep Residents Informed

From distributing regular newsletters to sending text messages, there are countless ways to reach out to your tenant community with pertinent information. Discover your residents’ preferred channels of communication and keep them informed of matters of importance that relate to the property and its surrounding areas.

Residents who feel that they are kept “in the loop” by a fully transparent real estate company are generally far more comfortable in their living environments. You can further the retention marketing potential of your resident communiqués by ensuring that your messaging remains consistent with the defining values of your organization and brand.

3. Build a Sense of Community

In the words of the property management software company AppFolio, “a true sense of community can really keep residents around.” Help your tenants feel as though they belong in your apartment complex by hosting appropriate resident activities and/or appreciation events.

Holiday parties, donut breakfasts, and fun “how-to” classes are just a few ideas of on-site gatherings that can generate a true sense of togetherness and mutual appreciation. Consider welcoming new residents with social “meet-and-greets.”

Get professional guidance

For more information about the importance of resident retention and for assistance with resident marketing and resident advertising in general, wise apartment complex owners will secure the services of experts in these fields. An incredibly innovative multifamily marketing agency, Bigeye has the knowledge and skill necessary to keep residents happy and dramatically slash those dreaded turnover rates!

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What College Renters Really Want from Apartment Communities

Often in need of relatively short-term housing while completing their studies, college renters have long been key drivers of the apartment rental market. But what, exactly, are they looking for in an apartment?

From short-term tenet agreements to increased risk of property damage, renting to college students has its obvious pitfalls. However, college towns remain one of the best markets in the United States to own rental property.

This is particularly true of states, like Indiana, in which people generally own homes rather than rent. Forbes Magazine points to Indiana as a prime example of this fact. Although the percentage of renters in most Indiana counties is less than 25 percent, in Monroe County (home to Indiana University at Bloomington) that rate rockets to approximately doubles to 48 percent.

So what can you do to capitalize on the key college student rental sector? Here’s a brief look at what college renters really want from their apartment communities.

Cost, location, and overall value

As the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket, students are generally wise beyond their years when it comes to choosing rental apartments that are reasonably priced

Surveys of students and recent graduates have increasingly shown that on-campus dorm living has become incredibly expensive. In light of this fact, more and more students are turning to off-campus apartments as a way to stick to their budgets.

In addition to overall apartment cost, college students list location as one of their top concerns, indicating that they may be willing to pay a bit more for a place that is close to campus.

Security, home technology and access to public transportation

After coast and location, renters are highly concerned with security and convenience, ranking gated access high on their list of must-haves. They also value high-tech security measures such as app-controlled door locks. Other home technology devices and infrastructure that renters list as important include built-in USB charging outlets, smart digital thermostats, and Amazon lockers.

Among renters who must live a considerable distance from campus, the convenience of nearby public transportation is also a top concern.  According to Apartment Guide, 31 percent of renters are seeking properties with shuttle service to public transportation.

Specific amenities

Reaching out to a consumer base that tends to value practical concerns, apartment communities can forget about frivolous incentives. Apartment Guide points out that lease-signing gifts such as free iPads or gift cards may have effectively filled vacancies in the past, but today’s students are looking for something far more substantial.

However, there are many apartment amenities that might be potential deal-breakers regardless of their inessential nature. With 92 percent of renters listing it as a priority, air conditioning is an amenity that many renters simply won’t live without. Other top amenities, such as automatic dishwashers (86 percent) and in-unit washer/dryer combos (77 percent) are equally practical in nature. When it comes to less practical amenities, renters particularly value outdoor spaces such as patios, balconies, and rooftop terraces.

In addition to these key on-site features, apartment complexes can benefit from close proximity to a variety of off-site amenities. For example, 32 percent of renters want to be close to a café or coffee shop while 24 percent of renters want a library nearby.

For more information

If you want to learn more about the top concerns of renters in the college environment, you should talk to an agency with specific expertise in the fields of apartment marketing and resident advertising. A highly innovative and forward thinking marketing firm, Bigeye has countless ideas when it comes to reaching college students in the residential housing marketplace.

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What’s the Difference Between Co-Living and Co-Housing?

Two up-and-coming buzzwords in the worlds of residential real estate and property development marketing, co-living and co-housing draw upon the best of historical traditions and new trends to create shared living environments and communal spaces.

There is certainly nothing new about shared living spaces. Offering co-living home options in major cities that span the United States, the residential property firm Common points out the fact that people have chosen to live in shared spaces since before the dawn of recorded history. From the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age through the public homes of the Middle Ages to the boarding houses of the Industrial Revolution and the World War II era, shared living has been a prominent part of the human experience.

While there is certainly nothing new about shared living, it has recently emerged anew as a highly popular concept among millennials and other people who are looking for something different in the residential property sector, both urban and rural.

What is co-living?

The shared living organization Open Door has locations in both Portland, Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area of California. It offers a definition of co-living that is both nuanced and succinct. In its attempt to clear up any confusion, Open Door calls co-living “a modern form of housing where residents share living space and a set of interests, values, and/or intentions.”

In short, co-living gathers individuals and/or families in residential environments that offer private sleeping quarters but shared bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and other common areas.  

As previously mentioned, co-living is particularly popular with millennials who have come to age in an era of social networking and the sharing economy. Many young adults view co-living as the natural progression of these ideas and appreciate its emphasis on values such as openness and collaboration.

It is important to note that modern co-living environments differ from the “hippy” communes of the 1960s, which tended to be activist-oriented and isolationist in nature. The co-living of today stresses the value of interconnectedness within the community and without.

What is co-housing?

The California co-living housing development Kindred Life resorts to Wikipedia to draw a clear distinction between co-living and co-housing. While both promote communal residential life, co-housing allows for substantially more privacy, keeping certain, more personal spaces (such as kitchens and bathrooms) separate. In addition to sharing significant indoor living spaces, co-housing places a strong focus on integrating shared features such as specialized work spaces, gymnasiums/health clubs, and game areas.

Co-housing, as we know it, first came to the United States in the late 1960s from Denmark. It generally tends to exist in suburban or rural settings rather than urban centers. The prototypical co-housing setup consists of a cluster of small private homes that share one or more common buildings. These common buildings often consist of common recreational areas, guest rooms, dining rooms, and/or kitchens. In many co-living situations, the community is planned and managed by its residents and governed by consensus-based decision-making.

To learn more

Despite its inherent value and growing appeal, shared living remains a decidedly niche market. If your residential property company is interested in pursuing this trendy new living style, you absolutely must have a clear and forward-looking plan to promote and market it. For more information about co-housing and co-living marketing, contact a knowledgeable Bigeye representative today.

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