Apartment Owners Adapt to Late Payments, Tech Advances
As residents struggle to pay rent and customers demand virtual tours, leasing agents and smart technology work side by side to make ends meet.
June 29, 2020 | Written by Sander Gusinow
Pandemic or not, Oregon remains a state with one of the largest housing shortages in the country.
According to Nicholas Beach, leasing consultant at Seasons at Farmington, an owner of apartments in Bend, the pandemic has not stopped people from inquiring about vacancies, but many people call to ask if the company will offer discounts.
“People call up asking if we can give them some sort of a great deal, but right now our attention is on the people currently living here,” says Beach.
According to a survey by the National Apartment Association, one in 10 apartment residents would be facing eviction if anti-eviction ordinances, such as the one Gov. Kate Brown signed into law on March 22nd, were not in place.
The National Multifamily Housing Council, a trade organization that represents apartment owners, found that 20% of Oregon apartment households did not make full or partial rent payments by May 6.
Beach did not provide specific financial numbers, but he says many of the building’s residents have struggled to pay rent and that his job duties have evolved. He has taken on an intermediary role, liaising with residents struggling to pay and the head office.
“We’re following a playbook nobody has ever written or ever read. We have people calling up and saying, ‘Hey, I can’t pay my rent,’ so we work with them. We eliminated late fees. We say that rent will be due eventually. We figure out a way to make it work.”
As leasing agents continue to act as go-betweens for renters and management, the apartment complex has begun to rely more heavily on technology, such as FaceTime and 3D touring, to assist them with new requests.
Residential portals, FaceTime tours, 3D layouts and YouTube channels for properties are becoming increasingly standard, according James Tirpack, operations manager at Griffis Residential.
Its apartments have seen an increase in virtual touring and online activity as Multnomah County began to enter Phase 1 of the governor’s reopening plan.
The new reliance on technology has created unexpected efficiencies. Online tours are more flexible, allowing residents to tour apartments when it is most convenient to them, and leasing agents working from home can answer questions remotely as if they were there in person.
With apartment amenities closed for residents, Griffis Residential created new business partnerships with farmers markets and food trucks to offer residents social distancing-friendly offerings. These events are communicated over the building’s resident portal, which has also seen increased activity since the pandemic.
Some tech companies are seeking to capitalize on the new normal of closed apartment front offices.
Tour24 is a self-guided apartment touring app, which lets potential residents visit an apartment building in person at any time of day without the need of a leasing agent to assist them.
The app unlocks doors for the customer, can respond to questions, and has a built-in buffer time after each tour, allowing property staff to clean the property.
“Virtual tours are a great tool to see what the property looks like, they don’t give you the full experience of actually being at the property,” says Tour24 co-founder John Doyle.
Data show most people want to view an apartment in-person before they rent it, he says, but that safety protocol in the post-pandemic world is top of mind for everyone.
“It’s the best of both worlds – getting the full experience, with safeguards in place.”