During a global pandemic, what matters most to renters?

Renters themselves were asked that very question during the APTvirtual session “Candid Conversations with Renters About Covid-19.” The session – guided by Lia Nichole Smith, Vice President of Education and Performance at ApartmentRatings and SatisFacts, and Karen Trueman, Director of Talent Development and Brand Reputation for Legend Management – delved into data from a recent renter survey, as well feedback from a resident focus group.

Above all, renters want to feel a sense of community. Amid social distancing, shutdowns and limited interpersonal interactions, apartment residents want to feel like they’re part of something.

So, how do property managers provide that atmosphere for their residents? Fortunately, the survey and focus group results provided a clear road map.

It Starts with Communication

Renters don’t just want bits and pieces of information when it comes to COVID-19. They want it all. The volume of information that residents receive from their communities and the frequency of its distribution are incredibly important. The survey showed that those two factors have a direct correlation to lease renewal.

On a scale of 1-5, residents who said they were “very likely” to renew their lease gave their communities an average satisfaction score of 4.25 for the amount of communication they received pertaining to Covid-19. Those same residents gave their communities a score of 4.14 for the frequency of that communication. Residents who reported that they were “not likely” to renew gave their communities a score of 3.32 for the volume of COVID-19 communication and 3.19 for the frequency.

Trueman said that establishing internal communication is the first step toward an informed community. “Communication and customer care go hand-in-hand,” she said. “It has to start with your team members. With COVID, it was more apparent than ever that everyone within the organization had to know what was going on at all times. They needed to know what decisions were being made, what protocols were being put into action and the leadership team also needed to know what was going on onsite. What were our team members feeling? What were our residents saying?”

Focus group members were grateful for proactive communication efforts by their management companies.

“They were always communicating, always providing resources,” said an anonymous focus group participant. “When this whole bill came out that there was going to be rental assistance, they gave everyone the list of resources that they could contact to get help with rent. I feel like they’ve been very involved and very communicative this entire time.”

Residents whose communities have failed to maintain open lines of communication during the pandemic are weighing their options.

“I think [COVID has] challenged a lot of leasing offices to be more transparent and be more open and be better communicators with their tenants,” a second focus group participant said. “I have not seen that to the level that I’m happy with, and it’s frustrated me. It’s forced me to consider moving to another unit when my lease is up. There’s a lot of competition out there right now, and if you’re not happy, there’s no reason to stay where you’re at.”

Trueman said Legend’s leadership team started meeting at least once a day during the pandemic, and distributed notes from those meetings to every member of its teams to ensure that everyone was up to speed.

“If we keep our team members aware and well communicated with, they can then communicate with their residents,” she said.

Find Ways to Connect

Through a commitment to communication, property managers can help to foster a sense of connection with their communities.

“Everybody has to feel connected, like we’re all in this together, we all know what’s going on and we’re all well-informed,” Smith said. “It’s really important for residents in this day and age to feel like they have roots. If they feel connected to where they live, that’s something they can count on. Communication and connection drives sense of community. When residents are informed about where they live, when they feel connected to where they live, they feel like they’re part of a team. That’s where you get residents who look out for each other.”

Smith said the focus group brought forward the idea that residents need to find ways to personally connect with their apartment community to feel valued. While those connections may have previously come from in-person events, focus group participants shared that it has been important to continue virtual versions of weekly resident programming, whenever possible.

With the closure of swimming pools, fitness centers and other amenity spaces, Trueman said it has been important to fill those voids. “If something is taken away from the resident experience, we need to replace it with something new.”

To avoid a diminished sense of satisfaction among residents, Trueman said Legend teams have introduced a number of virtual events like virtual movie nights, online yoga classes and resident competitions.

Communication, particularly for struggling residents, has helped to strengthen a sense of connection, as well.

“Concrete communication makes me feel important as a resident, and it makes me feel taken care of,” a focus group participant said. “So many things are going on – there’s a new executive order, or this new bill, or this new law – and everyday people are not keeping up with those things. Yet, they affect us. I really appreciate those resources being sent to me, so at least I have a starting point to do my own research.  Some people need those resources. I appreciate property managers who put themselves in residents’ shoes.”

While property managers have been a vital source of information for residents, Trueman said teams also need to make sure they maintain a receptive ear, as well.

“I think we’ve learned so much during this pandemic about being there for each other and listening,” she said. “Listen to your team members. Listen to your residents. And where you can, act. At the end of the day, our business is a people business.”

Doug Pike is a Content Specialist for LinnellTaylor Marketing.