By Meghan Hall
The age of social distancing has ushered in a myriad of new ways of approaching real estate, with both property owners and tenants willing to try what for many, may have originally deemed unconventional. According to a recent survey released by RentCafe and Yardi Matrix, self-guided touring technology has become incredibly popular amongst potential tenants, with 83 percent of survey respondents stating they would readily make use of self-guided tour technology if it were available. The survey states that technologies catering to self-guided tours will become the next “hottest” feature for those in the apartment rental sphere.
“As an apartment search website and being part of Yardi Systems, a real estate technology company, we’re always on the lookout for the hottest new technology in renting. As Yardi has recently rolled out self-guided tours, we wanted to get an overview of how renters feel about this technology both in the context of the pandemic and generally, and how it would fit within their preferences in searching for an apartment,” explained RentCafe’s Irina Lupa, author of the survey. “While virtual tours essentially eliminate an in-person touring experience, renters do feel the need to cross the physical threshold and get to know the space they’re about to call home. Just like many people wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, some wouldn’t rent a new apartment without visiting it in person first.”
Self-guided tours are effectively self-explanatory, in that potential tenants view an apartment without the presence of a property manager, broker or landlord—an idea prior to COVID-19 that likely crossed few minds. However, the need for social distancing has rapidly turned self-guided tours into a mainstream—and preferred— leasing strategy for renters.
“Unlike virtual tours, self-guided tours allow for an in-person experience so that you can see how spacious an apartment truly is, how it smells, and how it feels,” said Lupa. “Self-guided tours enable renters to assess potential apartments directly, intimately, and at their own pace, all while maintaining social distancing practices.”
Typically, self-guided tours work by picking a date and time from an online calendar, which is followed by an ID verification process. After receiving the address and access code, smart locks and thermostats can let you into the unit for your tour.
Of those surveyed, 63 percent of respondents noted that self-guided tours allow them to see a potential space at their own pace, and 59 percent responded that it would continue to help them adhere to social distancing practices. For others, self-guided tours are a matter of convenience: 39 percent stated they could tour with less interruptions and distractions, while 43 percent noted they could visit after hours or on weekends, when leasing offices are typically closed.
The widespread willingness of renters to pursue agentless tours means that the process—and technologies associated with them—won’t disappear any time soon.
“Renter feedback strongly suggests that self-guided tours will likely become an integral part of the leasing process even after COVID-19 subsides, as an alternative to agent-guided tours,” Lupa stated. “Survey responders’ top reason for opting for a self-guided tour was that it offers a pressure-free viewing experience, while the third most popular reason was that it allows them to visit rentals on their own schedule, outside of business hours. Both these benefits are related to their preferences rather than a need for a temporary solution.”
When asked about what features they would expect from an agentless tour, 62 percent of those surveyed asked for flexible tour durations, while 61 percent asked for online scheduling. Another 29 percent stated they would also prefer a digital access system—making the touring process entirely contactless. Conversely, those who are hesitant to take an agentless tour—46 percent—stated they would tour alone, but would want to ask additional questions in person.
RentCafe does not yet have specific statistics on landlord adoption of self-guided tour technologies, stating that it was too early for data, but stated that feedback received on related innovations so far has been largely positive. According to Lupa, the technology is fairly easy to install and integrate, depending on the type, and some property managers are reporting prospect to lease ratios of up to 50 percent.
The technology works hand-in-hand with other digitization efforts already in place, such as Alexa and in-app maintenance, meaning that property managers can easily move forward with the infrastructure, ushering in another wave of change for the multifamily sector.
“Any building can implement it,” said Lupa.