A Property Manager’s Guide to Virtual Leasing (2021)
December 22, 2020
COVID-19 posed a massive challenge for all industries. The pandemic forced businesses to develop ways of operating in a contactless, digital world.
For real estate agents and property managers that spent a majority of their pre-COVID time interacting with homebuyers, renters, and residents face-to-face, this meant working hard to innovate and adapt to an exclusively digital world, with the help of PropTech.
Many digital innovations have emerged for property managers as a result, including moving the entire leasing process online – known as virtual leasing.
What Is Virtual Leasing?
Virtual leasing digitalizes the leasing process, moving it entirely online. This includes everything an agent would do in person, from touring apartment units to signing an electronic lease with e-signature tools.
In some cases, only a part of the process happens online. Other times you could sign a lease or deal without meeting the renters (or seeing the unit) in real life. Regardless, you’re not losing the human, customer-centric part of your business, only shifting it to a safer, more convenient space.
The virtual apartment tour is the most significant and challenging part of the process. You’ll do the following:
- Create a virtual tour of your available units to showcase your apartments.
- Provide as much information on the online listing as possible.
- Meet prospective tenants through video conferencing tools to provide insights and help your clients feel comfortable with their choice.
- Finalize the process online by signing an electronic lease using document management or e-signature software.
How Does Virtual Leasing Work?
While the concept of virtual leasing is easy to grasp, you may still be confused about the next steps to implement it for your properties.
Luckily, virtual leasing is a breeze with the right technology. Let’s examine the stages of ensuring a seamless virtual leasing experience for your clients:
- Lead Generation. Advertise your virtual services and make it easy for renters to reach out to you.
- The First Meeting. Have a conference call with the people who contacted you, discuss the tour details, and answer any initial questions.
- The Virtual Tour. Choose a platform and organize a virtual walk-through with your clients.
- Application Submission. When you find the ideal home for your customers, the paperwork stage ensues.
- Lease Execution. After the lease signing, have the renters submit their security deposit and conclude the agreement.
There’s technology to help you with each of these steps. Remember, however, that you can always meet up in person if you run into obstacles along the way.
Benefits of Virtual Leasing
1. Easier & Faster Leasing for Agents and Renters
Virtual and 3D apartment tours ensure you don’t waste time visiting locations. You get to stay at home or in the office, not having to schedule around somebody else’s timeline. At the same time, renters enjoy a complete picture of the property.
If necessary, you can pair the virtual tour with an in-person viewing. However, that would only happen with prospective clients who are already interested in the property, saving a lot of time and energy on both ends.
2. Less Pressure for Renters
Not having to bother property managers to visit apartments in-person puts less pressure on your clients, too. They can take all the time they need and look around on their schedule.
When it comes to the questions they might ask, they’ll have enough time to organize their thoughts before a follow-up. So, the meeting you have after the viewing becomes much more efficient.
3. Lease Anywhere
Many people have to stay at home due to the pandemic. As an agent, you can’t easily visit units either. Plus, tackling everything online is a significant convenience boost and time-saver for working with people who want to move to your city from another area.
With virtual leasing, you can seamlessly communicate even from miles away and still provide an authentic experience for new renters and renewing your tenant’s lease.
4. COVID-19 Safe with Socially-Distanced Leasing
People need apartments even during a pandemic. However, you can’t go around viewing listings while staying compliant with COVID-19 safety measures. Even the best, most detailed listing isn’t enough to gauge whether an apartment is right for you.
For example in this listing, you’ll find all the relevant information about the listings clearly stated. There are even excellent property pictures. Could you make a decision based solely on that?
Most people wouldn’t, so they’d have to visit multiple locations and put themselves at risk to ensure they’re choosing the right future home. Virtual leasing takes away the pandemic-related anxiety and guarantees an informative viewing.
5 Tips to Getting Started with Virtual Leasing
1. Use Virtual Leasing Software Tools
Virtual leasing tools are there to make your life as a property manager much more comfortable. However, virtual touring tools will be the most important step in the process of virtual leasing.
Virtual touring software empowers you to host tours of landscapes and properties in 360-VR environments. These tools render building and unit plans, layouts, and designs for online or in 3D through virtual reality headgear.
You can create presentations using interactive images, video, 3D maps, panoramas, and even audio. It’s easy to represent a property realistically with these tools.
Virtual tour software includes:
- VR tours with audio and video elements
- Floor plans and maps that let you recreate actual apartment designs
- Straightforward drag-and-drop editing elements for presentation creation
- Hotspots with triggers for specific actions, such as doors and windows opening when you approach them
- Social sharing options for reaching wider audiences
On top of your virtual tour software, you’ll also need to utilize a video conferencing tool for face-to-face interactions online (we’ll chat more on these later.)
Moreover, document management software can make finalizing your leases a breeze. You’ll need to find a high-quality electronic signature tool such as DocuSign or HelloSign or to complement it.
2. Create Virtual Tours of Your Apartment Units
Once you find the right software, it’s time to create the video walk-throughs. Recorded walk-throughs are much more efficient than model unit photos, making them central to establishing trust with your clients.
Plus, acquiring the skills necessary to develop high-quality content for renters can help you in the long-run, too. It facilitates working with apartment seekers who need to move for work, school, or family issues, renting site-unseen.
For the best effect, stage the property right and follow these recording principles:
- Turn on all the lights and open the blinds.
- Record from your point of view. Avoid holding the camera vertically, as it breaks the immersion.
- Start at the entrance and walk around the unit as a renter would do.
- Show the rooms in order. You could follow the apartment layout or start with the main areas, moving into smaller spaces such as the bathrooms.
- Move slowly. That way, renters can take a better look at everything you’re showing.
- Don’t forget the auxiliary spaces. Even if you described them on the listing, showing attics, garages, and basements can make a difference.
- Show the outside, too. Even if the unit is inside an apartment building, showing the surrounding area can make the entire thing feel more realistic.
You can do a voice-over, explaining the essentials while you’re showing them. Try not to be too obtrusive, though, but allow renters to engage with the recording.
Above: Example of a virtual apartment tour.
3. Host Virtual Tours on Your Website
Remember, having an imperfect virtual tour on the website where you post listings beats hosting none at all.
So, even if you don’t have access to VR, 3D technology, don’t be afraid to post videos on the site. Sometimes, a shaky phone camera even makes you seem more honest and human. You’ll give away an air of credibility and transparency, putting renters at ease about contacting you.
This will also save you time by not having to clean and stage your rentals multiple times. Property managers and leasing agents can stage a unit, film a virtual tour, and move on to the next unit the same day.
Above: A leasing agent live streams a virtual tour of her residential community.
4. Use Video Conferencing Tools to Create Agent-Led Tours
Another option is having an agent-led tour, which is typically lower-quality when it comes to image. On the other hand, it’s more interactive and in real-time, which many renters prefer. You could use Zoom, FaceTime, or any other free video conferencing platform.
A live tour is a fantastic way to create a personal connection with the renter, too, answering questions on the go and tailoring the tour speed and focus to their preference.
If you’re going down this road, point out things that might not be that obvious through video, such as material quality. You could also share information about cable connection, water pressure, parking, and nearby amenities while you’re walking through the place.
Above: Example of an agent-led virtual apartment viewing tour.
5. Use Chatbots on Your Property’s Website
Finally, many leasing offices are understaffed at the moment. People who visit your website send questions about costs, maintenance, and location through virtual platforms. If you take hours or days to reply, the poor customer experience might send potential clients elsewhere.
You could tackle this issue using live chat tools. These chatbots can be programmed to answer routine questions and stay active after hours or while you’re busy with another client, answering calls, website chat requests, and text messages.
These virtual assistants can share information about pricing, amenities, and availability. After a while, chatbots could even try to push a virtual tour. Otherwise, they’ll inform the potential renter that you’ll get back to them as soon as possible.
Property managers need to adopt virtual leasing. It resolves many pandemic-induced issues and introduces new leasing possibilities to the process. As long as your prospective tenants and current residents are your number one priority, this virtual leasing model can only benefit you.
Remember to stay human-centric, but take advantage of the options new PropTech brings to the table. Remember that it’s a balancing act and takes trial and error to develop the best leasing strategy. Give yourself time, and don’t be afraid to try new approaches, and your community will thrive.
Additional Resources for Property Managers