Entrata’s Trevor Riley Shares Wisdom at Apartmentalize 2021
Now that 2020 has firmly underscored the idea that an agent-led tour isn’t the only option, it’s safe to say that processes surrounding apartment touring will be ever evolving.
A myriad of tour options now exist, and communities across the nation are trying to determine the approach that best attracts renters at their particular locale. Trevor Riley, senior vice president of product for Entrata, discussed the various tour types and morphing renter preferences at the Apartmentalize 2021 session What’s Next in Apartment Touring?
“Working with several of our customers, we noticed leading into COVID that there was already interest in implementing different types of tour options,” said Riley, who moderated the Chicago-based session in September. “With these conversations we were having going back to 2019, there was a lot of hesitancy because there were a lot of questions that hadn’t been answered.
“Then COVID came and it forced our hand, and it forced us to start answering a lot of these questions really quickly.”
Contactless tour options of several different varieties—self-guided, remote, VR, live video and other nontraditional types—quickly vaulted to the forefront with agent-led tours no longer an option. As Riley alluded to, various forward-thinking operators were already exploring many of these tour types, but not many had fully rolled them out or even performed pilot tests on the platforms.
Predictably, that led to some trial and error and steep learning curves as teams worked to fast-track implementation.
“It’s one thing to have those platforms available, and it’s another to use them effectively,” said Rob Dinwiddie, executive vice president of student-housing operator Landmark Communities. “We had some pain points trying to get our team well equipped to execute on the various platforms that were out there.”
But after the initial bewilderment of the accelerated learning curve, using some of the contactless tour options seemed like the natural next step, Dinwiddie said. “What we found—and what a lot of players in the student-housing space in general found—was that COVID really just catalyzed all those processes that we already had in place and forced us to use them.”
That brings us to the “what’s next?” part. Yes, operators adjusted quickly and were able to effectively deploy some of the innovative tour options. And yes, many of them hold value moving forward. But the question is to what degree?
According to Entrata data, the presence of traditional agent-led tours reignited when restrictions began to loosen in the spring. From April to July of 2021, guided tours increased from 47% to 57% of total tours while self-guided tours decreased from 46% to 32%. Virtual tours, which were still gaining traction and only used by 7% market during the pandemic, fell slightly to 5%.
While no magic formula exists, it appears that teams that deploy a mix of agent-led and modernized tour options will be the most successful. Effective approaches can vary by market, as high-foot-traffic locations might better benefit from self-guided tours and those that attract a significant portion of out-of-state residents might be better equipped for virtual or video tours.
Like many other aspects of the industry, operators and onsite teams will have to constantly evaluate tour processes moving forward. Riley indicated that he is impressed how nimble the industry has been in tumultuous times.
“Teams have been able to implement various flexible tour types while remembering that traditional tour elements still play a critical role,” he said.