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Usage of Resident Portals Gains Traction

Teresa O`Dea Hein, Managing Editor
Multi-Housing News
February 1 2008

Resident portals have quickly proven to be a win-win for owners/managers and tenants, so industry observers expect the pace of their adoption to pick up in 2008. "Within the next 12-18 months, you`ll continue to see this technology aggressively adopted," says George Landgrebe, general manager at AMSI, Tampa. Fla., "as smaller multifamily properties bring resident portals on board and larger ones add this capability to more properties."

By enabling residents to pay rent and submit work orders online, property owners enable talented staffers to spend more time on face-to-face selling, he points out. At the same time, owners typically get faster access to rent payments. And in tough economic times, Landgrebe adds, "People are looking for how they can get more done with less by increasing productivity." Based on what customers tell him, Landgrebe predicts, "In the next 18 to 24 months, you won`t be competitive if you`re not offering a resident portal." He reports that AMSI customers have installed or have portals in the pipeline for more than 100,000 units. The AMSI products are fully integrated with resident portals from Property Solutions.

With today`s tech offerings, setting up a resident portal has become much easier. In fact, Landgrebe adds, "What can take the longest is getting photos of the property."

He says, "With resident portals, owners and managers have happier tenants and that should result in more lease renewals."

"My sense is that the convenience of resident portals (paying rent online, renewing leases, entering service requests) are all a part of creating the overall customer experience," points out Dan Amedro, Chief Information Officer at Denver-based Archstone-Smith.

Robert D. Lamb, vice president of Information Technology for Gables Residential, believes that resident portals have added to renewal rates at the many properties that the company manages. "Through a portal, you have the opportunity for constant reminders and communication with the residents," Lamb notes.

"And Gen X and Gen Y renters have been raised on the Internet so they expect to conduct a lot of their business online, Lamb continues. "I think resident portals now are a necessity."

A 1,688-unit Miami Beach multifamily community called Flamingo, owned by MCZ Development, has branded its lifestyle onto its resident portal, aptly named www.flamingo-life.com. Residents can access this portal to call for their car, get weather forecasts, obtain information about upcoming events at Flamingo like gym schedules and movie nights, see a gallery of past events, check on property news like the window-cleaning schedule, review a bulletin board system where people can sale their items or post jobs, and communicate with their concierge and onsite retailers like the spa or dog groomer.

Christina Noelle, a company principal for MCZ Development and president of MCZ Urban, notes that since this system is Web-based, residents can access it from anywhere, be that home, a second home, the office or on the road. Noelle herself works out of both the company headquarters in Chicago and the Miami corporate offices. "The resident portal is a great way to keep in touch from all over the world."

The community also enhances the value of its portal with a Flamingo Resort Pass, which is a community i.d. good for discounts at various area vendors.

The idea of a resident portal that is also positioned outward into the community ties in with Centrum`s corporate philosophy, Noelle explains. "We`re creating communities, not just buildings, and we want our communities to feel contextualized."

Greg Starr, director of business development at Resite Online, headquartered in Norfolk, Va., reports, "About 1,500 communities are using our resident portal and we see interest across all demographics."

In addition to rent payments, Starr says Resite is enhancing the portal`s social networking capabilities by adding features like items for sale, general interest matching for sports like golf and tennis, and carpooling, like a virtual bulletin board -- not a chatroom -- targeted to each community. "When a resident portal gets some content like this on it, it really starts getting used and becoming really popular, generating more momentum," Starr adds. "If the community`s staff supports a resident portal, that`s definitely a big factor."

In order to foster that usage, Starr says, every resident is given an account, rather than waiting for them to sign up.

Resident portals can also generate ancillary income from ads by local businesses. For example, Property Centric, based in Erdenheim, Pa., has deployed local search engine technology on the Web sites of several multifamily owners which ultimately can help pay for itself, according to President Rob Remus. "By offering site visitors a useful local search feature, our technology can help make Web sites an Internet destination for renters, prospective renters and area residents alike which will, over time, help bolster the company`s natural search engine rankings on global engines like Yahoo and Google," Remus explains.

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