Multifamily Technology Trends
By Randa Griffin
New technologies can ease parking issues, communication headaches, and property-tour scheduling but they come at a price. Several Florida property managers weigh in on the value they add.
Many communities have virtual tours available on their websites, providing prospective residents an instant tour of the unit without them having to get up from their computer. While these virtual tours are beneficial for bringing residents to the property, they don’t always provide the hands-on experience residents need before committing to a community and signing a lease. That’s where self-guided tours come in.
Tour24 is one company making inroads in self-guided tour technology.
“Tour24 is the innovative new way for renters to tour apartments on their own using a mobile app without a leasing agent or broker,” said Georgianna Oliver, founder of Tour24.
The app allows prospective renters to schedule a tour, submit their photo ID, get entry credentials to the property and model unit, and even start the leasing process – all from their cell phone. Properties customize tours to ensure that key features and amenities are highlighted. As the resident tours the community, the Tour24 app points out important features and provides additional information, just as a leasing agent would. Tour24 also tracks and reports visitations.
Oliver said the biggest benefit of self-guided tours for renters is convenience. While work schedules make touring difficult during business hours, self-guided tours give prospective renters the flexibility they need to see the property and make a decision. She said the company’s statistics show the majority of self-guided tours take place after the leasing office is closed or on the weekends.
“By offering Tour24, a property can have coverage at all times for prospective renters to view the community and the available or model unit,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges to implementing self-guided tours in a community is having the proper smart locks on model units, Oliver said. Since many properties aren’t customarily set up for these specific locks, Tour24 includes them as part of its product.
At Riverwalk Apartment Homes in Fort Myers, property manager Marilyn Urquiola has used the service for several weeks and said it saves her from hiring staffers for off-hour tours. She said her company pays about $500 monthly for the service but it’s worthwhile because “that is the future.”
Johanna Rodriguez, property manager for The Exchange Lofts in Fort Lauderdale, said they are about to launch the program and appreciate that it better accommodates prospective tenants with busy schedules.
“It’s hard when you have to try to fit that tour in during your lunch hour,” she said.
Guests have 30 minutes to tour on their own and managers can determine the hours. The requirement that touring guests submit photo identification adds a level of assurance, Rodriguez added.
Resident portals have become a common feature in community management for submitting maintenance requests, collecting rent payments, and communicating with residents, all in one place. The Henri resident portal has taken a new approach to resident portals by incorporating more than just the basics and providing an all-inclusive place for financial, social, and logistics management. It includes numerous unique features like package management, amenity reservations, coupons for local stores, an events calendar, and even a resident marketplace.
"After hearing time and time again that residents wanted something more than the boring and typical ‘pay rent' or 'request maintenance' buttons, we decided to take things into our own hands," said Dan Vonderheide, Henri resident portal vice president of sales. "We offer a more social savvy experience with a much more modern tech stack."
Henri makes it easy for management staff to post updates, send notices, and share information because it can be fully integrated into the community's current property management software. Vonderheide said the goal of Henri is not only to make work easier for management, but also to engage residents and give them a more connected community experience.
"The sad reality is that in most communities people don’t know who their neighbors are," he said. "Henri gives residents a voice, a sense of community, and a fun way to interact with their neighbors and management."
Dillon Schuman, leasing manager for Lost Lake Apartments in Jacksonville, said Henri saves residents from a barrage of text messages or email blasts, and gives them information on the same portal where they pay their rent. Residents use it to submit work orders.
“This way, they can choose to open it up,” he said.
The software is new, he added, and had a few kinks but the service team has addressed issues in a timely manner.
Parking Boss has developed an app that enables residents and their guests to register vehicles so that on-site staff can track parking. Marketing manager Leah Griffiths said communities can select which Parking Boss services they need, including 24/7 online registration for guest vehicles, scannable decals for resident vehicles, live reports, interactive mapping for assigning spaces, paid parking options, and more.
Parking Boss enables managers and staff to track who is parking at their community at all times, how many vehicles residents really own, and how many they are allowed to have. “Essentially, it helps them structure and enforce their parking policies,” Griffiths said. “We help them take something that is typically difficult and frustrating and turn it into a fair and manageable amenity.”
Guests register their vehicles through the mobile website and managers don’t have to pass out paper permits. Managers can also generate revenue from paid parking and better manage resident carport or garage rentals.
Because all permits are tracked in real time — often by towing companies — managers have up-to-date information. The ability to tie in their enforcement or towing partners keeps them accountable and provides proof of violations.
Interactive mapping, allows staff to assign resident parking and take inventory of parking availability. The company is working on property-management software integration and automated license plate recognition.
Jeanne Klein, community manager of Doral 4200 in Doral, has been using the service since July and said it generates additional revenue while giving vehicle-booting and towing companies better information about which cars don’t belong. Tenants pay $15 to register each vehicle and once a few dozen are registered, the monthly charge of $395 to Parking Boss is covered.
“All the drama is eliminated,” Klein said.
Guest registration is easy and — using their phones — they can scan codes that are on the guest-parking signs.
Barnacle is a new tool for parking enforcement. Barnacle has found its place in multifamily by providing a new way that’s simple and safe to enforce parking rules. Scott Monroe, senior vice president of business development, said this product can be beneficial to on-site staff.
Barnacle attaches to an illegally parked vehicle’s windshield using commercial-grade suction cups that adhere with 1,000 pounds of force. By obstructing the driver’s view, Barnacle prohibits legal operation of a vehicle.
Barnacle differs from traditional parking boots in that its platform includes payment processing, a 24/7 call center, real-time tracking, and data reporting. Each device is equipped with tamper alarms and GPS tracking. Violators can easily remove the device themselves in less than five minutes by following the instructions printed on the device after paying online or over the phone. The violator is then responsible for returning Barnacle to a drop box or management office to release the deposit on their credit card.
“Effective management of parking areas is critical to providing a safe, secure, and convenient environment for residents,” Monroe said. “Use of the Barnacle removes the angry interaction between a driver and property manager or parking enforcement officer. Routine use of the Barnacle provides a visual and strong reminder that parking regulations must be followed, and it removes the liability apartment managers face related to erroneous impoundment or damage from towing.”
Barnacle recognizes that one of the largest conflicts between owners and tenants is parking. “The customer experience of a towed vehicle is incredibly burdensome,” Monroe said, and can also damage a vehicle. “The Barnacle’s high-strength suction has been perfectly tuned to ensure adherence without damaging the windshield. The ability to self-release the device ensures the violator can quickly remove it on their own and be on their way.”
Monroe said Barnacle has been slow to integrate into Florida multifamily communities because municipalities restrict the use of vehicle immobilization devices, and often charge substantial fees for their use.