No More leasing agents? Is Virtual Leasing here to stay?

A year ago, I helped a colleague build a presentation on the future of technology in multifamily. Through
research and discussion with experts, the resounding opinion was that technology will never replace
people in the multifamily industry. Then COVID-19 happened, and I wondered whether that would
change.
The multifamily industry has been working towards virtual leasing for years now. One company utilizes a
chatbot so lifelike, their prospects ask for her when they enter the leasing office. Virtual tours and online
document signing made it easier for one of my team members to move across country last year. Smart
locks allow prospects to check out models on their own schedule.
Technology has certainly brought us some great tools to weather a storm of social distancing, and
thankfully most companies still consider it a priority to staff their leasing teams. Prospects may be able
to view virtual tours and floorplans online, but many are still looking to perform their own “sniff test.”
When choosing their homes, people want to meet the staff to make sure those taking care of them
during their lease are friendly; as Jarrod Whitaker with Bozzuto recently explained to me, they also want
to know what the building smells like, and listen to make sure their neighbors aren’t blasting music at all
hours. Learning these things about the place where you are committing to live for the next year requires
a leasing agent in most cases.
Where I would expect to see more automation and virtual workflow is in short term rentals. In speaking
with Erez Cohen with Knock, he mentioned that the Airbnb model is working well for many rentals in the
New York market that offer short term leases. This model is completely online with virtually no in person
interaction. These rentals often come furnished, where all residents need to bring are their suitcases and
groceries. Reflecting on my experience of moving, I often tell myself that I will never do that again, and
better stay a while since moving is such a hassle. But without the pain of moving, residents may be more
apt to move on after a month if they’re unhappy with the rental they’ve selected. In my local market,
Central Florida, I see fewer short-term rentals, due to the tourism taxes that apply to leases under 6
months.
The data I’ve seen in Q2 from local property managers in Central Florida has been promising. One
company saw a 2% gain in leases year over year in April, despite a 50% reduction in traffic. The reduction
in traffic shows that there are less looky-loos in the market, but as conditions begin returning to normal,
I expect that number to rise. Stable occupancy and lease rates will allow them to use their new time
efficiencies to their advantage, increasing their service levels for all those residents stuck at home. For
the conventional leasing agent, schedules and remote work may become more flexible, but their
necessity will remain.
Photo of Alex Mauro Ross
Alex Mauro Ross
Director of Product