My Leasing Love Story

 

I fell into the world of multi-family housing by chance, a string of bad luck, and a great personal connection. Prior to renting and managing apartments, I was teaching musical theater and substitute teaching at the high school I attended in my hometown. I hadn’t finished my degree, didn’t have a five year plan, and wasn’t eligible for any sort of health insurance or benefits. I was struggling to figure out who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, and how to navigate life in your early twenties while still living at home with Mom and Dad. While I knew I wasn’t alone in this challenge, it still wasn’t fulfilling enough for me. I was very fortunate when my older brother suggested I apply for an open Leasing Consultant position that was open at his company. After applying, interviewing, and finally getting hired, I was excited to start the next part in my professional journey, but to be honest, I had no idea what to expect.

I was hired on as a full-time Leasing Consultant at a busy property in Cambridge, MA. On my first day, I was given floor plans, pricing, and taught how to read an availability report which would show any vacant apartments, upcoming move outs, and pending move ins. When I realized I was going to need to sell tiny, 500 square foot studios at $1565 per month, I started panicking. How could I convince people to spend this much money a month on something so tiny, outdated, and with no utilities included? It seemed like an impossible task, but I’d soon find it was one I loved.

When I shadowed my first tour with the Assistant Property Manager, he briefly met with the prospects, took their Photo ID, and then just opened the apartment door and let them look around. To date, I hadn’t searched for my own apartment, so I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I knew that I was underwhelmed. All he did was open the door! He didn’t describe anything, point out any features, or ask the prospects what they wanted. It was all very matter of fact and lackluster and I think it was in that moment I knew I could do this so much better. And so I did.

I learned to work every angle, talk with the prospects, get to know their wants and needs, and then become a leasing rock star. I have a very high level of enthusiasm to begin with, but I kicked it into high gear with every tour I gave. I convinced myself that $1565 for a studio, $1800 for a one bedroom, and $2450 for a two bedroom was a STEAL and the best deal in town!

Now it may sound like I was all about the gimmicks or the glitz and glamour, but it went so much deeper than that. I truly fell in love with leasing and everything about it. Maybe it was my background in theater that made me feel like I was constantly putting on a show, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was responsible for finding someone a home. It’s one of the basic needs in life and I was helping people discover that. Whether it was a couple’s first apartment together, a couple looking for a short lease while they built a house, or the elderly couple looking to downsize, every rental was special and meaningful to me. How often do we really get to say that we love our jobs? Yes, we all have bad days, but I want other people to love what they do as much as I do.

As the months and rentals passed by, I learned that there are few greater things than a prospect saying, “You know what, I really wasn’t ready to rent today, but you made me feel so comfortable and that I’d be taken care of if I live here. I will definitely leave a deposit today”. They were renting because of me! It was such a powerful and validating feeling that it became the fuel that has kept me going for the past four years. There have been times over the years that residents have sent me very appreciative thank you cards, flowers, or e-mails to my bosses. While I don’t do this job for those kind of accolades, it still is a rewarding feeling that I made a difference, no matter how small or large, in someone’s life. This is exactly why I’m leasing, and loving it.

 

Overcoming Objections – Scary or Buying Signals?

It would be great to think that every prospect we tour would walk in and love everything about our community, especially our apartments, but we all know it’s never quite that easy. Objections can be a major road block on a tour but learning how to overcome them can be a huge asset in helping you close the deal.

First, put yourself in their shoes: What objections do most of your tours have and why? If you stay one step ahead and already know what they will call attention to, you are better prepared to have a response that may help them see the objection in a different light. Using this feature/benefit selling is one of the easiest ways to overcome objections.Maybe your property doesn’t have elevators, and it seems like you always only have top floor apartments to rent all at once. We’ve all been there, right? Maybe try advertising them as “heart healthy” apartments! By making this small joke it may at least break some of the tension when the prospect expresses their concerns. Even though carrying groceries up four flights of stairs is not always ideal, you need to point out that being on the top floor actually has its own set of benefits – no one above you! While this may not work on closing every deal, it certainly can help your leasing staff fill those top floor vacancies.

One of the toughest objections some properties face is newer construction within the market study. It seems like everyone wants the shiny, new product down the street with stainless steel, granite counter tops, and a sleek, modern design with the perfect furnishings from West Elm, Crate & Barrel, or Home Goods; I mean, who wouldn’t?! Don’t let this scare you, though! Maybe your community is a top rated school district or known for having a great downtown area or night life. Anything you can use to make your prospect see that you’re actually the better community will be a huge bonus.

If your community still includes utilities in the rent, use this to your advantage! Most new construction will charge residents for all of their own utilities. There’s also something to be said for older, stable properties, so embrace that. New construction can be a nightmare for the Property Management staff as well as the residents, especially if construction will still be underway when they move in. Your prospects may be so excited about the idea of shiny and new that they forget that with that comes loud construction vehicles, an abundance of dust and debris, and many unforeseeable complications that could arise. 

For buildings with a mix of renovated and non-renovated apartments, try marketing the older ones as “classic” instead of focusing on the premium charge you have on the upgraded ones. Sometimes showing this cost savings will help you lease up some vacants you would otherwise have a tough time renting.

Another important way we can address objections is actually just listening. So often we may be too quick to respond or give prospects an overly rehearsed response, which can come across as insincere. Listen to what they’re objecting and why because it may just be the buying signals you need to help them overcome the objections. Try to get a better understanding if their objections are deal breakers, too. They may present a laundry list of things they don’t like, but we want to find out if those are items they can overlook or if they would actually prevent them from renting at your community. Take the time to clarify and repeat back to them what they have said. When you follow up with them after the tour, be sure to repeat back any objections you may have heard and again point out any features or benefits that may alter their thoughts. This is another way to show your prospect that you listened, but you still believe that your community is the best place for them to rent.

Finally, if you can’t help them and their objections actually can’t be overlooked, try referring them to a sister property or a neighboring community even if it isn’t one that your company owns or manages. By knowing your market study, you will know the competitors that may have elevators or more of an open concept floor plan if that is what your prospect needs. I know there are some industry professionals who don’t believe in “helping the competition” but at the end of the day, we are just trying to find people homes, so why not help them out. If your competitors see that you are referring prospects their way when you don’t have an apartment that meets their needs, chances are down the road they will pay it forward and return the favor as well.

If you’re an industry professional, what objections do you commonly see?

If you’re a renter, what objections have you had to different apartments or houses you’ve viewed? Have you ever been able to overcome them?

 

5 Questions to Ask & 3 To Avoid When Apartment Shopping

So you’ve started to shop for apartments– great! Over the years I’ve seen many different kinds of renters when they come in for an appointment. Some come in with a notebook and pen and already have a long list of questions to ask. Others walk into the apartment, take a look around, nod a few times, maybe snap a couple of pictures, and they’re good to go. Whatever your style may be, here are some questions you should be asking and then some it’s best to just stay away from.

 

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  1. What are the average utility costs? – Ask upfront what you will be paying for or if the landlord is including any of the utility costs. Places with gas heating can sometimes have very expensive monthly charges, so you want to know ahead of time how much money you should be factoring in. For example, at a newer property in Chelsea, MA, for a one bedroom apartment, we average around $125/month for everything and around $175/month if it is a two bedroom. Residents there are responsible for heat, water, sewer, and electricity.
  2. Are we allowed to paint? – Some communities have very strict policies against painting so cover your bases before you pick out that Orange Creamsicle Dreamsicle color for your kitchen or the Radiant Red for your son’s room. Some communities may even offer a paint package before you move in and will let you select one or two colors from a pre-approved color palette.
  3. What are your smoking policies? – This is a big one these days. More and more new construction is moving towards making their buildings entirely smoke free and will include very strict lease addendums that must be signed by all parties prior to moving in. If you’re a smoker and the building is smoke free, be prepared to haul it across the street or to a designated smoke area when you move in. Communities can fine you for not cooperating with this, as it is a direct lease violation.
  4. How do you process the applications and what will I need to move in? – This is sometimes a tough question to answer, but you always want to be aware of the application process at every community you visit. Do they allow you a 72 hour window to refund your deposit if you cancel? Is there an application fee? You want to know exactly what you are getting yourself into when you fall in love with the apartment, the leasing consultant, and the community so that there are no surprises during the application process that will give you a sour taste in your mouth. Nothing is worse than having an applicant so excited about their apartment but then turn very angry with the office staff when she claims she didn’t know you’d be contacting her current landlord for a reference or requesting three recent pay stubs. Know what you need, and a helpful tip is actually to ask before scheduling the appointment so you can bring any required documents that day.
  5. What is the penalty if I need to break my lease early? – This is probably one of the most important but hated questions I get asked. When I’m showing you the property and convincing you that you are going to love living here, I’m not planning on you moving out early – I’m thinking you will stay here for a long time! That aside, it’s good to ask, though because everyone has different situations or circumstances that may require them to break their lease early. Know what will be expected of you when you sign that legally binding contract so there is no confusion down the road.

Question to Avoid:

  1. Is it safe here? – I would want to ask this, too, but a good leasing consultant will tell you that, “Crime has no address” and that any specific information will have to be found out from the local police station. Simply put, we cannot guarantee anyone’s safety and everyone has different perceptions of what they deem safe, so it is better left unanswered to protect everyone.
  2. What kind of people live here? – I get this on probably every tour and I hate that I can’t answer it, because I know it’s an innocent question. You’re trying to find a suitable apartment for your elderly mother and want to know if we have a bunch of students partying every night or you are new to the area and are hoping to meet other young professionals like yourself so don’t want to rent somewhere where the demographic is mostly 50+. Because of Fair Housing laws, we cannot answer this! I can’t tell you if children live in the community, or that I noticed you had a Jewish last name and would fit in with the group that goes to the Synagogue every day. We understand why you’re asking, but unfortunately we just can’t answer that!
  3. I’m really sensitive to noise – can you assure me we won’t have any issues with that? – While all Management Companies or landlords should take noise complaints seriously, at the end of the day, it is still communal living. We cannot guarantee that you’re never going to hear your neighbor or the resident above you. We will mitigate it the best we can, but please do not expect a “noise free” apartment, because they just don’t exist.

 A great leasing consultant will make you feel comfortable enough to ask all of your questions. Choosing a new home is a big deal and you should feel like you are being heard and that we are answering your questions truthfully and to the best of our knowledge. If you feel like you’re getting a phony or rehearsed answer, try phrasing the question differently or explaining why it’s important for you to know. It helps the leasing team build a rapport with you and also gives us the chance to hear what’s important to you in making this decision.

If your questions have been answered and you’re ready to sign the lease, make sure you read through it carefully and actually read every page!

 

Any other questions you’re dying to know? Ask away and we’ll see what we can come up with!

 

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