Marketing & Leasing Q & A with The Melissa’s
Melissa De Marco is Director of Operations & Marketing for FBS Property Management, AMO in San Diego. FBS manages residential assets ranging in size from 1 – 100 units-houses, condos, small to medium apartment communities. For the last 10 years, her role is to uphold FBS standards in regards to: leasing, marketing, employee training, customer care, client relations, and internal operations. As well as all company media including: FBS website, blog site, video promotion, social media, print advertising and all community events in which FBS participates.
Melissa Deen is Vice President of Marketing for Sunrise Management, a San Diego based third party management firm currently managing 13,000 units throughout the West. Melissa loves analyzing new properties and helping craft the unique marketing plan for each. She has been with Sunrise for almost 8 years and previously worked in multiple areas of the real estate industry. Although she is passionate about the multi-family industry her favorite job is mom to daughters, Sienna, 4 years old and Ellery, 2 years old.
1. What are your best advertising sources currently?
De Marco: We are recording most of our traffic from Zillow, Hotpads and Zumper. We do still find some of the old school methods like signs and flyers to be very effective as well.
Deen: Craigslist, Zillow.com and Apartments.com are leading the way. Also pushing for property website exposure with SEM and SEO.
2. What are your marketing pet peeves?
De Marco: Spelling and grammatical errors in marketing, or Fair Housing violations in ads I come across online. Oh! And bad pictures – it is too easy now!
Deen: When a prospect’s ad source is listed as “Other” in our property management system, when ads have no tracking information then we don’t know what advertising is working and when those responsible for posting ads in Craigslist don’t take photos, content, and titles seriously. We’re a visual world and we fall in love through our eyes so beautiful images along with a nice description do matter!
3. What ad source have you seen change in effectiveness either positive or negative?
De Marco: We have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of quality craigslist leads. This used to account for about 80% of our traffic, now it is almost less than 5% of our traffic.
Deen: We’ve been monitoring Zillow’s performance for two years now and this ILS continues to surprise us. It’s priced fairly and performing better than more expensive internet sites. This is definitely one site to continue to watch.
4. What is your process to understand a submarket?
De Marco: Our company manages in 70 different zip codes and all different types of property. This makes understanding each submarket crucial to our marketing. For example apartments in North Park attract those who want the walkability factor, trendy restaurants and breweries. Where a single family home in Poway attracts those who want to be in a specific school district or quiet neighborhood with more space. Knowing your property will help you tremendously in highlighting the features unique to that area or housing type.
Deen: Nothing beats boots on the ground…when we take on a new property the first thing we do is visit the property. From there we shop the comps and check out the neighborhood – hang out in a local coffee shop, grab lunch or walk the immediate area. Then we analyze the online presence, a market survey and any other demographic reports we can get our hands on.
5. What amenities are residents looking for when renting?
De Marco: I think again, knowing what attracts people to your listing is important. A renter near SDSU wants something completely different from someone renting in Encinitas. Obviously having fancy amenities never hurts, but don’t count on just that. You may need to get creative in the future with custom upgrades or offerings. A recent study found that the next generation of renters care more about a home being pet friendly, having a nice kitchen and being able to pay online.
Deen: We think residents want more than physical amenity spaces. It’s about lifestyle and convenience. What was previously considered an amenity may now be an expected feature (like a pool, AC, dishwasher, etc.) or become obsolete. Residents now want to be able to do everything online, communicate via text and have their apartment feel like a home. Things like grocery delivery, package storage system, and pet amenities are a big hit. Other perks include easy controlled access for guests, digital home features controlled by their phone and amenities that promote wellness and create a sense of community.
6. How do you plan for the slow leasing season in San Diego?
De Marco: We work hard at staggering leases to end April- August whenever possible. Especially if your property is in demand because of the schools nearby. Most people move around the summer, so your best bet is to do a shorter or longer-term lease to ensure that your leases expire at a good time of year. If your home does come available in November/December time frame you need to be a little more realistic in that you may not get top dollar, or it may take longer that it would in the summer.
Deen: Agree with De Marco that managing lease expirations is key – limiting leases expiring in November, December and January works for us. In addition we are proactive and monitor our teams’ performance on a weekly basis to understand any unexpected exposure so we can ramp up grass roots marketing and possibly increase our advertising. By analyzing this data, we know what the near future looks like for each of the assets that we manage and we’re able to work with the team to proactively implement a marketing plan.
7. What are things you do to maximize your marketing/advertising?
De Marco: We commit to a company wide marketing plan. So all of our ads look the same including a
detailed marketing description, quality photos and video.
Deen: Diversify initiatives and monitoring are two tactics we utilize heavily. We distribute our marketing dollars amongst a variety of efforts to include digital advertising, grassroots, signage, and resident referral and we monitor constantly to see what’s working. If something is not working, you eliminate it to free up marketing dollars. In some ways, we are constantly experimenting so we’ve become marketing scientists.
8. What is your reputation strategy?
De Marco: We believe in consistency. It may not always be the answer a customer or client wants to hear, but our job is to be fair and consistent.
Deen: Our reputation strategy is prevention through communication. We’re offering our residents new and more ways of reaching us before they “vent” online. We want to hear their concerns and want to resolve them to increase resident satisfaction and retention and of course, to prevent negative reviews! To accomplish this, we have an in-house Customer Experience Specialist to help us with this huge and important goal. She is devoted to responding to reviews and coaching the team to develop initiatives that will translate into more positive reviews.
9. How do you decide when a property should undergo upgrades?
De Marco: Typically, if we suspect that a resident may be moving we will begin the discussion of upgrades, maybe even get a few estimates for the owner to review. In Multi Family there is typically a turn schedule and design pre-determined. In single family homes it is a little tougher due to loss of rent and sometimes the emotional connection to the home. Keeping up with the market and safety is number one though.
Deen: It all starts with the property owner’s goals. From there we look at the market – is there demand for more improved housing and is there room to increase rents to justify the expense? If these factors point to yes, then we determine the pace and scope of renovations that fits the market. A few common pitfalls are over-improving the apartment, taking too long to renovate the apartments and doing too many at one time.
10. What are the top influencers when creating a marketing plan for a property
De Marco: Location, Upgrades, Time of Year
Deen: Location, Demographics and Property owner goals
Lightening Round – Yay or Nay?
De Marco: Yay-76% have one!
Deen: Yay Yay!
De Marco: Eh- I see this phasing out soon, or some changes are needed.
Deen: BIG Yay!
De Marco: Yay! But be careful for Fair housing
Deen: Yay. Only if you can keep it current.
14. Online Payments?
De Marco: YAY!
15. Online Leasing?
De Marco: Yay!
Deen: Yay! And Online Renewals too.
*This article was written for the San Diego County Apartment Association Rental Owner Magazine.