The Way Renters Find Their Next Apartment Has Changed

5 minute read

Four ways the way prospective residents search for apartments has changed—and what to do about it. 

Our modern digital landscape is expansive. Savvy renters are tapping into more online resources than ever to discover and vet new apartment homes. And the pandemic accelerated renters’ shift to digital “shopping” even further. Without leaving their couch, renters are now able to access a property's amenities, resident reviews and even tour an apartment. Renters are deciding about your property before you even know they are looking.

Five years ago, a property marketer’s job was a lot simpler. An internet listing service (ILS) or a property website was likely enough for property marketers to attract renters. Now, it’s a whole different ball game. Renters bounce between search results, social pages, a property’s website, talking to their friends and reading reviews, all before deciding whether a tour is worthwhile. If your property makes it through their initial research phase, then they start engaging with properties via email, chat, and phone. When they reach out, they expect a prompt response and knowledgeable staff. Renters have options. Competition is high. In turn, apartment marketers have to put their best foot forward along every step of renters’ winding journey to a new home.

The following are four things to know about how the renter search has changed and what to do about it.

1. Properties must stand out in search results.

The days when apartment seekers only considered a couple of communities are over. Google identifies the apartment search landscape as one of the most competitive categories. Half of renters are seeking information for six or more properties at a time. A quarter of apartment seekers are looking at 10 or more apartment communities.

What does this mean for apartment communities? It means that properties should strive to take up as much real estate in search results as they can. At the beginning of a search, renters search broad terms like “Apartments Atlanta.” Typically, the top four or five listings for broad searches are ILS’, meaning having a presence on an ILS is critical to getting on prospective residents’ initial consideration set.

However, as a prospective resident becomes more familiar with the area and conducts neighborhood-specific searches like “Virginia Highlands apartments,” then ILS results become less visible. With more specific searches, property websites and Google My Business listings start appearing more in both paid and organic listings. If you really want to stand out from the crowd on the first page of search results, you need to have a paid and an organic strategy in place.

2. Google Business Profiles and reviews build trust with renters (and Google).

Reading reviews is second nature to today’s consumers. This extends to the rental search as well. Renters want to get a sense for what it’s like to live at a property from real residents. 

Savvy renters look not only at the quantity of reviews, but also the recency and relevance of the ratings to develop an accurate picture of a community.

In addition to earning renter trust, reputation management can also improve visibility on search. BrightLocal lists reviews as the second most impactful factor to increasing search rankings. A good place to collect reviews is your Google Business Profile (GBP). A recent RentPath study confirmed that properties with completed GBPs—including descriptions, hours and photos—garnered 67% more views, as well as 112% more renter actions.

Case-in-point: Consistent review and listing management earns the trust of renters and search engines for easier leasing (Just make sure you’re responding to your reviews!).

3. Responsiveness can make the difference between signing a lease or losing a resident.

Renters have high expectations when it comes to timely, personalized and consistent service. Their experience with companies like Zappos, Amazon, Uber and GrubHub inform what they expect from apartment communities.

Renters expect to be able to communicate in their preferred communication channels and they expect quick and clear responses from properties. A slow response gives a competing property a leg up on earning a prospective resident’s favor.

However, responding to renters via text, email, chat and phone, all while fielding resident requests is easier said than done. Leaning on technology here can take the pressure off onsite staff and delight prospective residents.

Virtual leasing centers can handle the influx of inquiries and keep renters happy with around-the-clock support. It’s also a good idea to explore ways to automate routine digital communications like video tours, resident surveys and other marketing communications.

4. Renters have questions. Give them answers before they can ask.

Renters want to easily find information wherever they seek it. If they can’t find answers quickly, they can get frustrated and move along in their search.

Apartment communities can provide this convenience by adding engaging descriptions, full amenity lists, photos, videos and other rich property details across their listings, social accounts and website. Adding an FAQ section to a property website also helps prospective residents get their questions answered without having to reach for the phone or wait for an email reply. For more tech-forward communities, intelligent or live webchat is an instant and easy way to answer renter inquiries on web or social, with some even automatically qualifying new leads to a property management system (PMS) guest card.

Bottom Line

Apartment residents will continue adopting new technology to discover their next home, as they benefit from increased convenience and better matching for their desired lifestyles. Communities that develop a consistent and engaging presence across digital platforms will be better suited to compete in the future as the rental search experience turns increasingly digital.

Sean Barry is COO of RentPath.