When Benton Cotter of Arizona-based RentVest discusses technology, you can hear the excitement in his voice. “The experience of our prospects, tenants and owners has been completely transformed by technology,” he says. “Everything has gotten faster, easier and less frustrating, and it has happened very quickly.”
At the top of his list for innovation is access: efficient communication between RentVest and their customers. He says the key is ”like media” – communicating with customers in the manner they choose to communicate, whether it's via the tenant portal, email, Facebook or phone calls. The way the customer contacts RentVest is the way they’re responded to. A Facebook message, for example, will get a response back through Facebook.
“Everyone has their own preference for communicating,” says Cotter. “If they contact us through one medium and we get back to them through another, they might not see the response in a timely manner. So we keep up with all the various communication platforms and are going back and forth with customers in many different ways in the course of a day.” Cotter mentions that he’s seeing this sort of “like media” communication in other areas of his life. “I clicked on a Facebook ad for a phone case I liked, and when I ordered it the receipt came back through Facebook rather than the usual email.”
Online rental payments is the next area of innovation Cotter lists as transformative in the business. “Our renter radius here in Arizona goes out 120 miles, so it’s just not practical for many of our customers to drop off a check,” he says. Not only do customers love the ability to pay rent and fees online by check or credit card, but RentVest has experienced a significant reduction in labor. With fewer checks to handle manually and to record and enter into the accounting system, the company has actually been able to eliminate an accounting position, a considerable expense reduction.
“There’s nothing more frustrating for prospects than getting really excited about a property only to have it leased out before they’ve heard from an agent to arrange for a mutually convenient time to make it to the property,” says Cotter. “But we’re using an app that lets prospects get to the property quickly for a self-showing without even having an agent there.” He gives the example of a prospect who sees the perfect home listed on Zillow. They click a button to qualify for a viewing, supplying basic information and a scan or photo of their driver’s license, and are issued a PIN that lets them into the property for a self-showing as little as an hour or two after they’ve discovered the home, and without having to make arrangements with an agent.
Self-showings have not only been popular with prospects, they’ve also significantly increased RentVest’s level of prospect engagement. Leads that once fell through the cracks or were responded to too slowly, resulting in prospects moving on, are now being captured and engaged immediately, and the number of monthly showings has risen.
To further close any gaps in serving prospects, RentVest has called on Propertyware’s property management contact center to ensure all calls and emails are answered and responded to promptly and professionally. “The agents themselves are just too busy to provide this level of customer service,” says Cotter.
Leasing without the labor
Paper-based leasing has always been a headache for both renters and property managers. At RentVest it entailed meeting in person at the office or home to review and sign the documents, getting them to the broker to review and sign, then back to the renter. But in mid-2016, RentVest took advantage of Propertyware’s online leasing capabilities to take paper out of the process. The e-documents move between the various parties via the Internet, and are legally finalized with an e-signature. Cotter says this process saves two or three days of hassles.
Applications are easier these days too, with the capability to upload scans or pics of driver’s licenses, pay stubs and other supporting materials.
Tech for tomorrow
Cotter is clearly enthusiastic not just about what RentVest has already put into place, but what’s to come. He lists as one possibility the addition of new forms of payment – PayPal and peer-to-peer, for example. Another is the increasing ability to do everything with a cell phone, as functionality improves and people do more on phones and less on laptops.
Cotter concludes: “In a recent meeting, we talked about the fact that already more than half of renters are millennials, and it’s projected that within five years 67% of renters will be under 30. These folks grew up on technology, and the more we can use it to make their lives easier, the happier they will be. At the same time, we’re better serving our owners, and reducing our labor and headaches. Everyone wins.”
Benton Cotter serves as the Chief Operating Officer at RentVest, a Nationwide single-family property management company based in Mesa, Arizona. Guy Lyman is a New Orleans-based writer specializing in residential rental real estate.