May 05 2010

What Is A Virtual Leasing Agent? VLA Benefits | Funnel

We hear versions of this story again and again in the multifamily industry. It’s Monday (or any day of the week) and your leasing agents are drowning in a seemingly never-ending list of to-dos. They need to answer prospective renter’s questions quickly, but unfortunately, they don’t know what their fellow leasing agents have shared or said previously in the conversation…because they’re out on a well-deserved day off. So, instead of seamlessly picking up the conversation with Suzie from San Antonio, they end up asking Suzie all of the same questions over again…oops. Spoiler alert: this isn’t exactly a great experience for Suzie either.  

But, it doesn’t stop with Suzie. They also need to follow up on all the leads that came in after hours, schedule in-person or virtual tours for the prospect interested in the vacant ground-floor apartment, help the renter in 307 get their dishwasher fixed, and help solve a neighbor dispute about noise…yikes. 

They’re juggling all of this while logging in and out of separate tech platforms that help them manage these tasks, answering phone calls, talking with renters and prospects who visit the leasing office with in-person questions, and still trying to report on their monthly performance metrics…

They feel stretched thin and overwhelmed. 

A virtual leasing assistant, or as we call it at Funnel, a virtual leasing agent (VLA) can help. 

A VLA can take some of these to-do’s off of the leasing professional’s plate. So, instead of needing to answer Suzie from San Antonio’s question about the pet policy, the VLA can quickly respond — any time and any day — to answer these commonly asked, and repeatable requests. 

VLA = your team’s dream co-worker

Essentially, a Virtual Leasing Agent (VLA) can create automated, robust conversations, with prospective renters via website chat, email, and SMS. They understand what prospective renters are asking, and answer their questions in real-time. They provide detailed information about the community, schedule a virtual tour, pre-recorded video tour, live video tour, or self-guided tour. They can also present similar units including (units in sister communities) all while capturing and recording renter preferences within the CRM so that prospects never get asked the same question twice.

The VLA’s responses are powered by machine learning and natural language processing (NLP), meaning their responses get better and better over time as thousands of prospective renters ask millions of questions. When the questions become too nuanced for the VLA’s understanding (i.e. what is the view from the guest bedroom of unit 201?) it automatically hands the conversation off to the on-site leasing professional along with the history of the conversation, and the prospect’s preferences recorded for clear, seamless, handoff. 

A Virtual Leasing Agent is the co-worker your leasing professionals have always dreamed of teaming up with, they never call in sick, never need a day off, don’t complain about repetitive mundane tasks, and essentially elevate and amplify the impact of your on-site team. And, like your renters, a VLA works outside of the standard 9-5, Monday-Friday, office hours. Instead their “virtual leasing hours” are 24/7/365. All of this is to say, that when the on-site team is no longer feeling spread thin, overwhelmed, or worrying about their long list of to-dos, they’re free to focus on the things that matter most: thoughtfully providing an excellent customer experience to both prospective renters, as well as current residents. 

This seems so simple, but it’s true and therefore worth mentioning. First, when your leasing agents feel more at ease, and happier at work, they’re able to provide a better experience for current residents and prospective renters. Second, renters are smart savvy consumers. They know if an interaction is genuine, or canned, and they are intuitively drawn toward authentic experiences and people. Customer service is table stakes. Companies that thoughtfully select tech platforms and simplify workstreams, to free onsite staff to craft this kind of genuinely helpful environment, will excel. 

What is virtual leasing (AKA online leasing)?

Over the past two years, we’ve heard the simple word sandwich of “virtual + fill in this space with any other word.” We’re talking about everything from virtual doctor’s appointments/telehealth, to virtual workouts like the ever-popular Peloton, to virtual birthday celebrations and watching your one-year-old niece smash a cake over Zoom (like the future CEO she 1000% is growing to become). It can sometimes feel like the meaning of these events can get lost in the jargon of our time, which may leave you wondering, what is virtual leasing? 

We call it online leasing and believe it begins with leveraging the right set of technology solutions to assist your leasing professionals in their day-to-day tasks. We mentioned the last two years, but left out one of the most important parts: consumer renter expectations have changed. Think about it. Consumers can now buy whatever they want in one click from their couch, order groceries online, reserve a table for a celebratory dinner from an app, and…the list goes on. All of this is to say that the technologies they’ve adopted as a result of all things COVID, changed the digital experiences consumers expected from any industry — multifamily is absolutely no exception. Renters demand both that the industry says goodbye to antiquated solutions that don’t serve them and say hello to technology that crafts a modern shopping experience that aligns with consumer expectations.

How does Funnel fit into this picture? Simple. Instead of building our technology with individual properties at the center of the architecture, we built it with the renter at the center. So, when we say renter-centric, it’s not just a catchy marketing slogan, it’s also structurally true for our tech. This crafts for renters an apartment shopping experience that is intuitive, easy, and aligns with any other modern shopping experience. 

Let’s do a quick comparison and contrast. A traditional screening and leasing process are cumbersome for both renters and leasing teams. Renters had to spend their valuable time digging up pay-stubs or W-2s to verify their income and submit their social security number for a background check, and then wait (often a looooooong time) to hear back. All while the leasing professionals were expected to magically become fraud detectives, and to spot inconsistencies across a wide variety of specialty leasing documentation…ack. Let’s call this analog leasing, and agree that it’s a sub-par leasing experience. 

Now, let’s dive into online leasing on the Funnel platform. First, a renter inquires at a property and asks our VLA their list of 10,000 questions, then they schedule an in-person tour or virtual tour to check out the apartment home, tour, and finally feel that exciting “this is the place!” gut-check. What next? Easy. Renters can apply from their phone while still touring. You read that right. Renters can apply from their phone in ten minutes or less with our online leasing platform, Convert, and they’re no longer uploading paperwork. Instead, Funnel’s industry-first fintech integration allows renters to automatically verify their income by simply using their online banking credentials. Through best-in-class screening tools, leasing professionals can rapidly screen applicants, empowering them to make timely, informed decisions. This results in faster close times for property management companies, and a better simpler experience for the renter and online leasing agent

In case you’re skeptical, we pulled a few statistics from the clients that are utilizing our online leasing solution Convert. We don’t believe in throwing out stats for the sake of stats, but we look toward data to tell us a story about what’s happening on the ground for renters, and leasing professionals. Here are some initial results: 

  • 51% of applicants complete their application on a mobile device, meaning, mobile-first applications aren’t nice to have, they’re a need to have. 
  • 35% of applicants elect to use automatic income screening. 
  • 50% of applicants have taken 30 minutes or less to apply. 
  • 81 minutes is the fastest time from which an application was started to when the lease was countersigned, and on median, it takes 63 hours to go from application start to lease countersign. Pre-online leasing, this step wasn’t measured in hours, it was measured in weeks. 

More efficient, and more importantly, better

Simply put: by selecting the right tech partners, your property managers can craft the customer experience that renters have always wanted, keep your leasing team both happier in their virtual leasing agent jobs, and able to provide a level of care you’ll all be proud of. 

Of course, this can come with added efficiencies for your company and the individuals on your team. Let’s be clear though, at the end of the day, we are not promoters of the cut-throat corporatization of efficiency that results in layoffs and things of that nature. 

We are, however, BIG fans of how these efficiencies create tangibly better experiences, and therefore lives, for both onsite teams, current residents, and prospective renters. We view any bottom-line-style business benefits, as a downstream win-win. 

So, if you want to know more about Funnel’s consultative approach to partnership, and how we believe we can change the world by creating a better renter experience (yes, really!), then schedule a demo to learn more.