August 12 2022

Funnel Leasing CEO, on how to prepare for, and thrive through, the inevitable changes Artificial Intelligence (AI) delivers multifamily


With any new technology shift or macro change, there are winners and losers. Artificial intelligence (AI) is no exception. In multifamily tech folklore, there is a lingering belief that the AI winners will only be big companies, and the AI losers will be smaller enterprises like leasing teams. I’m here to tell you that is false.

For small to mid-sized operators, if you think AI is only for the large operators and the public companies, then you’re missing the opportunity to let tech help level the playing field. Without taking advantage of current tech, you risk getting disrupted by large operators (and become their asset instead of their competition). Perhaps that sounds dire, but I believe that when smaller operators are looking to prove value and higher costs for their customers than larger competitors, better customer service (i.e., timely responsiveness) is vital. So, if your business has to choose between cost, speed or quality (and cost is off the table), then you know what your focus should be.

For leasing professionals, you should view AI as a colleague and advocate. If you do, you are in the best position to leverage it to win. Does AI sometimes lead to smaller teams via natural churn and attrition? Yes. Does it also work hand-in-hand with team members to allow them to do more with less and automate the parts of their job they hate? Absolutely.

As we know, the arrival of automated machines at Ford factories meant some jobs became irrelevant. Despite this, Ford remained one of the largest employers in the state of Michigan. How does this relate to multifamily? Just like at the Ford plant, when AI is leveraged in multifamily, it means some tasks take longer and are more costly to do manually.

So, if you’re a team member who prides yourself on being the first to respond to every lead as fast as possible without spending the time to craft the perfect response, you may find more success focusing on closing that lead once they’ve been warmed up. Closing is a skill set that AI is not designed for, but a fast response time is. So, focus your time and attention on working with, instead of competing with AI. I personally do not have a goal or belief that AI will replace humans, for I believe both are necessary for our industry; technology can be used to aid leasing professionals and amplify their impact.

The truth is, it’s inevitable that automated communications will play a part in the apartment leasing process because it’s included in every other e-commerce experience. Let’s look back to look ahead. When I joined the multifamily industry in 2012, less than a quarter of renters were paying their rent online, and a lot of operators thought they would need to accept paper checks indefinitely.

Today, I know from working with many of the largest property management companies that over 90% of their residents pay rent online. Clearly, the industry’s tech adoption increased.

I believe the same growth will happen for AI-based conversations. It will be a part of every apartment community in the future, and learning to utilize it will be critical to multifamily professionals.

Here are three ways you can join the winning-with-AI side.


1. Take care of the handoff and the relationship.

The primary AI task within multifamily is answering initial inquiries. And as we’ve all experienced in our own lives, eventually, the questions you have or the help you need may require escalation to a human customer service professional.

At my company, we’ve seen that AI can handle around 86% of initial inquiries; and for the 14% of inquiries that need a little more assistance, leasing professionals are there to help. Ensuring a smooth handoff between machines and teams creates a scalable and excellent customer service experience.

Multifamily-specific AI can be optimized to schedule a tour. But if a prospective resident asks about the wall color of specific rooms or something complex and your AI solution can’t answer that question, that’s a great time for a leasing professional to step in and say, “The wall color in all of our apartment homes is beige, and you’re welcome to paint it any color.” Customer service must delight and nurture the relationship. When an incoming lead is escalated to the leasing team from the AI solution, the relationship should be the top priority.

2. Focus on the AI happy path.

AI is not your high-EQ leasing team, and your leasing team is not the hyper-productive-always-on-AI solution. Instead of focusing on every single scenario that could arise in a typical day on-site, use AI to focus on the repeatable, scalable happy path. As in the example above, it could be directing prospects to self-schedule a tour. Then, let your adept and capable leasing professionals take care of the curveballs instead of the repetitive tasks that steal their time from higher-value interactions.

3. Remember, coffee is for closers.

AI isn’t the closer in multifamily. In our industry, it gets incredibly nuanced and technical at the bottom of the funnel. While automation built into online leasing solutions does take much of the manual onus off of leasing teams and streamlines the process, there will always be escalations from AI to the leasing agent during the application stage. This is when a real-coffee-drinking-human is required to get that lead to an approved and signed lease. Make sure to hone these closing skills.


Join the AI side.

From inquiry through leasing, AI is there to team up with your leasing professionals. When AI is deeply integrated into your tech solutions rather than used as a tech Band-Aid slapped on top of separate solutions, it can help you collect information to build a richer picture of your renters, nurture the relationship with prospective renters and reveal patterns in renter behavior. At the end of the day, there will be winners and losers in AI adoption, but following my advice can help you be on the winning side.