How to Implement Self-Guided Apartment Tours

By: Kathryn Casna

If you’re already using smart technology or IoT in your communities, you’re in a good position to implement self-guided tours. You’ve already done the hardest part, which is upgrading to smart technology. But if you want to provide truly excellent tours that (1) impress prospects, (2) improve your site team’s efficiency and (3) boost your NOI, you’ll want to get the details right.

Excellent self-guided tours take a bit of upfront work, but you’ll see the most ROI if you take these steps when designing your tours:

1. Include your staff early

When making changes to your workflow or systems, it’s a good idea to involve your staff in the decision. As you shop for SGT solutions, ask your staff for a prioritized list of the features that would improve their efficiency or make things easier. Ask for their biggest pain points, too. Then use this information as a guide for deciding how well a solution fits your needs.

Your leasing teams are likely to be most affected when by new self-guided tour capabilities, and you might experience pushback from them. But if you’re clear that your ultimate goal is to make their lives easier — and that you want to use their insights about their day-to-day needs to decide which solution to implement —- you can turn their anxiety into excitement.

Buy-in is crucial. If your site team knows your goal is to help them with their daily workflow, they’ll be less fearful that they’ll be automated out of a job and more willing to put in the effort it takes to adapt to a new system.

Once you choose a system, start training your staff on it as soon as you can — before you fully implement it. You want to deliver excellent self-guided tours from day one.

2. Invest in quality tour content

Think of your best leasing agent. They’re probably pretty good at giving site tours. What makes them so good at it? Chances are, it’s how they personalize the tour, the friendly way they interact with prospects, their extensive knowledge of the community, and their ability to inspire confidence and excitement.

The secret to creating top-notch self-guided tours is capturing these same skills with your tour content.

Think of your self-guided tour solution as the framework on which you build an experience for prospective residents. What does every prospect need to know to fall in love with your community? How will they find their way around while avoiding confusion and ambiguity? What questions are they likely to have, and how can you answer them before they even ask?

The best self-guided tours include:

  • Plenty of visual content like maps and photos so prospects can orient themselves. Add GPS navigation for an even better experience.

  • Tour narrations to help answer questions that your site team normally would on a guided tour.

  • Self-service options for troubleshooting and other questions, like an FAQ or a chatbot. In case those aren’t enough, make it easy to contact your staff.

  • Rules and other guidance that let them know what’s OK to explore and what isn’t. Should they feel comfortable opening all closets and cupboards? Testing faucets and exploring balconies? Trying out the fitness center?

To build quality content, lean on the expertise of your best leasing agents and your marketing team. Give them the time and resources they need to craft a great experience. Then, once your tours begin, tap your staff as a resource to update and incrementally improve the tour as, together, you learn what works and what doesn’t.

3. Make it known and make it obvious

To maximize ROI on your self-guided tours, you need as many prospects visiting your community as possible. So don’t hide the option in your website footer or at the bottom of your Zillow listing. Make it a brightly-colored button next to your website’s main navigation and note it first thing in your listings.

Think about every place your marketing team advertises vacancies, and make sure every one of them prominently features your new self-guided tour option. And don’t forget signage outside the community itself. Passersby can quickly become prospects if they know they can duck in for a quick tour on their way home from work.

4. Upgrade access control technology and other equipment

Just as you continually improve your tour content, look for ways to improve the technology in your community. Some SGT systems come with minimal equipment like a smart hub, smart lock, and a few motion and contact sensors.

A kit like this enables tours of a single unit. It’s a great way to test the idea with minimal investment, fine-tune your content and get your team used to the process. But it also means moving all the SGT hardware to the next vacant unit when the original one is rented. And you’re limited to automating tours of a single unit.

As you refine your tour content, think about scaling your hardware, too. Add more SGT kits or invest in smart locks throughout your property.

Also, consider adding tech that your current residents will love. Once you begin offering self-guided tours, you may notice a change in the renters you attract. Smart communities tend to attract more affluent households, so consider leaning into this trend.

Consider smart thermostats — accessible by Siri and Google voice commands, of course — to augment your reputation for offering tech-forward housing. And if you find that your guest parking isn't enough to accommodate an influx of visiting prospects, check out smart parking systems. Having sensors on each space in your lot could help prospects find easy parking with minimal impact to current residents.

5. Zoom out and view the entire prospect journey

What happens in a future resident’s life before they take a self-guided tour of your community? What about after? The journey to finding the perfect place to live isn’t fast, easy or straightforward, and it rarely begins with your community. One person’s search may be sparked by a big life change like moving to a new city or growing a family. Another person’s search might begin simply because their lease is up soon. How can you stand out to prospects the moment their search begins?

Don’t forget about floor plans or virtual tours

After building the perfect self-guided tour, it’s tempting to let it represent your community on its own. But to get a prospect to physically visit your property, they have to be reasonably sure your community will be a good fit for them.

Floor plans and virtual tours are like appetizers. They get prospects excited enough about your community to spend the gas money. So don’t skip or skimp on them.

Provide clear next steps

A prospect has just toured your community, and they love it. But if there’s any confusion or friction between them and move-in day, their excitement might fade — along with any chance they’ll fill your vacancy. So give them clear next steps for getting into the unit they love. Make it easy to fill out the application right then and there — and make it easy to find later.

What if the prospect doesn’t fall in love with your vacant unit? They might love the community, however, and want updates on when other units become available. Maybe the location isn’t right for them, but they’d love one of your other communities. Or maybe they’re not interested, but they can tell you what to improve. In each case, make it clear how to keep the relationship with you going.

Decide how you’ll respond to each of these types of prospects and create a seamless experience for each of them. Automate what makes sense while keeping a few unique touches, like a personalized email from a member of your leasing team.

Leverage tour data properly

After the prospect finishes your self-guided tour, they might leave behind a treasure trove of data. You can use this data to improve your tour, your community and your process — especially if your SGT solution fully integrates with your CRM. But before you add a prospect to your newsletter or share their feedback with your team, make sure you’re not encroaching on their privacy or breaking any laws.

You can’t add a prospect to an email mailing list without first obtaining the proper permissions. Fair housing laws may prohibit you from collecting certain details, like which prospects had a child accompany them on their tour.

6. Test the entire tour experience

Before you ask prospects to take your freshly minted tour, ask several people to test it first. Start with your best leasing agents. They’ll know what questions potential residents tend to ask and what they usually want to see.

Then have friends or family to take the tour. You want the perspective of someone who’s not familiar with your community because they’re your best chance at pinpointing moments of confusion or frustration.

Test beyond the tour

Have testers go through the full self-guided tour process, from checking out your listing to scheduling an appointment to visiting your community to responding to follow-ups. Make sure they can access everything they’re supposed to, and that everything goes well on the back end for your team.

Ask testers to share any points of confusion or uncertainty, or if they have any questions that weren’t answered during the tour. To ensure your follow-up workflow is on point, ask them what they’d want to do next.

Support initial tours with staff

Once you get some positive feedback, it’s time for a dress rehearsal with real prospects. Make self-guided tours available during normal office hours so your staff are there to help in case anything goes wrong. If that goes well, have an agent stay late for the first few after-hours tours to see if there are any details you forgot about — like solar lights that fail to turn on or automatic changes to access control once your office is locked up.

Once you’re confident you can deliver a great experience, you can start letting your SGT solution run on its own.