After attending this year's NMHC OPTECH Conference & Expo in Dallas, here are some key insights we had to share. Read on to learn about what is currently disrupting the multifamily industry and what changes to expect in the near future.

Over 2,000 professionals in the multifamily industry attended this year's NMHC OPTECH Conference & Expo. About half of these were CEOs, COOs, VPs, and other C-Level executives. Attendees had the opportunity to share knowledge and connect with other industry professionals during the networking events, peer roundtables, expo showcase, and speaker presentations that spanned over the 3-day conference.

Here are the key takeaways from OPTECH 2019:

Self-Guided Tours Will Change the Multifamily Leasing Experience

One of the biggest topics at this year's OPTECH conference was self-guided tour technology. This topic came up in numerous presentations and panels throughout the conference. Here's some key points that show that self-guided tours might not just be passing fad in multifamily.

According to 2020 Kingsley Survey Data of over 373,000 multifamily residents, 86% of renters say that they would not rent without seeing an apartment in person. Yet it's extremely hard for prospects to make time for a tour during leasing hours.

Many leasing offices offer the last tours of the day before 5:30pm and renters aren't able to get there in time after work. Busy prospects may pass up communities that don't have flexible touring options and lease elsewhere.

One of the most interesting sessions at OPTECH was the Cage Match: Leasing Agent vs. Self-Guided Tour Performance moderated by Todd Katler, Founder & CEO of Anyone Home Inc. Featured speakers included Khushbu Sikaria of The Bozzuto Group, Mia Wentworth of CWS Apartments, and Phil Rogers of Invitation Homes. There weren't enough seats in the conference room as this was one of the most popular sessions. You can find the presentation slides here.

Here are some data points that were shared at the session:

  • There is an 86% increase in lease conversion rates for self-guided tours over agent led tours when both options are offered
  • 20% of prospects that self-tour do so outside of regular leasing hours
  • 19% of prospects took 4+ self-guided tours of the same home before leasing
  • Only 1.7% of prospects were refused access to a community because of the likelihood that they were fraudulent

Conversion rates for self-guided tours are actually higher than agent led tours when both options are offered. Many prospects enjoy the flexibility that self-guided tours give them. They are able to tour outside of regular leasing hours and they can come back to a property multiple times with family members and friends. Prospects are able to tour at their own pace and carefully consider their new home before leasing, without placing an extra burden on leasing staff.

The idea of self-guided tours has certainly caught on with OPTECH 2019 attendees. At the Ask the Tech Pros session moderated by Brian Zrimsek of MRI, attendees were polled about their likelihood to implement self-guided tours at their communities. 65% of industry professionals polled plan to implement self guided tours before the end of 2022 or have already begun the process.

That's not to say that self-guided tours will be replacing agent led tours anytime soon. Most industry professionals simply want to augment their current leasing experience with flexible self-guided options. Some management companies are beginning to offer self-guided options just for retours.

The majority of prospects still prefer to tour with a leasing agent before signing. According to 2020 Kingsley Survey Data, 69% of prospects prefer to tour with a community representative to ask questions.

Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Change Lead Nurturing and Life Cycle Management Processes

Another highly discussed topic at OPTECH was automation. 36% of industry professionals polled plan to implement Robotic Process Automation by the end of 2022 or earlier. Another 29% of these professionals admit that it is not yet on their radar.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that can remove repetitive tasks from the plates of leasing agents. There are many examples of RPA in the lead nurturing process. For instance, RPA software can detect when a prospect is looking for a 3-bedroom apartment and then act by automatically sending over a discount offer on available 3-bedroom options at a community. RPA can also nurture residents through the life cycle process by sending out welcome emails at move-in or renewal email drips near the end of a renter's lease automatically.

Conversational AI (Artificial Intelligence) was also a trending topic at OPTECH this year. 65% of industry professionals polled plan to implement Conversation AI in their portfolios by the end of 2022 or earlier.

An example of an application of AI in multifamily is Voice Assistant Technology, such as LeaseHawk. Automated Assistants are able to answer prospect phone calls after hours or when leasing agents are unable to get to the phone. They can respond to resident inquiries about floor plan availability and book appointments around the clock. Automated assistants make sure that the leasing process can continue 24/7 and are able to convert prospects that might've otherwise been missed opportunities.

AI Powered Call Analysis also allows companies to score leasing agents' phone calls with first time prospects and identify strengths and weaknesses. Another example of AI is website chat bot technology that interacts with prospects and answers questions with the goal to schedule tour appointments.

One of the main takeaways from the session, A Process Audit: Reviewing, Streamlining, and Automating to Save Time and Money, was that 100% self-service is a real option in the multifamily industry.

As time progresses, AI technology will continue to improve and better address the needs of leads that leasing agents don't have time to nurture properly. This will allow property staff to focus on other tasks that will improve community engagement and resident retention.

Cyber Security and Data Privacy Regulation

By far the most concerning topic of conversation at OPTECH was the pending roll-out of California's "CCPA" bill.  NMHC hosted special summits on Cyber-Security and Data Privacy Regulation that were well attended by Operations and IT leaders across the industry. More info can be found on the topic here:

That wraps up the top takeaways from this year's OPTECH conference. Keep an eye out for the next articles that we'll publish about Data Privacy and the Top Companies at the OPTECH. We hope to see you at OPTECH 2020!