Most people wouldn’t think of “getting to mow the lawn” as a perk. But back in my renter days, I actually saw lawn care as something special. So when I moved into a three-story walk-up managed by someone who actually allowed me to do a little landscaping, I was thrilled. Ms. Wong was a bit of a character, but she let me cut the grass the way I liked and paint my kitchen cabinets a dark blue. My apartment felt like a home, not just a unit, and I wound up staying there for years.
Ms. Wong, in her own way, may have been a landlord ahead of her time. Historically, property managers haven’t always focused on the actual people who live in their properties. Property managers have been more beholden to owners and, above all, to the “door” or unit. The business goal has been to keep units filled and to generate income. Making a property feel like home for a renter hasn’t been top priority.
But that dynamic is quietly — and quickly — changing. My rental days are behind me, but today’s renters increasingly want the same thing I was after: a place to feel proud of, a place that feels like home. They’re looking for something for the long haul. The typical long-term renter stays in their rental space for an average of seven years, and they’re willing to be picky about where they live.
Even though rental supply remains low today in many markets, I’ve seen that residents are increasingly willing to move if they don’t feel they can make a space their own or even if their relationship with their property manager isn’t pleasant. In other words, it’s not so much that the traditional supply-and-demand dynamic in renting has changed. It’s that renters’ philosophies have shifted.
The Business Case For Home
While the idea of a sense of home may seem touchy-feely, going the extra mile to actually create that homeyness represents one of the best business decisions a property manager can make.
For one, home-like properties may experience less churn, which means savings on re-renting a unit. Turnover costs are sometimes overlooked by property managers, but with the cost of replacing a tenant potentially reaching several thousand dollars, the expenses can quickly add up. Residents made to feel at home are also likely to reciprocate by treating units with more care, which translates to lower upkeep costs. Research also shows that renters are more willing to shoulder rent increases when they feel like they’ve really made a space their own. Win, win, win.
More property managers must embrace this opportunity. Critically, creating a rental unit that feels like home doesn’t start with any specific amenity or perk, but with an attitude shift. It’s about reimagining renting as a true partnership. At the end of the day, both you and your tenant should want to feel pride in the property. If you’ve done your job and vetted tenants to get the right people in the door, your interests should be aligned, which provides a strong foundation to build on for long-term tenancy.
Making A Unit A Home
From there, there are plenty of practical ways to help residents feel they’re part of a community, not just a faceless renter passing through. Simply being accessible and responsive as a property manager can be a significant difference-maker when it comes to cultivating a feeling of belonging. It’s not just about showing up when a pipe breaks, but being available when residents need you. Granted, this isn’t easy when juggling other responsibilities. Ultimately, good relationships require good communication. So however property managers can power that — online or offline — helps. In a world where we spend so much time online, bringing the resident experience into the digital era makes sense.
Amenities are an important part of making a unit feel like a home as well, though it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The exact approach depends heavily on the market, the property type and the price point of the rental. For some renters, for instance, high-speed internet access is a must-have, and smart-home tech is increasingly in demand. For others, safety lighting to illuminate hallways, stairwells and outdoor spaces is a coveted feature. But creating a sense of home goes beyond physical amenities.
Arguably, even more important is giving attention to ways to build community among residents. After all, what makes a home a home is as much what surrounds it as what’s inside. Common spaces where residents can relax, mingle and connect are a natural way to build a neighborhood feel. When appropriate, pet-friendly policies (and even on-site pet care and walking) can also foster connections and encourage residents to put down roots. But even something as simple as making safety a priority and ensuring walkways are well-lit can make a basic apartment feel like a place to settle down for the long term.
Personalization can make a big impact, too. Allowing residents to make certain modifications can create a feeling of ownership in otherwise interchangeable units. I know that some property managers shudder at this idea, but even giving residents a choice of approved colors for an accent wall can help create a feeling of home. In the era of digital personalization we live in — where everything from our TV show recommendations to our emojis are customized — letting people put their imprint on their physical space is more important than ever.
As more tenants seek homes, not units, it only makes economic sense for property managers to satisfy this demand. Having a resident-first focus isn’t “fluffy;” it’s a boon to the bottom line. At the end of the day, a financially successful property is one with engaged residents, a sense of community and a property manager who brings this all to life through an understanding of residents’ needs and preferences. But, critically, this cannot happen unless everyone involved is on board.
- Originally posted on Forbes