Apartment Self-Guided Tours: The Future or Damaging Customer Service Relations?

When self-checkout was first introduced in 1997 at grocery stores across the country (later becoming widespread in 2003), there were those who embraced the new concept and others who did not.

Same is true of self-guided tours in the apartment industry.

There has been a lot of conversation surrounding self-guided tours in multifamily, with some in the industry embracing the concept, and others viewing it as having a negative impact on customer relations.

The idea behind a self-guided tour is to eliminate the hassle of going back and forth to schedule a visit with your prospect.

Those who promote self-guided tours claim that it’s meant to make the process easier, for both property managers and prospects, by decreasing the time spent over the phone and reducing the number of unqualified showings, leading to higher quality leads for the property.

Some believe too much time is wasted coordinating schedules, setting up property tours, and the travel required to and from showings. Self-guided tours allow for residents to check out the units they want and do it at times that are convenient for them, without having to play phone, email, or text tag with a leasing agent.

There are property managers who are reporting a lot of success with self-guided tours, claiming that it is cost saving, time-saving, and more efficient, similar to how grocery stores felt about installing self-checkout machines. Tours can be scheduled online, and the prospect is given a passcode to enter the model unit and view the apartment.

Urbane Apartments has been doing self-guided tours since 2005, and founder Eric Brown says the prospects love it.

“We believe [self-guided tours] enhance the prospect’s leasing experience,” Eric says. “In the early years 2009-2010, I would go out and ask the prospects how they liked the process, and nearly 100% of the time, they loved it. While we are still figuring out more and better ways to smooth out and enhance the leasing experience for our Urbane Prospects, there are inherent benefits for us too. We have reduced staff, our cost per lease has gone down, and the amount of tours we can do has gone up.”

However, some executives believe that the leasing process needs face-to-face interaction. In some cases, leadership felt that their leasing agents were not making connections by sending prospects on their own to view the community.

From an operation standpoint, there are those who prefer to keep the human element in the sales cycle and allow their leasing consultants to build relationships with the prospects. The leasing agent can sell the unique selling points of their community against any competitors that the prospect might also be considering. They can point out the best features of the unit and highlight the amenities and availability based on the preference of the prospect.

Still, those in favor argue that the younger generation (millennials and generation z) would prefer a self-guided tour while others say that self-guided tours make sense only for single-family units or properties with under 50 units, but that it would not be sustainable for the larger properties.

Nekesha Lyles, President of IREM (Tulsa Chapter) and Regional Property Supervisor for Case & Associates Properties, had this to say:

“I think self-guided tours will be a nice new way of making touring convenient for prospects. Self-guided tours can bring a new convenient way to enhance the renter experience and make the leasing experience simple and hassle-free for those who prefer this way of shopping.”

It’s important to consider that there are properties which have implemented self-guided tours but have also maintained person-to-person interaction. For example, a prospect might go through a self-guided tour, but then speak with a leasing agent afterward. This is not unlike the self-checkout stations, where if a shopper is experiencing an error, an employee is close by to assist.

What do you think? Are self-guided tours the future? Or do you think they take away from connecting with the prospect?