The low-down on self-showings: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

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The low-down on self-showings: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

The real estate market has been flooded with new technologies as of late. All sorts of companies (including Buildium!) have sprung up to make it easier to own, rent, or manage rental properties. Who doesn’t want that?!

One subset of the real estate tech market we’ve been watching is around products that enable “self-showings.” This includes 3D property tours, smart locks, and now even robots!

However, while self-showings are a promising technology, they may not work for everyone. Let’s take a closer look.

What Are Self-Showings?

Traditionally, whenever a prospective renter wanted to see an apartment, the property manager, landlord, or leasing agent would need to schedule an in-person showing. This often required a lot of back-and-forth communication. When is the apartment available for a showing? Can you meet me there at 5 PM on Friday? Whoops, my roommate wants to come—can we move this to 7 PM on Sunday?

There are so many logistics to coordinate when it comes to showing apartments. In a best case scenario, both parties find a mutually agreeable time to walk through the unit. Both arrive on time. It only takes one showing to lease the apartment.

In reality, leasing an apartment usually takes much more effort. The owner, property manager, or leasing agent might need to make 15 trips to the apartment before it’s finally leased. The traditional leasing process isn’t convenient for anyone—the owner, agent, or renter.

Self-showings are intended to streamline the leasing process. Instead of showing the unit in-person, the owner or property manager leverages technology to allow prospective renters to tour the property on their own, at their own convenience.

The Self-Showing Process

In the simplest form of a self-showing, the leasing agent will leave a set of keys in a lockbox. He or she will give the code to the prospect, who can get the keys and tour the property on their own schedule. After touring the property, they just put the keys back into the lockbox.

Naturally, property owners have concerns about just handing over the keys. What if someone damages the unit? What if they take off with the keys? What recourse do you have? These are all completely valid concerns.

That’s where new technologies come into play.

A combination of new software and smart lock technologies have made self-showings safer than ever. Companies like Rently and ShowMojo offer software that integrates with certain smart locks. Landlords leave a smart lockbox at each unit that they’re trying to rent. The lockbox is controlled remotely by the service provider, and the service provider can send a unique access code to anyone interested in viewing the apartment.

The software providers have safety features built-in.

For instance, anyone interested in touring a property secured by Rently has to sign up for an account in advance. They are required to submit personal information to confirm who they are. Rently then sends a verification code via text message to a user’s cell phone, and that code is used to authenticate the person’s account.

Before they can tour the property, Rently requires users to submit their credit card information. Rently charges a $0.99 fee to ensure that the credit card is valid. That credit card is then kept on file in case the person causes any damage at a property during their self-guided tour.

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Once authentication is complete, a user specifies when they’d like to see the property. The owner or property manager can set restrictions, such as limiting showings to certain hours of the day. Generally speaking, however, self-showings enable a prospect to tour properties 24/7, 365 days per year.

The process of getting into the unit can vary. Some software applications will send users a code approximately 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment. They’ll use this code to unlock the smart lock. Other software applications require users to check in at the apartment using a mobile app in order to receive the code. In either case, the codes are unique to that user and will expire after a certain period of time.

Once inside the unit, the prospect can tour the apartment at his or her own pace. When the tour is complete, the person just pops the key back into the lockbox. This process automatically notifies the property manager, landlord, or leasing agent that the user has vacated the unit. In effect, this creates a paper trail as to who toured the property and when.

Pros and Cons of Self-Showings

Property managers, landlords, and leasing agents often have mixed opinions about self-showings.

The pros of self-showings include:

  • Less coordination is needed between the property manager, landlord, leasing agent, and prospective renter. Time wasted coordinating and conducting showings can instead be spent on other responsibilities.
  • It becomes significantly easier to show apartments that are geographically spread out. However, it may lengthen the amount of time that a property owner can self-manage before having to hire a property manager.
  • Self-showings help to shorten the leasing cycle by getting prospects in the door faster.
  • Property managers can grow their portfolios more easily. This is because each leasing agent can oversee more units, since each vacant unit requires less hands-on management.
  • Renters get instant gratification by touring properties as soon as they want.
  • People can tour units multiple times without feeling like a burden. If they like the unit, they can schedule another showing for their parents, roommates, or significant other. They can even schedule a third or fourth visit to measure whether their furniture will fit into the apartment.

However, as we mentioned before, not everyone is thrilled with the self-showing concept. Here are some of the downsides of self-showings:

  • Self-showings are really only appropriate for leasing vacant apartments. When an apartment is occupied, the prospect should be accompanied during the showing to protect the interests of the existing tenant.
  • Prospects may have questions during the self-showing, and it can be tough to get answers if they’re touring the property on their own.
  • Monthly rental fees for smart lockboxes can start to add up. It’s important for property managers and landlords to do the math on whether they should rent vs. own smart lockboxes. This will depend on how many units they manage, how many of those are vacant at any given time, and for how long (on average).
  • Not all renters are technologically adept. Older renters, in particular, may not feel comfortable utilizing self-showings.
  • Self-showings are not 100% foolproof. Glitches in software happen from time to time. There is also always a risk that a person will cause damage to the unit, lose the keys, etc. Safeguards can be put into place, but there’s still some level of risk involved.

Other Ways to Improve Rental Showings

Self-showings can be useful as part of a larger strategy to deliver a better rental experience. A hybrid approachone that includes both self-showings and traditional in-person property tourscan alleviate some of the coordination pressures, while still providing high quality service to prospective tenants.

In addition, tools like Buildium’s Showing’s Coordinator, powered by Tenant Turner, can help property managers, landlords, and leasing agents to more easily coordinate rental showingswithout leaving prospective residents to fend for themselves. Showings Coordinator “offers showing scheduling software to better manage prospective tenants. Their robust platform works for you 24/7/365, whether you have a dozen rentals or thousands. All of your prospective tenants are ushered through a Fair Housing-compliant pre-qualification process. [It] scores each candidate based on your criteria and lets only qualified prospects schedule a viewing. You can show the rental yourself; assign the showing to someone else; use electronic lockboxes, combo lockboxes, or key checkout—your choice!”

Interested in learning more? Check out this blog post: Announcing Showings Coordinator, Powered by Tenant Turner

Can ‘self-showings’ help property managers fill vacancies faster? Learn more on the #BuildiumBlog! Click To Tweet

Would you consider conducting self-showings for your rental units? Let us know in the comments!

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