Concessions Vs. Rent Decreases

There has been a healthy and timely discussion on www.multifamilyinsiders.com this week. It started with a comment I made at a seminar I presented in Columbus, Oh and spilled over into a blog on this great web site for apartment professionals. In the event that you are not a member of the insiders site (and you should be!) I thought I would copy the bog and comments onto kategood.com so that you can read the conversation and share your thoughts.

Posted on MultifamilyInsiders.com on 10/26/2009 by Kate Good
Hi Everyone! Just getting into this great discussion concerning the blog post by Sarita Thomas. Check out her blog and see a healthy discussion on the topic of rental concessions versus rental rate optimization (which will probably mean a decrease).

Allow me to update the statement I made in a program I presented for the Columbus Apartment Association about communities offering up to 4 months free….I found a Vegas property offering 5 months free! Out of control! Yes, many markets are currently concecession driven. This is a scary situation and a downward spiral.

Just last week, I was asked to consult with a community that was trying to respond to the difficult market. Once their October move outs have turned in their keys, they will see their occupancy drop into the low 80’s and their economic occupancy sitting very uncomfortably at 79% going into the slower winter months.We discussed what to do. A concession would certainly attract traffic, lease apartments and keep the contracted rent amount higher than if we dropped the prices and removed concessions. This was an important position when we discussed the challenge we are seeing with renewals.

Offering concessions has always been very hard for me. I was raised in this industry that believed if you offer concessions, there is something wrong with your apartment community. However, I have never experienced the challenges that I am seeing today. So what is the answer?

I’ve had many of these conversations with owners in about 20 different markets this year. My advice, keep the contracted rental rate higher, offer a concession to attract and close traffic and….here is the kicker….require a longer term lease. Get these residents locked in for 14 – 20 months. We will not see rents increase in 2010 (okay there are a few good markets out there but they are not the majority) and concessions will start to decrease as the markets stabilize due to the slow down in new product. The trick is to stop the churn and stabilize. The result, you avoid offering concession on that apartment until 2011 and by then, the market may not require this free rent offer. Longer leases allow you to do this and removes fear that the renter may have concerning their rent increasing after a 6 – 12 month lease agreement. Bottom line, each market and every community is different and there are a lot of factors to consider including the long and short term goals of the ownership. This week alone, I will be leading 6 calls with management companies via my program “Kate On Demand” to walk through the various factors and design a strategy that best serves the property, customer and owners. The goal: Stabilize and get through 2010!
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…written by Danny Soule, October 26, 2009
Hey Kate. Great article. I work with CLASS, Inc and we are constantly getting asked the same question regarding concessions vs lowering rents. The other option for some owners is giving cash back incintives (if you have the pockets for it). As opposed to lowering your rents 50$ or giving a concession, the cash back is a great leasing incintive this time of year (pre-holidays) It Keep market rents up and reduces sticker shock upon renewal. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that option. What kills me about concessions is that leasing consultants tend to give them out over the phone. They sometimes never even bother to tell the prospect what the market rent was before the special, thus never selling the full value of the concession.

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…written by Kate Good, October 26, 2009
Thanks for the comment Danny. I have found the incentives do work in some markets. People just want to feel like they “got something.” I agree that we have to think ahead about how lowering rent will effect our ability to renew. People are not going to stand for much of a market increase and it seems like a deep hole that will take years to crawl out of.

With that said here are a few things to do BEFORE you drop a concession into your offer:
1. The phones are still ringing at the properties. I recently listened to 25 recorded leasing calls using Call Source. The results were pathetic. The consultant gave the price right away followed by the special offer. Hello! What ever happened to SELLING the VALUE BEFORE giving the price? And yes, I feel like i should yell that! Here is a new goal for all phone calls, defer the price question by asking a question such as “how soon are you looking to move in?” Now take control, ask questions and sell the apartments based on what you just heard the prospect say they needed. A good leasing consultant can defer the price for 3 min. That is a lot of selling time!

2. Do you have a tool to get the customer back for the second visit? Since the guest is usually visits a property two times before making a decision, I suggest having a tool to get them back.

3. Stop selling luxury. No one is buying it these days.

4. Individually price your apartments. Blanket, one price structures cause you to leave too much money on the table.

I’ll think of more and post again…..anyone have anything to ad?

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…written by Karen Long, October 27, 2009
I’m so glad to see this topic discussed. I too got my multi-family wings in markets where a concession next door warranted a “yes, I’ve heard they have problems” response. I like the solution of recouping and locking the renter in with a longer lease. I think that should work! Get us through 2010 as best possible, give the prospective resident a “good deal” they expect, and keep our rental rates as strong as possible in a very tough market.

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…written by Marci Brand, October 27, 2009
I spend alot of time working with properties in tough markets and I too, have found that one of the biggest issue is what we are doing with the traffic when we get it. I hate to offer concessions and I really cringe when I see and hear Leasing Professionals relying on concessions to sell their apartments. It is very important to remember that a concession should be the icing on the cake and incentive to rent, not the sole reason. Times are tough, and everyone is looking to save money, but most of our renters are still interested in the BEST product they can get for the rent. When we focus on specials to the point that they are our sole sales point, we run the risk of driving the market and the perceived value of the property down. We also fall into bad habits which are hard to break when the market turns around (and it will). At one community we offered a ‘menu of options’ for the prospective renter. They could choose between accent walls or similar upgrade in the apartment, a rental incentive or a flat screen tv. This gave the renter a feeling that he was in control and it also separated the property from the competition. The amazing thing was, we gave away more flat screen tvs than free rent (and it cost less!)

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…written by SARITA THOMAS, October 28, 2009
Hi Kate, Thanks for the information. There is a love-hate relationship with concessions, I know. However, I think we take it to the extreme. How do we know when we are actually making the bottom line with so many concessions given out? I agree with you. Make the lease terms longer so that we can re-coup some of the lost rent and preserve vacancies in 2010. Thank you!