The State of Search: Are Renters Still Searching for Apartments?
Kristi Fickert, Senior Vice President of Engagement and Growth
Patrick Laycock, Senior Manager of Digital Strategy
Our team of strategists spend the majority of their time digging into data. It’s their job and it’s what they live and breathe, every day (even outside of the COVID-19 era). Numbers tell a story that can more effectively guide all of our marketing decisions and now more than ever, it’s imperative we keep a pulse on what’s happening in the apartment industry today. Each week we’re reviewing the ‘State of Search’. How are prospects and apartment renters shifting their priorities? What search terms are they using, and what’s happening with search volume? Are large metropolitan areas seeing a variation in online leasing velocity compared to other markets?
During this critical time, we’ll scrutinize the data, help you make sense of the trends, and more importantly, determine the exact actions you should be taking to maximize your marketing efforts (while being mindful of potential budget constraints).
The State of Search, Week of 4/20:
Online apartment searches have been steadily on the rise since their steep decline in March of 2020. This week, we’re comparing search volume for the popular search term ‘apartments for rent’ and identifying trends both weekly and compared to this same period last year.
Google searches for ‘apartments for rent’ are only down 12% from this time last year. And, we’ve seen a 31% increase in usage of this search term since the lowest point for online apartment searches, which occurred the week of March 20th, 2020.
People searching for ‘open apartments’ is up 38% year-over-year. The only other time this search term was used more often was during the week of Christmas in 2019 – when many leasing offices traditionally close or have reduced office hours, due to the holidays.
Here are a few additional takeaways for this week:
Searches for ‘can’t pay rent’ are down this week from their peak – by 105%.
Renters searched the most for help and guidance regarding not being able to make rent payments between March 29th – April 4th of 2020. As another rent cycle begins, we do anticipate these numbers could spike again this week and our team will be monitoring this specific data daily.
However, the re-opening of businesses in many states is also coinciding with rent week. Given that many payroll cycles run two weeks behind, we may see this search term evolve and be less about ‘can’t pay rent’ and shift to terminology that is more closely aligned with needing to pay rent late. Instead of not being able to pay at all, we anticipate as more renters head back to work, they’ll be able to pay, albeit late. Next week we’ll review terms such as ‘paying my rent late’ or ‘late rent payment’ or ‘rent payment plan’ to keep a pulse on the concerns of renters and what they’re searching for in regards to paying (or not paying) their rent.
Continue with your resident communication regarding rent payment options (and even incentives to pay, if you’re offering those). This is also a good time to be sure you aren’t siloing that communication to only your resident platforms and channels. Rather, turn it into some strong marketing messaging that could make potential renters choose you. As many renters are searching for apartments, it’s important that they also see how you and your teams are handling this situation – including how you’re treating and collaborating with your current residents. We’re not recommending you add a big, bold banner to the homepage of your website that says “We will work with you on rent, call us if you can’t pay.” But what you can do is add some general information and copy to your prospect-facing marketing materials (website, email campaigns, automated follow-ups, etc.) that is hospitality focused and shows you care. Such as: “We’re here to support our Blue Line Lofts community. We have a variety of resources available to help both our prospects, residents, and neighborhood partners and look forward to serving you in this time of need.”
It’s not uncommon for apartment prospects to ask questions during their apartment shopping process related to the upkeep of the community, how emergencies are handled and even what lease break policies are. And while most prospects don’t anticipate a crisis during their tenure, they are looking for reassurance that the people and company managing their ‘home’ have a strong plan in place and will be able to professionally navigate the unknown.
What better time to show your prospects that you can handle a crisis than now – when you’re right in the middle of it? It’s easy to manage and provide an exceptional customer experience when things are going right. But it’s even more powerful if you can showcase your ability to pivot and power on. This is an opportunity to build instant trust with your future customers – use it!
Search terms for ‘luxury apartments’ are down, but only by 8% compared to this same period last year.
We know that consumers are still shopping for apartments and although we aren’t seeing the same volume that is typically in line with ‘high’ leasing season, these numbers are steadily coming back. The term ‘luxury apartments’ has had the least amount of change in volume, of all the terms we are analyzing during this pandemic. While it might seem surprising, there are certainly pockets of consumers who have not been as affected by COVID-19 as others. These could be essential employees, who have had very little disruption to their business or work patterns or consumers who were more financially stable pre-COVID-19.
If you’re a high-end community, be sure you’re adjusting your SEO and marketing strategies so that your community will be found when prospects are using these search terms. Many in the industry distanced themselves from the marketing term ‘luxury’ in the last few years, because it felt over-used, but prospects are indeed attaching this term to their searches today. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. It might mean you’ve got to temporarily build this word back into your marketing vocabulary, but if it helps you capture some online traffic – and leases, it’ll be worth it. If you aren’t a luxury community, this doesn’t mean you won’t get your piece of the pie. The data is showing us that people are looking for a place to live. Many will be placing a good value as the first priority on their apartment ‘wants’ list – not upscale amenities or a long list of concierge-style services. With furloughs, reductions in pay, changes in jobs and the general need to reduce monthly expenses, many prospects will be reverting back to what most do in a downturned economy – halting frivolous spending. Use this to your advantage and start promoting your service and sense of community more than you ever have. Provide messaging that conveys that ‘basic’ isn’t necessarily bad – because it’s not.
Geographical Search Terms At-a-Glance
Large Market Search Terms:
“Apartments in NYC” is down 40% year over year and is flat week over week
“Apartments in L.A.” is flat year over year and down 11% week over week
“Apartments in Dallas” is down 24% year over year and up 12% week over week
“Apartments in Chicago” is down 36% year over year and is down 3% week over week
Mid Market Search Terms:
“Apartments in Columbus (Ohio)” is up 35% year over year and up 3% week over week
“Apartments in Kansas City” is down 8% year over year and up 11% week over week
“Apartments in Charlotte is down 38% year over year and down 27% week over week
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