To see how the apartment leasing process is changing, just look at what’s happening with job titles.

Tyler Christiansen, CEO, Funnel, said “You’ll see things like ‘Shared Services,’ VP of Centralization and ‘Multi-Site Lead Manager,’ which signals which way the industry is going.

“You’ll see people with traditional job titles like assistant community manager see that their roles might not be needed at a community, and they are looking to work at companies that have a centralized approach – the best talent is going to the best companies.”

Christiansen was part of a panel at the Blueprint 2023 conference this week in Las Vegas. He was joined by Austin Lo, CEO & Co-Founder, PEEK; Amy Weissberger, SVP Corporate Strategy, Morgan Properties; Steven Maltz, VP, Standardization & Process Improvement, Essex Property Trust; and moderator Shawn Mahoney, Senior Advisor, RET Ventures.

The pandemic allowed apartment companies facing staffing shortages to begin experimenting with centralized operations “and not run their communities like a collection of car dealerships, but as a portfolio,” Christiansen said.

Companies like Camden reported saving $4 million on headcount by using a centralized model, the panel shared.

Maltz said Essex is going 100% self-guided touring while Morgan Properties is focused on providing prospects with a variety of touring options, including in-person touring. “Whatever way that serves them best,” Weissberger said.

“We also looked at all of the things that don’t need an actual person to give prospects or residents answers or to solve a problem. You have to educate the team and the residents on how this [non-human] method works.”

Maltz said Essex is looking to see if AI is any good at providing a better experience for the renter.

“It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there,” Maltz said. “We’re testing a variety of tools.”

Panelists also explored how their companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) in their processes.

Lo expressed that the barrier to entry for AI is getting lower.

Christiansen said it will be interesting to see how companies deploy more stand-alone tools in their operations, such as with Colleen (an AI-based rent payment tool for residents).

Christiansen said in apartment management, you need to have an extra layer of protection to make sure your information is accurate, and the apartment industry is taking the time to get that right. “This is a case where being a little bit behind the curve is probably a good thing.”

Weissberger said we don’t control all the information that is on an ILS, but we do have control over what is one our community websites.

“The information source that AI is drawing from has to be accurate,” Weissberger said. “Especially in our business. If it isn’t, then it creates more work for our employees, and that’s the last thing we want.”

Maltz said for the next 12 months, Essex will be looking to clean up its data so it can better leverage AI. “There are benefits to come from it that we’re excited about, and the information will be able to be used in more than just leasing, but in other areas of operations,” he said.

Lu added, “This is a tough economic environment for our industry right now so it’s important to use only the tools that show real value. Keep in mind, with this technology, it’s not mandatory that these technologies can talk to each other if they are doing what you need them to do.

Christiansen said AI is helping Funnel to be a more valuable resource to its clients.

“We’ve become a company that can now serve up information insights from the data we collect,” he said. “We can look at an 8-minute call to a property and write it up into one valuable paragraph.

“Apartment companies shouldn’t silo the information they have about a renter, a prospect and the community they visited, but rather we collect a renter-focused profile of the actions they did on their overall apartment search.”