How Can Section 8 Communities Adjust to Market-Rate?

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If you've ever worked for or helped manage a Section 8 property, the thought of transitioning to being market-rate can seem scary.

Section 8 properties often have a relatively straightforward marketing process built around the community's low price point. This makes leasing units relatively simple and straightforward. We occasionally run into Section 8 properties with occupancy issues, but it's not the norm.

Market-rate is a whole 'nother animal and it requires learning new skills. The big question is how do you adjust to competing on things other than price when you're so used to competing only on price?

This is a massive challenge for some communities and we've helped more than a few clients make the change.

The core idea is that marketing comes down to one big thing: explaining what unique value your community offers to prospects.

With affordable housing, this problem is solved for you: You compete on price and, because you're Section 8, you win. But it requires a bit more thinking if you're market-rate. There's no guarantee you'll be cheaper than your competitors. Moreover, being cheaper may not be a good thing: It could mean your occupancy rate is low and you're desperate for new residents. So answering this question is a bit harder—is it your neighborhood? Amenities? Are you pet-friendly? What is your biggest selling point?

In this post, we'll walk you through three steps to developing a marketing strategy as you transition out of Section 8 and into market-rate housing.

List out qualities that your community offers to residents.

One of the problems in the multifamily industry is that we often define ourselves by the biggest, trendiest properties and then struggle when we can't market ourselves in the same way that the luxury downtown property does.

To further complicate matters, we often market ourselves with broad, generic values like "lifestyle." So if your community isn't in a trendy neighborhood, doesn't have state-of-the-art amenities, or is an older property, we struggle to market ourselves.

That said, marketing your community doesn't need to be that complicated.

To simplify the process, sit down with a legal pad and a pen and get to work. Think about the things that make your community unique or provide unique value to residents. I lived in a handful of rentals before buying a house. Here's how I would do that for a few of them.

Downtown 2bd Loft (A- property)

  • Location only blocks from the university campus, ideal for college students
  • Historic building
  • View of downtown Lincoln
  • State-of-the-art amenities, including fitness center

Duplex 2bd (B- property)

  • Located a half mile from downtown
  • Large front yard and front porch
  • Free off-street parking
  • Ample storage in basement

3bd House (B+ property)

  • Location is a short drive from downtown
  • Large, private backyard with patio and hammock
  • Free off-street garage parking
  • Large, modern kitchen

In every case, there are relatively simple ways to talk up the property. Let's start with the duplex since that is theoretically the hardest to sell since it is the lowest rated. Here are a few things to bring up: If you bike a lot, it's very easy to get to downtown in minutes—and you won't have to pay the hefty downtown parking fees. This is an especially valuable benefit for people who work down town—in many downtown areas you can spend hundreds on parking every month.

An apartment that allows you to avoid that is going to be attractive to a lot of people, even if it is not as nice as some of the other properties nearby. Need to save money? We have you covered.

A front porch may also be attractive to people who would like to have a space to greet neighbors as they walk by or, especially, for a family with kids who want to play outside.

Finally, many larger properties charge people to use extra storage space. If the basement is free to use, that's another talking point you can bring up with prospects.

Thinking more broadly, ask yourself what unique benefits you offer people.

Are you a pet-friendly community? Talk that up.

Do you not allow pets? Then say so—there are prospects who have bad allergies or don't like animals and specifically want a pet-free community.

Are you near a trendy neighborhood? Mention that.

Every community has its own unique identifiers, and the industry is large enough that there are probably a fair number of prospects looking for what you offer.

Review your current online presence and find ways to simplify the process for prospects.

Often the person who gets the sale isn't necessarily the one with the best product or price; it's the company with the best processes. If you make it easy for people to do business with you, people will be more likely to buy.

Compare Zappos' success with shoe stores at the mall. Zappos provides an easy, relatively risk-free process—you don't have to drive to the mall, don't have to spend tons of time trying on shoes, and so on. Just order the shoes, try them, and if they don't fit, ship them back. The shoes you buy from Zappos aren't necessarily any better than the shoes you'd buy at a store, but the process is simpler.

There are a few things apartment communities can do make it easy for people to contact you.

  • Include the leasing office phone number in the top corner of every page on your website.
  • List rent price with every floorplan on your website.
  • Provide photo and video content on every individual floorplan you offer.
  • Keep all information in your Google My Business listing up to date.
  • Set up a push-to-call extension for your ads on mobile devices.

These kind of steps create a smooth, easy leasing process for prospective residents. The less work required to make a purchase, the better off you are.

Finally, evaluate your process and identify places where there are issues.

Use a tool like Google Analytics to evaluate website traffic. Ask prospective residents how they found you. Look at how your AdWords ads are performing and study your traffic patterns from Craigslist. You're building a marketing system so there are always ways to further refine and hone your system to make it more efficient. This means that you are never really done with online marketing. You're just constantly looking for ways to improve what you are already doing.


Let's talk about how we can help you meet your goals.

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