Prospective apartment rental online searches increased in April after dropping dramatically in March when shelter-in-place restrictions were ordered across the country. According to research from Yardi’s Rent Café, online apartment searches increased 17% in April compared to March. However, according to the data, searches haven’t increased steadily over the month, but rather moved up and down sporadically week-to-week.
Renters today are looking for housing options that are more conducive to health and safety under the pandemic. This includes a preference for new construction properties with higher quality air filtration systems, antimicrobial building materials and storage for pandemic-related materials. “New construction offers renters the ability to be the first person to live in a given unit,” Ryan Shear, managing partner of PMG, tells GlobeSt.com. “These new developments offer technology that limits physical contact, including mobile app-based keyless entry and smart package lockers. Also, new construction projects are able to install ungraded air filters and antimicrobial building materials.”
While moving is difficult during the shelter-in-place restrictions, the pandemic could increase rental demand once those restrictions are lifted. “Apartments are generally the most flexible living arrangement amidst uncertainty,” says Shear. “People who were planning to buy a home are going to wait and see how everything pans out in the market before deciding to invest in property. Apartments are becoming more appealing to these buyers, contributing to why apartment rent searches are increasing again.”
While Shear expects a short-term decrease in rents, he also anticipates that lower-priced units will perform through the recovery period. “The most attainably priced units in a given market will be most in demand,” he says. “People are going to be more selective because they are valuing their home now more than ever. While there will be an increase in rent defaults and cancellations, there will also be an uptick in retention and people continue living at their current apartment. Landlords are also going to need to create rent abatement programs for tenants who have had setbacks but are likely to bounce back.”
Apartment owners can capture some of this demand. First, Shear recommends moving all showings and leasing operations online. Like other apartment owners, PMG launched virtual operations at its latest project, Society Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. Shear expects operations to be online for the foreseeable future. “Things like virtual reality tours of developments allows the ability to get a feel for the building without having to physically be there” he says. “It’s also important to be proactive and public about maintaining strict sanitation standards. Make sure to keep marketing messaging sensitive to the struggles people may be going through during this time.”
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