There’s no question that multifamily has weathered this pandemic far better than many other property types. People still need a place to live and, COVID-19 notwithstanding, there is still a severe supply shortage in many places throughout the country that will continue to drive strong demand.
Despite speculation over if and when rent payments would plummet, multifamily has remained remarkably resilient. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Payment Tracker, 90.1% of households made a full or partial payment by September 20. This is similar to the 90% who had paid at the same time in August. At Cityview’s Class A properties, which are primarily located in urban West Coast markets, we’ve seen residential collections at 96% or 97% (down just slightly from our historic collection rates of 99%). While payments did drop slightly, likely due to the extended economic hardship experienced by so many Americans and the lack of a new stimulus package, residential rent collections remain strong in our Class A assets. But that doesn’t mean it’s business as usual. We must adapt in order to attract and retain tenants while keeping residents and staff safe.
Amidst the pandemic, many potential residents prefer to tour properties from the comfort of their homes. We were already starting to implement virtual leasing pre-pandemic, but the rapid increase in demand necessitated a full rollout of virtual leasing, including guided virtual tours that allow potential tenants to view a variety of units, amenities and common spaces while asking questions in real time. All performed by our leasing professionals, the virtual tours are designed to be safe and convenient for potential residents while accommodating their preferred technology. Our team has conducted tours via Instagram, Facebook Live and video conferencing apps, among other platforms. At many of our properties, we are able to close a greater number of leases via virtual tours than in-person. Post COVID-19, we expect virtual leasing to continue and plan to continue investing in this resource, given the increased flexibility and convenience it offers prospective residents.
Cleanliness & Social Distancing
Allowing reservations at the pool, gym and other common spaces via a resident portal or app is an effective way to limit capacity and keep residents safe while still allowing them access to comfortable spaces outside their homes. Other ways to operate amenities safely include requiring social distancing, limiting capacity, restricting guest use, reconfiguring or reducing furnishings and adjusting hours to ensure staff is present to monitor requirements. For maintenance needs, we give residents the option of having in-person maintenance with proper protective equipment or being walked through how to troubleshoot or make minor repairs by our team via video chat. This option has become extremely popular, and it will be interesting to see if it’s still needed when residents are more comfortable having people in their homes.
Extensive outdoor space via rooftop decks, in-unit balconies, pools and meditation areas are also invaluable for creating a safer, more enjoyable living experience for residents. When distancing isn’t possible or to supplement in-person events, virtual events are a great option for bringing residents together. Of course, enhanced cleaning procedures are also extremely important. It remains to be seen if more permanent changes, such as HEPA filters and touchless features, will be valuable in the longer term.
What’s Next for Multifamily
During COVID-19 we have seen a marked increase in interest in one- and two-bedrooms over studios. People are seeking more space in their individual units. As with other trends in our new normal, it remains to be seen if people will continue to seek more space and distance post-COVID-19.
Low-rise communities seem to have fared better during this pandemic, as it may be more appealing for residents to access their units via outdoor hallways and stairs rather than long elevator rides and enclosed spaces. We expect this demand will continue to increase post-pandemic.
As the situation evolves, we’re reviewing the data, speaking with other industry professionals and keeping a pulse on what’s ahead to inform decisions both at our existing properties and those that are under development. It’s critical to adapt quickly based on new information and guidelines to keep residents safe and satisfied.
Sean Burton is CEO of Cityview, a Los Angeles-based multifamily investment management and development firm.