Apartment Marketing 101 - Professional Photography


There's a case to be made that photos are the most important part of apartment marketing. While some would argue differently, there is no denying the impact that quality photos (or lack thereof) have on potential renters and their decisions to visit your community.

For that reason alone, it's imperative that you have quality photos of your community. While some ILS's now offer professional photos with their listings, most of those images are watermarked, limiting their use in other areas. Not to mention, that in most cases, you do not have a say in who will be photographing your community or building, much less the final images.

With that in mind, I always advise my clients to hire a professional photographer. Here are several tips on hiring the right photographer and getting the best photos of your community:


Google Search - Most people start with a Google Search to find anything these days, and the same is true for finding a photographer. One thing to consider is searching for your specific city for photographers, not national firms. Also highly suggest using sites like Yelp, and Google Reviews to get more information on the reputation and reliability of the photographer.

Competitors - This may sound counterintuitive, but asking competitors (who have great photos), who they used, is a perfectly acceptable course of action. In some cases, you can even find the photographers information on their website.

Company or Individual - There are a large number of companies as well as individual photographers out there. If you decide to go with a company, I would shy away from firms in which photography is not their sole business. Many marketing companies try to sell photography services but aren't equipped to handle true professional photography.


Relevant Work - This is VERY important. Has your photographer done work with multifamily communities? While having experience shooting residential homes or commercial is great, it's important to work with someone that has photographed not only interiors but amenity spaces as well.

"Style" - Every photographer has a "style". Some like moody, others like minimalist, etc. It's important that their "style" matches what you are trying to convey with your community. You want to accentuate your attributes but within reason. Don't hire the photographer that wants to shoot your garden style community like a class A downtown luxury highrise.

Equipment - An essential question to ask is what kind of equipment do they have? Do they have their own lighting setup? Do they have a wide-angle lens? This is a broad generalization, but the better equipment a professional photographer has, the more likely they are better at their profession.

TImeline - Ask the photographer how long it takes to complete the project once the contract is signed. If the time frame is too short (2-3 days), it's not enough time to shoot a community, much less post edit the images. On the other hand, if it's too long (over 30 days), they are too busy to give your community and images, the proper attention they need.


Staging - Before shooting photos, you should have some staging done for your units. No matter if its a fully furnished model or a unit with "light staging," pictures of a staged unit ALWAYS shows better.

Clean Amenities - Make sure to properly clean not only the units but the amenity space and common areas as well. Nothing worse than having to waste time cleaning something while your photographer waits. In addition, make sure any reflective surfaces are spotless, as any dirt or smudges will show up with HDR / high-end photos.

Make a List - A crucial starting point is to make a list of the essential items for your shoot. Things to decide are who will be with the photographer the day of the shoot, what units/spaces are to be shot, what time of day, etc. Having this information mapped out before the shoot can decrease confusion and lead to better final photos.


Giving Direction - Contrary to popular belief, you can give your photographer some direction. If you think there is a good shot they should take, let them know. If there is an angle that you see for shooting a room that looks promising, let them know. This is a collaborative effort!

In Progress - Ask to see what the images are looking like on the camera. If you and your photographer don’t have the same understanding of what you want, it’ll take longer and you’ll likely end up disappointed.

Be a Helper - Ask if there is anything you can help with during the shoot. Things like moving furniture, changing positions of items etc. This will help the photographer speed up the process and allow them to focus on getting great photos.

Top 5 "Kid Friendly" Amenities for Apartment Communities


I recently posed a question to a group of developers...What if you started looking at your communities from the standpoint of children being the residents, instead of the adults? 

Now obviously, I'm not talking about a community where every unit is filled with slides and see-saws or kids roaming the grounds like Lords of the Flies. But it's a question to highlight what can be done if the primary motivation for the planning of amenity space, marketing and the overall feel of a community was done with children in mind.

With 33% of all renter households (14.3 million) having minor children, it's an important question. And as more and more residents with children decide to rent instead of buy, having a true "family friendly" community can become a huge differentiator in the marketing and retention of tenants.

So what would a community that is designed around the family and actual children look like?

Onsite Daycare

This may be a game changer when it comes to "family friendly" communities. One of the most significant issues for families is finding quality child care close to their residence. Having an on-site daycare within your community solves many problems for working parents and could be a tremendous asset to your residents. We see partnering with a local daycare to open in a retail section of your community or underused space. You get a great tenant that genuinely adds value to your community, and your residents get a one-of-a-kind amenity. 

On-Demand Babysitting

With services like Care.com, you can set up a "portal" for your residents to use to find babysitting, dog walking and much more. It has the added value of also making sure those babysitters / visitors to your community are screened before arriving. This "value-add" can be a much-touted aspect of your "family friendly" marketing. You can even run contests where the winners get several hours of babysitting "on the house".

Children Focused Events

Many communities already run events for residents like food truck night, contests, meet & greet BBQ's and others. But what about a Magic Show? How about a Treasure Hunt around the community? Nothing says fun like an ice-cream truck event! Adding even one "kid-focused" event per month would be a great addition to your Event calendar. 


Some communities have already adopted this idea into their developments. This space should be comfortable, with chairs and tables, areas for crafts, puzzles, and learning. With the proper use of lighting and mirrors, this space can be an interior area that is normally underutilized due to lack of windows. Make sure to use carpeting and make walls stain resistant. I've seen many parents use spaces like these for their pre-k children and it's a wonderful space for learning and exploring with their children.


Suburban communities can somewhat easily accomplish adding a playground into their community, but what about urban areas? One idea would be to create an indoor playground complete with slides, jungle gyms, monkey bars and other items. This does not need to encompass a large area, as small children will primarily use it. Think McDonalds use of playgrounds into their stores. No matter the size, just having space for children to let off steam and parents take a break in a safe and fun environment is worth it. 

Whether it's one of these ideas or something else, it's important to think about how to develop your community to be truly "family friendly." 

Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, and his latest venture, BreadBox (http://breadbox.consulting)

* Data Source - US Census Bureau 2016


Top 5 Amenities Renters REALLY Want (and 5 they don't)


Everyone in the industry these days is talking about amenities. What renters want, what they don't, and what they will want in the future. The problem is, most developers aren't listening to the actual renters. Over my career, I have spoken with 100's if not 1000's of renters, listening to their wants and needs for a place to call home. 

Contrary to popular belief, not every renter is a millennial who wants a smoothie bar in their bathroom. The vast majority of renters have simple needs in a building or community when it comes to amenities. 

Real Closet Space

When I say "real," I think we all know what we are talking about. Not the closets with one bar that can fit a shirt and jeans. We're talking about walk-in closets or ones with built-in storage. Renters these days are older or moving from established households and have more clothing. Many developers are "afraid" to take a portion of a bedroom to enlarge a closet, but I can tell you from first-hand experience, I think most of us would like larger closets and a smaller bedroom. 

More Storage

This is a must-have for most renters these days. Unlike prior years, when renters were younger with very few things, today's renters are older and have amassed a lot of items. It's important to give residents enough space to make a difference, especially when units are small. I've never seen a renter say "I'm going to give up all my possessions so I can live in this community."

Dog Walking Area

As buildings and communities start accepting pets, dog walking areas are very important. It's highly convenient, safer than walking your dog outside the community during evening hours and can be a great place for residents to socialize with other residents. Great additions to these areas are dog washing stations, disposal spaces, and doggie water fountains. 

Real Fitness Center

I'm not talking about a treadmill a TV and some mirrors here. Developers need to invest in full fitness centers. Renters often look at the cost of the apartment and try to figure out if they can save money by dropping their gym memberships. Want to increase your rent roll? Add a great gym.

Onsite Child Playroom / Daycare

One of the best amenities added in the last couple of years to some developments are children's playrooms. This is a game changer for families with small children not yet in school, but needing an escape from their apartments. I've seen parents actually choose one location over another just for this space. Some of the better complexes have even started operating an on-site day care, which in my opinion, would be the ultimate amenity for parents. 

Amenities Renters Don't Want

In a push to seem more "hip" or "relevant," developers have opted to add some amenities that seem like they add value, but in fact, take space away from the amenities renters really want. If you have the space to add these AND all the entries above, that's a win, but a lot of these amenities are underutilized and add nothing to your communities bottom line.

  • Coffee Bar - There are probably 1-2 residents per day that use this, so it doesn't really justify the expense or upkeep required
  • Business Center - Can't remember last time I saw anyone using one of these. 
  • On-Site Kitchen - While nice in theory, once again, is only used on rare occasions. 
  • Movie Rooms - This is a "maybe" in my mind. Great for sporting events, etc., but usually ends up being prime real estate that can be used for something more "valuable."
  • Putting Greens - Once again, I don't think I've ever seen a resident use these. Could be an excellent place for a dog park instead?

Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, and his latest venture, BreadBox (http://breadbox.consulting)


Top 5 Mistakes Leasing Agents Make

Let me start by saying, everybody makes mistakes. But the only way to correct those mistakes is to acknowledge them and work on fixing them. Whether it's a lack of training, laziness or case of the "Mondays", it's important to make sure you are on the top of your game each day. Here are the top 5 mistakes leasing agents make and how to correct them:

Lack of Followup

I've seen a lot of leasing agents focus their follow-up efforts on renters who have toured the community and showed a real interest in the community or property. But not many take the time to follow-up with EVERY lead (including ones that haven't seen the community already) that comes across their desk. Sometimes that lead that requested information but never set up a tour is busy. Following up on all your leads is vitally important.

Not Gathering Enough Information

So you have a prospects name, email, move date and price range. But what about the other stuff? One fundamentally selling technique is building rapport with a potential resident. Selling involves matching a renter's needs with your product. Ask questions like: where do you work? What are you most looking for in an apartment? What's your decorating style? Is view important? Do you have a pet? What do you do for a living? Get to know your prospect! 

Touring Only Sample Unit

Renters want to see the space they are going to live or something close to it. Showing them a bottom floor unit that is staged when the unit that is available is on the second floor with a different view isn't helpful. If a unit that might work for them isn't available at the time of a tour, make sure to show them something comparable. 

Don't Smile

This may not seem like a big deal, but smiling when you meet a prospect or even over the phone can have a huge impact. Nothing worse then walking in for a tour and seeing a straight-faced leasing agent. This isn't a high-level negotiation! Be friendly and approachable. And if you can't do that, fake it and crack that smile! 

Not Asking For Application

I've seen this first-hand numerous times. You tour a prospect, you hand them a marketing piece, tell them process for applying but never ask for them to apply! It's like quitting the race right before the finish line. It is my experience that leasing agents miss opportunities by not asking the most crucial question. And instead of asking "would you like to apply for the apartment?" ask "when do you think you'll be applying for the apartment? Be a closer! 

Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, and his latest venture, BreadBox (http://breadbox.consulting)

Top 5 Social Media Tools for Apartment Marketing

Social Media is now an integral part of any apartment community or portfolios marketing. However, many don't have the right tools to handle the daily struggle of creating and managing their social media presence and campaigns. That is why we brought together our top 5 favorite Social Media tools to make the process easier and ultimately, create a better social media experience for your apartment marketing.

Buffer | buffer.com

Buffer is a stripped down, yet intuitive social media posting tool. It makes it very easy to schedule posts, analyze performance, and manage all your accounts in one place. It works with all major services (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, etc.), and has a "queue" system to post based on a predetermined schedule. It's a great platform to manage all the Social Media posts for your apartment community or portfolio. 

PRO TIP: Get the Chrome buffer extension. It allows you to share web pages or images directly from your browser without even opening the app. 


Pablo | pablo.buffer.com

This little-known service from Buffer, allows you to create social media posts with minimal design knowledge. Just choose an image, add some text, add your logo and download your finished post. You can even upload your own image to use, scale it to fit any service (Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) and comes with some pre-made templates. Your team can create compelling posts in minutes. Oh, and it's FREE! 


Feedly | feedly.com

Feedly is the gold star of "content aggregators". It allows you to pull in news stories from your favorite sources, read them and seamlessly share them on your social media accounts. Simply add a source that you usually get your news from, and the service will automatically pull in any and all new content. No need to keep visiting the site. This is a fantastic tool for sharing local news with your residents!


Evernote | evernote.com

Evernote is a killer app for taking notes, writing blog posts or even articles. Ever have an idea, and by the time you find a pen, you forget it? Simply open the app on your phone or tablet, jot down your idea and it stores it across all your devices. Also works excellent for meetings, tours with residents to keep their feedback handy and a variety of other uses. 


Grammarly | grammarly.com

Think of Grammarly as your spell check on steroids. This easy to use app takes anything you write and not only checks it for spelling but more importantly, grammar. This can be an indispensable tool for crafting blog posts, articles and much more. It's also a great way to make sure that email your about to send out doesn't sound like a 5th grader wrote it!


SEO & Apartment Marketing: The Next Step

A very long time ago (circa 2008) the leasing world was a simpler place. Place an ad on Craigslist or in a newspaper, and sit back and watch the renter leads flow in. The most complicated it ever got was when you wanted to add a template to Craigslist. Those were what I would call "the good old days." 

Flash forward ten years and the leasing world could not be more complicated. From ILS sites, listing syndication systems, Social Media, Blogs, Google Adwords, Remarketing and more, there are numerous marketing channels to choose from.

However, there is one area that could be the most important, but seldom gets the attention it deserves, Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Curiously most apartment communities either don't think SEO can have a significant impact, or are dissuaded by trying to compete with the "big boys." Whatever the reason, SEO needs to be the next step in your apartment communities marketing efforts. 

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? 

Search Engine Optimization is the process of building a strong search engine presence to ensure visitors can more easily find your website amongst all your competitors online. The primary aim is to improve your websites page ranking so that renters will see your website when they type specific keywords or phrases into search engines like Google. 

In simplest terms, it's getting your website to the top of search engine results for searches that your renters conduct (i.e., apartments in Charlotte, rentals in San Antonio, etc.)

Why is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Important?

Based on research, 72% of renters turn to the Internet first when starting a search for an apartment. Of that, 30% of those renters begin their search with a search engine. That means 30% of all renter's searching online for apartments, start with a Google or Yahoo search. 

With that being the case, if your community is ranked higher then your competitors, it gives your website greater visibility and in return, more leads.

With more and more competition in the multifamily industry, setting yourself apart from your competitors is crucial.

How Do I Compete With The "Big Boys" (i.e., Apartments.com)?

Obviously, ILS sites tend to rank higher for a lot of keyword searches. However, based on testing, it is possible for a local community to rank higher high enough for certain keywords to compete with even the national sites.

For example, if you search for something like "Manayunk Apartments," you'll see the search results show the majority of national sites on the 1st page. But if you scroll to the bottom of the first page, you'll see a Link for "Station at Manayunk," which is a locally owned apartment community. You might not be able to beat them, but you can compete! 

Just ranking on the first page, gives you a HUGE advantage over your competitors!

3 Steps to Increase your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Rankings

Keyword Research - Research keywords that match what renters are searching for. Start by choosing keywords that aren't high volume. Instead of "Philadelphia Apartments" Choose the neighborhood you're in and add amenities, such as "Rittenhouse Square 1 bedroom apartments."

Content Development - Next step involves developing content (articles, blog posts) about each of the keywords you want to target. Articles should be natural sounding (not the word repeated over and over). Your goal should be to develop content for each of those keywords and post them on your site. 

Backlinking - The last step involves "backlinking,"i.e., getting another source to post your article or blog post and link back to your site.  They are extremely useful to search engines because they give a good indication that a website is popular. You can start by contacting local "bloggers" and see if they would be interested in putting your content on their site. Or you can post your articles to national sites. Be warned...do not trust cheap "backlink" building sites, as the majority are scams and can actually hurt you more than help you. 

In conclusion, there is a lot more involved in this process, but these are some simple steps that will get you on the right track. Remember, the process of SEO can be labor-intensive and time-consuming but if done correctly, can pay HUGE dividends in not only increasing your lead generation but decreasing your overall lead acquisition costs!

Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, and his latest venture, BreadBox (http://breadbox.consulting)

What is Your Community's "Potential Resident Experience"?


A lot of property and asset managers like to talk about the "Resident Experience," but few dedicate the time to making sure the Potential Resident Experience is the best it can be. In some ways, the Potential Resident Experience is as significant as the resident experience, if not more so.

What is the Potential Resident Experience?

The Potential Resident Experience is the total experience a renter has from first seeing your community online to signing their lease. In essence, the sum of all their interactions with your community. The underlying logic is that the better overall experience your prospective resident has, the more inclined they are to remember your community, recommend your community to others and ultimately become a resident.

What affects the Potential Resident's Experience?

Numerous things can have a positive or negative effect on the Potential Resident's Experience. They can range from the obvious things such as the ease of use of your website, the cleanliness of your community and how friendly your staff is, to the subtle things like your signage and ease of your application process. Here is a list of the Top 10 things that can have a POSITIVE impact on a potential resident's experience (in no particular order):

  • Easy to Use Website
  • Prompt and Timely Communications
  • Professional Marketing
  • Accurate Pricing Information
  • Friendly Staff Interaction
  • Community Cleanliness
  • Proper Signage
  • Professionally Staged Unit(s)
  • Easy Application / Lease Process
  • Cleanliness of Vacant Units

Samples of Negative Potential Resident Experiences

There are many things that can give a potential resident a bad experience, but here are just a couple of areas that are often overlooked that can have a big impact on your potential resident's experience.

Unusable Mobile Website
One of the more frustrating things we see are the mobile websites of some communities. Many are outdated, are very hard to navigate and bury the most important parts of their sites behind lousy navigation. Not having an easy-to-use mobile site can be highly frustrating to a potential tenant and therefore, ultimately have a real impact on your lead generation efforts. 

Cheap Looking Staged Units
A critical part of the sales process is showing potential tenants what their apartment could look like. Nothing can have more impact than a unit that is supposed to be "staged" but looks like someone just moved out and left all their bad IKEA furniture behind.

Lousy Front Desk Attendant
We have all come across a situation where a front desk attendant has been dismissive or rude. While most of the time we shrug this off, this can have a substantial effect on how a resident views the community and staff.

Frustrating Leasing Office Signage
We can't tell you how many times we have visited communities that have either no signs or confusing ones on where the leasing office is and how to get there. Nothing is more frustrating than spending 5-10 minutes driving around looking for the leasing office. Merely putting a sign that says leasing office and an arrow does not cut it for specific communities.

In conclusion, we highly advise that every property manager or owner to take the time to "walk a mile" in their prospective resident's shoes to see how the experience is. It's paramount to make sure your prospective residents are having a great experience when interacting with your community.

Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, and his latest venture, BreadBox (http://breadbox.consulting)

Apartment Staffing 101: Don’t Hire Nice People

Apartment staffing can be tricky business. Over the years, I have managed and hired hundreds of Leasing Agents. It can be tough trying to find the right candidate. Early in my career, I made many mistakes when it came to hiring. Some candidates I thought would be great turned out to be all talk and no action, while others who I thought would be just “ok,” turned out to be excellent employees. 

But one of the biggest mistakes I made was presuming that because a candidate was “nice,” that they would be a great Leasing Agent. However, what I found is that while “nice” individuals are perfectly acceptable, all of the “great” leasing agents I ever hired were very “kind” people.  

What's The Difference Between "Kind" and Being "Nice"?

It's a common misconception that being "nice" and being "kind" are the same thing. People tend to confuse the two. They are in fact two separate traits that can make a big difference in an employee's performance. 

Individuals that are "nice," tend to be very polite, are well-liked, show common courtesy and are very personable. Most of the agents I come across fall into this category. 

On the other hand, "kind" individuals are the ones that always show empathy for others, try to help wherever they can and always seem to put other people's interest above their well being. This shows in their sales techniques (i.e., connecting with renters), their role within the organization, their willingness to help fellow employees and most importantly, their closing ratios.
3 Interview Questions for Hiring "Kind" Individuals

A lot of clients ask me "how do I tell if someone is 'kind' and not just being "nice."? Well, there are a couple of specific questions I always ask that seem to do the trick:

1. Tell me about the last time you helped someone? 

This is somewhat of a trick question. A lot of candidates will quickly answer with something about helping a family member or a friend. But the ones that respond by saying they helped someone they didn't know, tend to be very "kind" individuals. 

2. Who is your role model (besides a family member), and why?

This tends to be a fun question to ask. However, the answer can sometimes be very telling. Most of the answers tend to be famous figures (Abe Lincoln, Washington, Beyonce), but with kind people, you will get great responses like Mother Theresa, Dali Lama, etc. But the best answer I ever got was Bill Gates. Not because of the money he made but because he is giving it all away to charity. 

3. What does “empathy” mean to you?

This is a very open-ended question that you will get a variety of responses. Some individuals may not know the meaning of the word at all, which in itself will tell you something. But this question can tell you a lot about the candidate and how they will treat your potential renters and current tenants. 

I see many people in this industry who are trained to be nice but fail to act kindly. You can't train kindness. However, you can hire it. Hiring a "kind" candidate will help your bottom line as well as your organization's overall success.

Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, LeaseUp and his latest venture, BreadBox (http://breadbox.consulting)

ReMarketing - The Secret Weapon of Apartment Leasing

So you're browsing the internet. Let's say you're on Amazon.com. You view some items then decide to check the news over at CNN.com. Magically, you start to see ads for products you just saw on Amazon on the CNN site. How did they know? Is it magic? Some kind of sorcery?

No, it's Remarketing.

Remarketing is a relatively new way of showing targeted ads to individuals that have previously visited your website - as they browse elsewhere on the internet. It has been primarily used by big retailers over the last couple of years with great success and now, could be a game changer for the multifamily industry.

Remarketing & Apartment Marketing

One of the most significant deficiencies in the apartment marketing world has been brand awareness and website conversion.

Let's say Jane Renter is browsing your website. She likes your building but isn't ready to pull the trigger. She leaves and keeps browsing the internet. You've now lost her as a lead. You've spent considerable dollars and time to get Jane Renter to your site, only to see her leave without contacting you.

However, with Remarketing, Jane Renter will now start seeing eye-catching ads for your building on other sites she visits. This will increase your brand awareness as well as the overall conversion of your leads.


There are a variety of different benefits to utilizing a remarketing campaign as part of your communities overall marketing plan.

Inexpensive - Instead of paying for ads to a broad audience, you can show ads to JUST visitors of your site.

Increase Brand Awareness - By increasing your brand awareness, you can keep your community at the forefront of renters minds throughout the "decision making" period.

Higher Conversion - Instead of having leads leave your site without any contact, remarketing entices renters to contact your community, which leads to substantial increases in percentage conversion.

If you're looking for a way to convert more of your website traffic, raise your brand awareness and acquire more tenants, remarketing is an inexpensive and highly effective option.


Author: Justin Cleary is an almost 20 year veteran of the Multifamily Industry. He has owned and operated several multifamily focused businesses and startups including The Philly Apartment Company, The DC Apartment Company,  BlueSquare Real Estate & Property Management, LeaseUp and his latest venture, BreadBox (www.breadbox.consulting)