Landlording & Rental Properties

Why Rental Property Owners Should Stop Being Afraid of Self-Showings

2 Articles Written

At first glance, the notion of allowing a prospective resident to tour a rental property on his or her own may seem reckless. I’ve been hearing people make arguments against self-showings for years. But I’d venture to guess most of the skeptics haven’t tried to use self-showings and therefore don’t realize how safe (and effective) they can be.

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The key—no pun intended!—lies in the advent of new technology.

Landlords and property managers who utilize self-showings aren’t just willy-nilly handing over a set of keys. Advanced technology ensures there is a number of protections put in place first. For instance, we use a detailed vetting system before agreeing to let someone self-show a unit. We collect personal information about the person, including a copy of their ID, to ensure the person is who they say they are. You can even integrate software that charges someone a small fee to ensure the credit card fee they provide is indeed valid. People planning to wreak havoc on a unit tend to be recalcitrant about providing this type of documentation.


Related: 4 Steps to Pre-Screen Prospective Tenants Over the Phone

Why Self-Showings Will Become the Norm for Rentals

As technology advances, we’ll be able to integrate other self-showing protections. We’ll be able to leverage data, artificial intelligence, and public records to coordinate a series of questions to validate a person’s identify.

Sure, not everyone will want to provide said information just to tour a rental property. But in my experience, those who do tend to be higher quality applicants. Over time, self-showings will become so common that providing this information will be the norm.

It’s also important to realize that we aren’t using the traditional, single-code lock boxes of yesteryear. We use “smart lock boxes” that issue rotating codes that expire after just two hours. Once someone has verified their identity, they’ll schedule a self-showing through an online portal. A few minutes before their appointment, they’ll get an email or text notification containing a unique code to unlock the lock box. This way, a prospective resident only has so long to enter the unit and cannot give the code out to others, adding yet another layer of security.

After the showing, the prospect simply returns the keys to the lock box. Technology can sense whether the keys have actually been returned and can send a message to the owner of property manager if not. In any event, we will follow up with the person by phone, text, or email to ensure the key was returned properly and answer any questions they may have about the unit. If someone is interested in leasing the unit, great! We will forward the paperwork along accordingly.

Making the Leasing Process Easier for Renters AND Landlords

Self-showings, when supplemented with advanced technology, make the whole leasing process seamless. Prospects can tour units at their own leisure, day or night (typically until dark), seven days a week. Today’s renters are impatient. They want what they want, and they want it now. Self-showings speed up the showing process and allow prospects to tour units faster than they’d be able to otherwise. Better yet, nobody has to worry about a pushy salesperson breathing down their neck.

Landlords and property managers benefit, too. There’s no need to waste time on trying to coordinate schedules or waiting needlessly for a prospect who never shows.

In my experience, self-showings also drive conversion rates. While I was head of Starwood Waypoint Realty Trust, we used self-showings to lease thousands of properties. The plain and simple fact is that we had 50% more people view units that utilized self-showings versus those where we used rental agents alone. This helped us lease units faster, to better quality tenants, at higher rates.

Just for fun, I went back through and read some old BiggerPockets Forum posts (see here, here, and here) in which people discussed whether or not to utilize self-showings. One theme struck me: Many people feel that property managers who use self-showings are lazy. One person even suggested a property manager who uses self-showing should be “fired immediately!”

Related: 13 Things Tenants Don’t Understand About the Rental Process

I can see why they might feel that way, but again, I don’t believe the argument is grounded in experience. Some may call property managers who use self-showings lazy. I’d call them smart.


Self-Showings Aren’t Lazy

We started to implement self-showings at Waypoint in response to consumer demand. Renters wanted more flexibility and self-showings provided a better leasing experience. We were still happy to host open houses and send agents to accompany prospects, but when used in conjunction with self-showings, we were able to improve leasing performance.

As a publicly traded company, Waypoint was accountable to shareholders that kept a close eye on the company’s business practices. Adopting lazy policies would never fly. Self-showings aren’t lazy. They’re an indication of business acumen and require an upfront investment in technology and hardware.

That’s why I continue to be such a firm believer in the power of self-showings and why we’re integrating it currently.

I expect self-showings are just the tip of the iceberg. Smart lock boxes, when integrated with software and other technologies, open the door for a host of other property management efficiencies, like allowing contractors to easily access units on short notice, thereby improving the speed of repairs and maintenance. All of this can be done while creating a time-stamped log of entry, a series of data points that can be collected and analyzed in concert with a property manager’s other key performance metrics.

There will always be naysayers, people who don’t believe that self-showings are safe, valuable, or effective. There are still people who refuse to get a smartphone, too. But there’s no denying that technology is the way of the future, and property managers and owners who integrate these new techniques will be at the forefront of the industry moving forward.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]

Investors: Would you try out self-showings? Why or why not?

Leave your comments below.

Doug Brien is endlessly curious about property management innovation and passionately committed to building solutions for the real estate arena. Prior to being Co-Founder & CEO of Mynd, he w...
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    Eugen Burianov Investor from Des Moines, Iowa
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Awesome article, thanks for sharing these thoughts!
    Manuel Prado from Midland, MI
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Has anyone tried the igloo Home smart key storage lockbox? Any feedback is appreciated
    Javier Villarreal Investor from Fort Worth, Texas
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Interesting product. I am also interested on feedback for this.
    Javier Villarreal Investor from Fort Worth, Texas
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Nice article! This will definitely be the norm in the near future especially with the new LTE CAT M1 wireless technology which will make it easier and cheaper to connect remotely. This is just another form of automating a process so you can better manage your limited time.
    Christopher Zajacek Real Estate Investor from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Daryl, It sounds like your not in a very competitive marketing. Unfortunately, we are located in a very competitive market with many new communities being built by major players. Therefore, I am not talking about the objections you are mentioning. I am talking about an objection such as ” I know your community and this apartment seems acceptable, but I can rent a similar apartment a few miles away for $35 per month less per month” A great rental agent perhaps can overcome this objection by mentioning our community offers easier access to highways, has on site management, or some other amenity not available in the other community. Sometimes these positives are not noted by a prospective tenant. If prospect self shows we never learn of their objections which perhaps can be overcome. A great rental agent who is properly trained to overcome certain objections can increase a community’s occupancy rate with great quality tenants at potentially higher rents.
    Replied over 2 years ago
    All markets are competitive. The best way to beat a highly competitive market is qualifying prospects, not spending time with tire kickers. Renting is a transaction, not a sale. Buying paper is a transaction. It’s not sold to you….you go to the office supply isle or store and pick what you think you need. No one is ‘consulted’ regarding any objections as to why this paper over that. Groceries, clothes, and so much of what money is used for is about a transaction. Renting is about fit….and tenant prospects come in two flavors, those who know….and those who don’t. The better the fit, the better the tenant. Good fit through good vetting is your objective, not fixing objections. Those prospects who know where they want to be (location, location, location) and what they need (hard to present the reasons for a 4 bedroom house to a single woman…or section 8 if you aren’t going to go through HUD vetting) will know a fit when they see it and follow through with action. Those who don’t are the same as tire kickers at the car dealership. Those who know have done their research and are seeking something in particular and will ask you specific questions. Questions that aren’t objections. Those who don’t know, are viewing and may not even talk to you….or want you around. They will purposefully ask things that are presented as objections so they have a way out….to leave as what car dealers call ‘be backs’…..also known as a waste of your time. To your point, I’ve got a few plus years of business ownership behind me with 5 separate companies and now this is what I do. I’ve had as many as 200 salespeople under me…. I know a thing or two about markets, marketing, and sales…transaction sales, consultative sales and enterprise sales. And they are each different from one another. Here’s a fun-fact: tenants are like buses…..a new one comes along every half hour. Your job is to make certain they are the right fit for your business, not the other way around. If you’re comfortable doing things your way, stick with it. The choice one makes is always between working hard…….or working smart.
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Thank you for posting this, very interesting! I had previously heard of it but hadn’t looked into it in depth. I see how it could be beneficial for someone managing many properties at the same time but I don’t think it would be the most ideal scenario for me. I manage only a couple of properties in my area and, currently, I’m trying to interact with potential tenants so they can refer me to possible future tenant. Maybe in the future I’ll implement a system like this.