Since COVID-19 hit, virtual tours have spiked by 140 percent on Apartments.com, while requests for in-person tours have dropped significantly.

Food delivered in seconds, groceries brought to your door, dates at the swipe of your fingertips, and a personal chauffeur wherever you are—we are living in an on-demand world where access has never been easier. And as the coronavirus pandemic grips the country, accessibility and digital connection have never been more crucial. Apps like Uber and DoorDash have given consumers an on-demand lifestyle for years, and real estate is now part of the picture. Virtual real estate tools are making renting even more accessible and easier for both tenants and landlords during the coronavirus pandemic.

New Priorities

Despite rising coronavirus cases around the country, people are showing significant interest in moving into new spaces. Apartments.com, an online marketplace for property managers, owners, leasing agents, and renters, saw increased search traffic of 40 percent in recent months since the initial COVID-19 shock began to wear off in March. As the country settled into social distancing protocols, the site saw daily visits exceed two million users.

What’s fueling the surge in searches? According to Apartments.com, 90 percent of renters have more idle time at home and are searching online.

Recent search traffic for rental residences has increased as Houstonians adjust their lives amid the pandemic.

The coronavirus has also cast a new light on what people are prioritizing. Americans are stuck in their homes all day and night, making for … interesting circumstances. The home now moonlights as an office, a playground, an academic classroom, the cafeteria, and so much more. Property layouts and, of course, access to quick Wi-Fi have never been more important. If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that doing spreadsheets from the coffee table gets old fast, so people need options.

“There are some apartment amenities that renters are seeking more of now that many residents are working from home, such as high-speed bandwidth, outdoor spaces, or other amenities they can’t access publicly, such as workout facilities and pools,” says Dan Russotto, Vice President of Product at Apartments.com.

Virtual Confidence

Prior to the pandemic, renters in many markets could expect a personalized experience on their hunt for a living space: pulling into that “Future Resident” parking spot, being whisked up an elevator by an amiable leasing agent, touring furnished townhomes and condos, comparing floor plans. But even before the coronavirus, the process of touring apartments could sometimes take days, and it was not always convenient for folks moving to a new city. Recent research shows that through online experiences like those available with Apartments.com, renters can still create a personal connection with a leasing agent.

The new generation of online resources has features like virtual tours that are suited for large leasing groups and independent owners alike.

According to a Kingsley Associates survey conducted in April, 63 percent of renters found a virtual tour with a leasing agent sufficient for them to make a final leasing decision. And since COVID-19 hit, virtual tours have spiked by 140 percent on Apartments.com, while requests for in-person tours have dropped significantly.

“As in many other categories, people are becoming more used to doing everything online,” says Russotto. “More digital solutions to the leasing process have been emerging, but we’re trying to make it even better for both the renter and property owners and managers by offering a complete solution all in one place.”

In May, the company unveiled its Virtual Leasing Office, giving landlords the ability to engage with prospective renters from anywhere. Apartments.com’s suite of digital services allows owners to provide 3D tours, drone footage of the space, HD video, local guides to the area, and VR renderings of new construction. With the latest addition of the Virtual Leasing Office, leasing agents can video chat directly with renters and start a 3D tour—a safe alternative to site visits amid the pandemic.

Added Convenience

Leasing is never one-size-fits-all. For owners of properties like townhomes, houses, and condos, leasing can sometimes be an overwhelming burden. State property statutes, tenant-landlord laws, and rent regulations are just a few of the particulars that one must manage as an owner renting a space. For first-time landlords, this can be mind-boggling, and mistakes will undoubtedly prove costly.

Thankfully, the adoption of online leasing tools doesn’t just help renters: it can add clarity for owners looking to lease out one or multiple properties. Over the past few years, Apartments.com has compiled the legal sources that allow its online resources to reflect up-to-date regulations in every state, meaning that landlords can easily create customized leases based on the jurisdiction of Texas using Apartments.com. The website also takes the guesswork out of leasing by allowing online applications with tools to compare applicants, run credit reports and background checks, and collect automatic payments.

“The fact that you can get everything you need to start and complete the leasing process in one place is a big benefit,” says Russotto, “In addition, because everything is done online, all the data included in applications and screening reports is safe and secure to access, without the risk of misplacing sensitive information.”

Move On Up, Houston!

At the beginning of the coronavirus, a move to a new apartment (let alone a different city) might have seemed bold, but now it’s actually commonplace. As many people look for more space and a new environment, 40 percent of Apartments.com renters say they plan to move within the next six months, and 38 percent of rental searches show that people are willing to move to a new city entirely. Enhanced online tools are a huge part of helping Americans explore their options for the next step in life.

And that’s even true right here in Houston: Data shows that even more Houstonians than the national average are looking to escape Space City. Apparently, they’re even considering exotic destinations like Austin. (We’ll pretend we’re not offended.) But regardless of where renters choose to move, even a pandemic can’t keep people from having confidence as they look for their next home-sweet-home.

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