Calendar icon June 28, 2023

How to Create Self-Service Tenant Onboarding Workflows

A tenant self-service onboarding workflow is a system that enables new residents to complete the onboarding process by themselves using online portals, automated communication workflows, and chatbots, with minimal involvement from property management teams.

Why automate? Automation can provide smaller property management companies with an edge by streamlining processes, improving communication with residents, and reducing manual workloads. By leveraging tech tools such as property management software, online portals, and automated workflows, smaller companies can increase efficiency, provide better customer experiences, and compete with larger players in the industry. 

Implementing tech is especially important – let’s actually say it’s imperative – in today's digital age, where residents expect instant communication and online access to property information. By embracing tech solutions, smaller property management companies can not only keep up with industry trends but also stay ahead of the competition. 

Today we are talking with a leader in property management who has also been an early adopter of some of the most innovative new AI and tech solutions for the property management industry – Wolfgang Croskey. Wolfgang shares some of the best ways to automate your resident onboarding process and how to avoid pitfalls along the way. 

Key Learning Objectives:

  • Do I need to implement self-service workflows for resident onboarding?
  • What are the greatest benefits of implementing this automated process?
  • What are the pitfalls of tech and automation in resident onboarding?
  • How do I create self-service onboarding workflows?

Meet the Expert: Wolfgang Croskey, Founder & President of How’s My Rental

Wolfgang Croskey has been working in real estate since he was a little kid. From stuffing envelopes, unclogging toilets, and serving notices to creating leases, he has touched on all aspects of property management. He is a well-respected member of NARPM, a servant leader to his community, and, to top it all off, a father of 6. Wolf has been a board member and president of the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce, where he is currently the CEO, providing leadership and direction to the Chamber in their daily activities. He is also the Founder of How's My Rental, a site-awareness servicing California landlords as well as the founder of The Perfect Tenant, a Master Leasing Company. 

A Note on Language:

At Second Nature, we prefer the term “residents” over “tenants.” It’s our belief that focusing on the people in every interaction helps us to create better, more valuable, and more profitable business strategies in the long run. Property management is all about focusing on what residents and investors – human beings – want and need! But through this article, you’ll see us use both “tenants” and “residents” due to the fact that many parts of our industry are very technical and require accurate terminology. 


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Why should you implement tenant self-service onboarding workflows?   

Tenant, or – as we prefer to say here at Second Nature – resident onboarding is an essential aspect of property management. But as any PM will tell you, it can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. 

That's why a resident self-service onboarding workflow can be a game-changer for property managers. By providing residents with online self-service portals, automated communication workflows, and chatbots, self-service onboarding workflows can reduce the need for manual work, streamline the onboarding process, and improve tenant experiences. 

According to Croskey, property managers across the country are adopting self-service workflows and automation – but there’s still a lot of room for growth.

“There is a growing trend towards adopting self-service onboarding workflows in the property management industry, driven by the numerous benefits they provide, such as reduced manual work, faster lease execution, and improved resident experience,” Croskey says. “However, there may be some pushback from property managers who are hesitant to adopt new technology or concerned about potential security risks. Addressing these concerns through education and demonstrating the benefits of automation can help encourage wider adoption.”

As we’ve mentioned before, Croskey has called automation the “great equalizer.”

How? According to Croskey, “It allows us to compete with these nationwide companies and to provide not only the same level of service but to be able to pivot and adapt much quicker than those larger companies can. So for me, you're a smaller company, AI and Automation Tech is that equalizer that's going to allow you to shine just as well as these larger companies.”

Are there disadvantages to adopting more automation?

Croskey says there are areas of vulnerability for PMCs looking to automate their processes more deeply. 

The issue? Not having those processes right in the first place. Croskey says he’s seen many property managers assume that AI is going to fix their problems. 

“The reality is, if you don't have your policies, procedures, and processes in place, there is no tool on earth that's going to be able to save your bacon,” says Croskey. “Look at McDonald’s: At one point, some team had to roll up their sleeves and make the process of how to build the Big Mac. And it probably took quite a while to do that. But now that it's done, they haven't changed the Big Mac for at least 40 years. It's still the same nasty hamburger.” 

With a chuckle, Croskey continues: “A lot of times, myself included, we try to find technologies that can help us avoid that initial work. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves, and you’ve got to get through that.” 

How to create tenant self-service onboarding workflows 

So, let’s say you’ve accepted that building self-service workflows gives massive advantages to your PMC. And let’s say you’ve established your processes in a way you’re confident is efficient, legal, etc. Now how do you create the automation to help new residents help themselves? 

Here’s what Croskey advises, in his own words.

To create a resident self-service onboarding workflow, property managers should consider the following steps:

  1. Select Software: “To optimize your property management process, it's crucial to select software that offers robust onboarding automation features such as online applications, tenant screening, and digital lease signing.”  
  2. Integrate Workflows: “Ensure the workflow is tailored to your needs and seamlessly integrates with your existing accounting, maintenance, and communication platforms.” 
  3. Implement Data Security: “It's equally important to implement stringent data security protocols to safeguard resident information during the onboarding process.” 
  4. Equip Resident with Resources: “Finally, equip residents with the necessary resources to familiarize themselves with the self-service workflow and provide comprehensive training to your team to ensure a smooth transition.”

With those steps in place, let’s look at some of the specific aspects of the onboarding process that property managers can start with when building self-service tools.

Virtual tours 

Croskey explains that AI-powered chatbots can provide virtual property tours – answering questions, and offering additional information to potential residents in real-time.

Here’s how it works:

  • Prospective tenants can access an online customer portal or chatbot that offers virtual tours of the property. They can interact with the chatbot to select a specific unit or area of the property they want to tour.
  • The chatbot or other AI tech can then use VR or AR technology to provide a 360-degree view of the selected area. Prospective tenants can move around and explore the space as if they were physically there.
  • The chatbot can also provide additional information about the property, such as floor plans, rental rates, and amenities.

Rental application 

Nearly all automated property management solutions can provide automated rental applications. 

Here are some tips on how to ensure you’re deploying it effectively:

  • Provide residents with an online portal where they can submit their rental applications and supporting documents electronically. This can include personal information, employment history, rental history, and financial statements.
  • Use automated workflows to guide residents through the application process and send notifications when additional information or documents are required.
  • Implement electronic signature software to enable residents to sign and submit rental agreements and other legal documents online.
  • Integrate the rental application process into your property management software to streamline the process and reduce manual workloads.

Beyond that, Croskey explains that “Chatbots can guide residents through the online application process, answering questions and providing support as needed.” 


download rental inspection checklist template


Tenant verification 

Property managers can make tenant verification self-service by implementing tenant verification software into their property management system. These software solutions will help by:

  • Leveraging an online portal where residents can submit their information and documents for verification, including rental history, employment verification, and credit checks.
  • Using chatbots or automated workflows to guide residents through the process, answer questions, and provide them with updates on the status of their applications.
  • Implementing secure authentication measures to ensure only authorized individuals can access and submit sensitive information.

Lease negotiation

Here are some steps to make lease negotiation automated or self-service:

  1. Property managers can create an online lease agreement platform accessible to residents via a unique login and password.
  2. The platform can provide residents with the ability to view and select available properties and rental units, along with the associated lease terms and rental rates.
  3. Residents can submit a lease application online, which can include information such as their employment history, income, and rental history.
  4. The platform can automatically screen the application, verifying information such as credit score, employment status, and income.
  5. Once the application is approved, the resident can negotiate lease terms such as the lease duration, rental rate, and security deposit directly with the property manager via the online platform.
  6. The online platform can use AI to generate a lease agreement that reflects the negotiated terms, which can be reviewed and signed by the tenant and property manager online.

Property services onboarding 

Getting residents set up with all the services, utility connections, etc. that they need can be a hassle for everyone. You can end up answering several calls and questions, while they may spend hours on the phone trying to identify what they need and how to get it. 

Self-service onboarding can make a huge difference. One example is Second Nature’s Movie-In Concierge, part of our full-service Resident Benefits Package. In one phone call, residents find out what their best options are and can even get help simplifying setup. An experienced concierge confidently guides multiple people every day to properly set up their utilities. 

We’ve also automated filter delivery to ensure residents replace filters on time, which saves them roughly $15 per month in HVAC fees.

Document management

Property managers can make document management self-service by providing tenants with an online portal where they can access, upload, and sign documents. Here are some steps to make document management self-service:

  1. Property managers can create an online portal accessible to residents via a unique login and password.
  2. Set up permissions so residents can upload documents such as lease agreements, rental applications, and move-in checklists to the online portal.
  3. Property managers can upload documents such as rental payment receipts, notices, and lease addendums to the online portal.
  4. The online portal can provide residents with the ability to digitally sign documents, eliminating the need for paper-based signatures.
  5. Property managers can use automated workflows to track document submissions, ensure that all documents are complete, and send reminders to tenants who have outstanding documents.
  6. The online portal can be integrated with the property management software, ensuring all documents are properly filed and easily accessible.

Croskey adds that “AI can help organize, store, and retrieve documents related to the onboarding process, streamlining the experience for both property managers and residents.”

Resident communication

Here are some steps to automate resident communication and ensure residents can help themselves to the info they need.

  1. Property managers can create an online portal that can provide residents with information about their lease, rent payments, and property services, as well as the ability to submit service requests and communicate with the property manager.
  2. Chatbots or other AI tools can provide instant communication to residents during the onboarding process, answering questions and addressing concerns efficiently.
  3. Property managers can use automated workflows to send reminders to residents about rent payments, lease renewals, and move-in/move-out procedures.
  4. The portal can provide residents with the ability to report maintenance issues, request repairs, and track the status of their requests.
  5. Property managers can use automated workflows to manage and track service requests, assign tasks to maintenance staff, and ensure the timely completion of service requests.
  6. The portal can provide residents with access to a knowledge base or FAQs, where they can find answers to common questions about their lease and the property.

Maintenance coordination

AI and chatbots can help coordinate move-in inspections, maintenance requests, and repairs, ensuring a smooth transition for new residents.

The best way to do this is to implement a maintenance management system that integrates via an API with the resident communication platform.

  1. Property managers can provide new residents with access to the online portal, where they can submit maintenance requests and track the status of their requests.
  2. The portal can include a list of frequently requested maintenance tasks and allow residents to select the task and provide details about the issue.
  3. You can use an automated workflow to assign maintenance tasks to the appropriate staff member, schedule the task, and notify the resident of the scheduled date and time.
  4. The maintenance staff can update the status of the task on the portal, allowing the resident to track the progress of the repair.
  5. You can use data analytics to identify recurring maintenance issues and proactively address them before they become larger problems.
  6. Finally, you can provide residents with the ability to rate and provide feedback on the maintenance staff's performance, allowing property managers to continuously improve their service.

What are some of the best tools for implementing self-service onboarding workflows?

Several automation tools have emerged as industry leaders in resident onboarding. The best tool for your property management business will depend on your specific needs and requirements, says Croskey. 

He recommends looking into some of the more popular options online, including:

  • AppFolio: AppFolio is a comprehensive property management software that offers automated tenant onboarding, including online applications, screening, and lease signing.
  • Buildium: Buildium provides an end-to-end resident onboarding solution, including application management, tenant screening, and electronic lease signing.
  • LeadSimple: LeadSimple provides a process-oriented solution to onboarding a tenant. By using reactive templated emails, tenants have the ability to select options and then drive the process along.

What does the future of self-service onboarding look like?

We asked Croskey, and he answered:

As technology advances, self-service onboarding workflows can become even smarter by:

  • Personalized onboarding experiences: AI can analyze resident data to tailor the onboarding process based on individual preferences and requirements.
  • Integration with IoT devices: The onboarding process can be integrated with smart home devices, enabling residents to set up utilities, internet, or other services through voice assistants or other IoT interfaces.
  • Enhanced data security: Advanced encryption and AI-driven security measures can better protect resident data during the onboarding process.
  • Automated compliance checks: AI can automatically verify that leases and other documents comply with local, state, and federal regulations, reducing the risk of legal issues.

Final thoughts: Just get started!

Croskey says the key is to start learning how to use automation and AI now – and make sure you provide your team with the training and support they need. 

“My recommendation is just to get started and try these new tools,” he says. “And as you grow more confident, make sure to do your team justice by providing them training and providing them opportunities to learn how to use these tools as well. It’s not fair to say, ‘Okay, starting tomorrow, we're using this brand new tool, have a nice day.’ Really focus on some training.”

You can learn more by listening to our podcast with Wolfgang: Everything You Need to Know about Practical AI for Property Management. We’re keeping our fingers on the pulse of this space – stay tuned for more!

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How to Optimize Operational Frequency with Processes and Software

Property management software is currently helping property managers establish efficient and reliable processes at a higher rate than ever before in the PM industry. With that development in the proptech industry has come the development of tech for self-managers that has changed the capacity of the accidental landlord. Thus, the demand for efficiency at scale has risen in order to separate the professional from the amateur, and the establishment of processes that allow such a thing has become a critical topic for professional property managers. Optimizing property management processes Carter Fleck of Triton Property Management, a growth-oriented firm out of northern Virginia that is approaching 300 units with larger goals for 2024, joins us to share his expertise on process definition. Fleck is the General Manager responsible for operations and strategic growth, and he has been developing effective processes to ensure efficiency at Scale at Triton, and in the process, he has garnered an understanding of how to do so. “A lot of failing,” says Fleck. “In the early days, we were getting a lot of good and bad feedback, but typically the bad feedback is what you adjust off of.” Fleck believes that assumptions are the enemy when it comes to defining procedures and sourcing software for your PMC. “The image that we use is if you're going to build a sidewalk before people even start walking on a field, it's kind of dumb. You have to see where people will walk first, and then you'll build a gravel path. So number one, you see where they walk, see where their intentions are in the grass, then you build a gravel path. And then eventually, once that walkway is established, that's where you build your processes and procedures.” The analogy is a visualization of the concept that you have to see how people operate before you can establish processes to make how they operate more efficient. Fleck encourages the negative experiences of process breakdown and cites them as the only way to really nail down what your processes should look like. “Over time, between the tenants giving feedback and owners giving feedback, we adjusted our processes. It's a mix between figuring out where the owners walk and where the tenants walk, and then building paths that align.” Fleck details an example of how Triton adjusted its process after an assumption it made got challenged: "We had an assumption that payment plans were helpful for residents," says Fleck. "And so the way we handled delinquency is we would reach out to them and would be like, ‘you need to pay this. Do you have a payment plan option?’ And they would always say yes. Our process was we'll put you on a payment plan, we'll invite you to a payment plan, you'll accept the payment plan, and then we'll monitor the payment plan. That in itself was a lot of work, but we thought it was doing well. But some of the owners that we had managed for mentioned that another property manager doesn't allow any payment plans. And if you're not fully paid up by the end of the month, then the eviction process starts if you’re over $500 due. So we're like 'alright, well, we'll serve you in that we'll change our processes.' And we did, and our delinquency percentage shrunk significantly. So, consistently, by the end of every month, we're around 5% APR. Whereas with payment plans we're like 5 to 10%.” Fleck obviously credits seeing the assumptions in motion as what prompted the need for process iteration, and he firmly believes that making too many of these assumptions is one of the biggest mistakes growing property management companies make. Like any business experiencing growth, process definition is critical to achieve efficiency at larger volumes. What Fleck is essentially advocating for is processes based on what you know, not what you think, and there is a big distinction. Managing property management software Fleck has installed both general and tech-based processes, and cites that understanding of how people interact with processes as the key in both areas. "They don't focus on user experience. That's really important. Number one, how the tenants like the tech, but specifically how the people who are using the tech are gonna adopt it. So when we were choosing a rent inspection software, we had so many people recommend one, software and I, we almost pulled the trigger on it. But then I was like, let's do a trial run on both these two. And we chose the other one because it was way better user experience for property managers. So user experience, both for us and for residents." Tech is a tool that is ultimately as good as its users, and if it's not used correctly or at all, its potential is wasted. An over-reliance on technology can actually go hand-in-hand with an under-reliance, as both often spring up from a lack of understanding of how to choose, implement, and manage it. In this vein, Fleck can't recall many property managers who operate with too much tech. As long as you're not purchasing redundant software and you've done and continue to do your due diligence, tech-based process can make your business more efficient. "I more often find myself having that conversation," says Fleck. "When I'm talking to property managers in my sub-market, who aren't connected with like a NARPM, who aren't connected with like a Crane group, or who aren't connected with a Second Nature, aren't connected to the tune of what the property management industry is doing and the cutting edge of it, I'm just like, 'you could save so much of your time and you could scale this so much more if you only even if you just had tenant Turner, or if you had LeadSimple.'" No matter what your story is a property manager, if growth is in the cards, so is process and technology refinement. Hopefully, Fleck's experience in these areas can help you stay efficient and organized as door counts grow.

Calendar icon April 19, 2024

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Why offer a tenant benefits package?

In the residential real estate sector, like everywhere else, residents and property investors alike are getting younger – and with this generational shift comes expectations for a certain level of convenience and support. To put it bluntly, today’s residents want their needs proactively anticipated. It’s something they're willing to pay (and stay) for. That’s where a tenant benefits package comes in. In this article, we’ll explore what a tenant benefit package is, how it improves the experience for both property managers and tenants, and crucial mistakes to avoid. Before we get into the details, we want to give a shoutout to our very own “Resident Benefits Package” – which is how we refer to the benefits comprised in the “tenant benefits package.” “Tenant” is not yet a legacy term, but we here at Second Nature are trying to evolve it. That’s because, in our experience, property managers work hard to make renters feel like they’re not just parties to a contract – they’re residents. On one hand, this is just humans being humans, but on the other hand, it also encourages them to invest in care for their new home and add value to the property. Ready to get started now? Build your Resident Benefits Package today. What is a tenant benefits package? A tenant benefits package is typically a bundle of services, conveniences, and provisions offered by a property manager on top of the basic lease agreement. They represent a triple-win situation for property managers, residents, and property owners, as they enhance the overall rental experience, generate additional income, and protect the real estate investment. It might include conveniences such as online monthly rent payment options, or portals for submitting maintenance requests and tracking their status. It could also include various financial perks, such as credit rating improvements that are contingent on on-time rental payments, or discounts on nearby services such as fitness centers. It might also include amenities ranging from move-in concierge or utility set-up services, to identity protection services, to HVAC filter delivery. The cost for resident benefits packages is typically included in the lease and added as a monthly fee, with the fee being dependent on the specific benefits. Indeed, the benefits contained in a tenant benefits package will vary depending on the property manager and the type of rental property. The overall goal is to provide tenants with an enhanced quality of life while simplifying the experience of renting. At Second Nature, we pioneered the only fully managed resident benefits package, in response to PMs who wanted to make their business stand out. Our RBP includes an array of services and supports for residents, from filter delivery to credit building to maintenance. Why should property managers offer a tenant benefits package? Beyond the triple-win considerations mentioned just above, there are compelling and concrete reasons why property managers should offer tenant benefit packages. We'll turn to these now. Ancillary revenue Some tenant benefit packages include optional services or add-ons that can generate additional revenue streams for the property manager. This might include things like renter insurance or HVAC filter delivery. Resident experience Tenant benefit packages deliver numerous savings and value to tenants, beyond the value they would get if they were obtaining the same benefits "à la carte." Additionally, by offering additional services and conveniences, benefit packages can make tenants feel valued and more satisfied with their living experience. For instance, maintenance hotline requests, tenant portals, and air filter replacements all make life easier. Add-on services like identity theft protection can offer a sense of security. And discounted renters insurance coverage, utility concierge services, or other perks can save tenants money. Decrease tenant turnover and vacancy rates In a competitive rental market, tenant benefit packages can be a major differentiator toward boosting retention rates and reducing vacancy rates. Properties that offer these packages can also attract a wider pool of qualified tenants, and potentially command higher rents. Note that certain benefits in the package, like online rent payments and maintenance requests, can automate tasks and free up the property manager's time. This allows them to focus on more value-added initiatives. How does the tenant benefits package improve the tenant experience? Tenant benefit packages can significantly improve tenant satisfaction in several ways, by making life easier, more convenient, and potentially more affordable. For instance, if an online portal (a baseline feature for most property management software) is included for rent payments and maintenance issues and requests, this eliminates the hassle of writing checks or waiting on hold to speak with someone about a clogged drain. In other words, tenants have the peace of mind of knowing they can manage their tenancy 24/7 from the comfort of their own devices. Some packages might include features like filter delivery services or regularly scheduled HVAC maintenance. This frees tenants from having to remember these tasks – and ensures their apartment is well-maintained. Certain packages might also offer "verified vendor" services – in other words, a vetted vendor network that can help provide a more secure feeling to residents when service providers are on-site. On the financial side of things, a benefits package might offer discounts with local suppliers for various goods and services, or on a renters insurance policy obtained through the property manager (with applicable waivers for residents who have their own insurance). This can save tenants money on a necessary expense. Some packages also help residents with their credit scores via credit reporting and credit building services, so they can transition from renting to home buying when the time is right. The idea is that the credit reporting program reports on-time rent payments automatically to all credit bureaus, helping residents build their credit simply by paying their rent on time. Some benefit packages include resident rewards programs that represent a powerful and positive incentive for on-time rent payments, including gift cards or cash. As far as living perks go, packages sometimes include added benefits such as access to fitness centers or community events. This provides tenants with additional spaces to relax, socialize, or stay healthy. Packages can include security deposit alternatives that serve to provide a means for residents to be financially liable for damages without having to pay a significant lump sum upfront, such as pure insurance, surety bonds, and ACH authorization programs. Ultimately, tenant benefit packages create a more professional and responsive image for the property management company, which helps tenants feel valued and allows them to experience a smoother, more stress-free rental experience. What are the mistakes to avoid when offering tenant benefits packages? Property management companies should take care to avoid certain pitfalls when implementing tenant benefit packages to ensure they are providing true value to tenants as well as delivering profitability to the PM company itself. For instance, it's important to ensure that the services you're offering are actually relevant to your target renters. For example, young professionals might appreciate discounts on gym memberships, while families might prefer pet-sitting services. You should also take care to clearly communicate what's included and not included in the package to new residents. Don't oversell the benefits – focus on how they genuinely improve the living experience. It's also very important to set realistic expectations for response times on standard maintenance requests, emergency maintenance requests, or virtual concierge services. Likewise, be clear on all available payment methods, as well as rent due dates, late fee structures, and any associated payment processing fees. If your package includes services from third-party vendors, ensure that these vendors are reputable and reliable. Research their customer service record and responsiveness to ensure a smooth partnership and a positive experience for tenants. Above all, regularly monitor the usage of different benefits within your benefits package. This can help you refine your offerings and ensure you're not spending where spending is not required. Looking for a Resident Benefits Package? If you’re looking for a “plug and play” resident benefits package, Second Nature’s RBP is the way to go. Designed to be easy to implement and simple to use, all the services it includes are managed by Second Nature – which means there’s no day-to-day upkeep required from the property manager: Second Nature keeps it running. It’s a simple way to grow your business and create great experiences that residents will pay and stay for. Learn more about our fully-managed Resident Benefits Package.

Calendar icon April 2, 2024

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