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Don't wait to start a waiting list: whether for creative marketing or damage control, a waiting list can work to your advantage.

Some of the most memorable images from the condo boom were photos of eager prospects camped out on the sidewalk in hopes of putting down deposits on condos. And while not everyone stood in line, many put their names on waiting lists hoping to get the residences of their dreams.

Although the leasing side of the business rarely, if ever, sees long lines, waiting lists are more common than ever, and the need for them sometimes comes as a surprise.

Hurricane Katrina was an extreme example. People lost their homes overnight as the storm's vicious winds and tragic floods wiped out huge amounts of Gulf Coast inventory. While displaced residents lived in FEMA trailers, with relatives or any place they could find, they sometimes waited months or years for rehabbed apartments.

Lane Management LLC, a division of Lane Company, went out of its way to ease future residents' stress and to keep them updated about the situation.

"The renovation process was slow but steady, and apartment units came on line a building at a time," said Denise Lyles, Executive Manager for River Reach Crossings, managed by Lane Management LLC. "We kept in constant contact with the residents, as well as the applicants on our waiting list to keep them informed of the progress and updated on the time frame. We also allowed our previous residents to visit their homes and see the progress and improvements that we were making. This seemed to ease their stress and helped them to see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel and homes to come back to soon."

Some communities reopened within a few months of the storm. Repairs on others took a year and a half. But once the doors were ready to open, everything went smoothly.

"It was hectic, but there were no major problems," Lyles said, adding that the worst appears to be over. "Things have changed a great deal in the past year, and the need for a waiting list has decreased dramatically."

The Waiting List Strategy

Most waiting list scenarios are usually far less critical. Locations with a tight rental supply; affordable, tax credit and senior communities; and pre-construction lease-ups for new communities in popular locations also benefit from waiting lists.

Ideally, the management company handles the application process so people get the type of apartment homes they want as quickly as possible. But failing to think things through can result in longer-than-necessary waits and, sometimes, vacant units.

There are several things to consider when planning a strategy. First, a waiting list is essentially an extension of the application process. For affordable communities, prospective residents might need to income-qualify before management can put them on the list. If the wait is extremely long, or there are construction delays, a second income-qualify process might be necessary. If a community assigns an apartment home to an applicant that ultimately does not become income-eligible, the opportunity to occupy the apartment might be lost for a qualified household. That means an apartment home might sit empty while another family who could qualify has rented somewhere else, and the community is left to continue to look for a qualified applicant.

Lane Company learned that lesson the hard way several years ago while leasing a newly constructed community. When applicants left their deposits, management assigned each applicant an apartment; all 24 units in the first building were leased with expectation that the first building would be fully occupied by the end of the first month. Management told several additional applicants who were looking to move immediately that they would have to wait until the following month when the second building would be available.

Unfortunately, maw of the original 24 applicants did not income qualify, while several applicants who were most likely qualified found homes elsewhere because they could not wait for the second building to become available. As a result, at the end of the first month of lease-up, when it was expected that the first building would be fully occupied so the owner could begin claiming tax credits, occupancy fell short of expectations.

Pre-Lease Marketing

Waiting lists can also be an important part of pre-leasing. Although completion may still be several months away, it is not too early to start working on occupancy figures by signing people up.

The community also might want to consider using a waiting list as a marketing opportunity. During the condo boom, marketers sent newsletters and e-mails to eager prospects to keep them excited about the idea of getting their new homes. If future residents have to wait a long time to rent a new Class A two-bedroom in a prime location, the leasing office does not want these prospects to lose interest and settle for less.

Lane Company has launched a new Web site to help market its five communities in Atlantic Station, the popular live/work/play community in Midtown Atlanta. The new Web site that Lane is developing, www.AtlanticStationApartments.com, helps refer people to the right apartment for them, while building up the waiting lists for the newest communities.

For example, a working professional who needs an apartment right away can see what is available at Park District and ICON, which tend to have very high occupancy rates. College students can line up housing for the next academic year at The Flats. Someone who is excited about living at the newest communities, Metro and 17 Street Lofts, sign up for the waiting lists and get first pick of their favorite floor plan.

So even if a waiting list is not necessary now, it is something an apartment community should be thinking about. Whether it falls into the category of creative marketing or damage control, a waiting list can work in the community's favor.

Bill Harris is Vice President of Management Services and Compliance for Lane Company. He can be reached at 404/459-6100 or bharris@lanecompany.com.
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Author:Harris, Bill
Publication:Units
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:986
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