Effective Marketing is Key to Success in Active Adult Operations

by Jeff Shaw

DALLAS — The rental active adult segment of commercial real estate faces an array of unique challenges, largely caused by the greater public not being aware of or understanding the sector.

For active adult operators, this means that powerful marketing strategies are the cornerstone of success because there is no organic customer growth.

That’s the message of a group of operators who gathered at InterFace Active Adult, held April 18 at The Westin Las Colinas in Dallas. The executives participated in a panel titled “Operating Active Adult: What Works and What Doesn’t in Lease-Up, Marketing and Programming” with Jane Arthur Roslovic, CEO and co-founder of Treplus Communities, as the moderator.

Panelists included Kelly Blaskowsky, president, Capstone Real Estate Services; Kimberly Hynek, consulting COO, Avenida Partners; Jeana Lopez, senior director, real estate, Greystar; Michael DiGiacomo, chief operations officer, United Group of Companies; and Jim Pusateri, CEO, True Connection Communities.

Roslovic kicked off the discussion by asking what the appropriate timeframe is for pre-leasing an active adult development.

“Pre-leasing is the most difficult part,” said Blaskowsky. “You have to have a lot of patience with your active adult prospects. They take about six to nine months to make a decision, so starting the process early in the game is critical for gaining traction and understanding of the community.”

She went on to note that digital ads and social media activity are extremely important for raising awareness, especially among the prospects’ adult children. However, for active adult the more effective way to market is with “boots on the ground.”

“Whether that’s going to the local library, going to the church, senior activity centers, things of that nature, start to get your name out there and start to develop those relationships early in the game,” said Blaskowsky.

Pusateri said that True Connection starts with direct mail advertising even before digital campaigns begin. While “it’s an old-fashioned way to do it,” he says that it’s better for increasing event attendance, which is key to starting a relationship with a future resident.

“Outreach is key, getting into the community and really talking to people and getting them to understand what active adult really is,” said Pusateri.

He added that True Connection also establishes relationships with professionals in the area of a new development, specifically real estate agents that specialize in retirees selling their homes and doctors that specialize in procedures like knee replacements. These allow the operator to both understand the market and customer better and set up solid referral sources.

DiGiacomo said United Group also works with local real estate agents, which helps the company understand “the flux of the housing market.”

“You can’t possibly keep your finger on the pulse of every little neighborhood. You have to rely on your professionals to help with those partnerships.”

Post-opening lease-up tips

Once a property is open and beginning to lease up, a new tool becomes an operator’s most powerful marketing weapon, according to Pusateri: the word of existing residents. He noted, though, that it’s not just a matter of word of mouth. An operator has to incentivize and encourage its residents to bring their friends and family to the community, usually through some kind of monetary reward.

Once the system is established, though, he said it’s the key to keeping a stabilized community full.

“In the past few months, we’re seeing 40 to 50 percent of the people depositing with us are coming from resident referrals once you activate that program.”

While it makes sense to reduce marketing spend as a community approaches stabilization, Hynek noted that choosing where to spend those now-limited dollars is extremely important. For example, if all the two-bedroom units are leased, but one-bedrooms are trailing behind, an operator has to understand who a one-bedroom prospect is and how to reach that person.

“The ability to see the marketing dollars touching and reaching the prospect that is most likely to choose your particular community becomes really vital to achieving the lease-up necessary to get to full stabilization,” said Hynek. “It becomes even more important as one reaches that 80 percent occupancy and you’re in that zone where you’re dealing with renewals as well as your remaining inventory. Knowing, truly, what that persona is of the person you want to reach can help make the most of the dollars, even as they’re being dialed back.”

Lopez further noted that training employees on how and why to reach prospects can help make the most out of marketing dollars.

“You can have the best system, but if the team hasn’t been coached fully or they’re new, they have to understand how important it is to gain those insights that every touchpoint brings to the organization,” said Lopez. “That is where the gold exists — in being able to truly know we are providing the product and the service that most aligns with the lifestyle people want to have.”

— Jeff Shaw

You may also like