One rental developer is putting a greater emphasis on customer service by helping residents connect to their community through local partnerships.

Apartment shoppers today are looking for amenities that not only add value but also make a property feel more like “home.”

Kristen Gucwa, vice president of national lease-up operations at Richman Signature Properties, is keenly aware of these trends. “They’re looking for companies that cater to their lifestyle that they won’t find other places,” she says. In fact, 68 percent of renters are swayed by high-end and technology-driven amenities, and 62 percent would be more interested in a rental community that provides a “homey” look and feel, according to a survey by property management firm Village Green.

With a degree in behavioral science, Gucwa approaches her job from the perspective of how human psychology relates to consumer trends. “One of the things we keep hearing is that many people move into an apartment because they really rely on that property to create a sense of community. They rely on that for their social setting,” she says, adding that a lot of buildings are working social aspects into their master plans.

At Richman, the first step toward achieving that homey, community feel is through staff. New hires are required to complete a class that covers emotional quotient versus IQ and discusses ways to create emotional connections with residents through role-playing, property knowledge, and even shopping competitors.

“We have such an opportunity to be a customer service–focused business,” says Gucwa, a 16-year real estate veteran who’s been with Richman for about two years. “We don’t allow staff [members] to talk to [clients] from behind a computer screen. It’s all about emotional connection and finding out what they really want. You can’t listen from behind a computer.”

Many Richman staffers come to the company through referrals, while others are recruited from other customer service industries or resorts. Typically, Richman has about four leasing agents and a property manager at each of its buildings—most of which have 300 apartments. The maintenance workers also go through sales training.

Richman has a move-in process for customers who choose to lease at one of their properties that includes introducing the maintenance team and property manager, gathering welcome gifts for the tenant from local vendors, and wrapping the door with the company’s signature ribbon. “It’s not a temporary living space anymore. People are choosing to live in an apartment,” Gucwa says. “They want that ‘Cheers’ experience, where everybody knows your name. People want to know who their neighbors are.”

At their Denver property, Richman only used vendors from the local LoHi neighborhood, including furniture makers, artists, an interior design firm, and merchants for move-in gifts. They took photos of all the local business owners and put them up in their common area. They also have a “Live LoHi” wall where residents can put up pictures and write messages about what LoHi means to them.

Their Aurora property in Tampa, Fla., partnered with a local restaurant, Yeoman’s, which is located across the street from the building. They created an Aurora cocktail for residents that’s not on the menu. The restaurant also delivers food only to their building. “You don’t get that anywhere else,” Gucwa says.

As moving into an apartment becomes a much larger and longer-term experience, Gucwa says their overall mission is to provide more value to residents. Studios to three-bedroom units generally range from $1,200 to $2,800 per month. “When they go to renew, it helps if they’re engrained into the local area,” she says. “Why leave?”


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