Technology has become an integral part of everyday life. In this modern era you can have the Internet on your refrigerator, your computer connected wirelessly to your TV, and have video conference calls on your cell phone. More and more, the boundaries of this technological mobile revolution are being pushed to new limits, as companies are fighting for that first mover advantage. UDR (UDR) is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that owns and operates middle-market apartment complexes throughout the United States. Many would imagine this industry would have very little to benefit from the mobile technology that we see today, but UDR has invested heavily in creating a customer experience unlike many other apartment complexes. This could very well be the wave of the future, and UDR hopes to retain current residents and attract new ones with these unlikely uses of modern technology.
UDR is one of the first apartment complex operators that is pushing the mobile Internet to its users. UDR has developed an Apple (AAPL) iPhone app that allows tenants to pay their rent, or schedule a service request right from a phone. This not only enhances the customers experience by allowing residents to plug into their community from their phone, but also lowers UDRs costs from streamlining customer service. UDR also has created an app for potential clients that allows the user to search UDR’s complexes for vacancies, and uses the GPS on the phone to locate the one closest to the potential customer. Creating this unique experience allows the company to retain customers that come to expect this kind of support and ease of use. Moreover, UDR understands the demographic that utilizes these apps, as a majority of UDR residents fall within the young professional age range (22-35). Indeed, it is important that UDR uses these technologies to retain this demographic that has grown accustomed to such mobile experiences. At the end of June 2010, 74% of rent payments were received via Automatic payment, up from just 37% in the prior year. Service requests entered through UDR.com were a staggering 77% up from 18% in the prior year. Approximately 65% of move-ins were initiated via an Internet source.
The breadth of the technology and its uses are truly amazing, UDR’s Twitter account allows users to contact the company and receive specific apartment updates and information on their Twitter account, much more convenient than having to contact customer support. Also, if a desired apartment doesn’t have any availability, customers can join a waitlist through their mobile devices and receive updates on the phone when the apartment becomes available. Then, once an apartment becomes available, the unit can be reserved straight from the mobile device-- no more racing across town to sign a lease before someone else does.
UDR continues its technology push, as it just implemented an electronic lease renewal service in June. This service enables the company to cut costs as it greatly reduces the administrative burden associated with lease renewals. The new feature will also allow management to push out mid-term renewal offers with enticements such as pricing discounts, carpet cleaning, and accent walls. Ultimately, UDR hopes this new electronic platform prompts residents to renew more quickly, which will help to clarify the company’s playing field and, perhaps, smooth out performance.
UDR’s use of technology is truly cutting edge for an apartment complex. The company has used technology to improve the customer experience and integrate the community. This gives UDR more marketing information, ability to lower costs, and allows them to connect and receive feedback from their tenants like never before. In the future, we fully expect to see more apartment complexes make use of technology as the customer comes to expect such services. In the near time, however, UDR stands out from the crowd in a very technological way.