If you live in or around Boston and have ever rented an apartment, you may be familiar with the typical leasing cycle in the city. It's a fair estimate to say that about 60% of apartments get leased for a September 1st start date. The remaining 40% is split across the rest of the year, with the majority of leases starting June 1st.
Why is this? Given the number of schools in Boston, many, many renters start their leases on September 1st and never get off that cycle, even after they graduate. As for June 1st, in addition to being home to a host of colleges and universities, Boston is home to some of the nation's premier hospitals and healthcare facilities. Those coming in to start a residency generally start looking for housing around March and want a June 1st move-in. And so the leasing cycle in Boston is set and flows (almost like clockwork) year after year.
So what are you to do if you're a developer and you have a brand new apartment community set to be delivered in January? Right smack in the middle of winter and the dreaded offseason. What steps can you take to ensure you generate enough leases to reach your goals for the building? Here at CHARLESGATE, we're no stranger to successfully executing a lease-up outside of peak season. Here are a few things we've learned along the way.
Identify and Engage Your Leasing & Marketing Partner Sooner Rather Than Later
You don't have to spend a lot of money on advertising but it will behoove you to engage a local, boots-on-the-ground leasing and marketing partner as soon as construction begins. Simply putting up a banner on your construction fence with a website that enables people to register their interest, can make a big difference when it comes to launching the lease-up. Especially if your building is 12, 18, or 24 months out. If an interested party engages with your leasing team early enough, they can likely work with their current landlord to enable their move-out date to align with a move-in date at your new building.
Be Realistic About The Market
When you're launching a building, you have a lot more inventory than competitor buildings in your market. Smart developers rely on their leasing team to give them insight into what's moving the needle in today's market. Is it free parking, a few free months' rent, a gym membership, or something else? Knowing what your competition is offering will help you craft a more appealing offer to the market. But don't fret too much about giving away a few months' rent. Offering a few free months has less of a lasting impact than dropping rents across the board, and creates fewer headaches upon renewal. When it comes to incentives, find ways to be creative. One thing we advise here at CHARLESGATE is closing prospects with a look and lease special. It drives demand by giving a time-restricted incentive or offer to the prospect. This can be an incredibly effective tool when renters are shopping in the neighborhood for their new home.
Stay Close To Your Leasing Team
You and your leasing team should have regular and clear communication about the construction progress of the building and the state of the market. Your leasing team should be providing you with detailed competitive intel about surrounding properties and providing you with a variety of recommendations to drive demand in an off-peak season. Incentives should remain fluid, when we reach peak season again (think June or September) if you're still offering multiple free months of rent, you should reevaluate the leasing team you have in place. The goal of incentives is to drive demand during a slow period, when demand picks back up as it tends to do in Boston during certain times of the year, the need for large incentives diminishes. Your leasing team should also be providing you with detailed feedback from the prospects they're speaking to. Together you should work out ways to combat any objections received. The more you work as a team, and the most honest you are with one another, the more successful you'll be.
Don't Be Afraid To Get Creative
If you know your building is delivering off-season, consider what steps you can take during the initial design and development phase of your project. If you're slated for a January opening, how can you make it so your building feels like the fresh start people are instinctively looking for in the new year? How can you incorporate those details in your marketing and building messaging? If there's going to be a restaurant in your building, what chefs can you partner with to drive demand and interest in the property? Your property can become a destination and you can (and should) build strong partnerships with the local community. A reputable leasing and marketing partner will have this as part of their core strategy for leasing up your building but even before you engage a partner, you can start embedding yourself in the community early on in the development stages.
The Bottom Line
Boston is home to a leasing cycle more cyclical than most places in the country. However, that doesn't have to mean your building sits empty until we hit June or September. Engage the right leasing and marketing partner, engage them early, and don't be afraid to play ball in whatever the market looks like when you launch.