uForis William Butler Leasing Experience Part1 Blog Header

William Butler of Empower Property Management Consulting Shares How Architectural Renderings Can Show Lifestyle in Student Housing Communities

uForis is in business to help property managers lease their student housing faster. William Butler Jr., CEO and Principal at Empower Property Management Consulting and author of the book ReLeasing: A Counterintuitive Approach to Apartment Leasing, has the same goal.

Both companies approach it from similar standpoints, aiming to showcase the overall experience a property offers. uForis leverages state-of-the-art technology to create 3D architectural renderings that convey an atmosphere. Butler emphasizes enthusiasm and passion from the sales team, encouraging student housing property managers to showcase “experience over amenities.”

uForis Founder Dora Cheng recently had the opportunity to speak with Butler about student housing trends, how to lease apartments more effectively, and how 3D architectural renderings help.

Dora Cheng: How fast do student housing lease-ups usually happen? What’s a good rate?
Butler: That’s a tough question. It’s all contingent upon the market, the peaks and valleys in enrollment, or how saturated the market is when it comes to student housing, purpose-built competition. There are always different variables that contribute to or inhibit success when it comes to the leasing markets.

No matter what market you’re in, no matter how troubled the market is or how saturated, there’s usually somebody that’s successful. And it’s usually the person that has that vision, that has the ambition, and is willing to go out against all odds and make that happen.

Cheng: Yes! It’s fascinating how a positive attitude can make it happen, even if it feels like overwhelming odds.

Butler: There’s nothing more powerful than a positive mindset and optimism. Just being able to have that vision that it can work, that perspective alone can foster the necessary success. The “Why” is the most important part. The “How” will get figured out along the way. You just have to have that mentality.

Cheng: A lot of times, our 3D architectural renderings are the first imagery a student encounters about a property, so it forms their perception of the property. How do you think a leasing team can use these channels more effectively to promote a property.

Butler: That’s a good question. One thing I’m really passionate about is sharing experience over amenities. All too often in student housing, we like to slide the ticket before embracing the experience.

We live by trying to tell people how great our product is, and how low our price is, and how great this incentive is, and blast that all over our websites. But, really, the most important thing is the experience, the lifestyle, the emotional connectedness. That’s what seals the deal and really drives people.

With these pictures, with these architectural renderings, with this virtual reality, we can see that the property is awesome. The amenities are amazing. But it’s so much more than a soft-close cabinet or a granite countertop. It’s showing students how they can live it. That’s the component people don’t understand that the renderings can provide: Perception is reality.

Renderings are used to paint the picture. The 3D architectural renderings help capture the visual and take the students to the place where they can see themselves living there, having a good time, breathing it.

We need to use these platforms to capture the value and the experience behind the amenities. And I think the 3D architectural renderings do it really well. On the other side, the team has to sell that, as well.

Cheng: I was talking to somebody about Google Analytics on their student housing websites. They said one thing they’ve found consistently is that people first go to the pricing page, and then they go to the floor plans. That’s almost universal. Given that behavior pattern, how would you change that?

Butler: I personally don’t like people to judge me based on a number, whether I’m the cheapest or the most expensive in the market. I don’t believe that pricing sells apartments. I think when value outweighs price, price is no longer the value. 

We have to put ourselves in a place where we can associate value. I like bringing people in to take a tour. If we can’t, we can use uForis virtual reality videos and explain what they’re seeing via Zoom. I always like to make sure I can put my best foot forward before I give any numbers out. Even if I’m the cheapest in the market, I want you to know what your dollar is being spent on.

Cheng: Do you think most student housing property managers are using these first points of contact – social media and their websites – in the most effective way? Is there a way to structure the digital strategy so they get more of the experience before they look at pricing?

Butler: Yes. Especially when we’re talking about social media platforms, we miss exactly what social media is. It’s designed to be social. Students are looking at what their friends are doing, how much fun they’re having, especially during spring and summer break. Social media users have FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out]. We’re always looking to escape from where we are.

On social media, we get to cultivate the perception that everybody has of us. Whether that’s on a personal level or from a business standpoint, we get to cast that image, that personality, that brand image of our properties. It’s all about lifestyle, showing people the lifestyle of the property.

People are more visual now, more than ever. They like seeing that visual content on social media. And I think a lot of times we do get consumed with plastering our ads everywhere. There’s some happy medium. I would lean more toward painting a lifestyle. Make sure people can see what your lifestyle has to offer and give them room to infer. Show it’s a good time living there. Then when they come down to the community, that’s when you tell them about it.

Cheng: What do you mean by showing the lifestyle?

Butler: Get testimonials from real people who live and engage in the community’s lifestyle and enjoy it. Show the events that are happening. Show people out doing real-life things in the community.

Cheng: What would you like to see in renderings to show off the lifestyles we’re talking about?

Butler: One project I worked on recently had the biggest apartments in the market. Massive apartments. I think fraternities and sororities and student groups will love it. And when I go into the meetings, I would want nothing more than to be able to show that.

The sororities and fraternities wear their letters on their chests. They put them on their bags, their glasses. Imagine if a rendering could show their letters on a building?

A lot of times, that’s the hardest part for our teams: How do I conceptualize this enough to make a sales pitch?

That’s where these renderings are so important. It gives us the visuals. We no longer have to try to paint the picture, because uForis did it.

Cheng: What other student groups besides fraternities and sororities should we pay attention to?

Butler: Any group with more than two people; there’s no group too small. I’ve done things for swim teams, lacrosse teams, all the student groups that don’t necessarily get university funding are people that could use some type of service. They all want to have that big group kind of feel, but they don’t have the support. They can have the support in our properties.

Cheng: How would properties work with a chess club, swim team, hockey team?

Butler: We could give them exclusive access to the facilities if they needed to have a group study table, the business center on certain days, spaces to have weekly meetings.

I’ve also offered group incentives and group rates, so they can put that money toward their expenses, like pucks or skates. It’s helping them out as an organization, but also putting them in a better place when it comes to their livelihood.

Cheng: How do you find out about all these groups that could use a partnership?

Butler: I don’t think there’s any greater inspiration than exposure, figuring out what’s going on in your market and getting to know the students needs, their wants, their desires. I guess that’s the name of the game. When it comes to selling anything, you can’t sell when you don’t know. You have to figure out what they’re looking for.

A lot of times it’s just going in and talking to students, figuring out who the student groups are and setting up the meetings.

I’ll ask, “If I had a magic pill that could solve your top three problems, what are those problems?” Now I know exactly what they want, so I can conceptualize that in my meetings. Outreach marketing goes a long way.

Cheng: What is your hiring philosophy? How do you find the people who will be effective at outreach and closing the sale?

Butler: My philosophy is – hire fast, fire faster. We’re in the day and age where people can easily lie their way through any interview. There are courses out there that are teaching people how to give a good interview. We can all finesse our way through a 30-minute interview. But execution is worshipped.

I’m looking for passion, zeal, resilience, ambition…. The traits that can’t necessarily be trained. I like to go out and find the people who are just excited, people with some type of drive, something that they want to accomplish. I want to help them get there, but I also want them to use that in a combined effort to get where we want to be as a group.

Cheng: How do you interview or test for zeal and passion and initiative?

Butler: I like diving into self-employed, extracurricular projects. What was something that was outside your scope of work? What was a problem that you decided you wanted to go out and solve?

One of my favorite books is called The Go River by Bob Burg. He says the number one rule of stratospheric success is to provide more value than you take in compensation. I believe in that.

All too often, some people say I don’t get paid enough for this or that. Naturally, we always want more. I want to ask questions during the interview that will help me find the person who’s willing to go out there, see a problem, fix the problem, and do it with no expectation, just because it’s the right thing to do.

It doesn’t necessarily even speak to your passion for the job, just your enthusiasm as a person. Responsibility literally means “your ability to respond.” I want someone who will go out there, see a problem, and have the leadership quality and zeal to fix it because it’s going to make the team better. Not because they’re going to get a bigger bonus. Who are you as a person? I can train the rest.

Cheng: What are you most excited about in student housing right now?

Butler: I’m most excited about this conversation. This is going to be huge.

Everything that uForis has brought to the table. We can’t be naïve to the idea that technological advances are changing the way we’re operating. How people communicate is changing.

Every single year, no matter what market you’re in, you always have to stay on your toes with the newest innovations, because you’re always bringing in new students with new interests.

I think that everything uForis is capitalizing on, and really just diving into the technological side of it, is huge. The architectural renderings and virtual reality and augmented reality is going to be huge for student housing.

But what I’m most excited about is how we’re going to adapt to it and how we’re going to utilize it. I just love it. I’m crazy enthusiastic to see how it is already impacting student housing, but I’m really excited to see what happens next.