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Technology is changing the way consumers look for apartments. Most prospective tenants start their search online and more than 50% of leasing activity originates from on-line sources, the National Multi Housing Council reports.

In a just released white paper, the Washington, DC-based trade association describes the Internet as the primary tool consumers use to find apartments. “The Internet is now an essential part of any multifamily owner or manager’s marketing and leasing strategy,” says David Cardwell, NMHC vice president of technology and capital markets.

The report, Multifamily Marketing in the Internet Age , was prepared to help apartment firms create effective Internet marketing campaigns. John Helm, founder and CEO of MyNewPlace, the web’s fastest growing apartment classifieds site according to Compete Inc., an Internet analytics company, authored it.

Nearly one-third of Americans rent homes and more than 14% live in rental apartments, the NMHC reports. Among renters with Internet access, the Internet is by far the most used and valued resource when searching for an apartment, the report notes. “The spread of e-mail has changed consumer expectations regarding response time to questions and inquiries,” Helm says. “Leads need to be responded to quickly, not when it’s convenient for the leasing office to do so.”

To capture and convert online activity to leases, Helm says apartment firms should make effective use of the various marketing technology vehicles available today, such as Internet Listing Services, corporate apartment marketing websites, search engines, lead-tracking software and call centers. “Multifamily owners and managers need an online strategy that uses both ILS’s and AMS’s to generate leads and an operational strategy that turns those leads into leases through timely follow-up,” he says.

Helm says apartment companies can make the best use of their time and money if they understand what consumers want, how they use the Internet and how to track the performance of their online marketing efforts. “To use any online marketing channel successfully, owner/managers need to capture and analyze traffic and lease activity, calculated down to the marketing cost per lease,” he explains.

The report uses web usage data from two million Internet users and surveys of 455 online renters. It includes specific sections on strategy development, lead tracking and maximizing the effectiveness of Internet Listing Services, corporate and property-specific websites and call centers.

Some of the key findings:

For most management companies, Internet Listing Services are among the most cost-effective ways to acquire leads and leases. Listings with photos, floor plans and detailed rents generate the most leads and leases.

Stale rents and lack of response from e-mail or phone inquiries are the largest source of rentercomplaints, and poor performance in these areas will result in lower lead-to-lease-close ratios.More owner/managers are creating a second site known as an Apartment Marketing Site to handle the apartment marketing activities. The site typically has its own URL and landing page but is linked to the home page of the corporate website.

Corporate websites are not the first place renters turn, but are useful tools for closing prospects.

Search engine optimization can produce a high return on investment for a corporate property marketing site, but this process can take up to a year to gain traction and requires constant maintenance to achieve appreciable results. Online display advertising is usually the most difficult online marketing channel for generating a positive return.

Call centers are increasingly important in the Internet’s 24/7 leasing environment to ensure timely re-sponses to e-mail and telephone inquiries. They are also delivering unexpected results in terms of lease conversions and help bring a new level of accountability in tracking marketing efforts.

Full copies of Multifamily Marketing in the Internet Age is available from either NMHC or MyNewPlace, the web’s fastest growing apartment classifieds site according to Compete, Inc., announced today that CEO John Helm has been named in the Inman News 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders for 2007, a list of the best, brightest and most influential in real estate.

Heading up MyNewPlace, which was recently named by BusinessWeek as Best of the Web, Helm returned to the apartment-search space after seeing new opportunities to integrate emerging technologies. The site, www.mynewplace.com , is built on the latest Web 2.0 and map-based search technology and hosts such features as location-based search and the ability for property management companies to offer More Cash Back. The standard cash back amount for the industry is $100 but with MyNewPlace the rebate amount can be as much as $2,500.

“I’m honored to be included in this list and excited about the opportunities ahead for MyNewPlace,” commented Helm. “We have a great team in place to support our clients and their needs. I feel confident we will meet the ever-increasing demands of the industry.”

About MyNewPlace

MyNewPlace (http://www.mynewplace.com) is creating the largest and easiest-to-use online marketplace for apartment and home rentals, connecting renters and owners of all types of properties. When renters find their new place on MyNewPlace and move in, participating properties offer a rebate. Property owners get a no-risk, performance-based solution for filling their vacancies: They do not pay for advertising; instead, they pay for leases. Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, MyNewPlace was founded in 2005 by John Helm, the founding CEO of AllApartments/SpringStreet, which became the number one apartment rental and relocation site on the Internet before its sale to Homestore in 1999. For more information, visit MyNewPlace.

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