Sal Alfano
Credit: Sharpe + Harrell Photography Sal Alfano

Recently I spent a few evenings showing an apartment to prospective renters. It’s a studio unit in a neighborhood that attracts mostly young professionals and graduate students. With many leases expiring at the end of August, early birds who shop for housing in June find a buyer’s market; by mid-August it’s slim pickin’s. But July, which is when I was fielding inquiries, is on the cusp: there is a mild sense of urgency, but everyone is looking at a handful of addresses. In between no-shows, I found time to reflect on how similar selling an apartment to renters is to selling a remodel to homeowners.

All About Them

As with remodeling homeowners, when it comes to apartment seekers, it truly takes all kinds. The most desperate account for most of the no-shows. Some of those who keep the appointment bring checklists; some can’t think of anything to ask. Some take a quick look around; others open all the doors and drawers, turn all the lights and faucets on and off, flush the toilet, and open and close the windows. But each of them has something driving them to look for new space. That something is different for everyone, and items at the top of one person’s list don’t even make the cut with someone else. One prospect asked to see the workout room because it could save him a monthly gym fee; another saw no need to look because she already belonged to a gym. One absolutely had to have a reserved parking space; another doesn’t own a car and was more concerned with proximity to public transportation.

Unlike homeowners, renters can’t change the space. But when it comes to leasing apartments — and selling remodeling projects — it’s almost never about the space, it’s about everything else. Proximity to work and recreation; location of the laundry; parking; utility bills; pets or no pets. And while price matters, renters, like homeowners, have a good idea what they will pay before they even show up.

The role of the salesperson, particularly in today’s climate, is to probe, listen, identify need, and match the solution. Passively pointing out benefits can’t compete with that secret list of items every prospect brings with them. The apartment-seeking experience, like the remodeling experience, is an emotional one. Tap into that emotion and you make the sale.

To one prospect, I pointed out the interesting angles in the floor plan. “It really sells the place, doesn’t it,” she said.

If you say so.

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.