In the previous two articles in this series, we outlined two reasons why multifamily operators should consign the use of security deposits to history.
First, we talked about how many operators are missing opportunities to eliminate bad debt and how, even in cases where they don’t have a lot of bad debt, there is usually still free money to be had. By insuring leases instead of burdening operators and renters with security deposits, operators can reduce bad debt risks and eliminate deposit headaches for good.
Next, we looked at the growing risk of deposits and deposit alternatives, explaining how operators get out from under the burden of administrative overhead and risk by replacing deposits completely. In that post, we also highlighted the different risks associated with some popular deposit alternative products.
One impact of security deposits is left for us to talk about, and it may be the most important one. The potential damage that they do to prospect and resident experiences.
It is not hard to imagine how security deposits can negatively impact customer satisfaction. In fact, deposit requirements often leave a sour taste in your resident’s mouth, compromising a community’s value proposition and future marketing activities.
The biggest and most obvious issue is affordability. When renting an apartment entails paying a large lump sum upfront (typically equal to one month’s rent), there may be resulting sticker shock for some prospective renters. Deposit requirements shrink the pool of potential renters, and the problem will worsen as more and more competitor properties find ways to reduce deposit-related costs.
The other problem emerges when residents move out. From time to time, residents are surprised when they do not receive some or all of their security deposit refund. These can result in disputes (including legal disputes) when residents disagree with and are unpleasantly surprised by the amount (if any) of their refund.
Surprises like these tend to manifest as negative online reviews left by disgruntled residents. The prominence of online reviews as a data point for renters choosing a place to live has made reputation scores an all-important currency in apartment marketing. Operators need residents to post positive reviews after moving out. To this end, it makes sense to optimize the whole resident experience, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s also in the community’s best interest.
The bottom line is that in a competitive market, no community should want to be more expensive or have lower review scores than its competitors. Security deposits put operators at risk on both fronts.
The problems that come with security deposits are exacerbated by some of the “deposit alternatives” that operators are currently considering. As we discussed in our last blog on this topic, most deposit alternatives are based on surety bonds and tend to be positioned as insurance products. Renters who purchase products like surety bonds are therefore led to believe that they are insured against potential damages or losses at the end of their residency, as they would be with a traditional deposit.
Sadly, that isn’t the way these surety bonds work at all: in fact, the bond provider retains the right to pursue the resident for any money that they, the provider, must pay to the multifamily community on behalf of the resident. When a departing resident learns they are responsible for paying the bond provider, it usually comes as a surprise, and is a natural motivation for a negative review, representing an unwelcome and unnecessary risk to the community’s online reputation.
The involvement of third parties in the deposit transaction raises a broader point about the prospect and resident experience. When a third party takes over part of the leasing transaction (which is what happens with most deposit alternatives), they also take a part in controlling the customer experience.
Given the time and effort operators invest in their leasing processes, this is a suboptimal approach and one that can go quite badly for our residents, especially in the case of collections described above.
A much better way of ridding properties of security deposits is to replace them entirely with lease insurance. When the operator is the one who’s insured, there is no need for residents to leave the leasing process (i.e., to go to a third-party site). Operators maintain complete control of the customer experience throughout the entire leasing process. They also enjoy vastly higher adoption rates, with average uptake rates well above 90%*.
A participation rate over 90%* matters: it means that all but a few leases are ultimately free of deposits. It forms part of the community’s value proposition that all residents can consistently understand. It is a win for the overall customer experience, but above all else, it delivers a powerful win-win.
It’s a win for operators because true lease insurance increases coverage and lowers bad debt while ensuring a consistent and authentic customer experience. It’s a win for residents because it delivers greater housing affordability by removing the burdensome upfront security deposit. It also avoids the risk that a third-party surety bond company will collect on the resident if they (the bond company) has to pay the operator.
Deposit surprises are usually bad, whether it’s sticker shock during the move-in process or a move-out surprise. As we have argued throughout this series, it’s time to replace security deposits altogether. It’s time to embrace true insurance products that can deliver the customer experience and performance improvements that are already benefiting a growing number of multifamily operators.
*Communities adopting LeaseLock’s lease insurance achieve average adoption rates of 92%