what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-feature-image

What Do Renters Want? Hint: Don’t Be Blockbuster, Be Netflix

In the multifamily world, search trends have been useful in understanding what renters want when it comes to amenities, geographical location, pricing, among other factors. As the pandemic reshapes life as we know it, search trends indicate how renters’ expectations are changing. The market is shifting — renters want modern experiences that make life easy, fast, affordable and transparent.

What can operators take away from current search trends, and how can they leverage these learnings to improve their leasing strategy?

Online Search Behavior During COVID Reveals Renter Preferences

Online search behavior has always had the benefit of offering insight into the minds of consumers (think: current events, product interest, lifestyle preferences, etc.), and the pandemic has given rise to entirely new search trends that reveal what people care about most: convenience, affordability, and simplicity.

Exploring search trends through the lens of today’s renters gives operators a unique opportunity to help attract and retain more residents at their apartment communities.

Below is a summary of 5 top search trends during COVID:

  1. Apartment Hunting & Virtual Tours – Leasing season might have hit a lull, but apartment searches resurged in the summer with heightened demand for virtual tours.
  2. Work-From-Home – Remote work operations took over following lockdowns, while recent interest in coworking spaces suggest renters value this amenity.
  3. Rent Payments & Financial Relief – Interest in ability to pay rent and the means by which to pay it has grown more prominent.
  4. Eviction Legislation – Concerns about the patchwork of eviction moratoriums and differing timelines remain high amid uncertainty.
  5. Affordable Housing – Evidence of less financial stability has shown through a variety of searches around more affordable living options.

5 COVID Search Trends: What Search Interest Says About Renter Priorities

1. Apartment Hunting Is on the Rise, With More Demand for Virtual Tours

General apartment search terms saw interest pick up right before COVID hit. After a steep drop during lockdowns, interest recovered and peaked in summer. This aligns with the delayed peak leasing season, proving apartment demand has returned to normal levels.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-apartment-terms

Interest in studio apartments also dropped when COVID struck. As many renters grew worried about economic collapse, the demand for more affordable apartments and alternative living options — in this case, studios — likely became a growing necessity. Interest in studios has remained highest during the summer months, while leasing season is in full swing.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-studio-apartment-terms

Demand for virtual tour offerings has also increased. With strict social distancing measures, renters rely more heavily on technology enabling them to take online apartment tours. Thus, searches for “virtual apartment tour,” “3D apartment tour,” and “3D virtual tour” have gained significantly more interest.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-virtual-tour-terms

2. More Employees Transition to Work-From-Home

The pandemic forced millions of Americans to work from home — or from anywhere for that matter. Many companies switched to remote operations, and search trends reflect this movement. The boost in remote work searches suggests many renters will be working from home, setting up home offices, and in their apartments more often in general.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends -remote-work-terms

While searches for “coworking space” declined after COVID hit, interest has bounced back, indicating that renters are pursuing coworking setups at apartment communities. As companies go fully remote, employees may want to balance work-from-home routines with coworking space availability. Therefore, operators should consider offering coworking spaces as an amenity and adapt marketing language for second bedrooms or small rooms to mention “home office space.”

3. Rent Payments & Financial Relief Become Top Concerns

When millions of Americans lost their jobs due to COVID, an economic crisis unfolded almost overnight. The nearly 8 in 10 Americans who were already living paycheck to paycheck pre-COVID were suddenly under significantly more financial strain. We have been closely tracking monthly rent payments to better inform operators how renters are faring during the recession.

Search interest in “rent payments” skyrocketed 525% the same week that the US shut down. While interest has since dropped, theres’s a growing concern of renters being able to afford rent, especially in the wake of uncertainty around newly extended unemployment benefits.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-rent-payment-terms

This is why interest in benefits-related terms spiked immensely as the $600 weekly bonus came to an end. Searches continued to rise after President Trump extended the unemployment benefits, indicating that the supplement remains critical.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-benefits-terms

Renters have also been actively searching for alternative methods by which to pay rent as their own sources of income grow less certain. Across the US, local and state governments have implemented a patchwork of emergency rent assistance funds, but to-date, no broad-scale federal rent relief bill has been passed.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-rent-assistance-terms

By and large, Class C residents have been hardest hit during the recession. With the conclusion of $600 weekly unemployment benefits in July and President Trump’s partial extension in August, search queries on benefits have risen, meaning it’s top-of-mind for recipients. As renters fall under more severe financial distress, it’s important that operators work with residents in need by devising alternative payment plans.

4. Eviction Legislation Dominates the Headlines

Evictions have been a topic of debate, with local and state jurisdictions implementing various new eviction laws plus a federal eviction moratorium that adds to the confusion. As a result, searches on eviction-related terms have seen an uptick during COVID. While operators, legislators, and the general public have contributed to the rising search interest, there’s no doubt that renters have been invested in understanding the varying eviction legislation. To fully address fears about evictions and protect renters, the multifamily industry must advocate for comprehensive rent relief.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-eviction-terms

5. Affordability Gains Ground in Apartment Rental Searches

The affordable housing crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and searches for cheaper apartment options demonstrate this. Since March, there has been an increase of up to 130%+ in affordable apartment searches. Peak leasing season may have resumed, but renters on the market are even more money-conscious.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-affordable-apartment-terms

We see this trend with search modifiers in which a user searches for apartments at a specific price point. For example, renters are performing more refined searches for apartments under $800, $900, and $1,000 — all of which have steadily climbed since the onset of COVID. This means renters are apartment hunting with affordability in mind.

what-do-renters-want-covid-search-trends-apartment-pricing-terms

Operators Need to Respond To Changing Renter Preferences

What do these search trends say about what renters want?

While lockdowns and public health concerns prevented renters from apartment hunting as they normally would during prime leasing season, renters are now on the move, although their priorities have shifted in favor of convenience and affordability.

Working from home has become the norm for many, making rent payments has proven to be difficult for those financially impacted, eviction legislation continues to threaten renters, and the need for cheaper apartment options has grown more pressing. Operators need to address the modern renter’s mindset in a COVID world by prioritizing convenience and affordability.

Download our Peak Leasing Playbook for more insights on how to modify your leasing strategy as renter preferences evolve — click here.

peak-leasing-playbook-2020-banner