Should I survey my tenants?

Every year I hand out surveys to all my tenants, and here’s what I have learned in the process:

1. Most people will not fill out the survey.

Even though we have made the survey as easy as possible—fill in the bubbles from 1 to 5, from poor to excellent on several categories, most people will not take the time to fill it out and return. We have considered randomly drawing a gift card to increase participation, but haven’t done so yet. We want tenants to have the opportunity to fill out and return anonymously, for obvious reasons, so we haven’t worked out the reward option yet. We are averaging about 20% participation, but out of 400 units, that is still about 60 surveys to peruse. But we don’t stress too much about poor participation, because even just one survey can provide meaningful feedback and we still get the chance to market ourselves (as I discuss below).

2. The comments we get are productive.

Every year my office managers cringe at the thought of what might come back written in the comments. I’m sure they are thinking in their head of the problem tenant who keeps harassing them in the office about a maintenance issue that is nonexistent or the tenant who is angry because she is being evicted. Sure, every once in a while we get a crazy comment, but they truly are outliers and we usually know who is behind it! For the most part, we get good feedback on our strong points and not-so-strong points. For example, in my last survey I found out my tenants really like my staff, but they thought our lawncare was just mediocre. So this past summer, we put together a better lawncare schedule and put one person in charge of making sure the lawns were well maintained, instead of relying on tenants willing to mow for reduced rent. It will be interesting this year to see if the results improve. Also last year, one tenant mentioned in the comments that our dumpster area could use a power washing. Yes it could! And thanks for reminding us! Productive comments help us become better.

3. The survey is one of my best marketing tools.

Even if people do not fill out the surveys, they usually read over them. In my cover sheet, I have the opportunity to remind everyone what Mitcham Group Apartments has done to improve the property over the past year. So usually I list our improvements: erected new pool fence, blacktopped the parking lot, upgraded furnaces, etc. Sometimes I mention the items on our to-do list—this lets people know that I have noticed the peeling paint and sagging porch that needs attention. It is also the perfect time to remind tenants to LIKE us on FaceBook or FOLLOW us on Twitter—two avenues where we can market ourselves year round. We even put in a notation that if you are looking for a new place, to check out our website or call us with your needs. After all, if our tenants need a bigger apartment or want a change of scenery, we want them to look at our other offerings first! The surveys can also be informational. For example, one year when we gave out surveys in a particularly bad winter, we reminded people of important weather tips as a way to decrease our frozen pipe issues!

4. Careful planning of my survey paid off.

David Letterman pointed out the foibles of surveys one night in a monologue. He said, “USA Today has come out with a new survey – apparently three out of every four people make up 75% of the population.” True, if you go into the survey just looking for the obvious, you will miss out on hearing the things you need to hear. In planning my survey, I got help from college students taking a business course in statistical analysis. Luckily they liked my idea and it got used as a classroom project! I benefited from having experts (the students and their professor) develop the survey and provide feedback. There are a lot of websites on the internet that can assist in this process too, but I highly recommend that you have outside people review your survey for bias and make sure you are not just getting back what you wish for but something that will energize and improve your business.

I hope these four things I learned through surveys are helpful to you and your business. In the meantime, if you have a suggestion or question, feel free to Ask the Landlady!

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