Relying on artificial intelligence to free up site-level personnel — or even replace them — isn’t a new idea in the apartment industry. On the contrary, it has been going on for a while.
Although the concept isn’t new, AI is still relatively new to some operators. Count Phoenix-based MEB Management Services among that group. After adopting Elise AI in early 2022, the apartment operator has seen substantial gains, saving more than 3,000 employee hours and filling in the labor gaps that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual leasing assistant platform does things like provide 24/7 services and coordinate tours for new residents.
Although AI has saved man hours, Denise Trentacosta, senior asset director of MEB, is adamant that the company — which has almost 24,000 properties across Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Tennessee — is not using the software, which integrates with websites and apps to answer emails, texts, phone calls and chats, to replace jobs.
New software is only one focus for Trentacosta, who supports eight workforce communities in Tucson, Arizona. Here, she talks with Multifamily Dive about technology, the Arizona market and inflation.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MULTIFAMILY DIVE: I know technology is a focus for you. What programs intrigue you?
DENISE TRENTACOSTA: Technology that has intrigued me and a number of my peers personally is user-friendly tech and tech that will integrate seamlessly with our property management software.
We want to leverage technology to improve and increase human encounters coming out of COVID. We've got a segment of the populace that found a way to do things remotely and is happy doing it remotely. We want to support those folks. But for those who prefer to talk to us and look us in the face, we want to enrich those engagements.
How does that affect on-site staffing?
I can think back to earlier in my career, and the fear coming from tech and, specifically, artificial intelligence was that it was going to be used to replace our on-site office team. And that's not the goal. The focus is to alleviate some of the mundane tasks, to meet those people that just want to do things from a distance and to find a way to support people no matter what time of day it is.
We can also give back time to our on-site folks to talk so they can talk to people that want to talk to them and not be inundated with some of those other things.
The biggest goal for us with tech is making sure that it is a smart use of our energy and our resources and that it is of value. It’s not just the conversion ratio and how many calls AI is taking in a day. But the less tangible things — the experience for our team members and the experience for our residents as well.
Have you seen any softening in apartment demand in Arizona?
We definitely have seen a moderation in some of our sub-markets. We've seen what might even be described as a slight softening of rent growth. It's not huge but a plateau.
We’re taking a pulse from our various crystal balls to understand if we think this moderation is coming in the fourth quarter, which is very typical in Arizona and other major markets across the country. People just want to get in and get settled where they are through the end of the year. And then we see things pick up again in the mid-first quarter. So, we're seeing a moderating typical of what we have experienced in years past.
How are inflation and gas prices affecting your residents?
Gas prices are hitting everyone. They're hitting our residents, which in many cases are also my team members. Our folks enjoy living in the communities that they manage. Those gas prices are impacting the way that they go about life.
We see more grocery delivery trucks than before. Spending $7.99 or $10 to have the groceries delivered to them may not have been a value before, but they're seeing the value now because they don't have to drive to the grocery store multiple times.
Does that shared experience help team members relate to residents?
We try to draw this line between residents and team members. But when you're talking about workforce housing, they are the same. These are the same folks that are feeling these impacts. When given the opportunity, our team members are ready and willing to have an empathetic chat with our residents. They understand that our residents are feeling the pinch.
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