Renter Rewards Keep Tenants Happy

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Most reward programs offer points for spending money. Example: charge up your Mastercard, reap miles for travel. But an apartment community in Fort Worth, Tex., has devised a way to reward residents for good behavior, community volunteer service, or simply being a faithful tenant.

Residents at the Chaparral Apartment Homes, a 10-year-old, 135-unit multifamily complex about 10 miles from Cowboys Stadium, are handed out points for certain tasks, jobs and old-fashioned positive deeds. Good tasks range from paying your rent on or before the first of the month -- that's 10 points -- or spending one hour of volunteer time with residents' children at the kids club -- that‛s 30 points. Put an "I [Heart] Chaparral" bumper sticker on your car that says you like the place, 20 points. Refer a friend, 100 points.
What's going on is a kind of win-win "gold star" program that is part marketing, part social networking, to help Chaparral's management company, Columbus, Ohio-based The Barrington Group, retain tenants while offering incentives.

The plan was conceived in casual conversation with the sprawling management company's president, says Joan Thornton, Barrington's Director of Property Management. Larry Lieberman was looking at properties with the lowest turnover and found a direct correlation between lower tenant turnover and community involvement within the properties: the more involved the tenants were in the community, the more likely they were to renew leases.

"The bottom line was to reduce turn over, and help keep residents happy," says Thornton.

Since the program started in August, 2010, residents at 14 Barrington Group multi-family properties in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas have racked up more than 12,000 points.

They are redeemable for grocery, clothing or household items, Starbucks treats, or a night out at the movies

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through gift certificates. Residents can also trade points -- a lot of them, of course -- for home upgrades in their apartment.

Kimberly Ward says these upgrades run the gamut from a new custom color paint job (700 points) to new carpeting (400 points) and granite counter tops, which will cost residents 1800 points. New stainless appliances are point-pricey, but new wood blinds will cost a resident 630 points. Want a pulsating shower head? That's only 300.

Kimberly is 50 points closer to her granite counters, as she just signed a new lease to live at Chaparral for one more year.

"I was fixing to buy a house," says Kimberly, a single mother of two whose children utilize Chaparral‛s free kids recreational center where she volunteers, "But I decided to stay, I like it here."

LaVictor Lipscomb, a three-year resident of Barrington's Battle Creek Village Apartments in Jonesboro, Ga., south of Atlanta, rides his bicycle every day. The retiree earns about 20 points per month for turning a regular evening ride around his property's perimeter into a security check.

"Makes you feel more involved with the community," says Lipscomb. "It‛s a self-promoting marketing scheme that's also a win-win for tenants."

Lipscomb pays $905 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment on a fixed income. He's thinking about redeeming for a ceiling fan with his points.

Will Barrington have to raise rents to cover the cost of the point program? No, says Thornton, who anticipates a one to two percent increase in operating costs from the program, but believes those costs will be covered by the end results: lower turn over, a lower vacancy rate, and social marketing benefit from goodwill in the communities.

Vacancy, admits Thornton, is a constant battle for any apartment manager. If the points system takes off in the community, she believes it will be a fantastic marketing tool that will make apartment living feel more like home ownership.

"If residents can put in upgrades that they have personally selected in their home, they are more likely to stay with us," says Thornton. "It's really more like they are redecorating their own homes."

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