I recently mystery shopped the leasing experience at three glitzy glass and steel rental buildings in the heart of downtown Cincinnati at the pricier end of the local rental spectrum. I never fail to get something meaningful out of doing this, so what did I learn from this latest US experience? Well in short, I gleaned a cool way to access common areas, a couple of good amenity ideas, but most of all the importance of having a really great leasing agent onsite.
Cincinnati is a significant Midwest city, home to the Bengals NFL team and the Reds baseball team, and it also houses the global headquarters of household brands giant Proctor & Gamble. The downtown still looks a little faded glory in parts, but it’s clearly on the up as two of the three buildings are operating with waiting lists for units.
Two of the buildings, along with two other downtown loft buildings, were operated by the same leasing agent, so I started there on a bitterly cold Thursday morning. My welcome in the leasing office was somewhat warmer, and I was met by ‘Donna’, along with her toy dog in a pink quilted body warmer which she tucked under her arm for our apartment visits.
In hindsight, the initial ice breaker chat about her dog was actually the high point. After that, the rest of the visit was uninspiring and fairly perfunctory. Yes, the views out of the apartment’s huge windows were spectacular, and the biometric fingerprint access to common areas and lifts was quite cool, but little else stood out as especially noteworthy. The amenities were certainly no better than many UK buildings I’ve seen and nowhere near as good as some. The circulation spaces were positively institutional in fact, and lacking the kind of luxury feel I’d expect in a high-end apartment building.
Notable to me was the lack of any onsite staff in both these buildings. When I asked about this, Donna assured me that everything was taken care of online and the apartments were totally maintenance free, even down to the lightbulbs being changed by maintenance should they blow. Good for bottom line operating costs no doubt, but to me the lack of staff added to the impersonal feel of the buildings without a friendly face to greet you on entry and enhance a sense of security.
After a replenishing coffee at the ubiquitous Starbucks, and with expectations now fairly low, it was on to a third building operated by a different owner in a former downtown office block. The first few floors are still in office use while the higher floors were converted to residential in 2016. This time my leasing agent and guide was ‘Rick’, and what a difference he made.
The tour was gentle and nicely staged with no hard sell needed as the building is currently fully leased. The tour started with a beautiful communal lounge under a high atrium ceiling, then on to an outdoor grill terrace and doggy walking pen accessed from a dedicated pet lift. Then more amenity spaces, including an outside corner covered terrace and a well equipped inside gym. The large interactive TV on the gym wall offered a menu of on-demand personal fitness instructor courses, which seems like a great idea and easy to add in most buildings. I picked up another great amenity idea here when Rick told me residents can get free seats in a private box at the local event arena leased by the owners. We’re talking free seats to see top artists like Kelly Clarkson which would definitely offer building bragging rights for residents and represent a spectacular community event. Corporate seats at Old Trafford or the O2 anyone?
The tour progressed to the residential floors, and this time the corridors were wide and opulently carpeted, with large windows at each end giving spectacular views of the surrounding cityscape. It just felt nice as we ambled along while Rick talked about the typical resident profile of doctors, lawyers, business people and the odd local NFL and MLB sports stars. I was assured of a warm welcome and the opportunity to meet and greet my fellow residents at the well attended regular monthly community events, most of which seemed to involve wine in some degree.
By the time we arrived at an empty apartment, I had learned much about the building’s history and gained many insider tips on the neighbourhood bar and restaurant scene just minutes from the front door. By now, I was as good as sold on the downtown lifestyle I could be living here and had to remind myself I was there to mystery shop, not to actually join the resident waiting list. Inside the apartment itself, little jumped out at me as especially noteworthy, but again the spectacular views drew my eyes outside and made me feel like I was in the movie Wall Street.
A week later and I retain many positive impressions of this building. Indeed, had I actually been moving to Cincinnati I would have joined that waiting list, while I have quickly forgotten much about the other two buildings. Is this down to the quality of this building in particular and its amenities, or because Rick painted such a compelling picture of what life could be like here as a resident? My vote is on Rick, so well done Sir. When I’m next hiring for an onsite leasing role, I’ll certainly remember your unassuming but sincere passion for the building and neighbourhood you represent.