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Your guide to managing parking during a lease‑up

March 27, 2024
Hannah Michelle Lambert
Content Writer

So you’ve just launched your brand new building, or you’re gearing up to launch. While you may have already put in a lot of hard work before this moment, this next year — your lease-up phase — is what will determine much of the success of your complex. 

This lease-up period, which is the time between construction being completed and your units reaching about 90% occupancy, is critical. The longer your lease-up time takes, the more risk you incur since you are operating with a negative cash flow. 

During this time, your goal should be to get all of the units leased as quickly as possible, which includes marketing efforts, giving tours, screening applicants, collecting security deposits, and more. 

You likely will face (or already are facing) a handful of challenges, including:

  • The costs of marketing spend, staff, leasing events and networking — which you won’t recoup until later.
  • Trying to market with no established brand authority or trust if this is your first building, or your first building in a new location.
  • Immense pressure as a property manager to manage and accelerate the leasing process, including training staff, running background checks, networking and more.
  • Pressure to increase the property’s revenue in the short term, where some owners plan to sell the building shortly after opening and look to parking to drive significant income 

Another challenge that many lease-up managers tend to overlook for too long: parking management.

Below, we created an easy visual that lists all of the parking tasks you’ll need to check off during the lease-up process. Feel free to download this to save for later.

This is just a high-level overview, though, so keep reading to get into the nitty gritty of parking management during a lease-up.

Get this parking checklist as a PDF:

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When you’re just kicking off the lease-up process, you have a mostly empty building and parking lot or garage. It may be tempting to get by with little to no parking management at first. But as you may already know (especially if you’re reading this piece), you will quickly outgrow this free-for-all strategy. 

As your units fill up and your new residents bring their cars with them, unless your lease up is a garden-style community in the exurbs with 3 spots per unit, parking will quickly turn into a mess if left to its own devices. 

It’s way harder to wrangle a problem that’s already in dire straits than to address it before it becomes a problem in the first place. 

Failure to consider parking from the outset can sabotage your long-term success because it takes time away from staff who are left picking up the pieces of a poor parking strategy, and it can lead to lost revenue. 

Poorly planned parking also threatens your ability to deliver on one of the things that your residents care about most. According to a recent survey, 68% of renters indicated that “reliable parking with controlled access” is one of their top priorities when determining which apartment to live in.

Parking can be a compelling marketing asset

Given the importance that renters place on their parking experience, this gives you an incredible opportunity to leverage great planning as a marketing asset that gets more people through the door for a tour.

When you invest time and resources into state-of-the-art parking facilities and seamless parking operations, you can reap the benefits before the first resident even moves in. Many complexes that have well-planned parking will highlight it in their marketing materials such as their website, brochures, and social media posts. 

Some popular features to put a spotlight on include:

  • Gated parking access
  • Garage parking
  • EV charging stations
  • Ample guest parking
  • Flexible short-term parking options
  • App-powered technology

You can also take advantage of parking by incorporating it into leasing incentives and promotions without sacrificing the ease with which you can control parking. For example, you could offer a free upgrade to premium parking, or a month-to-month parking lease for the same price as a fixed-term lease.

When you have a reliable way to manage and plan your parking, you’re able to see the incentives you’re reasonably able to offer to fill your empty units faster without causing you headaches later down the road.

The earlier you start planning parking management, the better

Hopefully, by now you’re sold on the idea that parking should not be an afterthought in the lease-up process. It’s a critical piece of the puzzle to get your community filled up with long-term residents who will have a great experience. 

While you are likely working with physical parking blueprints that you don’t control over and that will act as constraints, you do have control over more flexible considerations like your access systems and tech infrastructure. 

The earlier you can decide this the better, because it gives you the most time for adjustment.

If you’re lucky enough to be on board before your lease-up officially starts, this is the time to start considering parking. Establishing parking protocols and tools before you get ramped up gives you the foresight to accurately assess your parking needs, identify solutions, and integrate your parking plans into the overall lease-up strategy. 

If you’re brought in mid-lease-up and realize that parking has been neglected up to this point, no worries, there’s still a major opportunity to pivot and get things right. 

The importance of early parking planning in lease-up success

Because of the seemingly low urgency of parking planning at the very beginning, many property managers opt to take care of parking later, once they tackle matters that seem more pressing. However, more often than not, it soon becomes a problem too big to ignore. 

Operationally, this can be a nightmare. 

We’ve seen many clients make the mistake of putting off parking for too long, and they’ve been left to scramble for solutions once they start feeling the negative effects. One of our customers, a luxury building near downtown LA, experienced this exact situation.

LEASE-UP CASE STUDY #1

This property came to Parkade after the building had already opened and they were managing parking with a spreadsheet. Even though street parking was often hard to come by, they left parking as an afterthought throughout their lease-up process and beyond.

This meant that they had established a history of bad record-keeping and enforcement. Their “system” was a spreadsheet that their team had to manually fill out, and since it wasn’t the most reliable record, they were often dependent on individual team members’ knowledge. This led to some big problems when certain team members were out of office.

The effect was this: they weren’t confident which residents were paying for a spot and where, which resulted in a disorganized parking process that frustrated residents and sucked up hours each week for staff.

On top of the complexity of managing parking, there were some simpler problems that would have been easy to fix in the beginning but became difficult to walk back once already in operation, like a confusing spot numbering system that frustrated staff and residents alike. 

Stories like these are common. While it’s not impossible to resolve operational problems that arise out of neglected parking planning, it ends up damaging that initial resident experience and leads to more hassle for your team than necessary. Their team noticed that after they took a strategic approach to parking with Parkade, so many of their problems were resolved. Now, the team who was there for the implementation continues to preach the importance of great parking planning and will recommend it wholeheartedly at every property they work at. 

At a minimum, you’re missing out on revenue

Even if you don’t yet notice any major operational challenges due to poor or nonexistent parking planning, the best-case scenario here is missing out on extra revenue. 

That customer we mentioned above? When they were managing parking with a spreadsheet 75% of the way through their lease-up, they were earning only $8,100/month. Just 4 months after they adopted Parkade, they were earning $21,000/month. This was largely due to the ease of short-term parking, improved records, and revenue management on long-term parking leases.

And extra revenue is especially important in this lease-up process since you’re often running on a deficit for several months. 

Simple planning like pricing your spots correctly and with multiple price tiers, offering short-term parking, and monetizing guest parking or special parking amenities can boost your revenue and help you capitalize on your parking from the very beginning.

On average, we see that most of our customers rake in around 63% more per month on parking alone. 

Create good systems from the beginning so you don’t have to break down old ones

Planning in advance gives you the opportunity to get it right from the beginning. 

If you invest a little extra time and resources into building it the right way from the ground up, you’re going to save yourself a lot of headaches, time, and money because you won’t have to worry about breaking down existing systems to course-correct later. 

So now that you know the advantages of considering parking from the outset — and the risks of not — let’s go through what exactly this planning entails. 

Initial considerations for parking management

Your first step in beginning to plan your parking for a lease-up is assessing your parking needs.  

Estimating the number of parking spots needed

Eunice Lee, the Community Manager of Lease Ups at Sares Regis Group, told us that the first place she always starts when planning parking for a lease-up is assessing the number of available parking spaces relative to the number of units in the community. “You want to ensure there are enough spaces for residents, visitors, and potential growth in the future,” she told us. 

You may or may not be coming into a property with your lot or garage already built. Whether you’re putting the finishing touches on the paving and striping plan or you need to work within the confines of the already-built structures, you’ll need to estimate what your parking needs will be to strategize accordingly. 

Here are some tips to help you estimate how much parking you’ll need. 

Consider the area around you. Suburban or rural areas that are farther from transit typically have more residents with cars since they have to commute to work, errands, and social functions. Urban areas that are highly walkable or located close to public transportation will often have fewer car-dependent residents.

Look at the similar apartment complexes around you. If there are other apartment complexes nearby of around the same size, maybe take a drive around their parking lots at different times of day to see how many spots they have and if they’re at capacity or have room to spare. Do some comp shopping and ask how full their parking is. Or if you're in a pinch for time, simply look at Google Maps satellite to find surface lots and count the number of spots per unit.

Does your community have a similar ratio? 

Estimate based on unit size. If you have mostly studio apartments or one bedrooms, you’re likely going to need a lot less parking than if you have primarily 2 or 3 bedroom units. You can also use unit size to estimate needs — i.e. Plan for one car per studio or 1-bedroom unit, 2 cars per 2-bedroom unit, and 3 per 3-bedroom unit. While this is a common rule of thumb, you don’t want to use this as the only indicator since the actual number can vary based on location, the walkability of the area, typical tenant age, and other factors. 

Consider guest parking needs. It may be hard to estimate how social your residents are going to be, but it is relatively simple to determine how easy it will be for guests to find parking. If there is ample street parking nearby, you may not need to address guest parking in your plans. But if street parking will be difficult or impossible for guests, you likely want to slot some guest spots into your parking plan. A typical rule of thumb is to assume that 5% of your units will have guests over at any given moment. 

Where will your staff park? If you have a large on-site team, you don’t want them to have to compete with residents and guests every day for parking. Make sure you designate spots for staff to park or at least include these spots in your total calculation for the number of spots needed if you opt for unassigned parking. 

Another benefit of dedicated staff parking: These spots are open for extra guest parking during off hours! 

Do the math so you don’t overpromise

While you may not have control over how much total parking there is to work with, you do have control over how you leverage available spaces to suit your needs. 

You want to make sure that you’re very clear on the amount of parking you have available and strategies to balance that with your guests’ needs. Do not make the mistake of overpromising parking spots. 

John, a property manager we talked to told us about a horror story of when he took over a lease-up from a previous company:

“The fired company had rented multiple parking spots to several residents. End result was we were out of parking spaces at 90%. Had to revoke spaces from multiple residents. Not fun.”

We heard a similar story from one of our customers who came to us a month after opening. 

LEASE-UP CASE STUDY #2

Before they came to Parkade, this team felt in over their heads, scared of what was going to happen if they ran out of parking, and unsure of where to go next.

They promised spots to too many people, causing them to run out of spots before they filled their building. Meaning they either needed to say, “sorry, there’s no more parking left” to the people touring the remaining apartments — not exactly the best selling point — or scrap their current system and rethink their parking strategy. They chose the latter.

With the help of Parkade, they were able to resolve this problem by charging for parking to manage demand, which was something they had never done at any of their other properties, and establishing rules that limited number of cars per type of unit.

So while they were able to find a solution after the fact, it’s best to avoid the trap of overpromising in the first place.

Do your target residents expect special luxury amenities?

Aside from the logistics of how much parking you’ll need, you also have to consider the types of parking you need. 

Special amenities like EV charging, covered spaces, extra-large spaces, etc. may be not only be a valuable marketing asset for your team as you try to fill empty units as quickly as possible, but they may also be a critical deciding factor for your residents, especially if you have a luxury community. 

Make sure you consider how you’re going to incorporate these amenities into your parking plan. For example, you’ll want to think through how many spots will feature these amenities, and how much you will charge for them

Operational considerations

Once you’ve considered your base needs for parking during your lease-up phase, the next important step is to consider how to best manage that parking to improve your resident experience and make sure your team isn’t being burdened with hours of tedious work.

Record-keeping

When you’re in the midst of a lease-up, there’s a lot happening, so it’s easy for parking records to fall through the cracks. With so many people moving in (and claiming parking spots) all at once, without the right system, it becomes easy for records to become disorganized and out of date. 

The parking records you keep are the foundation of your entire parking strategy. In a “traditional” (or as we would argue, inefficient) lease-up process, teams will use a combination of systems, including a spreadsheet to track who’s parking where, add parking spots as “rentable items” to their property management system to bill residents, and then they may hand out physical items like decals hang tags to further keep track of this system.

But a few key problems arise: 

  1. These “systems” aren’t talking to each other so information can get lost.
  2. This leads to a mountain of manual work for the leasing team. 

As a result of bad record-keeping, you could get a bunch of people parking in your garage who aren’t paying or may not even live there, and you have no reliable way of knowing. 

This all leads to an overall negative initial resident experience and potentially lost revenue. 

So we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to establish a great record-keeping system from the very beginning so that the rest of the parking planning that you do doesn’t go to waste. 

We’ll go into more detail about what this connected system exactly looks like. 

Reserved or unreserved parking?

This is typically one of the first operational decisions that property managers make. We find that in most scenarios, most newly-built communities opt for reserved parking, as it leads to the best experience. 

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, you can check out our full blog post about it. But if you want a quick rundown of when you offer reserved parking, here are the top five indicators:

  • You don't have dedicated resources for enforcement — i.e. someone to walk and patrol the lot — as you can rely on residents to report issues in their spots
  • Residents are moving in with multiple cars, but their lease only includes one spot (meaning they are likely to sneak their car into an empty spot)
  • You're located in a popular area where parking is limited, meaning the public is more likely to park in unreserved spaces.
  • The quality of parking spots varies (size, features, distance to doors, etc) 
  • Based on your research of residents in similar complexes nearby, they’ll prefer it

What are the situations where unreserved parking might make more sense?

  • You have ample parking and anticipate easily meeting demand from both residents and guests
  • Your parking spots are pretty much identical

Numbering system

If you opt to go the reserved parking route, you’ll need to implement some kind of numbering system. This can be a surprisingly complicated process. As we mentioned earlier in the cautionary tale of one of our clients, a confusing numbering scheme can add fuel to the fire that is disorganized parking, and it could potentially sabotage even the most otherwise organized planning. 

Chase, one property manager that we talked to, has a really great recommendation for avoiding some headaches:

“I always recommend having a different parking numbers system than the apartment numbering system, because it stops people from thinking a spot should be theirs simply because it has the same number as their unit. For example, if you have units 1-70, number your spaces from 230 to 300.”

At a minimum, don’t perfectly match your parking numbers to unit numbers. If your apartments are 1A, 1B, 1C, etc. don’t number spots 1A, 1B, 1C. That locks you into assigning those spots to those corresponding spots, which you may or may not want to do. 

Another best practice is to always put spaces in numerical order, rather than putting odds on one side and evens on the other, and to use truly sequential numbering throughout your parking areas — not separate numbering systems for compact, accessible, EV, etc. This helps you avoid unnecessary complications that can cause confusion and lead to people parking in the wrong spots because they assume it’s in the wrong place.

Security measures and access control

The next step here is to decide how you’re going to not only keep your community safe but also how you’re going to control parking to ensure that your lot or garage isn’t being overtaken by non-residents. 

Typically, this leads you to the question of “gate or no gate?”

We have a whole guide on everything you need to know about gates (and we mean everything), so if you’re facing this tricky decision right now, make sure you add it to your reading list. 

But in short, here are the indicators that you do need a gate:

  • You’re in a busy, central area
  • You have complicated parking rules that would be difficult to enforce manually
  • You’re in a high-crime area
  • You have extremely limited parking availability
  • You want to charge for parking
  • It’s what your residents want

As for the situations in which a gate may not be worth the thousands of dollars you’d need to invest:

  • You’re in a very small, rural area
  • You have an open community philosophy
  • You have space constraints at your access point
  • You have a very limited budget
  • You want a fully frictionless experience

Access method

If you do decide to get a gate, that opens up a whole new consideration of how your residents and their guests will gain access. 

A surprising amount of weight rests on picking the right access method. The method you choose can impact:

  • Your operational costs to install and repair devices
  • Ease of access for guests and residents
  • Ongoing provisioning and de-provisioning considerations
  • The security of your community 

There are a variety of gate access options out there, but we’ve seen that a smartphone-based access system is the easiest and most flexible option. Not only do most residents prefer this method, with 59% of respondents to a survey saying that they want mobile access control, but it also provides more flexibility, better guest access, and secure access.

Pricing strategies

When it comes to deciding on your parking pricing, you first need to determine whether your parking will have a price. 

Although free parking continues to be the norm across multi-family properties in America, there’s a trend towards paid parking given its benefits to your revenue, and perhaps surprisingly, your residents, too. 

When you charge separately for parking, you reap the following benefits:

  • Lower base rents, since your rent is no longer subsidizing this “free” perk
  • Better managed demand — i.e. People aren’t grabbing up more spots than they need just because they’re free
  • Gain the ability to dynamically price spots based on special amenities or desirability
  • Increase revenue from parking — sometimes tens of thousands of extra dollars per month
  • Remain compliant with laws that have been enacted in some states banning bundled parking 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for the actual dollar amount that you should charge for parking, a good place to start is to do some “comp shopping” by checking out prices for parking in other complexes nearby. You don’t want to be charging a ton more than your competition unless you have premium parking features they don’t. And you don’t want to be charging less and miss out on potential revenue.

Feel free to check out our more in-depth parking pricing guide for more extensive guidance, but generally, it’s a good idea to pick 1-3 different price points — i.e. $50/month for surface parking, $100/month for the gated garage and $150/month for an EV spot in the garage — and to make sure you adjust your pricing based on demand once your lot starts filling up which solutions like Parkade can automate for you. 

Generally, if you have too many open spots, your prices should be adjusted lower, and if you have a growing waitlist for spots, you should probably raise prices a bit. 

Enforcement

As much as we’d like to believe that residents will be respectful and responsible in adhering to the parking rules you put in place, the reality is you will have people who break the rules — even people who don’t belong to your community and sneak cars onsite. 

It’s important to decide on the strategies you will enact to prevent unauthorized parking behavior, as well as how you will respond to that behavior to disincentivize people from becoming repeat offenders. 

This topic opens up a whole range of additional considerations that is impossible to condense in this one single section (make sure you look out for our upcoming guide on it!), but generally, here are the strategies you need to effectively enforce parking:

  • Implement a system to reliably track who is allowed to park where. Many properties opt for more traditional strategies like hang tags or spreadsheets, but we’d recommend digital records that are always, automatically up-to-date. 
  • Consider how you will catch people who are parked where they’re not allowed. A gate can help to prevent this in the first place, but if people do sneak by, manual patrols and reports from other residents can catch them,
  • Decide how you will penalize violators. Typically, communities are harsher on non-residents since they’re unable to contact them to move, and many teams opt to tow or boot them. For residents parking in unauthorized spaces, it’s common to first issue a warning if they move within a certain time, and then move to fines, boots, or tows if they don’t move or become repeat offenders. You’ll want to map out all of these protocols beforehand so that you can be consistent.
  • And finally, how will you deal with corrections? The unauthorized parker is the only one affected in this scenario, you also have to consider solutions for the person whose spot was taken. It’s helpful to track empty spots where they can be temporarily relocated, if possible.  

Systems like Parkade can automate and manage all these enforcement strategies for you.

Solutions to manage your parking

There are clearly a lot of moving pieces to managing parking during a lease-up and beyond. You can see why parking becomes a sneaky thorn in the side of even the most innovative properties.

The crux of this problem comes from the fact that many teams use manual, old-fashioned systems to manage the beast that is parking. Some of the possible methods we mentioned before, such as manually distributing hang tags, tracking who has a spot where in a spreadsheet, and physically walking around a parking lot to catch unauthorized parkers do not scale. 

So now, as promised, we’re gonna dig into what a good parking record-keeping system may look like. 

The most strategic property managers are now looking to digitize their parking operations before residents even move in. This ensures a strong foundation for an easy-to-manage, highly profitable parking system. 

When you’re evaluating a potential parking solution you want to make sure that it checks all of the following boxes: 

  • It aligns with all of your current challenges and future goalssome text
    • Are you looking to increase ROI?
    • Improve resident experience?
    • Streamline operations?
    • Differentiate your property?
    • All of the above?
  • It gives you the features you need, including:some text
    • Integration with your existing property management systems
    • Integration with your gate access system
    • It offers flexible leases, including both short-term and long-term options
    • It’s easy to use—both for residents and your staff
    • It helps you automate enforcement
    • It gives you access to data and insights to tweak your strategy as needed

Parkade is the ultimate solution to get parking right from the beginning, and it checks all these boxes. 

Our software integrates with your property management system to automate all aspects of parking operations, including tenant parking assignments, guest parking, dynamic pricing, payment, enforcement, and more. 

Eunice Lee, the Community Manager of Lease Ups at Sares Regis Group expressed to us how helpful Parkade has been to her team during lease-ups, helping them:

  • Bring in extra revenue by leasing out empty spots as guest parking
  • Leverage the Parkade team’s expertise to determine the best parking rates
  • Collect fees directly from residents
  • Eliminating the news for fobs or clickers by giving everyone with an active parking reservation seamless access to the garage right from their phone. 

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Parkade for your team is the significant decrease in work they need to do. Eunice told us, 

“Parkade saves our leasing team time and resources by managing parking assignments for new residents and maintaining the parking log during turnovers.” 

We give residents the opportunity to grab spots, update car information, and pay for parking directly through the app. This shields your team from having to constantly update these records. 

Our always-up-to-date web dashboard gives you reliable access to parking records, and our mobile app provides an easy, modern way for residents to find and book parking for themselves and their guests. We also take care of enforcement for you — the app provides instant spot relocation for residents who find a car in their spot, and our customer service team is available 24/7 to handle any other parking issues that arise.

The result? With Parkade, properties are able to maximize their parking capacity, keep their properties secure, boost their parking revenue, and prevent staff from getting bogged down with tedious parking management tasks.

On average, at building stabilization and over a 6-month period, Parkade boosts parking revenue by 63%. 

When lease-up parking planning goes right: a success story

The best way to make the case for Parkade as a property manager’s best friend during a lease-up is to walk you through a scenario where it went right. 

Simone, a high-end apartment complex in San Diego came to Parkade about two months before they opened their shiny new building to residents. Located in Little Italy, a bustling neighborhood in San Diego, they knew they needed a lot of guest parking. They also placed a lot of importance on resident experience since they were catering to a high-end market. 

So they came to us because they knew they needed to get parking right from the beginning.

They had done some light parking planning, including deciding on assigned parking and designating two prices. They also wanted 6 visitor spots, but weren’t sure how to manage them since they were behind the gate and weren’t sure how to give visitors access. 

Once Parkade came on board, everything fell into place. On top of strategic consulting — helping Simone identify that their prices were too low and over-simplified, which would likely lead to shortages — we also gave them a reliable method to give both guests and residents access to their garage with a simple mobile app.

The results? 

They were able to take full advantage of the guest parking they knew they would need. On top of happy residents, they’re now bringing in around $2,700 per month from guest parking alone, while only halfway stabilized.

And thanks to the tweaks in their pricing strategy, we’ve helped them bring in $20,000 in additional revenue in the first 3 months, as compared to what they would have otherwise brought in.

And another major benefit we can’t ignore: they’re onsite team hardly has to think about parking. What could have spun into a massive time-suck for their team is now something they can spend just minutes on every week.

So you’ve seen the best case (when you do consider parking before the lease-up) and the worst case (when you push it off until later). Which reality would you want to be true for you? 

Curious to learn more about Parkade? Chat with our sales team today.

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