Since its start-up five years ago, Houston-based J. Turner Research has evolved into one of the nation’s top marketing research firms catering to multifamily owners and operators. Founded by Joseph Batdorf, the firm gathers information from apartment-rental prospects and tenants to gauge a property’s desirability and the effectiveness of its onsite staff. The data gives owners and operators a benchmarking tool to identify the strengths and weaknesses of individual properties plus an opportunity to establish more effective business practices. Before CEO Batdorf founded the company in 2003, he started AmRent, a resident screening service, where he pioneered automated data-gathering techniques to instantly rate a rental prospect.

NREI: How has marketing research for the multifamily industry evolved over the last several years?

BATDORF: The biggest change is that the information is collected by Web-enabled e-mail surveys in contrast to sending secret shoppers out to a property. People can fill out these surveys from their home or office computers and feel confident nobody is looking over their shoulder. Our surveys take very little time to complete. Since [respondents] can easily share their perspectives, that increases response rates and response times and allows us to provide owner/operators real-time feedback. That in turn allows companies to make immediate operational adjustments.

NREI: Tell us about your two core service offerings, the Turner Apartment Loyalty index, or “TALi” as you call it, and Pulse Tracker.

BATDORF: TALi is a monthly statistical model that scores resident responses in a national benchmarking system to determine their residents’ satisfaction with an apartment community. This index includes responses to questions based on the fairly generic but vital question of how things are going at a property. That is, will residents refer others to the property? Do you feel a sense of community there? How do you rate your interaction with staff? These responses can be measured across the portfolio, from New York City to Houston to Des Moines, Iowa. The results enable management to establish goals by evaluating strengths and weaknesses among their various properties and regions.

The other core product, Pulse Tracker, is an advanced way of getting feedback from properties, especially compared to the old mystery shopper. It allows prospects to talk about how the leasing agent was perceived in visits and the physical marketability of the property. For example: How was the landscaping? How did you hear about it? What attracted you to it? It’s the kind of information that’s really vital for the strategic direction that owners will want to take. These reports are confidential, of course, and respondents remain anonymous. On a monthly basis, we provide the summaries of scores and top leasing agents in a region and company to upper management as well as a value-perception index and property index.

NREI: How do investors benefit from these services?

BATDORF: They get transparency. Investors who are placing money into an asset or even a REIT stock get unfettered information and a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the operation.

NREI: Isn’t it a challenge to motivate prospects and tenants to participate in these programs?

BATDORF: We inform [prospects and residents] that we are putting them into a drawing to win $500 which they can win on a quarterly basis, and post that information to our website with the odds of winning. Our response rate is a pretty solid 21 percent.

NREI: Who are some of your clients?

BATDORF: JPI, Lincoln Properties, Arcon, Camden, Avalon Bay and several others. JPI, I might add, tested us out at 22 properties and has now expanded to 125 properties.

NREI: What do you charge for your services?

BATDORF: For just $75 per property, per month, we provide easy-to-understand real time reporting to all levels of management. Frankly, at that price and with the quality of information, I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to participate!

NREI: Any future products planned?

BATDORF: Yes. We have a product coming out that we have been tweaking over last six months called COMPTRAC. Our clients are always very interested in what other properties their prospects are looking at and COMPTRAC will help them see who their competitors really are instead of just who their leasing agents or managers think they are. This will help owners determine how they measure up beyond just the floor-to-ceiling price comparisons they make.