Can We Have Your Attention?

In a hot rental market, new buildings pull out all the stops to get noticed

January 11, 2013

“My name is AVA, have we met?”

No? Well if you’re a “young, urban, social” renter in the District, then the marketing team at AvalonBay Communities thinks you just might want to check AVA out.

AVA H Street (318 I St. NE, 877-714-4718), which began leasing in December, is one of dozens of newly constructed apartment buildings trying to get attention in the booming D.C. apartment scene.

Alexandria-based Delta Associates — which offers real-estate research and consulting — estimates that we’ll see more than 28,000 new rental units in the D.C. area over the next year, with approximately 8,000 in the District alone.

To compete for your attention, building owners are finding creative ways to let you know about their properties, with catchy messaging, unique events and smart use of social media.

“We wanted to have a little bit of an attitude and a sense of humor” to attract millennials to AVA, says AvalonBay’s Kurt Conway.

AvalonBay’s AVA apartments — designed for those who want to live in “energized urban neighborhoods” — are currently a hit in San Francisco and New York. With come-ons, er, messages on building banners such as “Apartments will be sexy by November,” they are already turning heads in D.C.

“As marketing is changing, we want to change,” says Jamie Gorski of the Maryland-based Bozzuto Group.

Much of that change has been in the virtual world, so Bozzuto has turned to social media to market its properties. Many prospective renters look at a building’s reviews on such sites as Yelp.com and Apartmentratings.com, so Bozzuto integrated its survey forms with the latter site. Current residents can give online feedback about their apartments, and the surveys post directly onto Apartmentratings.com.

Bigger and grander events — often in partnership with neighborhood businesses — are also becoming a popular way to create buzz.

There was no ordinary ribbon cutting for the Residences on the Avenue’s (2221 I St. NW, 888-670-1175) grand opening this summer in Foggy Bottom. Instead, Bozzuto hosted a Candace Bushnell book-signing on the property’s roof patio. When they weren’t talking up Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” prequel, “Summer and the City,” guests were enjoying Georgetown Cupcakes and touring model units that included a Carrie Bradshaw-esque walk-in closet filled with clothes from Neiman Marcus.

The Aria on L (300 L St. NE, 888-415-1941) also hosted a sugar-driven event. The area wasn’t getting enough foot traffic, so WC Smith’s director of marketing Holli Beckman came up with a novel idea to lure people there: pie.

The first 500 guests at the building’s free pie day got a slice from Dangerously Delicious Pies.

“It gave everybody an idea of where we were,” Beckman says. “And we love pie!”

Investment company JBG, which owns dozens of residential and retail properties in the D.C. area, isn’t just promoting its new apartment buildings on 14th Street NW, it’s promoting the entire neighborhood.

JBG teamed up with the branding firm Design Army to publish the “D/City Street Paper.” Distributed free in newsstands, shops and restaurants on 14th Street NW, each issue focuses on fashion and community events in the area. And each has a back-page ad for a new rental property: The first issue advertised the District (1401 S St. NW, Dcdistrict.com), and the second featured the Louis at 14th (1920 14 St. NW), which opens in late 2013.

Julie Smith, president of Bozzuto, says the D.C.-area rental market is strong these days.

“It’s going to be a much more competitive landscape heading toward the end of next summer,” she says.

That’s good news for renters: “In a really competitive market, everyone raises their level of play,” Smith says. Guess that means we can expect a lot more cupcakes and pie.

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Kristen Page-Kirby · January 11, 2013