Nikki Sarmer Career Background
What is your biggest career achievement?
- I'm going to cheat a little here and say that I have two "biggest" career achievements. At risk of sounding too cliché, being nominated for NAA's 20 in their Twenties is a pretty big achievement. But that being said, an even larger accomplishment was finding my place. I'm sure plenty of the other "20 in their Twenties" candidates knew what they wanted to do when they were all grown up, but I was not one of those people. I stumbled into the rental housing industry at a time when I was failing to find an internship at a creative advertising agency like I initially hoped for, but overtime I began to soak in everything this industry has to offer. At my first position post-graduation, I was able to single-handedly strategize and execute on a multi-channel marketing strategy for a new 286-bed, cottage-style student housing development in Athens, Georgia. This development delivered fully pre-leased in the Fall of 2020.
Given the state of the world at that point, we, like many others in the industry, turned to creating as many digital assets as possible and attempted to offer on-brand, effective virtual tours. It was then that I realized the potential impact technology can have in the multifamily industry.
Since then, I have switched to Cortland where my aspirations are encouraged. I've been able to lead large, executive-facing projects, received an award for embodying Cortland's core values, implemented three tech-based pilots, and have had the opportunity to become a global marketer by helping to spearhead an initiative for our United Kingdom team, despite only being at Cortland for 10 months.
Today, I love what I do, and I try my best to let it show. It was a long journey to realizing my own potential, but I am confident that marketing technology is revolutionizing our industry, and I want to continue to be at the forefront of that movement.
What is your ultimate career goal within the rental housing industry?
- I could say my ultimate career goal is to be CMO, CXO or CTO of a global organization like Cortland, but that doesn't come close to painting the whole picture. My ultimate career goal in the rental housing industry has little to do with myself, and more with the industry as a whole. We all know that our industry is behind many others when it comes to technological adoption and innovation, and I want to be an industry leader implementing change for multifamily owner-operators across the world.
The reality is, today, prospects are shopping for everything online from clothes to groceries, and even cars that are delivered right to your driveway. So why can’t you find the perfect apartment without leaving your current one? I think it’s time we redefine the way that we shop for apartments, but that’s not going to happen without people with a passion for advancing our industry in today’s digital landscape.
When I look at the executive boards of various organizations within this industry, they typically look all the same. While I'm not arguing that these individuals have worked hard to get to where they are, I am arguing that our industry is severely lacking representation of woman and people of color. While I only fall into one of those categories, I want to be a leader for women in technology and real estate, and an advocate for those whose voices often times aren't heard as loudly as mine. It's time for more women to sit in leadership positions and be recognized for their time and dedication to their organizations and this industry as a whole. I am actively pursuing this goal by taking part in two associate resource groups (ARGs) at Cortland: EmpowHER and The Coalition. While I may not yet be a leader in my organization, let alone this industry, I believe everyone can do their part to make a difference in the world.
What's one rental housing trend you have your eye on?
- It’s like this question was made for me! Today we are seeing everyone in the rental housing industry attempt to centralize as many operational functions as possible, but in order for that to be efficient and provide significant returns, technology that enables prospect self-service needs to be at the forefront of the initiative. At Cortland, I work on our marketing technology team to implement technology that increases operational efficiencies, and the technology that I see making the greatest impact in the near future is artificial intelligence. With so many rental housing options on the market, we have to be ready to meet our prospects where they are, when they want us, with the right information. This is possible using artificial intelligence either via websites in the form of a chatbot, or with a virtual agent that you can talk with via email or text message. By gathering prospect information, teams are better equipped to offer rental options specific to each prospect based on their needs and interests, without having to do the heavy lifting. To take this another step further, AI could help answer prospect questions when they’re on a self-guided tour, or even check and see if they’ve paid their security deposit.
Since no leasing office is open 24/7, implementing an AI chatbot could also allow organizations to better serve residents in a timely matter, possibly leading to decreased friction between office staff and their residents. While this would primarily handle the “low-hanging fruit” scenarios (i.e. “How do I connect to the community wifi?” or “What is the gate code for guests?”), by automating as much as possible, site teams would have more bandwidth to focus on creating a pleasant prospect and resident experience.