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Forced To Find New Ways Of Doing Business, Residential Providers Are Succeeding In Signing New Leases

East Village Lofts, 1062 North Ashland Ave.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s series of weekend decisions to shut down schools, bars, restaurants and all large gatherings due to fears of the spreading coronavirus led many other businesses that depend on personal interactions to change how they operate.

Residential real estate providers typically use personal apartment tours and handshakes to seal lease negotiations, but on Sunday Wicker Park Apartments Inc. turned to technology to help prospective tenants maintain the social distance public health experts say is vital to fight the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Instead of in-person showings, apartment hunters now visit the company website for video tours.

“In the past, we’ve done this for a lot of out-of-towners, and since we started this March 15, we’ve rented three more apartments, including one five minutes ago,” WPA President Mark Sutherland told Bisnow Tuesday.  

The company owns 36 buildings with a total of more than 300 apartments and 20 retail spaces across a stretch of Northwest Side neighborhoods, including Wicker Park, Noble Square and Ukrainian Village.   

“Most of our apartments already have video walk-throughs, as well as photos,” Leasing and Operations Director Jerry Houlihan added. “For tenants who already know the areas they want to rent in, these tours are often sufficient for them to make a decision.”

WPA continues to expand its Northwest Side presence. It just closed on the purchase of another building in Wicker Park, a mixed-use building at 1121-23 North Ashland Ave. with ground-floor retail space and apartments above. Other recent purchases include a six-unit building at 1856 North Western Ave., directly across the street from the CTA’s Blue Line stop, which the company renovated and brought in Dark Matter Coffee as the retail tenant.

The company rents about 200 apartments each year, and typically, about 10 of those deals were signed after the tenant takes a video-only tour, Houlihan said.  

“We have never had a tenant who regretted their decision to rent sight unseen.”