Apartment Building Landlords Upgrade to Smart Building Technology

Technology is set to overhaul the tenant experience at single-family rental (SFR) and multifamily properties, according to a panel held at the IMN RealTech Forum taking place in New York City this week.

The panelists identified the following phases when technology can play a role: upgrading a property for a new tenant, finding new residents, moving in new tenants, doing regular maintenance and during move-outs.

1. Turning a property

The panelists touched on attractive amenities many tenants want, which in turn, can help raise monthly rents. These desired amenities mostly have to do with the internet of things systems (IoT systems), essentially making residences “smart.” For example, a smart thermostat can detect when tenants leave and automatically adjust the temperature in order to save money on utility bills.  There are also smart keys found in a phone application that open a tenant’s door or provide temporary credentials for guests, eliminating the need for a physical key or a doorman granting access.

Panelists pointed out that every property’s tenants are different, and though a specific new amenity might be attractive for one group, it could be viewed as less desirable by another. Still, implementing IoT systems when turning a property can spark rent growth, raise occupancy and reduce tenant turnover.  

You live in a rental building, where an IOT sensor can be as something as simple as your lights. You just walk in and the lights pop on. The temperature, the system knows exactly what time you’re getting home, so they know what time to turn [on] the air conditioning,” says Jeff Berman, general partner at Camber Creek, a strategic venture capital firm focused on investing in real estate tech companies. “But what’s currently happening, you see companies starting to bundle these things together because residents and tenants, [both] commercial and residential, both want to feel as if they’re having a uniform experience … when they’re entering their office or their residence. It’s really irritating when you have 10 different apps, one for your access controls, one for your temperature, one for your lights, etc. It’s better if it’s all in one ecumenical app, and that’s where we’re heading.”

2. Finding new residents

Along with IoT systems, panelists place significant importance on artificial intelligence (AI) to generate traffic and maintain potential resident interest. AI tech can automatically reply to tenants’ inquiries on a unit and set up a viewing time for them. By doing this, AI can extend traditional leasing office hours, and be more readily accessible to a potential tenant’s busy schedule.

In addition, smart locks on the unit can generate a one-time code for prospective tenants, so they can view a listing on their own time, without a broker present. By doing this, more prospective tenants can check out a building, while also freeing up hours for brokers, as they no longer must be present with tenants to close a deal.

3. Resident move-in and regular maintenance

Technology can aid in documenting the building and unit inspection process, including inspections of unit door locks, common area access points, HVAC, electrical systems, and water and network infrastructure. For example, the tech can detect leaks in the building, alerting property owners before the leaks continue to spread across the building and adding on to repair costs.

4. Resident move-out

When a resident moves out, technology can automatically transfer a unit to vacant mode, so landlords can benefit from pre-set settings to optimize energy savings. Ultimately, smart buildings can help landlords be more efficient, save money and help detect issues before they become too costly, according to the IMN panelists.

The six panelists included Cyrus Claffey, CEO at BuuterflyMX, which produces smartphone-enabled video intercoms for multi-tenant buildings; Larry Gorman, chief technology officer at Invitation Homes, an SFR REIT; Kieran Hannon, chief marketing officer at Openpath, which provides mobile and cloud-enabled access control systems for businesses and landlords; David Sorise, senior vice president at Pinnacle City Living, a property management company; Demetrios Barnes, chief operating officer at SmartRent, a home automation company; and Rebecca Snyder, senior vice president of development at Strategic Property Partners, a commercial real estate development firm.

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