What is a Smart Apartment?

As a rental housing professional, you’ve probably heard the term Smart Apartment by now. The concept earned an entire segment at the strategy sessions at this year’s National Multifamily Housing Council Annual Meeting. And the National Apartment Association ran an article this January touting the smart home as a top technology priority in 2018. Owners have, for awhile now, leveraged smart technology to manage rentals more efficiently. What is novel about this recent push around Smart Apartments is that it is primarily driven by resident interest and is signaling a new era of tech-enabled amenities.

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According to PlumChoice’s IoT Adoption Benchmark Report, 86% of all renters have at least one smart device, which is up from less than 20% in just 2015.

Resident’s rapid adoption of smart home technology is forcing owners’ hands. A huge driver of that has been the adoption of voice controllers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Those voice controllers work best when they control smart home devices such as light switches, thermostats, and locks to simplify everyday tasks. With most of the most common smart home devices being installed right in the wall, owners are increasingly responsible for providing a technology layer to their residents that complements their already connected lifestyle.

What is a smart apartment?

A Smart Apartment is a rental unit that is outfitted with common smart home technology such that it can be easily connected to a resident’s preferred mobile phone or voice controller upon move in and disconnected upon move out. The most common smart home devices employed by consumers today are:

  • Smart locks that allow residents to remotely lock and unlock the door, monitor door status and activity history, and receive notifications about lock activity

  • Smart thermostats that allow residents to remotely control comfort settings and save energy through automations

  • Smart lights and outlets that enable residents to enjoy convenience

There are of course a thousand other devices from smart TVs to smart blinds to connected cameras. The above represent the core of any smart home, with an emphasis on those devices that have to come with the unit because they are built into the walls.

There are a few key additional concepts that that make a smart home into a Smart Apartment. First, a Smart Apartment must be able to unify the devices that come with the unit with those devices such as voice controllers that a resident commonly brings themselves. Second, a Smart Apartment requires enterprise features that facilitate the relatively rapid turnover of rental housing and the many stakeholders, such as maintenance teams, who have a need for the control and data provided by smart home devices. Finally, a Smart Apartment must cater to the wide range of technological capabilities that will walk through the door of a leasing office: a dead simple solution is critical.

The value for residents

Residents value Smart Apartments for a number of reasons. First, residents value the security and peace of mind offered by smart homes. Connected locks provide the ability to lock the door remotely, see who is coming and going, and ensure that the people who should be able to get in such as visitors and vendors can do so with ease. Finally, smart locks provide redundant forms of entry beyond a simple keyed lock, which has led to a 40% reduction in lockouts according to a survey of 50 managers at our communities.

Smart homes also provide the ability to manage comfort while minimizing utility costs. Nest claims that owners see on average a 10-15% drop in utility costs across both their heating and cooling bills. Perhaps equally as valuable to some: the ability to ensure comfort by having the air conditioning or heating running before they come home or roll out of bed.

In that same vein, convenience is another major driver. While lights and outlets might not pack quite the same energy-saving punch (though they do save at the margins), they can provide a more satisfying and exciting response to remote commands. Residents are able to move about the house verbalizing light on and off commands and watch the space respond to their whims. Lights are the most used technology device in the entire house, providing a frequent point of engagement for residents with their Smart Apartment.

The value for owners

That all sounds fun, right? But what’s it matter for the bottom line?

Smart Apartments create an opportunity for forward-thinking owners to capture premiums and to position their product in the marketplace. A resident survey Dwelo performed puts this in perspective: residents prefer Smart Apartments to gyms and pools and put Smart Apartments on par with updated kitchens. If a unit has these features and its comps don’t, it creates a strong differentiator for an owner’s product. For new construction it seems like a near no-brainer; furthermore, our retrofit communities have seen consistent premiums and many have seen enhanced lease rates from putting in these devices on turn. And while this discussion focuses on Smart Apartments as an amenity, if deployed properly, owners can see significant operational savings and risk reduction from these rollouts, as well.

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Technology continues to evolve and disrupt industries; rental housing is no different. With residents living increasingly connected lifestyles and rapidly adopting smart devices, owners need to facilitate their residents choices by employing complimentary technology in the walls of their communities. This creates opportunities and challenges, but owners are increasingly faced with the inevitable reality that they are technology providers, too, now.