June 20, 2024

What is a Smart Apartment? The Benefits of Smart Tech for Multifamily

smart apartment

Key takeaways

  • A smart apartment uses digital access control, property automation, and building intelligence solutions to improve the resident experience, cut costs, and streamline operations.
  • Smart apartment platforms add convenience and comfort for residents, reduce operating costs and protect revenue for owners, and save time for staff.
  • When choosing a smart apartment platform, look for a reliable and flexible platform that differentiates your property, from a provider with multifamily expertise and an accountable team.
In an era where technology seamlessly integrates into daily life, renters are increasingly expecting tech in their homes. As a result, the concept of smart apartments is forcing the multifamily housing market to adapt and meet those resident demands.
In this guide, we break down what a smart apartment is and what makes it truly “smart.” We also spell out the benefits a smart apartment offers and help you navigate the process of choosing a smart apartment platform.

What is a smart apartment?

A smart apartment is a multifamily building equipped with digital access control, property automation, and building intelligence solutions that are powered by a reliable network connection and can be managed remotely under a single platform to create a unified experience.
This connected ecosystem cost-effectively maximizes operating efficiency, making it easier to navigate the property, operate with peace of mind, and give residents greater control, comfort, and convenience in their day-to-day lives.
To understand what a smart apartment truly is requires also understanding what it isn’t. It’s a misnomer to call an apartment with key fob access control systems “smart.” In reality, these kinds of devices without a network keeping them connected are considered offline technologies. Offline technologies can’t “communicate” with each other, preventing the meaningful experiences that modern residents expect and property staff need to operate efficiently.
Ultimately, reliable and remote connectivity is the crux of smart apartment technology.
Let’s dive deeper into the three core aspects of a smart apartment:

Smart access control

Affecting the very nature of how people enter the building, access control is the foundation of a smart apartment. Access control systems simplify how access is managed onsite and makes the building safer and easier to navigate for staff, residents, and visitors.
So what makes access control “smart?” Connectivity that enables remote access management and keyless access to authorized spaces.
smart apartment access control
A smart access control system is network-connected to empower residents to check their lock status from anywhere and enable staff to remotely monitor and manage access without retrieving physical keys. A smart access system should also integrate with other tech solutions, like property management software, to further streamline staff workflows and reduce the risk of human error.
Here’s how smart access control benefits an apartment building:
  • Ditch the key storage system: Staff save hundreds of hours pulling keys from key storage systems, and can use that time to better serve residents.
  • Set your building apart: The ability to effortlessly navigate the building without physical credentials and remotely check the status of a unit lock impresses prospects and delights residents.
  • Eliminate rekeying costs: Simplify turnovers and save big on the costs associated with rekeying units.
  • Prevent squatters and vacant unit vandalism: Automatic locking protects vacant units from expensive damage and squatters that equate to thousands of dollars in eviction costs.

Property automation

Property automation refers to tech solutions that put staff and resident routines on autopilot, ultimately improving the experience of living and working in the building. By automating tedious tasks and workflows, you save time and reduce operating expenses.
Impactful property automations you might find in a smart apartment include:
  • Automate access during unit turnover: Save time and ensure a seamless experience for new tenants by automatically granting and revoking access at move-ins and move-outs.
  • Safety temperature limits: By setting upper and lower temperature units for thermostats throughout the building, you can ensure that HVAC systems automatically kick in when temperatures climb above or fall below the point where they could cause property damage.
  • Vacant unit locking automations: Create automations that automatically lock vacant unit doors to protect your property.
  • Automate temperature in vacant units: Lower utility costs by setting thermostats in vacant units to an energy-efficient mode.

Building intelligence solutions

Building intelligence is a crucial aspect of any smart apartment because it empowers owners and operators to immediately identify issues, act quickly to resolve them, and record and review data — like access history in vacant units.
Building intelligence propels progress, arming ownership with the insights to continually improve operations. Without intelligence technologies, certain data wouldn’t be available at all, or wouldn’t be available until a problem occurs.
For example, say the temperature in a vacant unit is too high. Without building intelligence, you won’t know that until mold starts growing.
smart apartment building intelligence
The benefits of building intelligence solutions include:
  • Protecting your property from damage. A smart apartment platform with building intelligence solutions will alert you of potential hazards, like leaks and unsafe temperatures, that could lead to expensive property damage.
  • Keeping insurance premiums low. By staying informed of potential risks, you’ll be able to mitigate damage and file fewer insurance claims, which helps protect your premiums.
  • Automatic alerts and notifications: Stay in the know about potential issues with a platform that automatically delivers relevant and timely alerts.
  • Resident peace of mind. Conveniences like answering video doorbell calls, checking access history, and receiving alerts of potential problems help residents stay on top of what’s happening in their homes, no matter where they are.

Benefits of smart apartments

A smart apartment is more than just a collection of gadgets to entice prospective renters — it offers real, tangible benefits for everyone who interacts with the building.
Apartments with smart home technology benefit:
  • Owners and operators
  • Property staff
  • Residents

For owners and operators

Smart apartment platforms have the power to boost your NOI and your property’s value better than other amenities or property enhancements.
Smart tech increases NOI by more than $100,000 and boosts property value by over $1.74MM at the average 250-unit community.
Here’s how smart apartment technology can maximize NOI:
  • Reduce vacant unit utility expenses: When a unit is vacant, you’re stuck paying the utility bill. But by automating the thermostat set point in vacant units with smart tech, you can reduce heating and cooling costs by 47% to save $38/vacant unit/month in energy bills on average.
  • Protect insurance premiums and reduce claims: Leak detectors and smart thermostats can prevent temperature-related damage like burst pipes and mold. These problems might not happen often, but even just one incident every few years creates expensive repair bills and puts your building at risk of falling into the secondary (and usually more expensive) E&S insurance market.
  • Save on rekeying costs: The average 250-unit community saves up to $5,880/year on rekeying expenses by switching to smart keyless access.
  • Retain residents: The cost of outfitting an apartment with smart tech is less than the cost of vacancies, marketing, and make-ready efforts. By increasing efforts to retain residents with premium smart tech, you’ll save on turnover expenses.
  • Attract new residents: 82% of renters report wanting smart tech in their next home.

For staff

The greatest benefit of smart tech for staff is that it frees up their time to focus on revenue-driving tasks like delighting residents and marketing the property.
Smart tech helps staff save time:
  • Managing community-wide access: With a smart access control system in place, staff don’t have to manually manage access for visitors.
  • Managing vacant units: Property automations spare staff from having to walk the property and check vacant units manually every day.
  • Handling move-ins and move-outs: Smart tech integrates with existing platforms, like property management software, to automatically give residents appropriate access credentials at move-in and revoke access at move-out. Plus, there’s no need to spend time coordinating with a locksmith or visiting the vacant unit to adjust the thermostat at move-out.

For residents

Consider how technology has already simplified other aspects of a resident’s day-to-day life: They use their smartphones to unlock their cars, pay at the coffee shop, order grocery delivery, and seemingly everything in between. When they get home at the end of the day, shouldn’t those effortless, tech-powered experiences extend to their apartments?
Smart tech adds convenience and comfort to renters’ daily routines. Few amenities and property enhancements facilitate those magical experiences that keep renters renewing year after year.
resident benefits of a smart apartment
Here’s how smart tech benefits residents:
  • Eliminates cumbersome fobs and keys: With a smartphone as their credential, residents enjoy curb-to-couch access without juggling keys and fobs.
  • Reduces utility bills: Smart thermostats help residents cut utility costs by maintaining an efficient yet comfortable climate. Residents can also check to make sure they turned off the heater or AC when they’re not home.
  • Simplifies their daily routine: Smart tech takes the manual effort out of residents’ lives at home, giving them greater control of lighting, temperature, and access.
  • Securely share visitor access: Residents appreciate being able to effortlessly yet safely let their friends, family, and dog walkers inside.

Best smart apartment devices

The devices you choose for your smart apartment building enable the benefits you’re seeking from technology.
Some of the best smart apartment devices are:
  • Smart thermostats: Residents appreciate being able to automatically regulate the climate and control the temperature from anywhere. Smart thermostats also help reduce vacant unit utility costs.
  • Smart locks: As part of any great access control system, smart locks on unit doors maximize convenience and safety. Residents can check the lock’s status from afar and effortlessly grant access to trusted visitors, like dog walkers and family members.
  • Leak sensors: Mitigate water damage with leak sensors that automatically alert you to small leaks before they become big problems.
  • Smart lights: Just like smart thermostats, smart lights can be controlled from afar. Residents can confirm they’ve turned their lights off after leaving the house to save energy and set automations to turn on and off the lights at certain times.

What to do before buying smart apartment devices

Selecting smart apartment devices for your building requires more than just crossing features off a list and grabbing the flashiest hardware. It requires thinking deeply about the fundamental platform that will support those devices, and the quality of that platform.
Along with a trusted smart tech partner, take these three key steps before device shopping:

1. Pinpoint your goals

Before choosing devices for your smart apartment building, pinpoint your specific goals. Competing for residents, cutting costs, and protecting revenue are probably on your shortlist, but consider what else you want to achieve by creating a smart apartment.
  • Maybe staff productivity is suffering due to an outdated access control system. While devices like smart thermostats and lights could certainly provide value, they may not be mission critical.
  • Maybe you’ve had issues with leaks at your older high-rise community and especially need leak detectors to mitigate damage — in contrast to your brand-new garden style development where leak detectors aren’t crucial.

2. Determine network connectivity design

Next, determine what network connectivity design will be most reliable for the property. Each connectivity method supports devices with certain wireless communication protocols, so this fundamental design decision will ultimately shape your tech package.
Factors that impact the right connectivity design for your property include:
  • Unit density and floor plan size
  • Building count
  • Location and availability of IDF, MDF, electrical, mechanical, and general closets (and the infrastructure available in these closets)
  • Internet delivery method (how your building gets internet access)

3. Assess in-unit device limitations

The last step to choosing the right smart devices is to pinpoint any in-unit limitations that impact device compatibility.
These limitations could include:
  • Building code compliance or architecture requirements
  • HVAC type and wiring
  • Door milling
  • Existing door hardware styles and finishes
  • Existing switch styles and finishes
Skipping this step might leave you with thermostats that don’t work at all, locks that don’t fit your doors, or devices that fail to comply with local regulations.

How to choose a smart apartment platform

There are plenty of apartment technology providers out there. So how do you make sure you’re investing in the right technology — tech that will actually deliver the benefits you’re seeking and achieve the goals you’ve defined?
Follow these four steps to choose the best smart apartment platform for your property:

1. Prioritize infrastructure, not gadgets

Installing Nest thermostats and Bluetooth locks in every unit won’t make your building smart. A smart apartment requires a modern technology infrastructure that delivers premium experiences.
Look past the gadgetry and choose a partner who can design a tech infrastructure that:
  • Is cost-effective: Consider how the platform will help lower operating expenses and protect or lift revenue. The platform should enable the right operational improvements that cut costs, as well as the premium experiences that differentiate your property and help you compete for residents.
  • Is dependable: Your tech infrastructure needs to maintain reliable connectivity. Low device connectivity uptime inhibits the seamless experiences that residents demand and the dependable alerts and automations that staff expect.
  • Accommodates future goals, like adding more smart devices later on down the road. Proactively designing with those additions in mind ensures you’ll be able to meet future resident demands without additional spending to adapt the infrastructure.

2. Ensure quality installation

Don’t overlook the importance of expert installation. Your tech investment’s success hinges on how effectively it’s deployed.
The provider you choose should have a strong track record of successful implementations.
smart apartment installation
Look for a partner with these qualities:
  • Multifamily expertise: Choose a provider who can align their expertise with your asset’s unique needs to ensure a flawless deployment. An inexperienced partner could fail to uncover crucial requirements in a timely fashion, leaving you with a slew of unexpected costs.
  • Accountability: Will the provider take responsibility for the success of your installation? In the event that something does go wrong, your vendor should make things right rather than pointing fingers at others and asking you to foot the bill.
  • Strong project management: You don’t want to be left fending for yourself throughout the implementation. Choose a tech vendor with a hands-on project management style who maintains proactive communication from start to finish.

3. Get an accurate quote

Some smart tech providers fail to reveal the full cost of their solutions upfront. When you’re shopping around, question a prospective provider about potential expenses outside of hardware, subscription, and installation costs.
Account for all hidden costs, like:
  • Out-of-warranty device replacement. Short warranties will leave you with expenses to replace defective hardware. Opt for a provider with contract-long device warranties.
  • Change orders. Look for a provider who guarantees no change orders.
  • Truck roll costs. Truck roll costs occur when someone is sent to the property to perform repairs or service. Many providers pass these costs onto ownership, so choose a partner who takes on those truck roll expenses.

4. Seek out great customer support

A great smart apartment platform is like a three-legged stool, with software, hardware, and white-glove service serving as each respective leg. The stool won’t function if one of those legs is missing.
Customer support before, during, and after the implementation is key to protect your investment in smart apartment tech. Choose a provider who will partner directly with you and provide dedicated resources every step of the way — without passing you from rep to rep.

Embrace the future of multifamily living

Smart apartments represent the next frontier in multifamily living. By integrating smart access control, property automation, and building intelligence solutions, you not only enhance the resident experience but also reduce operating expenses, protect revenue, and increase property value.
As the demand for smart apartment technology grows, embracing these innovations is key to fostering thriving, future-proof communities.
Smart Apartments

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