While much has been written recently about the potential application of smart home technology to the multifamily industry, we are just starting to get a glimpse into the way it will impact the living in and management of apartments.
Right now, a number of communities around the country are starting to test the initial Smart Apartment applications. Among the technologies getting implemented now include thermostats, light switches, and door locks. The key for those tests are not just using the same devices that can be found at Home Depot or Best Buy, but offering a platform for communities to manage and control those devices.
These Internet-enabled and integrated devices offer an opportunity to provide win-win benefits for both the residents and the owners and managers of those units. For the residents, they can lower their utility spend by letting the thermostat optimize usage based on their normal schedule and leverage features via their smart phones to configure their lights, locks, and other devices. For properties, they gain the opportunity to potentially charge more for units with smart devices and/or lower costs by better managing the units.
Demand is building and the integration of the devices will drive major changes to apartment life. Residents, particularly in Class A properties, will be sold on their ability to further manage their lives digitally. This may include using the camera at their front door to confirm the arrival of a friend or service provider and then provide them access via smart locks. They may want to turn on the shower and then have it be ready at their personal temperature choice (without wasting water) when they enter the bathroom. Residents will also expect to be able to add their televisions and other devices to one system so that all items can be managed from the same application.
At the same time, properties of all types will benefit from lighting that changes color when the fire alarm or smoke detector goes off (red is much more visible than white in a smoky room). Other opportunities in the near future for properties include setting minimum and maximum thresholds for the thermostat when the unit is not occupied (or in affordable housing and paid by the property), giving a service provider access to the unit for a window of a few hours via the locks, and using sensors to prevent excessive moisture that results in mold. Programs are starting to emerge both from the utilities and from insurance providers to subsidize the installation of smart products.
All of these applications represent a vision into the significant advancements that we can easily anticipate for the apartment of the future, since the technology exists today. The real accomplishment will not be just having this smart technology, but rather providing an eco-system that addresses the core challenges of the market: the ROI model that overcomes the upfront equipment and installation costs; easy to manage platform for the high turnover of the property staff; security / policies that minimize resident concerns about big brother; and communication systems that do not rely on unit-level Wi-Fi since that is resident, rather than property, managed.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where the application of smart technology can go. Looking to other industries, such as hotels and single-family homes, following their lead will still be sufficient to provide huge changes to apartment living over the next few years. And the companies that lead have an opportunity to differentiate versus their competitors.