Coming Home to High Tech

Property managers must respond to renters' growing tech expectations.

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor

Motorized solar shades. Strategically placed wiring and cabling. Keyless entry systems. Motion-controlled lighting. Dual-button toilets. Selective low-E window coatings. Adjustable kitchen exhaust systems. These are just a few examples of currently available or soon-to-arrive in-unit technology helping to make life more enjoyable, convenient and affordable for apartment residents.

Kettler Management, with 18,000 units under management, most in the Washington, D.C. area, ensures residents benefit from in-unit technology on several fronts, says Laurel Howell, senior vice president of marketing. To start, the company pulls in fiberoptic and cable from all available area providers to guarantee residents can make their own selections as to what technology is being utilized in their apartments and which providers deliver the services they require.

Because most residents have flat-screen televisions, unit floor plans are designed to accommodate optimal placement of the screens, and hardware and wiring are strategically positioned to facilitate flat-screen installation, Howell says.

In addition, lighting is designed to be energy-efficient. “Wherever we can, such as in kitchen pantries or in the in-unit laundry rooms, we like to program motion-controlled lighting,” she says. “When residents walk into these areas, the lighting is activated, and it goes off once they leave. This reduces their electricity costs and also appeals to renters with a green orientation.”

Energy and water conservation is part of the mix as well. The company installs energy-efficient appliances, as well as two-button toilets that save water.

Many of Kettler Management’s properties are also moving to keyless entry systems. Residents are given fobs programmed to allow them to enter their apartments by holding the fob to a door panel. The keyless entry system also allows residents to opt in to or out of various amenity areas. “This system is a lot quicker and easier for management than cutting keys, and it also allows property managers to better manage their buildings,” Howell says.

For many renters, a major priority is greater flexibility and capacity of high-speed Internet offerings. Herndon, Va.-based Time Warner Cable is responding in a variety of ways, says Vice President of Community Solutions Dave Schwehm. Residents want, and expect, extra bandwidth and
additional flexibility in bandwidth selections, such as Time Warner Cable Wideband Internet now
being rolled out.

Billed as the next generation of Internet, it offers download speeds of up to 50 mbps, ensuring downloads that once took minutes now take seconds.

“Another hot thing for Time Waner is our iPad app available through the app store,” Schwehm says. “Once [residents] have their Time Warner app downloaded to their iPads, they can stream live video channels to their iPads within their homes and take that video into any room in the apartment.”

Among multifamily properties in the forefront of in-unit tech advancements are New York City’s The Solaire and The Verdesian apartment buildings and The Visionaire condominium building, all of which were developed, and are owned and operated by Garden City, N.Y.-based Albanese Organization Inc.

Vice President of Residential Management Michael Gubbins reports residents benefit from such innovations as adjustable kitchen exhaust systems.  “Exhausts can be adjusted based on conditions in the kitchen,” he reports. “If you’re cooking and there’s a lot of heat, you can raise the speed of the fan and exhaust more air—and you can program that with a timer.”

Residents have the option of having motorized shades installed in shade boxes on their windows, he adds. Shades can be programmed from an in-unit control system to provide more shade when the sun is directly on the window.

Albanese Organization Inc. properties introduced since 2003 feature low-flow water fixtures such as dual-flush toilets and washers that use nine gallons of water rather than the 40 gallons of traditional top-loaders, which contribute to 50 percent less water usage than comparably sized buildings, Gubbins says.

Ironically, to serve the evolving in-unit tech needs of residents, property managers sometimes must revisit a solution from the past. “Several years ago, we had in-unit intercoms from the front desk through the telephones,” says Sofia Estevez, executive vice president of New York’s TF Cornerstone.

“Now we’ve gone back to the old way. We have wall-mounted, listen-and-talk intercom systems. Most residents no longer have landline phones.”

Looking ahead

Technology’s inexorable evolution means renters’ expectations will only climb higher next year, and property management will need to respond.

At Time Warner, Schwehm reports that like all individuals, renters are increasingly seeking seamless and easy experiences. They want technology to provide greater conveniences but also be increasingly simple. Mobility and flexibility are additional priorities. Residents want, Schwehm says, “more features and more enhancements in the channel guide. And they’re looking for attractive packages and bundling options when it comes to pricing.”

Howell believes the green movement will fuel new tech advancement. “Many buildings, whether new or existing, are attempting to garner LEED status,” she says. That will lead to trends in appliances, heating, cooling and lighting systems, and even in low-E glass and other window technologies.”

While Kettler Management offers free WiFi in all amenity areas, from the lobby to the fitness rooms and rooftop decks, in the future, “I can see WiFi being offered in units, because we’re emailing and texting so much,” Howell adds. “I foresee our industry looking at technology not just in the property management field, but in all industries, to get a sense [of] where technology is headed.”

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