Every amenity at The Smile-Loft Rental Residences in Harlem has been designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group to help the leasing team close the deal. Whether touring virtually or in person, prospects are drawn to BIG’s edgy architecture. They picture themselves enjoying the hip co-working spaces, the Rooftop Swim Club and the Smile Spa. They imagine what it would be like to have onsite parking, in-unit laundry and ample closets. But it’s The Smile’s smart features that really grab their attention.
“Our Manhattan luxury clients view the smart novelty as a luxury, but they are are expecting a luxury product to be more unique in general,” said Susan Lo Giudice, licensed R.E. associate broker, Brown Harris Stevens Development Marketing and leasing manager at The Smile.
Residents at The Smile gravitate toward the under-cabinet, color-changing LED lighting and smart thermostats, and they also like the Latch smart entry locks. However, the pièce de résistance is a technologically advanced system that even the most sophisticated urbanites have probably never seen before.
Voice Activated Space Planning
Blumenfeld Development Group is the first in New York City to offer the Bumblebee modular furniture system in five of The Smile’s apartment residences, a one-bedroom plus four studio apartments. This high-tech amenity, designed by former Apple and Tesla engineers, enables the resident to seamlessly transform their space to bedroom, work area or living room with a simple voice command. The Bumblebee system thinks vertically and creates interactive surroundings by utilizing cubic space rather than relying solely on square footage.
Using a sophisticated robotic system that’s affixed to the ceiling, Bumblebee can effortlessly summon and stow-away storage, bed, desk and wardrobe into the ceiling. Users can ask Bumblebee to bring down a particular item they’ve stowed away—the system intelligently catalogues everything so your belongings are at your fingertips when you need them.
No two apartments at The Smile are exactly the same. For example, based on current availability, a studio with Bumblebee rents for $3,064 while a similar unit without the intelligent system rents for $2,824.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Keeping up with the growing demand for smart apartment features is paramount for both multifamily owners and operators. A national developer of rental properties with an in-house property management arm, Legacy Partners has always sought to stay ahead of the curve in understanding what residents want. This is done through research and listening to prospective residents as they tour.
“Though we seek to avoid increased individual costs related to any amenity, including technology, we do have some additional fees as it requires us to update our properties with costly infrastructure,” said Deanna O’Brien, senior vice president, Legacy Partners.
The smart apartment features most in demand now at Legacy communities are keyless smart entry door locks, Nest thermostats, smart kitchen light dimmers and other smart features that can be phone activated.
Also highly desirable is the bulk WiFi technology package that combines cable and internet costs at Legacy communities, allowing the tenant to move in and get internet service with the flip of a switch to stream TV and gain computer internet capabilities immediately. “It avoids the headache of contracting with the provider under a confusing menu of selections and expensive programs,” O’Brien explained.
Bullding and Retrofitting Smarter
While smart apartment living can certainly be achieved in older properties through creative retrofits and clever work arounds, ground-up construction offers the most comprehensive opportunity to fully incorporate the characteristics that define smart apartments.
Voice assistants and thermostats are just the tip of the iceberg. Smart lights and smart locks, integrated service—such as home cleaning and package delivery—and connected building systems for HVAC and access control are also integral to smart apartment living. The community is wired from the inside-out to connect management, residents and multifamily into one connected building system.
Certainly, the pandemic has accelerated adoption of new technology designed to provide residents with peace of mind. The National Apartment Association (NAA) has seen demand for smart features.
“There’s no doubt that the last 18 months have presented unprecedented challenges for the industry. Despite this, rental housing owners and operators have responded with great flexibility (including offering) smart features,” said Amy Groff, COO, NAA. “Touchless doors, light switches, soap dispensers and faucets, are becoming more frequent in community common spaces as part of an effort to ensure sanitary spaces for residents to enjoy,” she noted.
Gen Z Leads the Way
Integrated smart technology is increasingly important to younger generations of renters who value sustainability and putting their costs into their own hands.
According to research by RENTCafé , 62 percent of Gen Z renters think that apartment technology is extremely important in their apartment and community. Twenty-eight percent of Gen Z respondents said it was extremely important, while 34 percent said it was very important. It’s notable that those percentages were higher than any other generation.
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In fact, high-speed internet was a bigger priority to Gen Z respondents than parking, gym or laundry services. And features like smart locks and thermostats ranked ahead of having extra space including an extra bedroom.
RENTCafé research also revealed that even though Gen Z renters are budget conscious, they want the highest-quality apartments and rental communities that feature the most technologically advanced features.
Gen Z and Millennials have the highest expectations regarding smart features, but apartment prospects of all ages will continue to be intrigued by smart features that simplify chores, save money and can be activated and monitored remotely via their smartphone.
Higher Adoption Rates
Research is ongoing to determine exactly how much more renters will pay for smart features. “We’re currently seeing that adoption of smart home devices is actually higher among residents of multiple dwelling units (MDU) than single-family properties,” said Patrice Samuel, senior analyst, Parks Associates.
For example, after conducting a study focusing on smart thermostats and indoor air quality, Park Associates found that 29 percent of respondents were willing to pay more than $20 additional monthly for remote climate control with a smart thermostat; 10 percent were willing to pay $11 to $20, while 33 percent reported willingness to pay from $1 to $10 more for that feature.
Smart apartments are also a win-win from the property manager’s standpoint—from gaining incremental revenue on their rental fees to saving on operating expenses.
New smart apartment features will continue to be rolled out especially as Gen Z and Millennials express their preferences. It’s a win-win and, as with other staples of apartment living that we currently take for granted, today’s “luxury” feature is already evolving into tomorrow’s essential element.