Smart Tech Has Arrived

You may not yet use a self-flown drone to showcase the latest drought-tolerant landscaping installed at your apartment community, or add a Nest thermostat to a renter’s monthly invoice as an ancillary service. But according to the future-focused multifamily industry experts at the annual Apartment Internet Marketing conference, the day when you will is just around the corner.
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Eric Cheng

By Leah Etling, Contributing Editor

Huntington Beach, Calif.—You may not yet use a self-flown drone to showcase the latest drought-tolerant landscaping installed at your apartment community, or add a Nest thermostat to a renter’s monthly invoice as an ancillary service. But according to the future-focused multifamily industry experts at the annual Apartment Internet Marketing conference, the day when you will is just around the corner.

Sure, we’ve been hearing talk of aerial photography opportunities and smarter automated apartments for a while, but at the 7th AIM event, a drone was flying in the main ballroom and AIM founder Steve Lefkovits excitedly announced a mass giveaway of August Smart Locks, a digital home access system that turns your smartphone into your house key.

“There are devices that will be entering the market in the next five to ten years that we are not even thinking about,” said Dan Daugherty, CEO of Remotely, speaking on the AIM Connected Home panel on Monday afternoon. “And I think we’re going to make a lot more money, from a community standpoint, than we are making today.”

Many owners in both multifamily and single family are already using smart technology as an ancillary service and as a way to gain business efficiency. Lucas Haldeman, chief technology and marketing officer for Colony American Homes, described how the company’s cellular-based network for its single-family rentals has allowed them to regulate locks and thermostats, all from afar.

“For us it was about macro control of many units,” Haldeman explained. “If I’m (a property manager) in Arizona, I can change the temperature of a home in Texas.”

The result has been large savings in utility bills for empty homes, controlled by remote app; prospects can submit a driver’s license online and receive a one-time, self-service lock code to access a rental they’d like to tour; and when a house is rented, residents can pay $20 a month to continue the services.

For multifamily, the fully automated unit is especially attractive to millennials, Daugherty noted, who want to begin the leasing process with an online tour, execute their lease electronically, and press a button on their smartphone to let in the maintenance staff when a faucet unexpectedly begins to leak.

That online tour, though, was of most relevance to those who listened in rapt attention as Eric Cheng, general manager and director of Aerial Photography at DJI, showed off what the latest generation of drones can do.

Without focusing his remarks on the multifamily market, Cheng nevertheless had the audience imagining what a drone that can fly over an active volcano in Iceland or showcase the natural beauty of the Glass Window Bridge in the Bahamas could show off about their communities.

“It’s all about capturing unusual perspectives,” said Cheng, who also demonstrated how 2D and 3D property mapping is made simple with a drone’s assistance. “It’s really exciting to see people be able to leverage the power of maneuvering a camera in space for certain industrial pursuits.”

With regard to the proposed federal guidelines for drone operation that were released in February, Cheng said that prospective flyer-photographers will need a lawyer to aid in obtaining what’s known as a “Section 333 exemption” for permissible commercial use.

However, “there’s tons of precedent and it’s pretty easy to get an exemption,” Cheng said. So expect to see more aerial views of a multifamily community near you.

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