Elevating Operations: New Tech Tools Improve Property Management

Technology audiences are making it possible for property managers to achieve previously unimagined operational efficiencies.

At Castle Lanterra Properties’ Regatta Sloan’s Lake community, residents use a key fob to gain entry into access-controlled spaces, such as the gym.
At Castle Lanterra Properties’ Regatta Sloan’s Lake community, residents use a key fob to gain entry into access-controlled spaces, such as the gym.

Technology audiences are making it possible for property managers to achieve previously unimagined operational efficiencies. New tools are improving operations in a range of areas, from leasing and resident retention to maintenance and beyond.

Among the most promising technologies is advanced analytics platforms, according to Eric Potter, director of applied innovation at
Chicago-based owner-operator Waterton. While legacy systems are
adept at mining specific network traffic, they suffer from blind spots that can skew the overall picture of customer experience and demands, Potter explained. Modern systems are able to collect a larger volume of data, using open source and private data sets, and combine it with sophisticated machine-learning algorithms “to better understand apartment residents and various aspects of operations at very granular levels,” he said.

As a result, owners can make better decisions about how to deploy their capital in ways that add value for residents, “without having to rely only on gut feel and experience, which is open to any number of biases and issues,” he added.

Waterton’s home base, one block from technology hub The Chicago Blockchain Center, also gives the firm a close-up view of the impact from another rapidly evolving technology: distributed ledgers, a database shared and synchronized across multiple sites.

“In multifamily, the ability to have instant access to a 100 percent fraud-proof ledger of almost anything you can imagine will let owner-operators know exactly who is moving into their buildings, (gain) information about sublessees, make better decisions on background checks—and the list goes on,” noted Potter.

Integrating the IoT 

Motionloft sensors measure traffic levels, helping owners and managers optimize maintenance and security.
Motionloft sensors measure traffic levels, helping owners and managers optimize maintenance and security.

The proliferation of third-party Internet of Things service providers is also helping to elevate multifamily operations. While property owners and managers have long recognized the value of smart home technology in attracting and retaining residents, they are now discovering advanced applications of IoT technology to enhance operational efficiencies. Once merely a platform that allowed renters to control their living environments, the IoT is among multifamily managers’ most critical operational tools, observed Elie Rieder, founder & CEO of Suffern, N.Y.-based Castle Lanterra Properties (CLP).

At its 369-unit Regatta Sloan’s Lake in Denver, where the presence of multiple retail tenants requires managers to tightly control apartment access, CLP recently invested in electronic security tool System Galaxy, which lets property managers remotely limit access to buildings and amenities, 24/7. Residents use programmable key fobs to enter buildings, their apartments, all common areas and resident-only floors of the parking garage.

Savvy property managers are also using smart technology to improve contact with residents. “Online portals are a way for us to communicate with residents in real time and on their platform of choice—be it their computer, tablet or smartphone,” noted Mark Durakovic, principal at Chicago-based third-party manager Kass Management Services.

Technology solutions are also helping property owners and managers address myriad operational pain points while reducing expenses.

Bryan Hanes, director of operations at Hanes Properties in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has profited from AppFolio, which addresses leasing, accounting, maintenance and more. He particularly likes how the product’s two-way texting feature simplifies lease-up. While the company used to follow up a prospective resident visit with phone calls and emails, AppFolio’s texting feature increased communication “dramatically, allowing us to be communicating with them throughout the process and close the deal,” Hanes said.

Vacancy posting has also become a one-click process. “You can incorporate rent specifics, a photo, video and also a description of the unit on a template while the unit’s occupied,” he explained. “Once you get a notice (of intent) to vacate from the current renter, you click one button and it goes out to 20 different renting websites. … AppFolio automatically knows when (the unit’s) been occupied and pulls it off the websites.”

CLP has begun leveraging a product called Rentlytics, which can capture, maintain and analyze data on the performance of properties and entire portfolios. It shows how daily activities like maintenance or building renovations impact overall financial performance, including revenue, rent per unit, utility costs, lease expiration management and NOI, indicating variance against budgets, Rieder said.

Keeping it affordable

Castle Lanterra Properties installed System Galaxy at the mixed-use Regatta Sloan’s Lake to remotely manage access to buildings and amenities.
Castle Lanterra Properties installed System Galaxy at the mixed-use Regatta Sloan’s Lake to remotely manage access to buildings and amenities.

Operators of affordable housing are also benefiting from use of such advanced tech tools. Online application platform Haven Connect, for instance, makes it easier for affordable housing managers to lease up properties, communicate with applicants and automate wait list management, according to company owner Caroline Caselli. “Managers reduce their administrative burden while increasing corporate oversight, and applicants don’t have to call to check their status or update their information,” she said.

Haven Connect’s customers include C&C Apartment Managers, Palo Alto Housing Corp., HIP Housing and the city of San Carlos, Calif.

Tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence are also enabling significant advances in property maintenance. With off-the-shelf, customizable AI solutions growing in number and sensor costs declining, non-tech firms have access to the tools needed to create sophisticated, predictive analytics platforms rivaling those of Fortune 500 manufacturing firms, Potter said. That could help companies determine, for instance, the mean time to AC unit failure across their portfolio.

The average cost of IoT sensors, including both active and passive sensors, dropped from $1.30 in 2004 to 60 cents in 2014. They could be virtually free by 2020. “This is an area that really is pretty close to being limited only by the imagination,” he noted.

San Francisco-based Motionloft, which makes sensors that distinguish among people, cars and bicycles, provides owners and managers with data to measure levels of traffic passing through their properties. That helps managers optimize maintenance and security operations, as well as build connected and walkable zones, according to Motionloft Associate Daniel Malak.

To help manage waste, Finnish company Enevo links dumpster-placed sensors with connected technology to yield previously unobtainable data on waste streams, offering insights into each property’s waste generation. Waste is collected when dumpsters are full, boosting efficiencies and cost savings.

“The analytics and IoT platforms haven’t existed simultaneously in a way that’s (been) accessible to property management firms until very recently,” Potter said.

Originally appearing in the November 2017 issue of MHN.