How Smart Is Your Property?

In-home technology is advancing rapidly, making apartment living easier and apartment management more effective.

Once considered the exception for multifamily communities, fast-changing smart home technology is becoming the standard for apartment units, thereby making the lives of residents and managers increasingly more efficient. 

It is not unusual today for multifamily residents to use smart home applications to adjust lighting and temperature, control access to their units, view their units remotely, file and track maintenance requests and more.

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You will soon have full control of all aspects of your home under one interface, including lighting, air conditioning, cameras, shades, music and video, radiant floor heat and the ability to turn on your steam shower by tapping an app on your phone,” said Architect Adam Meshberg, founder and principal of Brooklyn-based Meshberg Group.

And, more and more, residents will use their voices—not just their phones—to access these applications. “Voice-operated technology is the future of smart homes and we’re already seeing a taste of this with Amazon’s Alexa,” Meshberg said. 

Astute Developers

Smart home features are now part of the architectural plans for many new buildings. Meanwhile, a growing number of owners are modifying existing  assets to accommodate these devices and applications—sufficient bandwidth is vital—and stay competitive. It’s the age of the amenity and residents are accustomed to using technology wherever possible. 

Residents of the recently completed Viridian on Sheridan, a 10-story, 100-unit luxury apartment community on Chicago’s North Side, for example, can take advantage of a variety of smart home advancements. They begin with NEST thermostats controllable through residents’ phones and progress to the Latch keyless entry system, which enables residents to unlock doors from a smartphone, a key card or door code.

The thermostats, lamps and switches in this unit can be controlled by the SmartApart app.

Latch allows residents to open the door from the phone—from in front of the door or remotely. Or they can send the code out to dog walkers or cleaning people to enter the residence,” said Aaron Galvin, CEO & founder of Luxury Living Chicago, which is handling lease-up at Viridian on Sheridan for Vermilion Development.

Each new move-in at Viridian gets an at-home consultation with Whiz Cribs, a company that helps residents connect the Amazon Alexa to specific smart home apps. “Residents can come in to their homes and say ‘Alexa I’m home,’ or at night, ‘Alexa I’m going to bed,’ and the lighting, music and other systems adjust according to that command,” Galvin said. “The Amazon Alexa can order their coffee from a specific Starbucks. … If there is an app out there, Alexa can connect to it directly. We’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible.”  

High-Speed Homes

At the Paragon Chicago, a 47-story luxury apartment community in the windy city slated to open in 2019, myriad smart home features await residents and managers.

NEST thermostats will let residents of the Murphy Development Group building fine-tune warmth and coolness remotely, while smart home technology will enable them to adjust lighting by asking Alexa or Google Assistant for their preprogrammed lighting themes.

The high-rise will leverage Internet of Things As a Service technology to enable a number of smart tech features. San Diego-based IOTAS partners directly with property developers, managers and owners to help them identify optimal smart home experiences for their community, portfolio or renter base.

We’re bringing fiber to each unit,” said Murphy Development Group Managing Director Chris Horney. “Internet of Things will rest on the backbone of high-speed internet. And we’re bringing 1G internet speed to each unit to allow for future scalability of smart home features.”

Portland, Ore.-based Capstone Properties LLC had 211 units retrofitted with IOTAS smart technology and incorporated IOTAS into 167 brand new units at construction, according to asset manager Stacy Blanton.

Residents of Capstone Partners’ Grant Park Village property in Portland can download the IOTAS app that has been customized for their building under the name SmartApart. They can use the app to program their daily automation preferences, or “stories” as the app refers to them. For example: A resident could confirm her maintenance request was acted upon when her door is opened at 1 p.m. If no maintenance request was made, the program automatically alerts the front office to investigate.

Critical Data and Control

While making life more convenient for residents, smart home technology also creates critical data and more centralized controls for property managers.

Horney said having smart home technology at the Paragon will make it easier to manage a building of 500 units. “Whether it’s hosting an event or servicing an elevator, it helps to know when your resident population is in or out of the building,” he explained. “For instance, if you want to host a cocktail hour (for residents), IOTAS would allow you to know that 80 percent of the building residents are typically home by 6:30 on a Thursday evening.

At Grant Park Village, a smart home system lets managers regulate temperature and energy consumption in vacant units. “During lease up in some of the vacant units, the building manager can use a dashboard to turn on lights and control thermostats,” Blanton said. “That’s also useful during winterization when you need to set thermostats up above freezing.”

New frontiers

What’s ahead for smart home technology? Certainly, voice-activation and other technologies that allow residents to be less tethered to their phones will proliferate.

One example of this, Meshberg said, is a flush, glass-fronted touchscreen TV behind the bathroom mirror. These TV mirrors allow easy accessibility to the news and weather while residents get ready in the morning.

Smart home technology will also become a bigger part of people’s lifestyles. Thermostats, lights and doors are becoming the “baseline” achievement, according Sce Pike, founder & CEO of IOTAS Inc.

Residents can program their automation “stories” using Internet of Things As Service technology. 

Innovations in the near future, Pike predicted, will knit together in-home and community-wide interest. For instance, voice or sensor-activated signals inside the residence could alert the ground floor coffee shop to have that resident’s coffee ready in 30 minutes. Or a resident might monitor her favorite fitness center equipment from home to ensure it’s available when she’s ready to head to the workout room.

Also look for increased availability of data collection and controls customization to make major impacts on multifamily building operation, predicted Mark Sullivan, partner with JZA+D, a multifamily design firm in Princeton, N.J.  

Owners and managers can begin to imagine a single control station to monitor and adjust everything from irrigation systems, HVAC operations, exterior and common-area lighting to temporarily-vacant residences for added security and efficiency, he said.

JZA+D partner Joshua Zinder envisions combining smart home technology and passive house design. Passive houses strive to maximize energy efficiency by creating an airtight community.

These will eliminate larger and more costly HVAC systems by making it possible to build super-insulated structures with high ventilation rates,” he said. “Owners of passive house-designed multifamily buildings can instead consider investing in smart technology to operate smaller, high-efficiency HVAC equipment sized for use only on days of extreme weather conditions.”

Varying Rates of adoption

Zinder believes integrated smart technology may see different adoption rates in condos than in apartment buildings. In condos, the impact will likely be large, as integrated smart technology presents an incentive for buyers focused on return on investment.

On the other hand, owners of rental properties may be less inclined to invest in smart technology since it’s unclear whether tenants will pay a rental premium for the technology when less expensive options are available,” he said.

But you can also expect price barriers to decline with greater adoption of centralized home automation, Sullivan noted. “The same is true for building-wide systems that collect data from individual units and, in some cases, control or manage parts of those individual systems,” he said.

You’ll find more on this topic in the November 2018 issue of MHN.