Up the Amenity Ante

In the race to keep up with residents’ demands, developers can’t afford to stop for breath. Expectations are high for further advancements, especially among recent college graduates.

Gene LaNois, general manager of Nest’s Pro Channel. Photography by Bruce E. Maxwell.
Gene LaNois, general manager of Nest’s Pro Channel. Photo by Bruce E. Maxwell.

In the race to keep up with apartment dwellers’ demands, developers can’t afford to stop for breath. As smart thermostats and keyless entry to units become de rigueur, expectations are high for further advancements, especially among recent college graduates.

That’s surprised even cutting-edge companies like thermostat maker Nest. “It’s been amazingly successful for us,” observed Gene LaNois, general manager of Nest’s Pro Channel, noting that apartment residents are more progressive than single-family.

Recent college grads who lived in newer campus housing have particularly high expectations. For instance, they want to be able to use a fob or their smartphone to enter their apartment and access amenities, according to research conducted by Allegion, which makes Schlage locks.

“They’re all graduating from college with high-tech access control systems,” said Allegion marketing director Ann Matheis. “That’s the beauty of some of these apartment complexes using that, because that’s what these Millennials are used to.”

Connectivity remains key

Developers like NRP Group and Cortland are meeting these expectations, both in common areas and within units.

“As technology continues to grow, we want to … get ahead of it,” said Phillip Boatwright, senior regional vice president of property management for Cleveland-based development and management firm NRP. “One thing that customers are looking for is connectivity. They’re looking for ease.”

Boatwright is targeting customers who use social media, smartphones and apps that make their daily lives more efficient. That may mean one fob that opens everything to which a resident needs access in the community—including the garage, apartment, mailroom, fitness center, pool area and storage unit. NRP has also been installing Package Concierge kiosks to accept deliveries and notify residents by text or email. Residents who regularly order from Amazon Prime are “completely wowed” by the system, according to Boatwright. “They don’t want to move anywhere without it.”

NRP alerts residents to community activities and safety information via push notifications. In one Cleveland property, it installed the new Cybex GO platform, allowing residents to stream content to a cardio machine. The company also employs leasing kiosks that can display and email property photos or renderings, site maps, pricing, availability and neighborhood information, as well as take applications.

In 2018, NRP plans to roll out video call boxes that allow residents to buzz visitors in from their smartphones even if they’re not at home and common-area transit-tracking TVs. It’s piloting Hue lights and Sonos sound systems within custom units, and planning on installing social media walls in lobbies.

“It’s hard to put those things in later,” Boatwright said.

Atlanta-based Cortland Partners has been exploring virtual and augmented reality as a means to show prospective tenants what their new buildings and units would be like. While Cortland Chief Information Officer Scott Moore still views the market for connected devices as immature, “I think we’re getting pretty close to the point where you need to work with all (resident) devices and be able to connect to their Google Home or Alexa or whatever their device may be,” he said.

Integrating the Internet of Things

Smiota refrigerated lockers can accommodate packages from any delivery service, including local grocers.
Smiota refrigerated lockers can accommodate packages from any delivery service, including local grocers.

LIVEbe, the property management division of Rockville, Md.-based commercial developer Berman Enterprises, recently installed Smiota refrigerated parcel lockers in its retrofit of a 1969 office building in downtown Baltimore. There are no supermarkets nearby and few residents own cars, according to LIVEbe Vice President Elaine DeLude. Residents of the 183-unit building receive a text or an email when their package is delivered and a reminder when they walk in the building. The locker containing their food opens automatically as they approach.

“From a resource standpoint, it’s fantastic,” DeLude said, because employees need not be present to fetch fresh food packages.

Developers trying to navigate which connected or smart devices to install within apartments must consider the openness of the devices’ platforms. Will they work with other developer-installed devices and residents’ own IoT-capable devices? For example, Nest products work with other smart and connected devices, including Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and Apple’s new HomePod.

“There has to be a plan to integrate all of these great devices, whether it’s a smart thermostat, whether it’s smart lighting control,” said Darren Vican, vice president of global technology solutions for architectural firm CallisonRTKL.

At the very least, it’s important to provide building-wide Wi-Fi so residents can customize with their own technology, according to NEST’s LaNois. Vican foresees a similar trend toward providing a robust, stable internet connection such as higher-bandwidth fiber-optic cabling to each unit, and charging extra for it. “What holds the industry up is not the technology. The technology is so far ahead of where we can keep up,” Vican said. “It’s changing the culture of how we design, build, buy and sell multi-dwelling units. It’s how we operate them.”

“It’s not a matter of if we have connected devices and locks, it’s a matter of when,” added Moore.

Originally appearing in the November 2017 issue of MHN.