Webinar Explores Multifamily Technology in the Apartment Industry

When it comes to the future of technology affecting the apartment industry for the better, one of the most important things to keep an eye on is the emergence of the “Internet of Everything,” which has the potential to be as revolutionary as the Internet itself.

New York—When it comes to the future of technology affecting the apartment industry for the better, one of the most important things to keep an eye on is the emergence of the “Internet of Everything,” which has the potential to be as revolutionary as the Internet itself.

This was one of the golden nuggets of information served up by Rick Haughey, vice president, industry technology initiatives, NMHC, during MHN’s recent webinar, “Multifamily Technology: Past and Future,” which explored the technical advancements that have helped shape today’s rental communities.

The webinar, titled “Multifamily Technology: Past and Future,” was presented as part of the 10th anniversary of MHN’s Tech Choice Awards, and sponsored by Spherexx.com, Apartment Finder, OnSite and Yardi. It also featured guest Mike Whaling, founder of 30 Lines, and was moderated by Jessica Fiur, senior editor, Multi-Housing News.

A journey through tech’s past

Haughey began his segment with a quick nod to the prehistoric practices of using rent checks and ledger books and showed how thanks to computers in the ’70s and ’80s, these practices made way for game-changing technologies launched in the apartment space during the last decade.

“For the apartment industry, personal computers ushered in the beginning of the technology revolution,” he said. “They were first used mainly for word processing and recording financial transactions on an electronic spreadsheet. This freed apartment operators from manual entries and led to more sophisticated data.”

Once the ’90s came along, a number of changes would forever change people’s personal and professional lives.

“Email came into wider use and revolutionized the way that the apartment industry and the rest of the world conducted business,” Haughey said. “Email communication ultimately supplanted voice as the main tool for apartment marketing. This was quickly followed by wide-spread Internet use, which ultimately changed how the apartment industry marketed properties, moving from print to Internet listing sites, as well as how we manage our properties and interact with our residents.”

Soon, processes were in place for online bill payments, and while some were skeptical about moving funds without a paper trail, that resistance was overcome when people realized the convenience and cost savings that came from eliminating the paper trail and mailing expense. For the apartment industry, that meant more consistent and faster rent payments, with reduced bill and cost.

Rise of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi advancements in the 2000s created new opportunities for multifamily workers and residents, as it led to a rise in community-wide Wi-Fi in many communities for residents and better supported community operations, Haughey said, because it put more focus on overall revenue rather than traditional metrics used to gauge property performance.

“Property management software revolutionized property management, allowing for the automation of processes that were previously time consuming and efficient,” he said. “The software provided a platform for resident screening modules, lead management, renters insurance, on-line transactions and others.”

The iPhone’s introduction in 2007 offered unlimited opportunities to automate just about any function and freed workers from desks, allowing them to stay in touch with the office through voice and email. It also decreased the need of landlines for residents and as texting emerged, became the preferred communication method for many demographics. It was especially helpful for emergency notifications, maintenance updates and package delivery updates.

According to Haughey, social media, the rise of the cloud and large percentage of tablet ownership has also become indispensible parts of the apartment industry.

The Internet of Everything

As previously stated, the emergence of the Internet of Everything has the potential to be as revolutionary as the Internet itself.

“It refers to connecting things—your house, car, home thermostat, etc.—to the Internet, giving owners the ability to monitor remotely,” Haughey said. “This could theoretically be used to notify residents of available parking spaces in the garage; monitoring energy use of specific devices; controlling energy usage in vacant properties; notifying residents when a treadmill at the gym is available; or even when the refrigerator is out of milk.”

While this smart home technology hasn’t yet gone mainstream in apartments yet, Haughey predicts it will become commonplace in the next few years.

The big five

Mike Whaling focused more on how email and property management continue to evolve and discussed some of the new things that will improve the multifamily industry in terms of tools.

“The two big ones are connectivity (Wi-Fi or fiber connection) being able to provide location-based services and mobility, now critical more than ever, and the really incredible opportunities in interfacing between software programs,” he said. “The more we can get them connected and talking to each other, the more opportunities for insight.”

Whaling spoke of five trends happening now that will continue to be important to the industry.

At the top of his list, he agrees with Haughey that the Internet of Things is what everyone should be watching closely as it will create true connected communities as basically every device and appliance can be controlled remotely.

A great example, he said, is Mr. Coffee’s new Wi-Fi enabled coffeemaker, which will contact someone by a smartphone when their coffee is ready. With properties upping the game on their resident lounges, Whaling said this is the perfect opportunity to alerts residents when their flavor is ready to go.

Another example is the new $300 window unit Aros smart air conditioner, which can tell an apartment community some really interesting things.

“It can help you understand your budget, usage, create a schedule and help you learn more about when you need the unit cooling,” he said.

Second on Whaling’s list is the idea of disruptive technology; the sharing between consumers. With concepts such as Uber, Airbnb and SideCar increasing in popularity, he believes there’s a way for multifamily to capitalize on the craze, be it with sharing tools or some other aspect of apartment living.

Frictionless payments is third on his list, which means the opportunity of paying without having to take out your wallet. New technology such as Apple Pay have circumvented credit card fees, which could be a huge boom to the multifamily industry.

Another big trend deals with personalized marketing and the ability for websites and apps to present information that’s more relevant to a user based on their personal information. For example, Apartment Finder can approximate one’s location and provide custom content for their users.

The last trend on Whaling’s list deals with Big Data and the ability to connect the dots of the mounds and mounds of data that is out there.

“We want to embrace connectivity, pull insights out of data and make things easier for the customer,” he said. “These technological trends will go a long way towards making that a reality.”

As the webinar showed, with every passing decade the pace of technological change has quickened. Technology has played an integral part in the multifamily industry, making things simpler when it comes to dealing with amenities, payment processing, maintenance issues, communication and just about every aspect of an apartment community.

Watch the webinar, “Multifamily Technology: Past and Future,” here.