Smart Apartments Are No Longer A Luxury
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This article series spotlights key business trends identified by the expert members of Forbes Councils.
The Covid-19 crisis has significantly disrupted the real estate industry, especially when it comes to multi-unit apartment buildings. With approximately 100’s of millions of jobs lost, many renters are struggling to make ends meet, and affordable housing – which was already in short supply – is now even more vital. Furthermore, preventing viral spread through social distancing has created a new demand for voice-controlled, touchless smart features and more reliable Wi-Fi with increased cybersecurity for those working from home.
Smart apartments utilizing energy-efficient technology can save property owners tens of thousands of dollars a year, making the affordable housing market more lucrative and attractive. According to Intel, adding IoT-based controls to a building management system (BMS) can cost USD 5,000 to USD50,000 while saving USD15,000 to USD50,000 annually. By focusing on HVAC, lighting and electrical loads, buildings can save 10 to 25% of their annual energy cost. And for some buildings in high-load areas., that amounts to upwards of USD100,000 each year.
Forbes Real Estate Council member Blake Miller is the founder of Homebase.ai, a smart apartment automation system for the multifamily housing industry. Utilizing trusted technology including smart locks, IoT amenities and automated property management, Homebase creates a smart apartment experience for both new builds and retrofit properties. Miller, recognized as a NextGen Leader by the Kansas City Business Journal in the US, a top 20 in Their Twenties by Ingram’s Magazine and one of the Top Young Entrepreneurs to Watch by under30ceo, says the Covid-19 crisis has property managers seeking new means to keep their staff and residents safe.
“Smart technology has moved from early adopter advantage to mainstream need,” Miller said. “Homebase.ai has leaned into developing features to empower property owners to remotely manage their properties utilizing smart locks from our partner, Schlage. The company recently launched short-term access for self-guided tours, so leasing agents can securely allow residents to view a property on their own. “We’ve also launched short-term vacation rental and single-family rentals management, improving our installation apps, allowing a DIY version.”
Even before the pandemic, more renters preferred smart amenities, such as keyless locks and connected appliances, to traditional amenities like gyms and swimming pools. During and after the pandemic, amenities that limit surface contact while maximizing comfort and efficiency, such as smart lighting, automated maintenance requests and in-unit package drop-off, are in exponentially higher demand.
Miller, who is also the host of the Future of Living podcast, sees a lot of potential on the horizon. “The concept of smart apartments is an entirely new category and there are a lot of innovative companies in the space,” he said. What makes smart apartments distinct is that they go beyond smart gadgets, which eventually become obsolete. Miller says smart apartments integrate three key features – smart amenities, community management and building automation systems – into one connected building system.
Smart apartments aren’t just possible with new construction; older buildings can be retrofitted with smart apartment connectivity, too. Miller advises developers interested in building or retrofitting smart apartment buildings to keep a few key considerations in mind. Firstly, it’s not enough to install smart gadgets; smart apartments should include IoT connectivity to maximize people and energy efficiency. For example, Miller predicts smart HVAC systems and built-in IoT networks will soon be considered utilities like water and electricity.
Next, developers should choose a comprehensive platform that manages all of a building’s smart technology, including property/community management and building automation, in one place. While many companies can install smart devices such as lights, locks and thermostats, fewer property management services offer unified property management platforms. But since all smart devices eventually become obsolete, Miller says the only way to “future-proof” a building is by pairing connected building infrastructure with an open, upgradeable management platform.
During a time when unemployment is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression, Miller emphasized that automating properties isn’t about automating away jobs. “Smart technology and automation enable property managers to manage more units at a distance without losing critical resident engagement,” he said. Ultimately, he believes smart apartments are no longer a future luxury, but a modern necessity. As society tackles serious issues beyond Covid-19 – from climate change to an affordable housing crisis – smart apartments can fundamentally improve people’s quality of life while substantially cutting costs and fossil fuel emissions.
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