Smart technology, from energy-saving monitors to smartphone-managed lighting and security, continues to make steady inroads in the single-family home market, particularly among younger owners for whom technology is now an indispensable component of their daily living and ethos.
The retail sector has fully recognized this emerging consumer trend. Big box retailers-Staples, Home Depot, Lowe’s and, more recently, Best Buy and Target-are betting big on the smart home market, developing new product departments, in-store and holiday marketing strategies or product promotions.
However, the multifamily sector has been slower to embrace this type of technology as an amenity or marketing tool. But developers and property managers increasingly acknowledge that more of their residents are looking for apartment homes with features that give them a greater sense of control.
“We’re taking a wait-and-see approach to smart technology,” says Richard Fox, chief information officer for Chicago-based AMLI Residential. “It’s getting close to where we can deliver an amenities package, but what’s out there right now isn’t quite right.”
The expense of offering smarter options to residents can’t be overlooked, however. When Fox’s company acquired its AMLI Uptown building in Houston, it already had the infrastructure in place for smart technology. But, Fox says, AMLI isn’t ready yet to commit to the additional costs of amenitizing that technology.
Other developers are experimenting with different technologies to see where smart technology might take them. For example, last year, in three apartment units in Washington, D.C., and eight apartments in Dallas, Forest City Residential Group installed devices that provide residents with a gateway to monitor and control their apartments’ thermostats, lighting and HVAC systems. That gateway is cloud-based, so residents can access it and make changes via their PCs, laptops or hand-held electronic devices.
Mike Smith, Forest City’s vice president of building technology service, sees tests like these as being operating tools as much as whiz-bang products for residents. He notes that Forest City has 1,100 apartment units in Chicago and on any given day 100 of them might be vacant. “So, with a click of a button, we can power everything down and even see if any windows are open.”
Forest City has been working with a supplier called Magnum Energy Solutions, which provides an Android-based, self-powered, wireless, in-room energy management system called Venergy, to explore energy consumption reduction strategies.
Another aspect of smart technology that intrigues Smith is location-based broadcasting, a la Apple’s I-Beacon indoor proximity system, which would allow a property manager to push information-such as emergency alerts or marketing messages-to residents’ smartphones. He sees this technology as being particularly well suited for student housing apartments.
While smart apartments may not be ready for prime time just yet, the exponential speed of technological change and constantly evolving consumer expectations may make it the next “must have” amenity sooner than many in the industry anticipate.
For more insight into the role that smart technology will play in the future of multifamily construction and marketing, join Fox and Smith on Tuesday, Nov. 18 at 3:15 p.m., for the session, “Smart Apartments: Coming to a Community Near You?” during the 2014 NHMC OpTech Conference & Exposition. The annual event will be held Nov. 17-19, 2014, at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Hotel in Orlando, Fla.