The Fully Connected Community
The components of a truly connected community start with “smart access” – that means making sure people can get in the gates, the common areas, and the units themselves. Energy saving and energy monitoring is important too, including connected thermostats and tracking of water usage. Also, having sensors around the community will help inform people.
SmartRent has a general protocol for in-unit connection and others for elsewhere in the community. Some rely on WIFI, some use cellular data or things like Bluetooth.
Barnes says to consider whether the problem you’re solving would benefit from use of a hub.
“For us, we can go both ways. But the value of a hub really allows data to be collected and drive action in the presence of not having WIFI or not having cellular. So you still have the ability to have a network that’s running, the devices are communicating with each other. And that’s device-to-device communication, rather than sending data out to the cloud and inflicting change,” explained Barnes.
For Barnes, community-wide WIFI is crucial, and residents should be able to benefit from that WIFI. When it comes to devices, he wants a hub and he wants Z-Wave so devices talk to each other on their own network.
“In a general scenario where you are buying devices that solely rely on WIFI, there’s a really good chance that that’s a consumer device, so you don’t have the ability to have a management level of control over these various devices, because those devices require a login.”
As a manager, you don’t want to have to manage 100 different logins around your community. Z-Wave removes that over-arching credentialing system and allows the devices to talk. The software provider handles the ownership.
Barnes provides the example that without managers having access, if it’s up to the resident, the resident may (accidentally or not) sign the manager out of the account so he/she no longer has any control over a certain device.
Barnes recommends contracting with a specific tech team or company. Trying to do it yourself is nearly impossible, or at the very least won’t be as good. The other problem is, tech is constantly changing.
“That being said, we are a provider that wants to help companies who believe they want to take that burden on themselves. For us, if we find a partner that says, ‘I’ve got my own website, I’ve got my own tech team, I’ve built some key things, maybe we have our own property managing software that you leverage.’ We’re a company that’s got a full suit of APIs through all of our various products.
We’ve got large national and global clients that have their own system. And for us, we want to be the hardware/software experts when you’re thinking about connected communities. So if you’re working with a partner like us that can divide you a simple set of APIs, it really keeps your development costs down, keeps your research down, and it gives you that security of knowing this is someone who’s done this across the globe now, which is going to cut your development down.”
Barnes says when you do form a partnership with a company, be it SmartRent or any other, that company should walk you through what it’s doing and encountering every step of the way, even if they run into some bumps.
Tech for Tours
A lot of companies are making the switch to use tech for tours. That isn’t just going on a virtual tour where something is pre-filmed or you video chat a leasing agent who walks you through the unit in real-time; it includes self-guided tours. That means prospects show up to the property and take a look around themselves, without a leasing agent present. Many companies, such as Mark-Taylor, are trying this out through a pilot program to see how they like it. Barnes says most end up considering it a success.
Of course, that requires working on access. Once you’ve set up a system for access, you can expand it to include many other aspects of your community.
Barnes provides parking as an example. Managers can install technology so they can assign parking spots and see when the wrong person has parked there. They can monetize guest parking, which SmartRent is already working on. The options are endless.
“How many times have you had to go find the little kiosk station and that’s how you pay? You’re seeing this all over the country, and Multifamily is behind,” said Barnes.
Barnes says there are two options right now for that parking program. The first is to provide decals for residents’ cars and put signs up with QR codes.
“In both scenarios, residents get a sticker that goes with their car, and through readers and sensors around the community, we know where you car should be, where they’re at, and we can notify the resident if they’re in the wrong spot – or the manager if they’ve been in the wrong spot for too long.”
Another option is to put QR codes on signs so people could scan and choose to pay to check in for however long they’d like for a particular spot. The entry for this is fairly low- cost; sensors can get a little pricier. The setup starts with a site survey; software, resident notification, and all other aspects can be taken care of in just a couple weeks.
Leak sensors have been a big deal for Barnes’ clients. He says what they save in insurance usually pays for the sensors. Residents are more comfortable knowing they don’t have to be home but will still be protected. SmartRent has installed about 500,000 around the country.
“Maybe you just have a running toilet. Well, times that by 100 runny toilets, and the cost goes up. Let’s say there’s a leak that’s happening; not only did we tell you about it, we also turn off the main water to the building.”
In some cases, they may notice something irregular and catch leaks before they even hit the sensor.
SmartRent is also working with other partners, like electric companies. SmartRent can shift energy load to save the residents and management companies money. Some companies will even pay for SmartRent if you sign up for their energy saving program because it helps those energy companies manage their electric grids better. That helps avoid things like the tragedy in Texas when its electric grids got overloaded.
Barnes says return on investment is difficult to pinpoint right now for the leak sensors.
“Generally, what we see is about a 10-13% saving in various utility costs. Then there’s that hidden ROI when the catastrophe happens. We’re decreasing that response time.”
Barnes says 90% of the units they’ve worked on are retrofitted. That requires working with the leaders and making sure they understand how everything works. SmartRent doesn’t want people installing or deploying things just to do it.
“The good news is, the way that we deploy our tech, there’s nothing overly proprietary about the hardware when we’re thinking about locks and thermostats,” said Barnes. They work with brands the customer is already familiar with, which makes the transition smoother.”
Right now, SmartRent is working on a new product called Fusion Hub. One of the company’s larger clients already purchased 25,000 of them to go across predominantly B-style communities.
“That’s a touch screen device – 8-inch LCD,” said Barnes. “What exciting about that is, the Fusion Hub not only is the hub for the devices, it also acts as a thermostat, so now we’re combing combing devices, keeping that cost down. It also now is going to act as the gateway, the portal – whether that’s our brand, our client’s brand – it now acts again as that communication device.”
Barnes says there are still people out there without smart phones or other tech. So when people move in and see that device already installed to help you control your home and engage with your property manager, it’s extremely helpful.
Another partnership they’re excited about is the one they have set up with Ring. They’re the only Multifamily partnership with the company.
“These are products that are exciting to me because it helps the infrastructure of the community. Look at Ring, they’ve got the neighborhood app where folks are talking to each other,” said Barnes. “You’re really just taking it to the next level, is where I see it going very quickly.”
SmartRent’s portfolio includes over 189,000 units total.
To anyone on the fence, Barnes says do not miss out on making money.
“90-95% of the time, a prospect chooses a smart home over the dumb home,” Barnes laughed. “And it typically comes with a rent premium. So when you look at that alone, and I look across the other vendors in this space, we’re all moving very aggressively in the conquest of making this industry extremely smart. So why leave money on the table?”
Barnes also says smart technology can make your team much more efficient. For instance, in the pandemic, virtual and self-guided tours were crucial in the pandemic.
“Lastly, we’re working with 24 of the top 25. We’ve got 169 logos under our belt just within the last year. So do you really want to show up late to the game?”
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