Marshall Friday is the Director of Sales for ADT Multifamily, overseeing the company’s focus on smart apartments.
I remember March 11 like it was yesterday. It was the last flight I took for work before the lockdowns started the following week in the U.S. As the news of the novel coronavirus was making its way through mainstream media, everyone in the Raleigh-Durham International Airport was more consciously aware of their surroundings.
Like I do on most trips, I had stopped to grab a bottle of water for the flight. While I waited for boarding to begin, I took a huge swig of water, and you can probably guess what happened next … it was the worst time to start choking. About 95% of the people around me started backing up as I was gasping for air and loudly coughing. Through my coughing spell, I managed to get out, “It’s not the virus. The water just went down the wrong pipe!” Oddly enough, I had a whole row to myself on my return flight to San Antonio that evening.
None of us knew at that time that we’d make it to September still under some form of lockdown. No one could have foreseen masks being mandatory in cities and states across the country. And certainly, no one could have predicted the changes businesses across America would have to make in order to move forward. The landscape now is calling for more contactless solutions, regulations on hours of operation, social distancing and more people working remotely.
For those of us in the real estate technology space, or proptech, we’ve been selling solutions to these problems for years, albeit under a different guise. Homeowners and renters have been adding smart devices that simplify their routines for over a decade now. Smart thermostats can learn your routines to save money on utility costs. Smart locks allow you to let friends, family or service workers in your home from any web-enabled device. Smart lights ensure that you’ll never walk into a dark room again.
With the necessary restrictions put in place to slow the spread, property managers looked for solutions. Fortunately, the same devices that provided convenience could also mitigate risk and meet compliance. If you have a pool or gym that needs to have limited hours or limited occupants, smart access control solutions can handle that at the touch of a button. If residents are concerned about traffic in their unit for routine maintenance or repair, they can remotely grant access to maintenance staff. Package deliveries can be simplified with a series of automations that get the delivery driver to your door without interacting with the resident or the on-site staff. Leasing agents can share gate codes and unit lock codes with prospective residents via text — which is actually more popular and effective than a virtual tour. Agents can also turn on the lights and drop the thermostat in the vacant unit without leaving their office. When the prospective resident is done with the tour, the leasing agent can lock up, raise the thermostat and turn all the lights off with the push of a button.
As we continue to hear about the “new normal,” rather than equating it with feelings of negativity, it’s important to think about the innovation that will come from this situation. We were already headed down the path to more folks working from home, more automation and more high-tech gadgets.
The future, as I see it, is bright for the proptech space. It’s not hard to imagine driverless cars chauffeuring you home after a long day at the office. As you get within a mile of your house, a geofence is activated that drops the temperature in your home by three degrees. The lights will flicker on to 75% to ensure that you’re not walking into a dark room. As your car parks, you can open an app on your phone that allows you to unlock the door so you can grab your workout bag as well as your briefcase and not worry about fumbling with your keys. That night, as you’re ready to shut down, a simple voice command to a smart speaker in your home will lock up, turn the lights off and drop the thermostat one more degree.
As an industry, multifamily has done a lot by way of providing amenities to their residents: They often have pools that rival resorts, the gym has the newest equipment and you can leave your trash outside your door rather than walk it to a dumpster. Now, it’s time to innovate in the unit and give residents control of their homes. Not only will this set your community apart from the comps in the same zip code, but it will also drive retention as residents feel more connected than ever.
Due to multiple economic crises, crippling student debt and many other factors, the millennial generation is renting longer than generations before them. It is imperative that property management companies embrace lifelong renters and ensure brand loyalty. Recent reports show that renters not only expect smart technology, but they’re also willing to pay for it. By creating a connected experience, you can build a brand that speaks to your residents.
Proptech was the next big thing for multifamily before this pandemic, and now more than ever, it still is.