Last modified on July 29th, 2021
By Marc Frenkiel
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: The digital transformation of how we interact with the world around us took a giant leap forward with the en masse shift to remote work.
It’s true that in real estate, property managers must adopt technology in order to make remote work possible while streamlining operations at scale. This pressure is also coming from the consumer side. For example, renters and buyers now expect their homes to be equipped with smart home technology.
According to Cyrus Claffey, founder of remote video access control provider ButterflyMX, expectations have risen largely due to the prevalence of mobile devices and on-demand services: “We have a computer in our pocket that’s connected to the internet. That really opens up a whole world of possibilities. You can basically do everything from this: listen to music, do your banking, buy a plane ticket, date, as well as control doors in a building. We live this on-demand lifestyle. We want everything now.” Smart home technology is just one more way that is becoming a reality.
But what exactly is smart home technology, and what is the upside for property managers, owners, and residents?
Smart home technology defined
Before defining smart home technology, it’s necessary to touch upon an enigmatic yet increasingly popular term: the Internet of Things, or IoT. Alexander Gillis of TechTarget defines the IoT as “a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”
Smart home technology is the general term given to home and community amenities and appliances that can connect to the Internet of Things, enabling communication, automation, and remote control for the end-user. Think thermostats that can be turned up or down remotely, refrigerators that can compile real-time shopping lists, parking sensors that provide occupancy data and violation alerts in real-time, and door locks that enable remote-controlled building and unit access.
So is smart home home technology a worthwhile investment? We think so. Why? because it simplifies property management, improves the resident experience, and raises asset value.
Streamlining Property Management Processes
In an AppFolio interview with Mitch Karren, co founder and Chief Product Officer at SmartRent — a leading company developing software and hardware for smart home automation — he explained that “when you think about the user journey of property managers, it really touches virtually every day-to-day process operationally and really helps streamline almost everything that they do day in day out.”
According to Mitch, access control is “absolutely paramount” from both the leasing and management perspectives. A former realtor, Mitch remembers the days of running through 500-unit buildings just to make sure keys were in lockboxes so he could show apartments. “If I’m trying to show five units, just getting those keys alone, not only took me upwards of 15 minutes to a half an hour to try to find the right lock boxes, but it was a 50% chance that the key would actually be in there. It was around then when I started just thinking, ‘how can I make this better?’”
The leading smart home technology companies now provide access control technology that makes physical brass keys a thing of the past, allowing vendors and prospective renters to gain entry into a unit without a property manager or leasing agent.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy consumption by the U.S. residential and commercial sectors accounted for roughly 29% of total U.S. end-use energy consumption in 2020. More than half of a household’s annual energy consumption is for heating and air conditioning. With this in mind, the benefits of being able to remotely control your HVAC system cannot be overstated.
For common areas, remote HVAC management translates into the ability to create energy efficient schedules based on observed peak and lull times, which can then qualify a property to receive a variety of energy rebates offered by utility companies. For vacant units, property managers can enable, as Mitch describes it, “a special setting that optimizes energy management while the unit is vacant. So the minute that the resident moves out, we have logic that can set the thermostat into this eco mode or an auto mode. So instead of having to actually physically go to the thermostat to make sure that it’s on the right mode, it’s automatically done for them.”
Increasing Resident Satisfaction
The benefits of smart home technology for residents mirror those of property management. Remote HVAC management allows residents to set energy efficient schedules and qualify for utility rebates, while remote access control provides convenience and peace of mind. As Mitch explains,”if your friends or family, or your dog walker, or a cleaning service need to get access, you don’t have to leave a key outside your apartment unit or home anymore. If you left your door unlocked and you went to work, or you went to the grocery store, you can have peace of mind because you can lock it remotely and know at any given time the status of your door lock.”
Remote access also streamlines the move-in process, and creates a great experience for new residents. According to Mitch, “from the onboarding experience of a resident, they don’t have to do any device setup themselves. The minute that they move in, they get access to their building. They get access to their apartment unit all digitally, and they can start using their devices without ever having to actually touch anything.”
ButterflyMX is also leading the way in remote access control. After starting with smart intercoms that provide residents with a live video feed and the ability to unlock doors via smartphone, the company now makes smart keypads and other tech-powered access control solutions. Cyrus Claffey, the company’s founder, describes the value proposition of ButterflyMX as giving users the ability to “control every aspect of the doors in a building.” He goes on to describe how smart home technology gives time back to on-site teams, which directly improves the resident experience:
“When you start to look at people’s time, giving back that time, what does that allow the on site staff to do? Obviously they can focus on the higher value add activities which are going to drive retention — it’s a win-win-win situation.”
As younger generations enter the housing market, smart home tech is evolving from an amenity into a necessity.
Protecting Property and Delivering Value for Owners
From an ownership perspective, investing in smart home technology makes sense. Besides improving the resident and management experience, property owners can rest easier with enhanced security in common areas, built-in motion detectors, two-way video communication, and smart locks to track entry and remotely change locks instantly.
Asset protection is key, and smart sensors send alerts for plumbing leaks before they become catastrophic. Mitch Karren expands on the importance of leak detection in high rise buildings, and how smart home technology can prevent them from spiraling out of control:
“You might have a leak on the 10th floor and it goes unnoticed for hours or days. Just think about the pandemic in New York City. The city had a temporary exodus, and there were leaks in these buildings and some of them went unnoticed for six months. And the more floors that that impacts can turn into millions and millions of dollars worth of damage.”
Trends in smart home technology
Smart home technology is becoming more and more prevalent. A recent Safewise.com study found that the COVID-19 pandemic brought an increase in spending on smart home technology. According to their data, 85% of Americans bought a smart home device in 2020. This should not surprise anyone: Forced to stay at home all day, and with savings at their highest levels in years, consumers sought ways to make lockdown more comfortable. So what smart home technologies did they spend on? According to the survey, spending patterns predominantly fell into two categories:
- Comfort / convenience, including smart TVs, speakers, and lighting
- Safety, including smart doorbells, security cameras, and locks
It’s safe to say that as society becomes both more comfortable with and more dependent on technology, these numbers will keep growing.
Smart home technology and AppFolio Property Manager Plus
At AppFolio, we pride ourselves on providing property managers with the tools needed to optimize workflows and delight residents and property owners alike. As a result, we vet our technology partners and develop seamless integrations to deliver an unrivaled software experience for our customers.
With AppFolio Property Manager Plus’ integrations with SmartRent and ButterflyMX, our joint customers can easily unlock the benefits of smart home technology without adding the unnecessary operational overhead of managing data within multiple systems.