Why tech needs to be more than a novelty in your rental properties

Sean Miller
Sean Miller | 7 min. read

Published on July 5, 2018

While Generation Z has grown up with the internet, the rest of us didn’t. In spite of that, an average of 87 percent of Americans use it, and more than three-quarters of us own a smartphone. Computers have evolved from devices taking up entire warehouses, to desktop computers in our homes, to devices thinner than a deck of cards that fit conveniently in a pocket.

What’s more, the Internet of Things has revolutionized the way we use lights, locks, and thermostats. One of the most popular devices in smart homes is a voice-controlled virtual assistant. Three years ago, they were virtually non-existent. Now, these devices are used by more than 35 million Americans per month—that’s 10 percent of the U.S. population. The truly staggering part is that the telephone didn’t reach that level of popularity for more than 20 years, and electricity took more than 30 years.

At the same time, the rental marketplace continues to grow. The short-term rental industry alone is a $36 billion market, made up of professional vacation rental managers and homeowners renting out their own properties on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. In addition, there are thousands of small and large companies managing the 16 million detached single-family properties and 26 million multi-family properties in the U.S., according to Green Street Advisors.

As the rental industry grows, it’s more important than ever that property managers streamline operations and differentiate their properties in ways that directly impact their bottom line, and the right home automation technology can do both.

6 Ways to Stand Out With Smart Homes

In the short-term rental space, online channels such as Priceline and Expedia book 70 percent of new customers; and long-term rentals are typically dominated by sites such as Zillow and Apartments.com. It’s impossible for smaller property managers to outspend the top-of-the-funnel marketing sites with giant budgets. Instead, they must differentiate themselves once they start to interact with residents with superior customer service and amenities.

Home automation is a tool that can deliver in both of these areas. Automation helps property managers operate more efficiently and economically, and residents appreciate taking advantage of these benefits without the hassle of installation and set-up. The important thing to remember when making an investment in home automation is that technologies must be more than a gimmick—they must bring with them tangible improvements for both managers and residents to generate a positive ROI. The following areas represent substantial potential in terms of smart home automation technology.

#1: Property Access

In unoccupied properties, managers can allow access remotely for showings or maintenance personnel. If a property is occupied by a renter, they can create individual codes for family members, friends, or service providers (like dog walkers); and both managers and tenants will enjoy never losing or replacing keys or changing locks. Property managers can also enable “permission to enter” services, like for a handyman who comes into your home to repair a leaky faucet while you are at work. All access is tracked in event history so you can keep an eye on who has accessed the property and when.

#2: HVAC Systems

Smart thermostats provide one of the most immediate returns on an investment in smart home automation technologies. In the winter, reducing the heat in a home while residents are away or sleeping can provide substantial savings on the energy bill—as much as 1 percent for each degree that the temperature is reduced over an eight-hour period. The same practice with air conditioning will yield similar results during the summer months. On average, automatic thermostat controls can lead to savings of 10 to 15 percent per year on heating and cooling bills in both occupied and unoccupied homes.

For property managers, smart thermostats in unoccupied homes can keep temperatures above freezing. This can ensure that pipes don’t freeze and burst, and it can keep humidity levels in an acceptable range to prevent mold growth. PointCentral’s system also gives property managers access to performance data so they can spot impending maintenance issues before they create bigger headaches. They can also prevent AC systems from being set outside of an unoccupied range, as well as set maximum and minimum levels that prevent damage to HVAC systems.

#3: Water Usage

Sensors that detect water leaks can help both residents and property managers avoid costly repairs created by interior and exterior leaks, which can end up saving thousands of dollars. The average cost to repair water damage in a home is over $2500, according to HomeAdvisor.

A flow meter can also help users avoid expensive water bills caused by toilets or sinks that continuously run, or help in sub-metering scenarios. In emergencies, a water shut-off valve can allow for water flow to be turned off remotely, mitigating damages even in unoccupied properties or when residents are away.

#4: Property Awareness

In occupied properties, doorbell and driveway cameras are increasingly popular because they provide a personal form of home security by allowing users to check who’s at the door from their smartphones. Interior cameras are another option for residents to keep an eye on things while they’re away. Door and window sensors can let property managers or residents know when a door is opened while they’re away, or shut off the HVAC in rentals where guests like to run the AC and open windows.

#5: Lighting

Convenience is a key feature of smart lighting. Plug-in modules, smart light switches, and smart light bulbs provide options for how residents and property managers can conveniently schedule lights to turn on at dusk and off at dawn, automatically adjusting with the seasons. All of these devices also provide security as an added bonus, turning lights on and off to deter thieves in unoccupied homes or while residents are away from home.

For added convenience, the plug-in modules don’t just have to be used with just lights—they can be used to control anything that can be turned on and off, such as a coffee maker or a humidifier.

#6: User Interfaces

Smart home technologies are becoming more user-friendly with voice assistants and apps, including compatibility with Apple Watch and Apple TV. While this might seem like pure novelty on the surface, don’t overlook the power that these new interfaces have to help residents enjoy their time in the property—helping managers to attract and retain residents, and to create positive online reviews and word-of-mouth marketing.

According to Gartner, 15 percent of homes incorporated smart devices by the end of 2017, and home automation will become mainstream in the next five years. Taking advantage of the demand for an automated future means incorporating smart home technology now—and property managers who make this investment with the right partner will gain operational and marketing advantages that last into the foreseeable future.

Have you discovered novel ways to leverage technology in rental properties to attract and retain residents? Let us know in the comments!

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Sean Miller

Sean Miller is the president of PointCentral, a subsidiary of Alarm.com and the leader in smart home automation solutions for long-term and short-term rental properties. Outside of having a lifelong passion for technology, Mr. Miller has almost 10 years of professional experience with B2B and B2C IoT/home automation technology. He previously led global sales and business development for Wemo, Belkin’s home automation business unit; and launched Mobile Link, a cellular-based internet connectivity service for generators, at Generac Power Systems.

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