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How To Retrofit Apartments with Smart Solutions

From lights and locks speakers and window blinds, everything is signing online to join the…

From lights and locks speakers and window blinds, everything is signing online to join the smart home revolution. Internet-enabled appliances are now amongst the most coveted amenities and are quickly becoming a gold standard in newly constructed apartment complexes. 

How are existing multifamily communities supposed to compete with this high-tech trend? Through a smart retrofit apartment strategy.

First, what is smart retrofitting for an apartment? 

In short, a smart retrofit is a technology renovation of an existing property. This can include adding smart thermostats to private dwellings and public spaces, automated lighting systems, convenient keyless locks, and more. 

While some property managers still think tech is reserved for new builds or fully modernized renovation projects, this could not be further from the truth. 

Smart retrofits are possible for builds of all ages—even Class B and Class C properties have realized an average of $67 per month rent premium, or rent increases, when upgrading to a smart infrastructure. 

Although older buildings were not designed with modern innovations in mind, advances in size and flexibility of smart solutions make it easy to weave into any infrastructure. 

Even historical landmarks like the Empire State Building have benefitted from smart retrofits, ultimately yielding a $4.4 million per year energy savings

What are the benefits of a smart retrofit?

Property managers are clamoring for new ways to differentiate their apartments from the competition. This has led to “hotelization” of private apartment communities, with property owners replacing traditional lobbies with things like cozy coffee shops and local craft beer tasting rooms. 

However, the availability of smart home features is skyrocketing to the top of the list as one of the most in-demand modern amenities. 

In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 consumers say technology is one of the leading contributors to their overall satisfaction with a rental unit

While a smart apartment retrofit dazzles and attracts desirable new tenants, it also has significant impact on your bottom line: 

  • Energy efficiency: Automated lighting and HVAC systems can decrease your energy consumption by detecting movement and learning schedules. 
  • Resident retention: Spend less time seeking out new tenants. Complexes with smart technology see a 59% increase in renewal rates.
  • Increased security: From house cleaners to dog walkers, residents are hiring more and more gig workers to assist with daily chores and errands. Smart locks phase out the security risk of each individual holding a physical key: residents can provide time-sensitive access codes or grant temporary permission through a mobile app that serves as a key. 
  • Increased property value: Some analysts estimate smart home technology can up your asset value to the tune of $745,000 to $1.1 million
  • Proactive maintenance: IoT-enabled buildings are able to self-diagnose problems before they snowball into serious or costly issues. For example, special sensors can detect water leaks of the presence of chemical hazards. 

Smart home automation is more than a passing trend—it’s a $54.3 billion market that’s here for the long haul. Let’s get started on planning for your retrofit. 

Planning for your retrofit

Typically, it can take 2-3 months to finish a complete technology overhaul in a multifamily complex. From start-to-finish, here are the most important considerations for devising your strategy. 

Select a smart technology provider

While it’s possible for a single-family home to go the DIY route for a retrofit, it’s important for multifamily communities to partner up with a technology provider. Here’s why: 

  • Smart retrofits are not one-size-fits-all: The right provider will work with you hand-in-hand to identify the best design, installation and implementation plan, and roll-out strategy for your unique community. 
  • Device coordination: The hallmark of an intelligent home is how devices work together. The right technology partner facilitates this by helping you select the right smart hub. A smart hub serves as “mission control,” allowing residents to send commands to all devices via one single app. 
  • Connectivity options: Smart devices communicate with one another through various types of wireless networks, each with their own set of pros and cons. Instead of scratching your head mulling over the differences between Z-Wave, Zigbee, and WiFi, a team of experts can help guide you through this important decision. 
  • Solid support team: You’ll never have to go it alone. Many providers offer 24/7 support so you’ll always have an expert by your side. 

The right technology partner will also help future-proof your home automation architecture. Technology is always evolving and it’s important to not pigeonhole your community into one offering. 

By creating a flexible system, you’re always prepared to integrate the next generation of devices down the line. 

Decide how and when to implement smart tech

When you’re dealing with hundreds of units in a large community, there are many considerations when it comes to the timing of a new renovation or upgrade. Building owners typically select one of the following timelines: 

Installing on lease up: To avoid disrupting tenants, one option is to perform your retrofit upon lease up. 

Advantages: 

  • No noise or disruptive inconveniences for your residents

Disadvantages: 

  • To separate systems creates internal challenges for your team
  • You’re unable to provide training for all residents at once
  • Staggered or disjointed installation schedules
  • Longer timeline for realizing ROI

Installing on lease-up can also serve as a marketing strategy for current residents who may be skeptical of the high-tech upgrades. Once they hear about the exciting changes, even the most weary will want the same treatment. 

Retrofitting the entire property at one time: Instead of piecemealing your installation, many property managers opt to retrofit the entire apartment complex at one time. 

Advantages: 

  • Your technology provider can install all devices in one fell swoop
  • You can provide training to all of your residents at once
  • Easier for your team to manage 

Disadvantages: 

  • Higher upfront hardware costs 

Allow residents to opt-in: Perform upgrades at the discretion of your tenants. 

Advantages: 

  • A more gradual roll-out flattens the learning curve for your team
  • You can charge a usage fee for those tenants that want to enroll

Disadvantages: 

  • Not all units will operate under the same protocols
  • More challenging for maintenance staff to handle a smattering of systems
  • Must train tenants a handful at a time

To pick the right roll-out strategy with your community, make sure you discuss potential challenges with your staff. With buy-in from your entire team, your smart apartment retrofit strategy is sure to be a success. 

Get started with the most important hardware for a retrofit apartment

Once you have your framework in place, it’s time to determine what devices are best for your community. With the sheer number of available smart devices on the market, selecting what is right for your community can feel overwhelming. 

After all, it feels like everything is signing online—microwaves, washing machines, even salt shakers. Luckily, you can get started with a resident-pleasing smart apartment using only three devices: locks, thermostats, and lights. 

Locks

Digital locks do away with the conventional metal key by unlocking doors via passcode, fingerprint, mobile app, or proximity to a smartphone or other wearable. 

The slim profile of Yale Assure Locks makes it a popular choice for many properties that use WiFi as their connectivity protocol of choice. Plus, the sleek look and feel fits right into a variety of design aesthetics. Depending on your door design, there are two leading models: one with a keypad and one that features a keypad/handle hybrid. 

Thermostats

Smart thermostats are the leading contributor to energy savings in a smart retrofit apartment. These automated devices learn to adjust their behavior based on a resident’s unique schedule. Smart thermostats can warm to the desired temperature at sunrise and automatically turn off during vacant hours. 

Honeywell and GoControl are two excellent choices for smart retrofits. GoControl offers a simplified interface perfect for Z-Wave smart suites, while Honeywell serves up a robust offering of starter thermostats for WiFi setups. 

Lights

Smart lights can integrate with other devices like locks to automatically illuminate when a resident enters the unit. Similarly, they can power down for the day on exit. 

Jasco offers a full line of smart switches for your retrofit apartment. These small, easy-to-install devices can easily slot into tight spaces, making them a great choice for builds old and new. 

Working with the right provider will help ensure your chosen devices work effortlessly in unison.

Decide on the right software

Smart home devices are only as powerful as the apps that control them. When you’re retrofitting a large multifamily complex, it’s important to keep in mind that your system will serve two distinct user types: your residents and your staff. 

  • An app that is easy for your residents…: Lights, locks, and thermostats are a critical part of a resident’s day-to-day comfort. The last thing you want to do is provide them with a confusing or convoluted app for managing these important aspects of their lives. 

Select a streamlined, user-friendly app that will be easy to use for both tech-savvy residents and digital neophytes. To make things even simpler, consider an app that combines smart device management with other virtual services like online rent pay and maintenance requests. 

  • …and for your management team: Set up your staff for success with a system that is both centralized and remote. Whether they need to adjust the thermostat in a public area or provide maintenance access to a resident’s unit, they should be able to access all features of your smart suite from a single platform. 

Train your residents to use their new tech

Similar to any new innovation, there are bound to be a handful of residents that are hesitant to make the move to high-tech. How can you allay their concerns:

  • Proactive communication: Shine the spotlight on how these new devices will improve their lives. With automated lighting schedules, they can always return home to a well-lit space. They can easily grant remote access to dog walkers, maintenance crews, and other service providers. Better yet, they can dim the lights and control the ambient temperature without getting up from their favorite movie. 
  • Address privacy concerns: Give your residents peace of mind by addressing privacy questions before they come to you. Most intelligent devices operate on a National Security-level AES-128 encryption, meaning even the most sophisticated hackers will need to spend 11 billion years trying to crack a smart lock
  • Solid support plan: What happens if they encounter problems with their devices? Where do they turn? Is there 24/7 support in the event of a device failure? Distribute support materials so tenants know exactly who to contact for assistance. 

Consider hosting in-person training sessions to familiarize residents with their new devices. Make information available via a host of mediums from email to printed materials. 

Smart retrofits are an affordable way to add significant value to your real estate property. Plus, the added convenience will quickly become irresistible mainstays in the lives of your tenants. Instead of watching from the sidelines of IoT, existing buildings now have a horse in the race when it comes to modern, automated amenities. 

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