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When It Comes To Smart Tech, It Pays To Plan Early

A smart home interface from ADT Multifamily

When renters go searching for apartments, they are increasingly gravitating toward communities with smart technology tools. As a result, multifamily owners and developers are starting to see smart technology as a reliable way to bring in new tenants

But when it comes to implementing smart technology, timing can make a large difference, both in terms of how extensive the changes can be and to the operator’s bottom line. Starting early — bringing in smart tech stakeholders as soon as possible in the development process — can mean more flexibility and lower costs. 

Currently, there does not seem to be a standard time for when multifamily owners and developers involve smart technology providers in the planning process. In a Bisnow survey of multifamily operators, respondents reported giving smart tech providers a seat at the table at various points in the development timeline between conceptual design, massing, pre-construction and construction. The providers themselves report the same lack of a standard procedure.

“We have been brought in as early as the design phase where there are renderings and floor plans only,” said Marshall Friday, East Coast director at ADT Multifamily, which focuses on bringing smart technology to residential communities. “We are currently seeing almost an even mix from concept to design to groundbreaking to finish out. We’re sometimes brought in after lease-up is complete or to a new acquisition of an older property.”

Partnering with a smart tech provider earlier holds a few key advantages. Most notably, the earlier developers bring on a provider, the earlier they can budget in the cost of equipment and schedule installation into the development timeline. Starting early can mean avoiding a delay down the road, Friday said, since trade workers who are already on-site can do the preparation work for installing smart devices including locks, thermostats, lighting and leak detectors.

Investing early in smart technology can also mean lower overall costs. Late installation means recurring management and upkeep costs will typically be higher, according to Edson D’Souza, West Coast director at ADT Multifamily. 

D’Souza did note, however, that some operators are more willing to build in operational charges than pay a large upfront cost, even if costs will be higher in the long run, and that his team works with operators to find a cost structure that works for them. 

While there are certainly some advantages to beginning early, even spur-of-the-moment decisions to invest in smart technology can pay off. Friday recounted how at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, his team was working with a client with over 20,000 units. Because in-person showings were going to be almost impossible in the coming months, the operator decided to use ADT smart home technology to set up self-guided tours of model units across the portfolio.

“We were able to put together a solution and get smart locks and alarms installed quickly, without requiring a commitment from all the other units on-site,” Friday said. “Our ability to adapt led to a great working relationship with the operator, who is beginning to convert his portfolio to smart units.”

Once they have built and leased smart units, developers rarely return to building units without these tools, Friday said. He estimates that 90% of ADT’s existing smart home customers become repeat buyers.

The other group that has grown accustomed to smart apartments is renters themselves. As the pool of Americans who have lived in an apartment with internet-enabled locks, thermostats and lighting grows, D’Souza believes smart tech will become the rule, rather than the exception.

“Renters aren’t returning to traditional, unconnected living, no matter whether it’s in another apartment [or] in a future home,” he said. “So for developers, the ability to brand their units as ‘smart’ may set them apart from the competition now, but it’s quickly becoming a must-have.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and ADT Multifamily. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.