A common theme you will see in my monthly column is the passion to help owners of smaller multi-family buildings keep up with the rapidly changing times. New and innovative ways to own, manage, and live in rental property is sweeping the industry – especially in the Bay Area. However, owners of larger buildings and portfolios (100 units +) currently seem to have a leg up when it comes to adopting new tech that attracts better residents and creates operational efficiency. My goal is to level the playing field and make sure all owners have access to the myriad of new strategies to produce better returns and avoid being left behind by an industry that is moving at the speed of light.
We live in an era of hyperconnectivity where virtually everything is “smart.” There are smartphones, smart TVs, smart cars, and smart homes – all of which are designed to do one thing: make life easier for us. With the ever-growing repertoire of smart products comes smart lock technology. Smart locks give you remote access to your door, which provides a whole new level of control, security, and convenience. And sure, keyless entry can be great, but what are the deeper implications and benefits of having smart locks for your rental property?
Types of smart locks
Before jumping into the pros and cons, let’s assess what kinds of smart locks are currently on the market. There are essentially two types – one that works with the deadbolt you already have, or one that completely replaces it. Options like August Smart Lock or Danalock are specifically designed to retrofit existing deadbolts. Installation is pretty straightforward for these models. You simply keep all the deadbolt hardware intact and add a level of connectivity over it. All you need is a screwdriver to put the smart lock in place, then calibrate it to sync with your wireless communication protocol – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Z-Wave.
Then there’s the option to go with a model like the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt or Yale Touchscreen Deadbolt which completely replace your traditional deadbolt locks. Although it may require slightly more time and effort to install, a screwdriver is all you need to set up the these models as well. Simply follow the directions provided by the smart lock vendor to remove existing hardware and replace with the new components. Lastly, connect to the appropriate wireless protocol and sync with the smart lock.
There are several variations of smart locks and each comes with its own set of access and control capabilities. Some smart locks are keyless by design, but others aren’t. Some models come with a touchpad while others employ voice authorization. Take a look at the available options and evaluate what kind of smart lock technology is best suited for your rental property’s environment and conditions.
One of the challenges with some types of smart locks is connectivity. Certain smart locks like those that Rentey or Code Box use don’t need connectivity and are pre-programmed with enough unique codes to last a lifetime. However, some of the other more sophisticated locks that have more functionality do require a wireless internet connection or a cellular connection. You will have to factor this reality into your decision.
Benefits of smart locks
The perks of smart locks go beyond security or convenience. It’s about having total control over your property from anywhere, anytime. Is there a plumbing issue or broken heating system you need to address for residents? Smart locks make it incredibly easy to facilitate repairs with technicians. Residents don’t even need to be home to accommodate any fixes, which is a huge time saver. With smart locks, you can even get alerts or texts that show timestamps of entries and exits, so you get full visibility into who’s coming in and going out. Additionally, you have the ability to give family and friends a set of “digital” keys. Plus, when you have resident turnover, you can re-program smart locks to reset the lock combination which means never having to change locks or make replacement keys again. Imagine not having that large manila envelope or drawer filled with keys to every door and storage locker in your rental properties!
You may even charge a little extra for rent, especially if your property is set up with other smart home ecosystem integrations like doorbell cameras, ability to sync with wearable technology, and thermostat compatibility. For instance, you could configure a night mode response that locks the doors at a specific time and also shuts off all the lights and adjusts the thermostat to a comfortable setting.
Smart locks can also help you create an audit trail in case you have issues with a difficult resident. In a scenario where a resident claims you didn’t tend to a certain issue, smart locks can help create a record of when vendors visited your building or specific unit. For those of us that have had to deal with these tough resident issues, having facts to support your position is essential.
Another key benefit with smart locks is the ability to get insight into renters’ habits and behavior. Although providers don’t divulge granular data to property owners, you can still get a glimpse into overall usage and make savvy inquiries based on them. For example, you can see when residents typically come home during the week, so you know the best times to schedule maintenance orders or other events. Over time, these details can allow you to anticipate residents’ needs and provide better service. As smart technology continues to develop and become more sophisticated, the way we live and operate day to day is in for a seismic shift.
Is there a smarter way for you to manage your properties?
Millennials currently dominate the renters market and often will pay the highest rents. And technology is an integral part of their lifestyle. A decade from now, the generation following millennials will maintain its dominance in the renters market, and they’ll likely be even thirstier for tech. Soon, connectedness will no longer be a luxury. It will become a necessity. As a property owner, what are you doing to stay competitive and in control?
At the company that I used to run (now Colony Starwood Residential Trust NYSE:SFR), a program is being rolled out to install smart locks on all 30,000+ single-family rental homes. These locks will provide controlled access, monitor thermostats, and avoid the need to manage tens of thousands of keys. Also, if residents want to reap the full benefits of these smart locks, they have to pay an additional fee each month, which will likely create substantial value for the REIT.
Owning property is a great way to secure a steady stream of revenue, but it also tends to give rise to an assortment of issues. From bad renters to late payments to building-related troubles, there’s usually no shortage of headaches to deal with. But, investing in the right technologies now can set you up to be more profitable in the long term.