Smart Retrofitting for Apartments and Multifamily Buildings

By August 23, 2018 Smart Apartments
retrofitting smart apartments

Regardless of how old your building may be, retrofitting an apartment with smart building tech can make significant improvements in your property value and tenant experience. It may seem like the future of living is far away, or that investing in tech is too expensive, but smart retrofitting doesn’t have to require heavy renovations or enormous capital expenditures. It will, however, make an immediate impact on your business.

Property owners should always look at the viability of a smart retrofit before tearing down and building a new development from scratch. In most cases, retrofitting will provide all the value creation smart apartment benefits you’re looking for at a fraction of the cost.

Let’s look at the benefits of smart apartment retrofits and what is required to pull it off.

Why Do a Smart Retrofit?

Smart apartment technology gives residents new ways to control their living spaces, and property managers new ways to operate the building. For property owners who want to improve their properties and increase NOI, smart building and smart home technology can be added to almost any multifamily complex for a reasonable cost.

At a minimum, smart building retrofits should include network infrastructure, a smart apartment management platform, smart locks, and smart thermostats. These basic pieces will provide the majority of the smart apartment capabilities available today (but some smart apartments go above and beyond the basics).

Smart retrofitting with minimal capital expense can significantly increase your property’s revenue without huge renovation costs. Here are a few ways smart retrofitting can benefit a property:

Raising Property Value: Amenities like wifi, smart locks, thermostats, and lighting can attract new tenants as well as command higher rent prices. When adding these devices, you’re not just improving the aesthetics of the building; you’re improving the experience of being a resident as well.

Smart apartment technologies also increase property value by making developments future-proof. Network infrastructure and the smart apartment platform make it easy and inexpensive to integrate new technologies, services, and smart amenities as they come online, keeping your complex ahead of the curve.

Proactive Maintenance: With a smart building network tying your devices together, you can see problems before they happen and prevent issues from becoming potentially dangerous situations. The smart apartment platform allows managers to automatically assign maintenance tasks and send out temporary e-keys for staff to access apartment units. Automation also takes care of recurring tasks and helps staff stay on top of maintenance tickets with greater transparency.

Energy Efficiency: Smart building technology helps to minimize wasted utilities, which can lead to major cost savings. In multifamily buildings, smart thermostats help managers control the climate in vacant units and keep costs down in between showings. Smart lights (especially in public areas) will optimize energy usage based on occupancy and natural sunlight. Smart HVAC systems go even further by using outside air to cool the building when available, like at night or in the fall.

According to Intel, smart building technology can save commercial buildings up to $100,000 a year, and new IoT technology is making smart building systems even more affordable for small and medium-sized buildings.

Better Security: Smart locks enable residents to know exactly when someone comes in and out of their apartment through the building’s resident mobile app. This makes maintenance requests and on-demand amenities like dog walkers more secure. Smart remote access helps managers control the flow of residents and staff throughout the property. Smart security systems can analyze video streams in real time, alerting staff of irregularities and providing live-stream feeds of a property.

Higher Resident Retention: Smart apartments offer a higher quality of living, which could help improve resident retention. More residents already prefer smart amenities, and the cost-saving benefits of smart home tech are attractive to price-sensitive renters. Moreover, integrating smart apartment technology frees up property managers to concentrate on building a community to retain residents. Since many day-to-day tasks can be automated through the smart apartment platform, managers can spend time making the apartment complex feel like home.

How to Plan a Smart Apartment Retrofit

Doing a smart apartment retrofit is not as simple as adding smart home devices to your units. To get the full benefits of smart building technology, these devices need to be connected to a network and managed through a smart apartment platform.

Therefore, the first step is talking with an IoT service company who specializes in smart apartment technology. They will help you plan and install the network infrastructure, software platform, and devices needed to run the building.

When developing your retrofit plan alongside the IoT company, there are a number of things to consider:

  • What are my goals? Am I trying to attract tenants, retain residents, decrease costs, or improve staff efficiency?
  • What is my budget?  
  • What are my “must have” features?
  • What capabilities do I want to plan for in the future?

A seasoned IoT service company will know how to walk you through each of these questions. See our article on navigating the smart home tech ecosystem for more on this topic.

Costs and Timeline

Doing a smart retrofit on an existing building is a fantastic value. For buildings that need an upgrade, adding smart building tech provides more potential NOI than doing traditional renovations alone.

The cost of building a new multifamily complex varies greatly depending on location, but it is safe to say that a new development will cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit, requiring anywhere from 6-18 months of construction.

A smart retrofit, on the other hand, will usually run between $750-$1,500 per door. Projects usually take between 90-120 days and are minimally invasive. One popular route is to plan a smart retrofit while doing other major interior renovations.  This way you only have to disturb your residents with construction one time.

Training

The last major piece of a smart retrofit is training for your staff and managers. Maintenance requests in a smart apartment go beyond basic plumbing, electrical, and handiwork. Now, your staff will have to know what to do when the wifi network goes down or smart locks stop working. Your workflows might also change with the introduction of automated maintenance tickets and team task management.

Some IoT service companies will provide training for your staff. Others will also provide maintenance support both off-site and on-site. Before choosing a smart apartment vendor, be sure to ask about the training support they will provide for you and your team.

Getting Started with Your Smart Retrofit

Smart apartments are not just luxuries anymore. They are quickly becoming a must-have set of features and capabilities to remain competitive. Renters prefer them, staff are more efficient in them, and the cost savings are unmatched. More and more new apartment and multifamily buildings will be smart from the beginning, which means your existing structure needs to adapt as well.

Smart retrofits are relatively affordable compared to building new, and they deliver the virtually all the same benefits. In just a few months, you can have what feels like a brand new building, one that retains residents, commands higher rents, and practically heals itself with proactive maintenance alerts.

Smart retrofits involve a lot of moving parts, from networking to device installation to software onboarding and employee training. Having a smart apartment expert in your corner will help your retrofitting project finish on time, on budget, and with fewer headaches. If you’re interested in learning more, our implementation team at Homebase is always available to help.

Smart apartments are the future of living, but that doesn’t mean your existing building can’t be part of that future.

Blake Miller

Author Blake Miller

Blake Miller is the Founder and CEO of Homebase.ai a connected building solution for multi-family housing and the Host of The Future of Living Podcast.

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