Why the new standard for multi-family facilities puts technology at the center

Founder and CEO of SmartRent, an enterprise home automation and internet of things platform for the multifamily industry.

The conversation around the trendy, must-have amenities in multi-family homes shifts every few years with changing demographics and regular ebb and flow of the market. A range of resort-style amenities appeared over the past decade as we saw a steady increase in older, high-income “renters of choice” willing to pay a premium for luxury, and shifts in Gen Z preferences.

But Covid-19 threw multi-family facilities for a loop. The impact of the pandemic has been more of a catalyst for digital change in the industry than any of these other demographics could have. While quick fixes put in place by many property managers, like constant wiping and gym reservations, won’t last forever, smart and secure access for food delivery and parcels, self-guided tours and coworking spaces in apartment communities may just be the new normal. Technology is at the heart of new facilities accelerated by the pandemic, and they are likely to remain.

Adding a Peloton to the gym is no longer enough. Residents want to feel safe, healthy and secure in their homes, and a new class of apartment amenities and smart home capabilities can make that happen – all while adding an extra layer of convenience. Here are the technology-driven new standards for multi-family-friendly community amenities:

A feature that is catching up with the on-demand economy

There is no doubt that the quintessential multi-family building is over its head, as supplies and the virtual economy are central to everyday life. More than a quarter of Americans with an income of $100,000 have delivered more groceries since the start of the pandemic, and restaurant delivery services like DoorDash have doubled their sales. That’s a lot of Instacart shoppers and DoorDashers who need building access, and a fully equipped property allows residents to provide easier access while minimizing facetime and touched door handles.

I’ve written about how the multifamily industry is putting an expensive bandage on the growing number of deliveries and packages every day. No matter how state-of-the-art or high-tech the packet space is, many partners I’ve spoken to see packet volume exceed space capacity by three or fourfold. And during the pandemic and the past holiday season, the sheer number of parcel delivery companies – e-commerce sales increased 33% from 2019 – crushed, causing a knock-on effect in apartment complex parcel management.

Solutions are needed to cope with rapid changes. One of them is smart access technology. The concept aims to enable residents to provide easier access to the building for their delivery person, dog walker or guest through a combination of IoT door hardware and software. In larger buildings such as high-rise buildings, it becomes a notable selling point. Owners and operators must brace themselves for the changing habits and needs of their residents as a result of the pandemic and address them early. Pet ownership, for example, is on the rise and online ordering from suppliers such as Chewy also grows. Soon the demand for dog walkers will also increase. Investing in the infrastructure to enable smart access for these services and others with similar needs will continue to attract tenants during a challenging tenant market.

A new era for health, wellness and workspace offerings

The focus on health resulting from the pandemic will drive multifamily to make major lasting changes. One example is a greater emphasis on communal outdoor spaces – perhaps seasonal rooftops rather than clubhouses or outdoor gyms will pop up more. Airflow may not have been on the list of selling points for potential renters in 2019, but it certainly makes sense to use it as one now. Large sports facilities, for example, probably won’t be a priority next year as many residents have invested in home exercise equipment in their own units. But systems to monitor usage and foot traffic will help residents continue to benefit from that Peloton you added last year.

Furthermore, one-bedroom apartments become offices, gyms and living spaces in one. Residents are showing increasing interest in coworking spaces with enough space – or reservation options, to help with social distancing – for a change of scenery during the WFH boom. I recommend operators to see how they can serve their residents in this. A relatively inexpensive setup, coworking spaces help you compete with the WeWork buildings and cafes in your area and can entice residents to pay a little more monthly rent in exchange for the convenience of the building.

Perhaps further afield is the increased adoption of truly smart spaces, like what the folks at Ori are working on – robotic or smart furniture, lighting, and more that can be configured to turn a bedroom into a living room into an office in minutes. While this may seem distant, the widespread shift to hybrid work could accelerate the need for such offerings.

A smart way to manage everything on the property side

With all of this in mind, new solutions will continue to emerge to help properties keep these updated utility priorities in check. With many multi-family complexes closing off access to facilities due to Covid-19, the future will bring new integrated systems to manage access to these spaces.

For example, if you’re taking on the big investment in more laundry rooms or in-unit laundry options (another pandemic-era question), you’ll want data and insights into water and energy usage, as well as assessing the ROI of deployment.

From coworking spaces to the redesigned gym, smart access for everyone from maintenance to showcasing the amenities to potential new residents remains important. Smart access, redesign and priorities for common space offerings and better management solutions are at the forefront of pandemic-driven trends. Not only do these versatile solutions provide additional selling points for new residents and help them stay competitive in the tenant market, but they also help with the management and workflow of property owners and employees.

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