Smart features for the home are gaining popularity, with keyless door entry, thermostats that help you save energy and remote control systems that allow you to make sure everything is A-OK when you’re away from home.

In a world where new technological advancements debut daily, it’s not just your personal property that can be automated for your convenience. The rental industry, taking a cue from the likes of rideshare companies and mortgage apps that help you automatically secure your financial future, is looking at how smart features can become an everyday part of life for renters.

If initial experiments and trials are successful, renters throughout the U.S. could be seeing smart-home technologies like Amazon Echo and after-hours concierge chatbots turn an apartment rental into a personalized experience aimed at maximum convenience.

[Read: The 10 Best Apps for Finding Your Next Apartment.]

So far, equipping individual apartments with a smart speaker such as Amazon Echo or Google Home seems like an efficient way to update existing communities with amenities renters would benefit from, says Lisa Trosien, president of ApartmentExpert.com and a multifamily educator and consultant. With the right connection to the apartment community's system, residents could check for an available treadmill in the gym, make a maintenance request or even pay their rent.

“The costs are extremely reasonable, and you can do it with literally any apartment that you’ve got,” Trosien says. “We’ve been, as an industry, not as fast as single-family homes because those owners can make changes right away, and we have to figure it into what the return on investment is and things like that.”

In a survey of 1,000 U.S. renters released in November by security tech company Allegion, 61 percent of millennial renters said they are likely to choose an apartment for the smart access features offered. That means something like keyless door entry could be the deciding factor between one community and another.

As millennials take up a larger and larger share of the U.S. population – and make up the vast majority of renters, for that matter – it’s a matter of incorporating the technology they’ve grown up with into all parts of daily life. “They’re used to using things like their phone to gain access to really anything you want,” says Ann Matheis, marketing leader of multifamily at Allegion, which has a subsidiary company, Schlage, that creates smart locks with a phone-access option.

And tech in the home isn't a temporary trend – the Allegion survey results note 63 percent of renters believe smart-apartment apps will be a standard expectation in rental communities in the next 10 years.

What to Expect First

Trosien points to property management software companies like Entrata and Yardi Systems that continue to evolve their systems to help automate the application, leasing and maintenance processes and extend property managers’ and landlords’ ability to cater to their tenants’ needs as quickly and efficiently as possible.

With those companies dedicated to advancing technology for property management purposes, it’s likely automatic systems will happen on an industrywide scale behind the scenes first.

[Read: What Would Airbnb’s Expansion to Long-Term Rentals Mean for Renters?]

Real estate development and construction company The Bozzuto Group is currently exploring incorporating artificial intelligence on both sides of the rental coin – for current community residents and those hoping to find the right apartment.

“I like the idea of helping our customers at any point,” says Jamie Gorski, chief marketing officer for The Bozzuto Group. “We live in a world where our expectations have changed because of great companies like Amazon and Uber and others. And they’ve disrupted our business – disruption in a good way.”

Taking a note from those disrupter companies, Gorski says Bozzuto is exploring the possibility of a chatbot, both online and via phone conversation, that takes your needs and preferences for an apartment and narrows down the available space to the unit that would best suit you.

“It will help you work through the answers: How much is a two-bedroom apartment? When is it available?” Gorski says.

In Your Apartment

While artificial intelligence will likely see industrywide adoption in the marketing field first, incorporation of similar technology in apartments themselves is certainly on its way. But it will cost renters a little extra. The Allegion survey notes millennial renters would pay, on average, as much as a fifth more in monthly rent for smart-home features.

“As rental properties try and compete with each other, they’re really paying close attention to the amenities they offer, and they’re looking at how they can get more rent from their properties,” Matheis says.

As far as smart technology in individual apartments, she expects widespread adoption to focus on features, now common in single-family homes, that can make a big difference for both the tenant and property manager: keyless entry and smart locks, remote-access HVAC to save on costs and a smart lighting system to help residents feel safer.

“With HVAC, that can help the property manager save some money on operations, and then lighting is a nice, convenient amenity to control because of the ability to connect that to other devices. As you enter your home, you can set it so that your lights come on, so you never walk into a dark apartment,” Matheis says.

And in a world where it’s common to introduce new luxury amenities like state-of-the-art fitness centers and housekeeping in a community to raise rents and draw in new tenants, it’s just a matter of time before smart features trickle down from ultra-luxury apartments to all levels of the rental market.

[See: 8 Apartment Amenities You Didn’t Know You Needed.]

The Bozzuto Group is in the initial testing stages for incorporating artificial intelligence into apartment living, and while the results aren’t in yet, Gorski says with success it could be something that enters its communities on a larger scale.

“It’s really early, but we’ll see,” she says.

Of course, as the rental industry dips its toes further into the options for incorporating technology into communities, the devices continue to advance. The smart features considered top-of-the-line today are likely just the beginning.

“It’s huge what can be done out there,” Trosien says.

Tags: real estate, housing, renting, technology, Amazon.com, smartphones


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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