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 multifamily shifts every few years with changing demographics and regular ebbs and flows of the market. An array of resort-style amenities popped up in the last decade as we saw a steady increase in older, high-income “renters by choice” willing to pay a premium for luxury, and shifts in preferences from Gen Z.
But Covid-19 threw multifamily amenities for a loop. The pandemic’s impact has been a catalyst for digital change in the industry more so than any of these other demographic factors could have. While quick fixes many property managers have made, like constant wipe-downs and gym reservations, won’t last forever, smart and safe access for food delivery and packages, self-guided tours and coworking spaces in apartment communities might just be the new normal. Technology is at the center of new amenities accelerated by the pandemic, and they are likely here to stay.
Adding a Peloton to the gym doesn’t cut it anymore. 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 multifamily community amenities:
A Function Forcing Catch Up With The On-Demand Economy
There’s no question the typical multifamily building is in over its head as deliveries and the virtual economy are central to everyday life. Over a quarter of Americans with incomes of $100,000 have increased their grocery deliveries since the onset of the pandemic, and restaurant delivery services like DoorDash doubled their business. That’s a lot of Instacart shoppers and DoorDashers needing building access, and a fully-equipped property allows for residents to grant easier access while minimizing facetime and door handles touched.
I’ve written about how the multifamily industry is putting an expensive band-aid on the growing volume of deliveries and packages every day. No matter how state-of-the-art or high-tech the package room, many partners I’ve talked to see package volume outnumbering room capacity three- or four-fold. And during the pandemic and last holiday season, the sheer volume of packages crushed delivery providers — e-commerce sales were up by 33% from 2019 — causing a domino effect into package management at apartment complexes.
Solutions to deal with swift changes are needed. One of them is smart access technology. The concept aims to allow residents to more easily offer building access to their delivery, dog walker or guest through a combination of IoT door hardware and software. In larger buildings like high-rises, it becomes a notable selling point. Owners and operators must brace for the changing habits and needs of their residents as a result of the pandemic, and solve for them early. Pet ownership, for example, is skyrocketing, and subsequently, online ordering from suppliers like Chewy are growing, too. Soon, so will the demand for dog walkers. Investing in the infrastructure to allow for smart access for these services and others with similar needs will continue to attract tenants during a tricky renter’s market.
A New Era For Health, Wellness And Workspace Offerings
The focus on health as a result of the pandemic will push multifamily to make major lasting changes. One example is an increased emphasis on outdoor common spaces — perhaps seasonal rooftops in lieu of clubhouses, or outdoor gyms, will pop up more. Airflow may not have been on the list of selling points for prospective lessees in 2019, but it sure makes sense to use it as one now. Large gym facilities, for instance, are unlikely to be a priority next year as many residents invested in at-home workout equipment in their own unit. But systems to monitor for usage and foot traffic will help residents continue to take advantage of that Peloton you added last year.
Further, one-bedroom apartments are becoming offices, gyms and living areas in one. Residents are demonstrating increasing interest in coworking spaces with ample room — or reservation capabilities, to help with social distancing — for a change in scenery during the WFH boom. I recommend operators look at how they can serve their residents in this respect. A relatively low-cost installation, coworking spaces help you compete with the WeWork buildings and cafes in your area and can tempt residents to shell out a little more monthly rent in return for the in-building convenience.
Perhaps further out is increased adoption of true smart spaces, like what the folks at Ori are working on — robotic or smart furniture, lighting and more that can be configured to transform a bedroom into a living room into an office in a matter of minutes. While this may seem far afield, the widespread shift to hybrid work just might accelerate the need for offerings like these.
A Smart Way To Manage It All On The Properties’ Side
Bearing all of this in mind, new solutions will continue to pop up to help properties keep these refreshed amenity priorities in check. With many multifamily complexes shutting down access to amenities 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 major investment of increased laundry rooms or in-unit laundry options (another pandemic-era demand), you’ll want data and insights into usage for water and energy, as well as to assess the ROI from implementation.
From coworking spaces to the reimagined property gym, smart access for everyone from maintenance to showcasing the amenities to prospective new residents will remain important. Smart access, new design and priorities for common space offerings, and better management solutions are at the forefront of pandemic-driven trends. These multifaceted solutions not only allow for additional selling points for new residents and keeping competitive in a renter’s market, but they also help with the management and workflow of property owners and employees.