5 Most Common Missteps Operators Make When Conducting a Smart Home Retrofit

by Demetrios Barnes

Smart home technology has become a must-have feature at new multifamily developments, but the technology isn’t just for new builds. Owners of apartment communities constructed prior to the smart home revolution are conducting wide scale retrofit projects to equip their properties with modern enhancements. 

However, the retrofit process requires careful consideration and planning. While the cost savings and improvements made possible through smart home implementation are attractive, missteps in deployment could result in unnecessary expense and performance problems.

We’ll take a look at five common missteps operators make when conducting a smart home retrofit, and discuss how to avoid them. 

Product Selection

The options for smart home devices and features are almost endless for owners, but choosing the right products for a particular community is crucial. From locks to thermostats, leak sensors, lighting, plugs, shades, garage door controls, doorbells, video intercoms and more, operators have a lengthy menu to select from when it comes to smart home features. 

It’s easy to simply choose products with the most promising return on investment but it’s important to first fully understand the investment. With existing properties, the layout and construction of the community can significantly impact installation costs. Many smart products simply replace existing fixtures, though others require more involved system upgrades – and with that more capital. 

Also, owners of existing communities often choose a phased approach to installation, maybe installing smart thermostats first, followed by smart lighting and locks on subsequent budget cycles. An a la carte path of implementation is great, so long as ownership continually selects products that operate on the same platform. Efficiencies are maximized when all smart home features are connected and controlled through the same app. 

A hodgepodge assortment of smart home devices, each controlled through its own platform, is inefficient and cumbersome for residents.

Software Selection

Renters don’t want to flip back and forth between apps to access various smart features of their homes. Failure to establish a single point of access for residents can turn what should be a marketable feature into a source of frustration for residents.

One robust mobile app that provides complete control and remote management of all devices and home settings, equips residents with the ability to efficiently manage their homes. Ideally, the app should also easily connect to residents’ personal Ring devices and voice assistants. 

The platform must also seamlessly integrate with the community’s property management system for full visibility and operator control. With such software in place, when a resident vacates their home, site staff can easily transfer the apartment or home from occupied to vacant, triggering a succession of automated actions. Communities can even create their ideal “vacant mode” to have access codes removed from locks, work orders created for turn requests, and energy saving modes activated, like having the thermostat temperature adjusted and lights switched off.

Installation Process

Installing smart home features during construction certainly simplifies the process, but retrofit projects present unique challenges. Owners need to decide whether to take a “rip off the Bandaid” approach and conduct one communitywide installation, or adopt a more gradual and strategic implementation. 

A one-time installation comes with higher upfront costs and the potential to disturb current residents, though it also makes the process easier to navigate and enables operators to conduct all resident training at once.

A more gradual roll-out process requires periodic resident training but extends the ramp-up time for associates to learn the system. It also creates a lack of symmetry from one home to the next and potential challenges for maintenance teams. 

Some property managers even allow current residents to opt-in to smart home upgrades, otherwise installing the new tech during apartment turns to make available homes more attractive and immediately capitalize on that ROI. Ultimately, the installation process must match the design and demographics of the community. 

Training and Support

Most smart home technology is user-friendly, but it won’t be intuitive for all residents or associates. For the average renter, who already conducts business and manages much of their day-to-day lives via their smartphones, the transition to a smart home platform will be second nature. Others will require a little more hand holding as they familiarize themselves with the smart features of their homes. 

It’s important to remember that the retrofit project isn’t over after installation. The last thing apartment communities need is new technology that a portion of the resident population doesn’t know how to use. 

Selecting a smart home platform that encompasses training materials, including tutorials and how-to guides, as well as easily accessible resources such as app FAQs and troubleshooting tips, can make all the difference in the transition process. Residents should be relatively autonomous in managing their home settings once they are installed, and equipped with the information they need to maximize the modern features of their apartments. 

To further help residents remain autonomous, select a smart home technology company that provides complete resident support. Onsite team members are not trying to troubleshoot technology they aren’t completely familiar with and residents are able to better manage their smart home technology package. 

ROI Expectations

It’s important to remember that while some smart home technology delivers savings almost immediately, other devices offer a less tangible return on investment.

Smart thermostats, lighting and energy monitors typically pay for themselves within the first year or two of installation. Operators may see a significant reduction in energy consumption as soon as they’re turned on, and those savings are fairly easily tracked.

However, the value in devices such as smart access locks and leak detectors is in the expense and issues that they prevent. If a leak can be identified and repaired before a pipe breaks and causes extensive flood damage, that’s a substantial savings. If theft or other criminal activity can be thwarted by restricting access, and the likely property damage or a reputation management crisis never takes place, that’s a tremendous value. 

The benefits of smart home technology are often found in their ability to put owners and operators in a proactive position. And the first preemptive action owners need to take when considering a smart home retrofit is to fully assess the products and process they deploy, in order to avoid potential pitfalls and maximize returns. 

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