by Lucas Haldeman
Automation is a trending topic in multifamily, but a clearly defined role in the industry has been elusive due to a multitude of potential applications spanning all aspects of operations. The emergence of AI technology has further complicated the industry’s understanding and definition of automation, contributing to a divergence in adoption and implementation.
But the opportunity in automation is undeniable. At its core, automation in multifamily is designed to simplify processes for on-site associates, fill operational gaps and empower teams to push property performance. By focusing on those base benefits, operators have grown more comfortable with releasing the reins and allowing automated functions to optimize operations, enhance the resident experience and increase asset value.
Lead Nurturing and Leasing
Multifamily is an increasingly competitive environment and will become even more as an estimated 500,000 units are set to deliver in 2023. It is imperative that leasing teams stay on top of leads, not only filling the top of the funnel but capturing prospects throughout their search journey in order to optimize conversions. However, as overburdened as on-site associates often are, it’s the little things like follow-up emails and outreach that routinely fall through the cracks.
Automated lead-management software ensures timely, pre-drafted follow-ups are sent after initial prospect inquiries or post-tour, so team members don’t need to carve out time for correspondence. These communications can be tailored to meet the prospect exactly where they are in their search. The savvier of teams are looking to AI-tools like ChatGPT to further optimize their time and craft follow-up emails and content.
As prospects are looking for more self-service options, automating the move-in process can also provide a great opportunity to optimize a team’s time. By leveraging solutions like resident apps for new resident communications, move-in instructions with direct access to set up internet and utilities, communities are creating a connection even before a resident moves in. These apps and integrated automated solutions can be used throughout the resident lifecycle for maintenance communications, resident correspondences and even to engage residents prior to their renewal periods.
Such tasks may seem trivial, but they must occur at a certain cadence to be effective. By automating those responsibilities, operators can be sure they get done on schedule.
By automating access controls for areas such as offices and amenities, operators can schedule those spaces to open or close at designated times of day. When the last person leaves for the day, the door locks behind them for the night. Conversely, associates don’t need to arrive early to open amenities, like fitness centers, for the day.
Property teams can also issue temporary cloud-based access credentials for self-guided tours, vendors or maintenance crews, and select an access window for the duration of the tour, installation or repair. The technology creates a sense of sophistication for prospective residents by allowing them to seamlessly navigate select areas of the community on their own. And, because on-site associates don’t need to continually roam the community with keys or fobs to grant access, they can focus on other responsibilities.
Automated climate controls can be leveraged to optimize energy savings. When integrated with PMS software, heating and AC automatically revert to default settings upon resident move-out to minimize usage during vacancies. Vacant units can also be synced with touring technology to restore a comfortable climate prior to scheduled tours to present an ideal in-home environment during tours, and returning to default energy-saving levels once the tour concludes.
Similar after-hours settings can be automated for amenities, offices and other spaces to limit energy use when people aren’t present. Consider this: in a weather event like extreme heat or cold, automated climate monitoring can help reduce damage to HVAC equipment or can alert teams to any damage like leaks or burst pipes.
Likewise, residents can automate the climate controls in their homes to save energy based on their daily schedules. They can turn down heat and AC use while they are gone during the day, and automate climate controls to restore preferred conditions before they arrive home.
Similar to climate controls, operators can automate lighting to save electric use during off-hours for office and amenities. They can also use it to create a safer and more inviting environment during non-daylight hours, illuminating walkways, stairwells, hallways and parking areas.
Maintenance teams can’t be everywhere, and residents aren’t always in tune with the needs of their homes. If a plumbing or appliance leak develops between routine inspections and residents don’t notice or report it immediately, the damage can be extensive.
Asset protection devices like leak detectors and humidity sensors serve as the first line of defense against water and flood damage. The devices send automated alerts to maintenance teams and management at the first sign of an issue, allowing service teams to respond promptly to address the issue and limit costly damage. Furthermore, smart appliances can also be set up to deliver automated messages when experiencing any sort of failure or service needed. These automations help to ensure a longer life for appliances like refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers.
Resident Communication and Maintenance Workflow
The communication channels created through resident apps and portals are invaluable resources for residents and property teams alike. However, many renters still prefer a quick phone call, which can be hit and miss.
The communication channels created through resident apps and portals are invaluable resources for residents and property teams alike. However, many renters still prefer a quick phone call, which can be hit and miss.Fortunately, automated features in call answering solutions not only pick up resident phone calls on the first ring, but assist in routing the call to the correct department or associate and create a call transcription for future reference. Call answering platforms also automatically generate a work order for maintenance-related calls, with an escalation process for urgent after-hours maintenance situations.
Most people take their internet connections for granted, but the reality is signal strength and router range impact connection reliability. With managed Wi-Fi, residents have a high-speed internet connection in their homes that automatically follows them wherever they go in the community. Managed Wi-Fi means residents only have one login for the entire property, rather than separate connections for amenities, lobbies and coworking spaces.
That automated connection across the community enables residents to work remotely from their favorite common area nook, or bring their streaming service with them to the gym or pool. It also empowers on-site associates to better assist residents from the field, since they always have mobile access to property management software.
However it is defined or deployed, automation is infiltrating the industry and optimizing the way apartment communities operate. It is creating more reliable processes, establishing more efficient communities and permitting on-site teams to tailor and transform the prospect and resident experience.