Property Management

The Contactless Community Hype: Take a Deep Breath

by CJ Edmonds

Ever since the pandemic began, we’ve heard a lot of talk about “contactless” apartment communities.

The conversation certainly makes sense. Apartment operators want to make sure their communities are as safe as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to make sure residents and visiting prospects feel safe.

To that end, many operators have done things like implement self-guided tours and smart home technology to minimize interactions and touch on their properties. Technologies like these make sense not only during the COVID era but in any environment, as prospects and residents were wanting them before the pandemic.

But I have to question how much, in the end, apartment communities need to become truly contactless. It just doesn’t seem like a very practical goal.

Being Realistic

I’ve heard people ask, “Is a contactless community a real thing?”

My answer is, “Yes, if you have an unlimited budget.”

Apartment operators should take a deep breath and consider the expense and the true value of creating a property where a resident or prospective renter never has to touch a door handle or push an elevator button. Think about it: if you have contact-free doors at every entry point in your community, including homes and common areas, that gets extremely expensive. Add in elevators that can be called from your smartphone, and bathrooms with automated flushing, hand dryers and sinks – and you’re looking at spending some serious money.

Communities with these features may have a certain appeal now, but what kind of competitive advantage or practical benefits will they offer a year or two from now, when – hopefully – the pandemic is finally behind us and life has returned to normal and people aren’t so focused on a contactless experience? Will they be able to provide a real return on investment?

Contactless Features that Make Sense

All of this is not to say that operators should avoid any solutions that minimize contact with surfaces and between people. Clearly, that’s not the case. To start with, prospective renters and residents expect to see some degree of automation in apartment communities. And many of these solutions are affordable and can help drive revenue and NOI.

For example, according to the 2020 Apartment Resident Preferences Report, more than 70% of residents say they are “interested” in smart thermostats while another 6.6% say they wouldn’t rent a home without one. Additionally, they expect to pay a monthly premium of $30 for the device.

Likewise, self-guided tours fit the psyche of many of today’s prospects, pandemic or no pandemic. Many of them just prefer to tour a community without having to interact with a leasing agent or visit the leasing office. And, whenever possible, they like being able to take a self-guided tour right away. Since April 2020, more than 153,000 self-guided tours were completed at SmartRent client communities. More than 35% of those tours were booked using a feature that allows prospective renters who are onsite to immediately tour.

Looking ahead, the concept of a contactless community is certainly a cool one. I’m a big technology geek myself, and I understand the excitement.

But don’t get too caught up in the hype. Be clear-headed. Don’t think you have to go overboard. Ask yourself the hard questions, look at all the pros and cons and do what’s right for your business.

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