Top Tech Trends for 2020
Five technology advancements that are likely to hit the apartment industry in a big way in the year ahead.
There’s little doubt that 2019 was the year for PropTech. We saw record levels of investment in not only real estate tech writ large but also multifamily-specific tech. These new technology companies and platforms are challenging our traditional ways of operating our communities and serving our residents, giving us new tools for marketing, leasing, connectivity, security, business intelligence, resident finance, community management, and much, much more.
We saw this at our recent NMHC OPTECH event in Dallas, where more than 2,000 apartment executives and technology partners gathered to explore new software and technology solutions, discuss evolving multifamily tech needs, and get practical advice on implementing new technologies. Here are five big things the leaders in tech and innovation were talking about that we believe will have meaningful impact on the industry in the year to come.
The industry continues to be slapped with the sobering figures of how many leads go unanswered because leasing agents can’t—or won’t, as the case may be—return a phone call or reply to an email. Sometimes they are too busy with other tasks. Sometimes the inquiries come in during off hours. Regardless of the reason, it’s costing operators money to not only have to market but remarket units.
Operators are searching for low-cost solutions to getting more prospects into the sales funnel, and call centers just aren’t cutting it in a lot of cases. Enter the latest generation of AI-powered chatbots. But please don’t call them bots. These digital leasing assistants have gotten so sophisticated that prospects often can’t tell that it’s a robot responding to the thread. Fueled by machine learning, these digital leasing assistants also get smarter over time, improving performance. We expect that they could become a leasing agent’s new best friend.
2. Self-Guided Tours
With the dual goals of unburdening leasing staff and delivering a better on-demand shopping experience for prospects, many apartment operators are experimenting with self-guided tours. For some it’s a be-back strategy, available to prospects who are making a return visit; for others, this is a shift to a whole new touring model.
Operators also have varying definitions of self-guided. Some are investing in the high-tech version with virtual ID checks and remote or keyless entry to provide a truly self-service experience; however, others are rolling with a low-tech version, where IDs are held in exchange for a unit key and returned at the end of the tour. Operators are still struggling, though, with the question of when humans should reinsert themselves into the leasing process.
3. Intelligent Buildings
While apartment operators haven’t quite found the perfect solution, most are testing the smart home waters and figuring it out as they go. But with the benefits of consumer-facing smart tech going to the resident, they’re also looking at scalable smart building tech to net new operational efficiencies.
These intelligent building platforms hem together smart home tech with digital remote access for maintenance and guest access, energy-saving solutions, and systems monitoring technologies like leak detection for a comprehensive, real-time community management solution. While the focus today is on asset protection and preventative maintenance, the technologies are likely to make predictive maintenance a mainstream reality soon enough.
4. Curb to Community Room Connectivity
Residents certainly want it, but increasingly our building systems are also demanding seamless connectivity. From controlled access to sensor technology, future-proofing begins with getting the broadband and cellular infrastructure right.
Two new and interesting telecom advancements are on the horizon. The Federal Communications Commission is opening up some additional spectrum—this is 5G and CBRS—that could positively affect connectivity. While that’s good for the residents, it’s also potentially good for owners and operators. The expectation that 5G and CBRS will deliver better, faster, and more reliable mobile connectivity could be a boon for the rollout of IOT-based systems, not only smart home features but also intelligent building technologies.
5. Resident Finance Solutions
With housing affordability becoming a bigger issue in markets nationwide, new renter-focused FinTech solutions are emerging. These solutions aim to lower upfront costs and provide more financial flexibility for renters while providing operators with more efficiencies and protections against lease loss. These platforms are providing new alternatives to traditional security deposits, guarantors, and late rent payment hurdles with more modern takes on old-school insurance or payday loan solutions.