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Do Today’s Students Need Smart-Home Devices?

A person using a smart home app on a tablet

By Les Shaver

While some students value new tech in their homes, others would rather save money.

There’s a raging debate in the apartment and student housing industries about smart-home tech. Yeah, the ability to turn on the lights without leaving the sofa or set the temperature from your office is convenient, but will residents really pay more that? The jury is still out.

“[Smart-home investment] is market-driven because you have to get that return,” says Heather Sizemore, CAPS, Vice President, University Relations for The Michaels Organization, Student Living at the Listening Lab at CampusConnex in Orlando. “Not all markets can support the rents necessary to achieve a return on the upfront investment during development or rehab.”  

Deciding whether they can get the rents to support those investments is an important task at many companies. Landmark Properties devotes an entire department to staying on top of tech trends.

“We are always trying to improve our technology offerings and services,” says Kevin Howe, CPM, Senior Vice President Operations. “Let’s face it, our kids are going to elementary school and with iPhones. When you fast forward, and those students come to college, they are very tech savvy.”

For Mike Still, Senior Vice President, Operations for Collier Cos., many of the electronic upgrades his company has made are been minor.

“Part of our upgrade package is just installing USB outlets everywhere in our 10- and 15-year old communities,” Still says. “It’s a small cost [to install those outlets], but people look for that. They want to know [they can plug in] right next to their beds.”

Beyond that, Collier has not fully jumped into smart-home technology. “We’re seeing value in electronic locks and Bluetooth,” Still says. “We have a couple of communities where we installed more Bluetooth speakers and things like that. We did it in small portions, as a test, and we do see that people are willing to do it [install Bluetooth] for a small rent increase – but not a phenomenal one.”

In some cases, Sizemore thinks some students are pulling back from smart tech.

“More and more students are cost conscious,” she says. “Our conversations with colleges, universities and students continue to revolve around a primary factor, and that's providing cost-effective housing solutions.”

Still, in some locations, Michaels has found success with smart devices. At Syracuse University, it developed a community outfitted with the Alexa Echo Dot.

“They can talk to Alexa and write a work order or use their phone to open their door, similar to what hotels offer,” says Barrie L. Nichols, Vice President of Leasing and Marketing for The Michaels Organization, Student Living. “They can control their thermostats and the lights. There’s just some sizzle to a student to be like, ‘Wow, I can do all this?’”