You are here

How One Small Firm Built Its Own Smart Apartment Community

Smart Apartment Community
February 2018

One New York-based owner explains how a smart home can provide a free amenity and an ancillary income opportunity.

Burns Management is not the biggest apartment operator in the country. The Albany, N.Y.-based firm manages 2,400 apartments and owns about 75 percent of its management portfolio.

But that does not stop its President Peter Rosecrans Jr. from peppering panelists at industry conferences with endless technical questions regarding best practices for multifamily technology solutions.

With Excelsior Park Apartment Homes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a three-building, 105-apartment home project, Rosecrans put his relentless pursuit of a competitive edge to use.

Rosecrans’ project had two goals: Incorporating resident survey feedback into the design process and optimizing NOI and building long-term value through a scalable, future-proof adoption of technology.

The Excelsior Park project had no pool, fire pit or dog spa, so Rosecrans focused on design details and finish selections. He sensed that there was a unique opportunity to add value by solving a simple, but common problem with apartment communities—cable and internet.

“Residents are looking for high-speed, reliable internet services as they continue to become more comfortable and increasingly reliant on technology” Rosecrans says.

Rosecrans dismissed the local cable providers’ offer to sign a six-year bulk purchase agreement that stated the company would install a coaxial cable television and Internet infrastructure at no cost.

With cable out of the picture, Rosecrans looked to a local fiber-optic network company and negotiated a deal for it to run its product to the new building site.

“At West Coast apartment communities, I saw many had Internet Service Provider opportunities well beyond their local cable providers and they were all running fiber optic to the buildings,” Rosecrans says.

Once he had fiber connected to the building, Rosecrans called upon Epproach, a company focused on building and managing scalable, high-capacity Wi-Fi networks for the apartment industry.

“With our new internet infrastructure, every resident has access to our free community Wi-Fi, which is great for everyday Web surfing and emailing,” Rosecrans says. “But if residents would like to stream video, or game with ‘gigabit capacity’ Internet, they can upgrade to our GigaBurns package. This package also activates the smart apartment.”

The project was like many Epproach had completed, with one exception: This was for an apartment building. In the past, the company specialized in designing and implementing campus-wide Internet solutions, which include its custom-branded Smartphone App, that provide Gigabit services to residents.

While Epproach works with companies of all size, Marty Hollingsworth, Epproach’s President and CEO, says smaller firms are often more agile and willing to implement smart IoT technology.

“The innovative approach that Peter brought to the project allowed us to participate in the planning, design and ongoing support in a collaborative way that has been very instrumental to the success of the project,” Hollingsworth says.

By electing the smart apartment package, residents get access to a Burns Management Smart Home Automation app that was created by Epproach.

“We’ve equipped each apartment with a smart hub, smart lock and smart thermostat that can be activated by the residents if they choose, but they are not required to activate the smart package,” Rosecrans says. “The system is scalable, so residents are free to add any smart device they can think of such as an Alexa, smart blinds and smart lightbulbs. Epproach is available 24-7 to help residents add smart devices as they deem fit.”

In addition to the smart app, Epproach developed an administrative dashboard, which enables Burns to manage the building more effectively and efficiently. Using the dashboard, Burns manages lockouts remotely and sets thermostats in vacant units to ideal temperatures.
Epproach also educated the community staff and the residents about the system’s use.

“We used an array of support guides and marketing materials that proved to be very effective,” Hollingsworth says. “Lastly, we had to make sure the Epproach support team was educated and knowledgeable about the service. Our support group spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of each of the Smart devices in order to effectively monitor and troubleshoot any issue that might arise.”

While the smart locks and thermostats cost more than conventional products in those categories, Rosecrans says 97 percent of his residents chose the upgraded smart-home package.

Rosecrans has leaned on apartment industry technology specialist such as Josh Erosky, Director of IT Security and Building Technology at UDR.

“I was impressed with what he did in a brand-new B asset, especially in upstate New York,” Erosky says. “This highlights what residents are willing to pay for when an amenity is done correctly. Ninety-seven percent of his residents have signed up for the service. That’s an amazing statistic. It also demonstrates how smart-home initiatives can work for any apartment operator, no matter what size.”

Factoring in money saved from not paying for a cable package, Rosecrans says the technology paid for itself almost immediately.

“We have this big Millennial demographic that is looking to rent with us,” Rosecrans says. “Internet speed and reliability is a huge factor for them in where they might choose to rent so we developed this model to meet this need. What is surprising is the number of Baby Boomers who also see the value in smart apartments.”

Les Shaver, Senior Manager of Content for NAA