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Be Smart About Implementing Smart-Home Technology

Smart-Home Technology
October 2018

LMC’s smart-home initiative comes as resident demand for smart homes is growing.

When asked for advice for apartment operators considering the implementation of smart-home technology, LMC’s Peter Chmielewski has a ready response: “It can take a long time to succeed but you can fail pretty quickly.”

Translation: This is not something to haphazardly rush into. Planning and installing the right package of smart-home features should be a thoughtful process that requires expertise. In a go-go-go world, this is one instance where deliberation should rule the day.

This spring, leasing began at Marlowe, a 176-unit upscale apartment community that LMC developed in Chicago’s vibrant River North neighborhood. The 15-story property represents the unveiling of the comprehensive smart-home package that the company plans to incorporate into many of its future developments.

Among the smart-home features to be found in a Marlowe apartment home: A Ruckus wireless access point, a Honeywell Lyric thermostat, Lutron lights and roller shades, and a Lutron Pico remote control for dimming lights, controlling shades and operating smart-home speakers. The homes also feature a Sonos One with Alexa that can control the smart-home devices via voice command. The package is managed by Amazon Smart Techs, who are responsible for activating and supporting the products.

“Working with the right partners to create a seamless experience was essential,” says Chmielewski, Senior Vice President of Development for LMC. “We vetted hundreds of products in our urban labs to determine which ones worked together, were reliable and offered what consumers want. We vetted every single piece of smart-home technology offered today to determine the best family of products and to figure out who is best suited to install and manage these components long-term.

“Making sure the components can truly communicate with each other and that you have the right support systems in order — that’s just not something you can achieve overnight.”

Growing Demand

LMC’s smart-home initiative comes as resident demand for smart apartment homes is growing.

Eighty-four percent of residents say they would pay additional rent for their most desired smart-home features, according to “What Apartment Renters Actually Value,” a recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. apartment residents conducted by property management software company Entrata. More than half of residents surveyed (57 percent) were willing to increase their rent payment by at least $20 per month to get the smart apartment they want, and approximately 25 percent would pay more than $30 per month.

Smart-home features ranked higher on the list of amenities most desired by those surveyed than swimming pools and covered parking.

“If an operator hasn’t started thinking about smart homes to some degree, then they are already way behind the curve,” says Chase Harrington, President & Chief Operating Officer of Entrata. “It’s important that owners and operators think of the shift to smart technology as an overall strategy rather than implementing individual smart devices and enhancements.”

Those are sentiments that Chmielewski echoes. “You need to look at this holistically to make sure the technologies work well together and that you have the right framework in place to efficiently support your homes and troubleshoot whatever issues may arise,” he says.

Managing the Technology

One reason it took LMC two years to finalize the specifics of its smart-home package is because the company knew it wanted a technology company to manage the amenities.

“I think that anybody that goes into this thinking, ‘Hey, let’s add some smart-home technologies, and our property management team will manage them’ is making a giant mistake,” Chmielewski says. “These are sophisticated systems.”

Harrington agrees. “A choice strategy to minimize breakdowns is [using] a centralized system in which all of your different technologies are able to be run and administered,” he says. “Technical fragmentation and implementation challenges are drastically reduced when you find an agile technology provider that allows for quick updates and changes to your technology that can be made enterprise-wide.”

When something goes awry with a smart product in an apartment home, Marlowe residents are instructed to contact Amazon. “Our management company is certainly there to help if they can and if they need to, but otherwise this is fully supported by Amazon,” Chmielewski says.

When a Marlowe resident moves in, the resident schedules an appointment with an Amazon Smart Tech to activate the home and educate the resident on how to operate the products. During the appointment, the Amazon expert also hand-delivers welcome gifts, which include the Sonos with Alexa. If a customer chooses not to schedule an appointment, he or she can still use the built-in thermostat, blinds, lights, etc., without the ability to control the devices through voice commands via Amazon Alexa.

Looking forward, the appeal of smart apartment homes to residents should only grow, Chmielewski says.

“We build homes for the way people live and our intent is to upgrade our residents’ lives,” he says. “People are intrigued by smart homes, but also intimidated. We take the guess work out of it.”