Wi-Fi Reigns Above All Else for Connectivity & Technology
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interior study area

By Ellen Ryan |

July 21, 2022 |

Updated August 4, 2022

6 minutes

Students reap rewards of resident technology.

A Sacramento State University undergrad walks into the Asset Living property Wexler. The secure front door connects with the Bluetooth on her mobile phone app and lets her through. Passing several hallway cameras, she opens her own door—with the app again—to an apartment preset to the perfect temperature. 

She skips the smart TV because it’s time for her 2 p.m. video lecture, which lightning-fast Wi-Fi flawlessly delivers. While watching, she opens a box picked up the night before from the 24/7 package/rental locker downstairs—along with, perhaps someday, a vacuum cleaner. (Why buy a vacuum when she and her roomies can rent one on occasion and put it back? A potential future amenity.) 

“Interconnectivity has become a standard in the industry,” says Jessica Mancuso, New Development Marketing Director at Asset Living. “It’s what students want and expect in their apartment homes.”

The latest in technology makes sense for student housing, executives say, because students are used to it from their own homes. Parents appreciate the security of electronic locks and cameras, especially when it’s their children’s first time off campus. 

For student housing management companies, too, smart technology offers many advantages. These systems:

  • Alert authorities to danger faster and more dependably than people typically do.
  • Provide peace of mind that no stranger or ex-partner can pick up a key or card to get into a unit.
  • Protect staff by tracking movements in and out of apartments in case of problems.
  • Save energy: During winter and summer breaks, smart thermostats keep units from extreme temperatures and alert management to unusual situations such as open windows.
  • Free staff from routine to do more complex or creative work.
  • Detect leaks in fire and water lines. “That pays for itself pretty quickly,” says Katie Campbell, VP of Technology at Landmark Properties.

And more. Security may be the most obvious draw, but internet and smart-home hubs may prove the most ultimately useful.

Security (R)evolution

When today’s executives were in college, they propped open outside doors with bricks when friends and pizza were expected, hopped fences and ran around with impunity (even, sometimes, after curfew). “I’m pretty sure I racked up $25 fines for losing my key at least once a month,” says one executive. 

No more. Smart locks at every entrance—main, garage, elevators, pool, clubhouse, corridors—mean no keys or even cards to carry. Codes are on the way out, too. “When it’s individuals on a lease, codes have a way of getting into others’ hands, and roommates may not be comfortable with that,” says Campbell. 

Even older fobs can be copied. “Bluetooth credentials can’t,” she notes. “If you break or lose your phone, you need a new credential.”

Next year, Landmark’s The Standard Bloomington will open with smart doorbell and window security in all units. In addition, when a guest or delivery arrives, residents will see a video image of the main entrance intercom on their touchscreen and can let the person in (or not). 

Smart locks also allow for contact tracing. With COVID, once a student or other user reports becoming ill, Servitas LLC can trace his or her movements through the building and alert authorities and other recent users of the same doors and study rooms.

Cameras are everywhere these days—over 150 in some Landmark projects. But “for us, they’re less about security and more about damages,” says Campbell, whether it’s a drunken incident or someone with glass or a dog in the pool area. “In student housing, you have a lot more damage than in your typical multifamily.”

Tech Benefits and Drawbacks 

An upside of technology is less need for onsite staff, such as guards and front-desk workers. Maintenance can respond just to leak alerts rather than hunt for problems preventatively.

“The average 450-bed community receives 70,000 to 80,000 packages a year—books, clothes, food, everything,” says Servitas Senior VP of Operations David Braden. An automated locker system takes a huge burden off staff.

Property management software that handles move-in and move-out is especially helpful for student properties where so much moving happens in about a week. Getting rent paid, leases signed, utilities approved, credentials and codes handed over and so on online for 70% to 80% of residents frees up staff for other matters, says Campbell.

“It saves our sanity,” she says. “Staff can help instead with boxes, stairs, have refreshments for residents and parents—it makes an easier day for everyone.”

There are some downsides to technology in the modern era: “If the internet’s down, it’s awful,” says Braden. “They’d rather have that than water and electricity.” And demand keeps growing. Students may arrive with a laptop, tablet, TV, game console, smart watch and more.

Then there’s the cost of constantly upgrading and maintaining bandwidth and equipment. Can the building’s network withstand 100% usage? How long will what we buy today last? How do we budget for all this? How do we use it to its full capacity? How do we keep staff up to date?

For many years, Braden made eight- to 10-year internet agreements; “now I won’t do longer than five years.” Giving up cable doesn’t balance the budget on all this, though it helps. 

Speaking of looking ahead, “we don’t know what’ll be cool in three years,” says Campbell. To solve the problem of what to buy for future residents, Landmark went with a hybrid smart-home hub for each unit. 

It handles a base level of devices—unit and bedroom locks, door/window open notification, leak detector, thermostat, smart dimmable light switch and video visitor management—and residents can add a few of their own, such as a smart speaker or smart outlets. Residents run apps through a touchscreen. 

When the lease is up, management sets the unit back to default. “You need a management portal on the back-end,” she says. “If you don’t have that for the smart products you install, your staff would have to factory-reset those products when occupancy changes.”

Mancuso believes all this technology can only get better as managers get smarter about automated intelligence. As for the financial side, adds Braden, “I constantly look at new technology and how we can be more cost-efficient.” 

Students simply reap the rewards.

Software Can Save Both Time and $$$$

Two new software systems are helping Asset Living’s student division save money and time and do better by its youthful population. 

A third-party partnership will allow student residents to choose one or more roommates with the help of a questionnaire that asks compatibility questions about such things as study habits, noise tolerance and pet ownership. 

Once a resident signs a lease, he or she is invited to participate; the software automatically updates the property’s leasing software with the resident’s selections. In the pilot stage this past spring at about a dozen Asset Living properties, for some 5,000 to 6,000 residents, the program will roll out more broadly this fall ahead of the 2023-24 school year.

“We are optimistic that this will free up our team and will mean happier residents, leading to higher retention and renewal rates,” says Stacey Lecocke, Executive Vice President of Student Operations, who oversees Asset Living’s student housing division.

Another software experiment paying off: A chatbot on 86 properties’ websites and social media sites that handles such basic questions as “Do you have parking?” “Are pets allowed?” “Can I have a tour?” 

In the first quarter of 2022 alone, the bots responded to 52,000 inquiries, saving the company more than 16,000 staff hours and $300,000. It also set more than 2,100 appointments. 

“You’d think people would read the website,” Lecocke says. “But this way we answer their questions and save staff time for the serious prospects.”

 

Ellen Ryan is a freelance contributor to units Magazine.