connecting that shinny new CES-rated smart device to benefit you, the landlord

gadgets aplenty but do they add value

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show pitched several exciting new devices to make your home cool, fun and provide convenience. Now that the dust has settled since then, which devices in 2020 help you manage properties? Baron lists a few which might live up to the hype. Some do. Some do not. The benefit may be less for you, but more for your tenant.

Home Security – (for the absentee or remote landlord)

My experience former insurance adjuster’s ‘spidy’-sense informs me that an occupied property with responsive tenants has no comparison. If you lack these, here are some possible free ‘human’ resources before you sink more money into your rental:

  • enlist nosy neighbors to keep watch over your vacant property (and tenants once it is occupied)-give them your contact info
  •  hold periodic property chats with your HOA manager (after all you are paying for this)
  •  keeping your home looking sharp-, modest, and to the extent possible, looking lived in. In the security world, this is called making your home a ‘hard-target’. Also, step up visit frequency of unoccupied properties

However, since everyone likes buying CES’s new ‘shinny’ things, here are a few recommendations.

-Preventing thieves from breaking in (exterior)–Insurance calls this FREQUENCY

  • a door cam (real or fake)
  • a semi-conspicuous sign or window sticker stating that the house monitored by a security service (real or fake)
  • Activating different interior/exterior lights on random days, window coverings, televisions, etc remotely. Hence, remotely activating these via your smart phone become advantageous when managing an unoccupied residence.

Once inside, preventing additional interior damage/theft–Insurance calls this SEVERITY

  • a trip-wire which activates some type of visible and loud-irritating audible alarm inside the house– and alerts you (and others-preferably the police) by text or phone.
  • A home speaker that activates allowing speaking and listening to your home as thieves are inside.

After the property is breached, the damage was done and all are alerted, how quickly the restoration gets completed–Insurance term for this is LOSS CONTROL

  • Absent a property manager, or yourself, contact Thumbtack or another repair service. Don’t be shy about granting access through a keyed entry if you are remote LL. Give them authority by phone/text to complete all repairs and send you a report. Most accept credit cards, PayPal or Zelle. Ask for photos. Many localities have hundreds of an on-call service providers who can arrive before you or your property manager. Don’t quibble about price. The main thing at this point is to prevent further damage and secure the property as best as possible until a complete assessment can be made. *Note: If the property is occupied, do not completely hand over repair responsibility to your tenants. Rely on an expert. An added benefit is that as the owner you now have a second set of eyes, and may even obtain a more complete property report.
  • If you have property insurance, reach out to their 24-hour service number. Ask for their preferred contractors to arrive out ASAP.
  • If you or your property manager are unable to arrive in a reasonable time to assess the damage, the preferred contractor’s assessment (i.e property damage estimate) will become the official document describing the damage.
  • Obtain a police report if a crime has been committed. Now that the home is secure, the paperwork begins. The police report may include photos and may be purchased and retrieved online. If you have time to speak with the investigator before this document is finalized, be sure to add any contents or damage that might be missed. The investigator will also inform you the status of the case. This final report may be used later when the claim is adjusted, so the greater the detail the more you may receive from the insurance company.
  • If you have tenants, and you purchased a homeowner policy for rentals, be sure to have the adjuster place the tenants in new temporary digs ASAP- and – pay you for loss of rental income. After all, you paid for the insurance. Go ahead and use it. * Note: if you live in the US and rent your property, there is a strong likelihood that your renters secretly sub-rent your property to others using AirBnB or similar service. Don’t let this fact worry you. Insurance companies know this. This income is also covered (to some extent) if you carry the renter’s insurance. (Remember, you are ‘the insured’ so your tenants would not be entitled to loss-of-use coverage.) If you only have standard homeowners (fire) insurance, loss-of-use will not be covered.
  • Squeamish about dealing with insurance? You can always hire a public adjuster. However, although they promise higher returns and take the hassle-factor away from you, Baron discourages this, since they are paid from the proceeds. Additionally, most public adjusters seek large multi-million dollar fire loss claims and will treat your broken window claim contemptuously. Many good property managers gladly accept this responsibility at no additional charge.

Leak Detection

From the vantage point of a property owner, a leak detector may not be worth it in most cases if the house is occupied. Responsible tenants will let you know before most gadgets. If you have an area that is prone to leaking (frequency) it might be better to perform a more extensive repair that would lessen the likelihood of this event occurring. Ask a plumber for advice. That said, here is one device which might be worth investigating.

Flo by Moen detects leaks, but also humidity and temperature. Can be installed anywhere in the house.

Smart Lighting (indoor)

Although there are no statistics on this fact, Baron imagines that most homes currently have-, or will obtain some type of smart interior lighting. Smart lighting is defined as bulbs or fixtures which can be operated remotely. *Note, an argument can be made that an unoccupied property looks ‘lived-in’ when interior lights are activated and deactivated. However, the greatest benefit of installing smart lighting is for the convenience of the tenants. It is also a good selling point to prospective tenants. Motion-activated lights will save you money as they automatically shut off when not in use. As such, Baron recommends making every light smart by changing out the switch and not the bulbs.

  • Brilliant is more than an upscale light switch. It can be the hub of a interoperable connected home. Like Tesla, the software is constantly updated, increasing functionality and providing new features. No subscription required.

Smart lighting (exterior)

Similar to interior lights, the tenants receive the lion-share of the benefit of smart lighting outside of the home. Nothing beats a summer backyard barbecue when the sun goes down. Professionally placed permanent exterior lighting may also increase the home value-especially if a pool or landscape is featured (Baron questions the value solar-powered lawn lights which are cost and energy effective, somewhat diminish the look of many yards. Don’t @me!) Motion-activated floodlights around the home provide light where and when needed, and also make the home lived in. Although Brilliant can also be configured for this purpose as well, here is one recommendation from CES:

Signify‘s new pedestal outdoor lighting collection.

Door Cameras

Recent reports suggest that door cameras prevent crime. However, the benefits seem to be overshadowed by real privacy concerns. How would you, the owner, like to receive a suit for an unauthorized video depicting an unsuspecting tenant? Many door cameras also requires purchasing a subscription and accepting the company’s ever-changing privacy policy. Wirecutter recently pulled its endorsement of these devices due to security security risks. As such, Baron recommends either a fake door camera or one which the owner or tenant owns and controls 100% of the video.

Door Locks (exterior doors)

In the past, Baron strongly recommended companies like Kevo, Schlage Link and August. Each has the main benefit of a physical key as well as remote access options. A physical key provided to tenants is required in most jurisdictions (see the previous article). Generally, tenants enjoy remote locks. Walmart and Amazon now can enter homes to deliver items using them. However, as a landlord who regularly uses these on several properties over several years, the following events happened:

  • Tenants are unable to replace the door lock batteries when required or find it difficult. Schlage is easiest, Kevo is the most difficult, but Kevo conveniently nags the owner until the tenant replaces them.
  • Tenants steal them outright or damage these locks. Some cost over $250.
  • The Kevo app often does not correctly pass a usable key to an authorized person until the door is opened first. Also, Kevo forces the new user to download their app with an email invite (something handymen find clunky). Kevo does not have an override option allowing the owner to open the door remotely.
  • The design of the physical lock from the outside of the house is unlike other neighborhood doors-featuring a keypad or fancy design (often better looking in most case) possibly alerting that the house is a rental

As such, Baron considers Level Lock, which is otherwise invisible and uses your smart home network. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there is a wait-list. Why should anyone know you have a smart lock?

Door Locks (interior)

Except for bathrooms, most homes do not need interior door locks. If you rent with public housing assistance, HUD, bedroom door locks are specifically forbidden. As such, if you must, Baron would only recommend Level Lock. Dumb door looks are the best option for interior doors. The only exception to this would be if you use a remote Garage Door Opener, and have an interior door to the home. This door between the home and garage might require a remote lock. Amazon, to prevent porch theft, offers the option to deliver inside of the garage, after giving them access to your garage door.

Garage Door remote

Following the interior door discussion, an owner or landlord would have little- or no need for remote access to your property’s garage door. This device is a poster child for gadget excess. If a person needed access to the house on a one-time or limited basis, it would be easier to grant them access to the front door. That said, your tenant may find the Chamberlain-Amazon Delivery service of some use. Baron’s advice: Beware of granting anyone access to your home. Also, if you are a remote LL, why would you or a tenant need to remotely open the garage door?


Browsing the articles on Smart-TV’s I learned that manufacturers now partially subsidize the costs of new their high definition televisions through bundling of services and service providers like Roku. Data collection is a point of concern. Still, I am considering permanently affixing an inexpensive, 4K TV on a conspicuous wall inside one of the higher-rent homes, to appeal to a future tenant. Most UHD TVs sell for under 500 dollars, and this cost is often less than other appliances. It will likely be used even more. Otherwise, these devices have little LL benefit inside of an occupied home. I’ll need to remember to transfer the services and any digital access to incoming tenants.

Smart Speakers

Like televisions, the occupant gains virtually the entire benefit from these gadgets. Owning a smart speaker is also not without liability. Tech companies monitor and store your most intimate conversations for their own benefit. In the recent past, Alexa listened a hosted event where a murder occurred. A judge ordered Amazon to release the recording. If a landlord wishes to install one of these permanently, please be certain to de-link it from your account, transfer service to the tenant (with the option of them not using it) and add this to your lease agreement. Besides the aforementioned liability, these devices are wildly entertaining, popular and ubiquitous. The only scenario whereby a speaker would be of ‘some’ value to a landlord is in the event there is an unauthorized entry into your unoccupied residence. Assuming you were alerted (via another camera or sensor) somehow of the break-in you would be able to cast your voice inside of your unoccupied home. Google Home allows users to remotely (via the internet) ‘cast’ voices, or sounds through their devices to speak to occupants and possibly interact with them in real time. It should be noted that this is a one-way transmission. The speaker’s robust volume suffices for a normal-sized house. Sadly (or fortunately) however, the other party is unable to speak back through the device. However, a voice from afar might scare them away if you happen to be alerted in that moment. (Hey, its better than nothing). Brilliant similarly employs an intercom feature allowing both video and two-way conversation. Individuals must be within the viewing range of the light switch for this functionality to work, however.

Getting back to Smart Speakers Baron gives a cautious recommends a permanently installed the Sonos Soundbar–which provides two benefits: 1) After being blown back into your seat watching the Millennium Falcon go into hyperspace (for the millionth time), you may then ask Alexa or Google Assistant to tell you the weather, and 2) Sonos’ ecosystem includes thousands of free HD quality stations (unlike Sirus XM or HD radio), looks and sounds great, doesn’t spy on you, and seamlessly connects with other Smart TVs and other connected devices and subscription services such as Pandora and Spotify.

Smart Blinds and Window coverings

These devices will certainly add appeal to your residence. Like the smart lights, they may also have the added benefit of giving your unoccupied place the ‘lived in’ looks. That said, nearly all of the smart window coverings have downsides

  • If they use batteries, tenants may not replace them for years causing the casings to decay
  • If they are hard-wired and are not professionally installed, the cabling looks unappealing.
  • Solar-powered coverings seem to be not cost-effective.

Somfy and other companies are constantly updating their product lines making these devices more reliable and desirable. However, like the garage door openers, they demonstrate little value for most landlords–and only increase the time and cost of make readies during tenant move-outs.

In conclusion

For the professional landlord, there are only two environments for smart devices. For an unoccupied home, absent a human being, the smart device gives you a window to your home and provides access to others to view your property or perform repairs. As such connected homes have, and will continue to streamline traditional property management functions. For the occupied home, smart devices provides a benefit to the tenant. An ‘always-connected home’ is mandatory for their functioning, meaning property owners must be willing to pay for internet service at all times. To limit liability, property owners need to be frank and open with tenants (in writing) about what devices are ‘on’ and be certain to transfer their service to the tenant–or cancel it outright– once the tenant moves in.

As always, your comments are welcome.