Landlords:… And the most popular tech holiday gift for 2018 is…

‘Addictive,’ is the term used by one columnist to describe this trend. It should come as a no surprise. The 2018 winner is: Smart Home devices.

So far this year 19 million smart speakers have been shipped, and the season is not yet over. (Full disclosure, Baron Property Management specializes in technology for landlords.) Other Smart Home devices are projected to top tech holiday sales this year making Smart homes officially ‘a thing.’ Currently, home-tech owners desire to purchase more and newbies plan on gifting these devices to their loved ones.

What are some ways to leverage this trend as a landlord? First, just knowing there is broad interest this year itself provides property owners a ‘reason’ to investigate and consider purchasing your first device. Your tenants probably have interest. Installing home automation will: peak their interest, make your property more attractive to prospective tenants, and possibly even help in retaining them during lease renewals. Introducing the most basic home tech may keep your residential unit from becoming irrelevant in competitive property markets.

OK. So much for the sales pitch. Now here are some practical steps.

For landlords new to smart homes, I suggest basic lighting to start. Several are available. Tenants control these items using their smartphones. Some do not require a hub or even an internet connection. When showing a home to tenants, managers may provide convincing tenant demonstrations. Only a smartphone and the device is needed. Bulbs may be purchased from any big-box retailer (or Amazon) and require just replacing them into an existing socket.

For property owners having some knowledge and experience, perhaps upping your game to the next level would include a smart lock or doorbell. (Regarding the doorbell, this device will most likely become extinct since most Millennials announce their entry via text).

The best landlord tech works even without being smart. Many smart locks also have a physical key in addition to the remote control. Many smart lights usually operate using a conventional wall-mounted switch. Additionally, smart-doorbells look and work just like regular ones. Those extra remote features (such as cameras & speakers’ added protection of parcels on the porch and driveways from would-be-thieves – do so without owners/tenants needing to do anything extra). One smart doorbell manufacturer broadcasts a C.O.P.S style production showing crimes in progress!

For veterans to home automation, one real estate professional suggests property owners provide tenants ‘access’ to music and movie subscription services, in addition to offering a separate paid-for Wi-Fi account. Consider preparing move-in ready properties complete with connected speakers, 4K televisions and streaming boxes.

Regardless of your skill level, it is crucial for landlords to clearly ‘transfer’ autonomous control of these devices to the tenants when the lease begins. Also, Baron never recommends sharing Wi-Fi accounts with tenants for similar liability risks. (instead, landlords should pay services fees for ‘tenant-maintained’ wi-fi. Like another paid utility, the wi-fi should operate 24/7 in some cases)

A recent article from a real estate site provides an excellent overview of home tech for landlords. The criteria for each property owner differs. Steps include:

*Specifying how you want smart home devices to improve your rental
*Selecting the right equipment (s)
*Deciding how the tenants will control the device(s)
*Knowing how you will connect to these devices – and when
*Benefits of a Smart Home

However, the main categories are:

1. Access control/surveillance during periods of vacancy. (Interior cameras, leak detection units, locks, security systems)
2. Providing a tenant benefit or retention tool. (light bulbs, speakers, TV, entertainment subscription services, door bells with exterior facing cameras/speakers)
3. Control home features remotely (lights, HVAC, mini blinds, water sprinklers)

A definite recommendation before purchasing any home automation tech involves performing a cost-benefit analysis of what you may need. Also, recommended is staying away from any tech requiring a subscription after your initial purchase. Some individuals shy away from devices collecting personal information. Finally, for items which the tenant will control during occupancy, clearly delineate the subject and any costs in the lease agreement.

My favorite item for 2018 is a (non-Alexa enabled) $60 bathroom fan sold a Home Depot. It functions just like most hard-wired ceiling fans controlled by a wall switch. However using Bluetooth from a cell phone (no-Wi-Fi needed), occupants can broadcast their Spotify or music subscription service through a fairly decent speaker. It also illuminates the entire bathroom with blue light for late nights when the standard white light would be irritatingly too bright. After installing this Smart Home speaker in my home, I’ve also installed two additional units a ‘lease-renewal’ benefit to the delight of my tenants.

I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Happy Holidays
Baron Property Management