By: Rick Haughey, Vice President, Industry Technology Initiatives, NMHC

There’s a question I ask when I hear folks in the apartment industry pondering the deployment of smart locks in apartment homes: “when was the last time you used a metal key to gain access to your hotel room?” If the hotel industry figured out electronic door locks decades ago, the apartment industry can surely figure out smart locks today.

The advantages of deploying the locks in new apartment construction or retrofits goes way beyond the gee-whiz factor of appearing to provide the latest technology in exchange for a small rent bump. They can be a portal to opportunities presented by the new economy with potential advantages for residents and managers. What do I mean? Let’s look at a few opportunities that can be enabled by smart locks:

Self-guided tours: The online economy has reset customer expectations. For most transactions, they prefer 24/7 access and they prefer to DIY. The apartment shopper is fully informed by the time they arrive to tour an apartment property with access to ratings and reviews and other online resources. And many would be more than happy to tour the apartment on their own.

App-based services:  Dog-walking, housekeeping, meal, grocery, and dry-cleaning delivery are just a few of the on-demand services available to apartment residents through new app-based services. Smart apartment managers are coordinating these services for their residents and entering in to partnerships to get bulk discounts for their residents and revenue shares for themselves. Many of these services need temporary access to the community and to the apartment home.

Short-term rentals: The discussion around short-term rentals has evolved from stories about Airbnb partiers destroying apartment homes to discussions on risk and liability mitigation and new partnership opportunities. Short term rental units in apartment communities are being provided as a resident amenity and are disrupting traditional corporate housing. Entirely new business models are being tested, like the Niido apartments which are an apartment/ vacation-home hybrid model allowing residents to rent out their units or live in them or both. Smart locks are integral to controlling access.

Package delivery: The growing volume of resident packages being delivered to apartments has been a major operational challenge for the past few years. From lockers to off-site package storage and delivery, any viable solution is being tested. Amazon recently announced in-home delivery for Prime customers in 37 US cities and surrounding areas. Carriers are given access via smart locks to drop off packages in apartment homes. While not a solution for everyone, it is another smart-lock-enabled opportunity.

While smart locks face many of the same threats encountered in our increasingly online world, they are also becoming required hardware to realize the full potential of the new economy. Smart apartment managers will figure out how to minimize the risk and maximize the return.

Rick Haughey is Vice President for Industry Technology Initiatives for the National Multifamily Housing Council.

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