The Pros and Cons of Smart Rental Homes
by Kevin Ortner, President and CEO, Renters Warehouse
Home owners are rushing to use connected devices to manage everything from home security to energy use. But does this technology make sense for those of us in the real estate and property management space?
The consumer market is now flooded with “smart” appliances (such as thermostats that manage energy use and refrigerators that create grocery lists). There are also complete home automation systems that allow for customization of lighting, entertainment, irrigation and security monitoring.
And in this brave new world, all of this can be managed at your fingertips - using your smartphone.
But for landlords, home automation is a slippery slope. On the one hand, there are many perks to be gained by installing connected devices in a rental unit, but there’s also the potential risk of security breaches, as well as several other complications. In addition, there’s the essential question of whether such upgrades are financially worthwhile investments. Does home automation truly make sense for rental units?
If you’re tempted to take part in this trend, there are a few things that you should know. So let’s dig into the pros and cons of smart home technologies to determine what’s right for you.
These systems make it easy for tenants to set their lighting to their ideal specifications, with limited hassle. Once the automation network is set up, tenants can control their lights with a swipe of their iPhones, or by using any control point interface that’s synced up with the network. Tenants may even want to set up pre-programmed “scenes” that allow any number of preset lights to turn on or off with a touch of a button. Smart lighting solutions can also save energy, since the system can be programmed to automatically turn off lights in empty rooms or when tenants are out of the home.
Cons: Older rentals may require upgrades to get the electrical system up to code before installing smart lighting technology. Depending on the system, automated lighting can also be costly to install.
Programmable thermostats are an attractive alternative to traditional thermostats, and offer many advantages for rental properties. The main benefit is through reduced energy costs. The Nest Programmable Thermostat is a popular option on the market. Nest thermostats are easy to program, so landlords can ensure that the rental home remains at an optimal, and reasonable temperature at all times. Nest is also easily accessible via smartphone or tablet, which means it’s simple to adjust one’s preferences at any time - even remotely.
Cons: According to some reports, Nest units can be unreliable. Users have reported issues with recharging, as well as trouble with the device disconnecting from the network. Then there’s the initial expense of shelling out $250. Nest’s big selling point is its sleek design, but for landlords on a budget, there are other, more basic options available. The Honeywell Programmable Thermostat is one such alternative, available for roughly half the price of Nest, and offers a number of similar convenient, and energy saving features.
Automated Security Systems
Automated security systems can be a great investment for rental properties. These systems include everything from security cameras that can be viewed remotely, to automated lighting and alarms. These systems are an especially good option for multi-unit rentals with common areas and multiple entries and exits. Security systems have been shown to reduce the chance of break-ins, and an automated system allows landlords to tune into their rental properties at any time, from anywhere.
Cons: Again, security cameras are a great investment, but you should be careful when deciding on a system. Wireless security systems can sometimes pick up interference from other wireless devices nearby, triggering false alarms. Also, wireless systems are vulnerable to hacks and security breaches. Before installing an automated security system, it’s important to take every precaution to ensure that the system is safe, making sure to choose a strong password and user name, as well as to only operate the device on a secure network.
Smart Irrigation Systems
Smart irrigation systems can be a great way for landlords to ensure that the landscape receives the water it needs, without having to depend on maintenance crews or tenants for daily upkeep. Smart irrigation systems today extend far beyond the simple sprinkler on a timer. They can be set to sync up with the weather forecast, and can take into account temperature precipitation factors. Some have on-location sensors that measure moisture in the soil to determine water usage. Other systems can be set up with a number of different “hydrozones,” ensuring that flowers get more water, while desert plants get less.
Cons: The installation of automated irrigation systems requires a significant initial investment. With automated irrigation systems, there’s more that can go wrong, and they are more costly to maintain, repair or replace should something happen. Also, it’s important to understand the needs of the property; many rentals have relatively simple landscaping that may not really warrant such a high-tech system.
Smart appliances offer a number of great benefits –especially for landlords who pay the utility bills. Smart laundry machines and dishwashers are designed to deliver optimal cleaning, while using the least amount of energy and water required. Smart refrigerators can notify the occupants if the door has been left open, and are also able to maximize energy efficiency by lowering power consumption during specific times of the day.
Cons: Smart appliances often cost quite a bit more than standard ones. While these are great luxury items, they may not significantly boost the appeal of a rental enough to offer the landlord a significant return on investment. An Energy Star appliance might be a better option for now.
Landlords often have to deal with securely providing unit access to contractors – which could be why remote access software is starting to become such a popular option for rentals. Remotely is one example of a remote entry software provider that attempts to make life easier for landlords. The app allows a landlord to adjust security systems remotely in order to allow temporary access for maintenance workers or repair technicians.
Cons: Remote access capabilities claim that they save time and effort, but this technology isn’t without its share of risks. Remote access systems are configured via the Internet, and as such they are vulnerable to being exploited or hacked. While some landlords assume that remote access will allow them to manage their rentals while they are away, this presents its own set of issues. As is true with most technology solutions, these systems aren’t infallible and sometimes require rebooting or resetting the router in order to work. For landlords, a potential alternative to remote access is to choose a reputable company that offers property management or home watch services while away. This provides absolute confidence that the rental will be safe and sound, with support from real-time human effort! Should the power go out, this option won’t need to be reset in order to work.
While there’s no doubt that new technologies continues to change things for the better, in some cases, there’s simply no substitute for old fashioned, reliable human ways. When assessing whether or not a new piece of technology could improve your rental, it’s important to consider three important deciding factors: is it financially viable, will it save me time, and is it safe and secure? I always recommend doing your homework to see what others are saying about the product before jumping on the bandwagon—no matter how tempting the flashy new product may be.