Smart Tech in a Renter’s World

Smart features to attract and retain renters

By Julia Malisos 

Some homebuyers have put purchasing on pause due to increased prices and bidding wars. Thus, rentals continue to be a strong market and a more viable option for many households. However, similar to for-sale homes, rentals have risen in price. 

According to Rent.com, the following five U.S. cities have experienced the biggest increases in one-bedroom rent prices year-over-year: Long Beach, CA  (56.7%); Chandler, AZ (50.8%); Amarillo, TX (46.6%); Huntington Beach, CA (44.9%) and Jersey City, NJ (43.6%). Prices across the nation are high, but the demand is there, so what features are making elevated rents more tolerable?

The National Apartment Association lists “smart upgrades” as their number one renter preference. This means anything that “makes life easier through technology.” Such features include app-based security systems, thermostats that can be controlled through smart devices and web portals that enable residents to stay “in the know” with community activity, as well as pay their rent. 

The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) reports that 37% of renters live in apartments, 44.1 million households are renters and 5.4 million apartment households are single women. Furthermore, their 2022 NMHC/Grace Hill Renter Preferences Survey Report, a study on home features and amenities that residents find important and worth the cost, found that out of the 62% of residents who telecommute, 40% telecommute daily and 30% telecommute several days a week (results as of March 2022). 

This article focuses on smart technology that renters are searching for to meet their lifestyle demands and make higher rent prices more palatable. 

Most people who telecommute do so from their home. In order to accommodate the on-going trend of location flexibility, there must be infrastructure to support it. Demands on digital networks are vast, including download speeds, VPN connectivity and virtual meetings often accompanied by screen sharing. These actions put stress on telecommunications infrastructure and residential communities should be aware of that if they are looking to attract certain clientele. Buildings need to be wired with dependable high speed internet and a secured wireless system that residents can easily connect to. 

Recently, I was touring a number of stunning apartment buildings developed by Salt Development in Salt Lake City. While walking through, I noticed people actually using the communal areas to work. People were on their laptops, speaking on their phones and drinking a fresh cup of coffee from the coffee bar and, although they were sharing a space, no one was phased by working in an open setting. It was evident that these buildings were designed with the vision of allowing residents to use these spaces effectively and joyfully, feeling comfortable in their rental living environment. A true rental development success.

Besides wireless networks, other smart features desired by renters include smart plugs with built-in USB ports, smart locks and camera-doorbells for an enhanced sense of security. Small features can make a significant difference on how a property is perceived, the number of interested renters and tenant retention. ButterflyMX reports that 86% of millennial apartment renters are willing to pay more for smart apartment amenities compared to 65% of baby boomers. Millennials gravitate toward amenities that make their lives easier, like smart locks, in-unit laundry, food-delivery options and electronic payment systems, while senior renters favor safety-focused amenities such as security systems. 

Smart technology spans from simple plugs to community networks and a multitude of features in between. These upgrades range in complexity and costs, yet are proving to be as equally important to renters as they are for buyers. Whether it is due to post-pandemic lifestyle re-prioritization or simply the ability to work from home, smart technology is a feature that renters are willing to pay for. 

The demand for rentals is present and competition is high. Renters have the ability to move around by ending a lease, so this begs the question of how to attract and retain renters. Smart technology is the up-and-coming amenity that may be the answer to getting that lease signed and enhancing the lifestyle of your tenants.

Julia Malisos, LEED AP is a Principal of Planning/Community Design at WHA Architecture. Julia can be reached at juliam@whainc.com.