Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pondering the Apartment of the Future

Industry executives took some time out with Multi-Housing News this month to muse about their visions for the apartment of the future. (View the full article here.) A number of various themes were discussed, including security, access control, wireless services, and even digital artwork. Even with the hodgepodge of viewpoints, the overriding ideas seem to be increased differentiation and site control for owners, greater customization and services available for the resident, and a greater effort to promote connectivity between the two.

And thinking of customization, what will rents look like in the future? If a resident will be able to configure their apartment to their preferences, and they will be able to select various upgrade packages for in-home electronics and other amenities, doesn't it make sense to move toward a variable rent model? Allowing residents to upgrade their apartment will make it feel more like a home, and create great opportunities to increase rental income per unit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Steal Thy Neighbor's Internet

As wireless Internet becomes more readily available, it's quickly becoming much easier to log on for free wherever you go, especially in urban areas. In an article on CNN/Money, Steve Hargreaves covers the increasingly popular activity of logging onto a nearby WiFi connection. (View the full article here.)

Legally, there are many questions still unanswered about this kind of "theft." Federal prosecution is decided on a case by case basis. Local laws can sometimes offer more clarity. In any case, it appears like it will be difficult to determine what liability issues exist. It should be noted that a man in Florida was arrested last month for stealing Internet from a home while sitting nearby in his parked vehicle. (More on this here.)

One interesting point for the multifamily industry: one expert cited in the article specifically mentions that cases in multifamily communities may be handled differently, and with less regard, than those in single-family neighborhoods. As an owner, it will become increasingly more common to offer ubiquitous wireless access as an amenity in units and throughout a property's common areas. It will also become increasingly more important to ensure that your provider offers access that is properly secured and restricted to residents and staff members. Fusion Broadband is one such service provider that offers secure WiFi in the unit as an add-on to their regular high speed Internet service.

Monday, August 08, 2005

DirecTV Just Got Easier

DirecTV announced last week that they have introduced a simplified system to deliver their television programming to apartments and condominiums. (View the release here.) This new receives over 225 channels from multiple satellites and distributes them over a single wire to the living unit. The resident can still get all of their national, local and high-definition programming as well.

Previously the DirecTV system required multiple wires running to each apartment, which increased installation costs and limited service options. MDU Communications, a leading provider of DirecTV services to multifamily communities, was the first dealer to utilize the new technology in a 274-unit property in lower Manhattan.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Building Security: For Best Results, Use Layers

An article by Maxwell Stevens of RTKL that was recently published in Buildings Magazine covers some of the designs and equipment being used in today's access control and intrusion detection systems. (View the full article here.) The article suggests utilizing a multiple-layered design - he refers to these layers as "rings."

Rings of Security
In a multifamily environment, security is an important issue to consider for any property. Using this ring concept, the perimeter security ring at an apartment community might include a boundary fence, an access gate controlled by a card reader or a toll-style RFID reader, and a telephone intercom system to allow guests to request entry into the community. Surveillance cameras could be mounted to record activities at the gate and around the property.

The second ring might include more card or RFID readers at garages, individual buildings, and any common areas like a clubhouse that the owner may want to restrict access. Parking lots and outdoor common areas should be well lit and can be monitored by more security cameras.

A third ring of security would include cameras that monitor interior hallways and electronic door locks on individual unit doors. These electronic door locks offer powerful reporting tools for property owners. Also, they do not need to be rekeyed when residents move out, and they can still be used when the power goes out. (See an example here.) Individual monitored security alarm systems can also be installed in the property's offices and each living unit.

Student Housing
An extra ring of security is also appearing, particularly in student housing communities. With the popularity of the lease by the bed leasing format, many students could possibly be living with suitemates that they don't know and don't necessarily like or trust. For this reason, some student housing developers are adding electronic door locks at each bedroom door. And rather than a set of keys, residents only require a single card to access their suite, their room, and all the property amenities such as the fitness center and laundry facilities.

Mixed Use/Lifestyle Centers
The "Lifestyle Center," or mixed-use development - a community-centric development that usually incorporates a mix of residential, retail and commercial spaces into a pedestrian-friendly setting - has gained incredible popularity in recent years. Security and access control play an important part in the planning of any mixed-use project: residents need to maintain their privacy and feel secure, but they do not want to be completely secluded from the activity in the rest of the community. And because smart design is such an important feature of these engaging projects, the security systems need to do their job without detracting from the overall aesthetic appeal of the building.

As the article states, security systems are becoming a "key element in protecting life and property" for building owners and their residents. Do your residents feel secure? In the current age of heightened security almost everywhere, what else can be done to thwart would-be criminals? Should security systems be integrated into the initial design planning process, right along with the mechanical and electrical systems? After all, aren't they just as important to your residents?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Will I Need to Reboot My Home Theater?

Digital packets. Everywhere.

This is the new face of how we produce, distribute and consume media in today's "digital lifestyle." Essentially any information or content that can be recorded - movies, music, books, magazines, television, radio, phone conversations - is being stored and distributed as digital packets of information. And as consumers get more acquainted with the Internet and newer technologies such as IPTV, RSS feeds, and podcasting, they'll be looking for simpler, more convenient ways to access all of their media when and where they please.

An article from MediaDailyNews discusses how the personal computer is emerging as the device of choice for consumers looking for a centralized hub for all of their personal media. (View the full article here.) Some of the statistics reported by the market research firms cited in the article seem to indicate a growing familiarity and interest in these "digital media hubs." (It does seem that the studies were conducted primarily online, which could possibly skew the data toward those with a higher propensity to be interested in such technologies.) And with Microsoft and others putting big dollars into software development for these systems, its easy to see that this interest will continue to grow.

As interest grows in these media hubs, progressive real estate developers should be thinking about the capabilities that become possible with a media server in every home in a community. Cable/satellite TV and high-speed Internet are becoming common amenities at many properties, but what's next? Maybe on-demand videos or XM radio in your unit. Maybe you could access your iPod from the billiards room in the clubhouse. How about content packages customized for each resident. (It's not as far off as it sounds.) Really, who wants to wait for Netflix when you can download a movie from the leasing office anytime in a matter of minutes? Developers who are interested in such options should be looking to partner with those who understand how the techology is progressing and being used. A smartly designed property and great partnerships with your content providers will go a long way to make your community stand out in the eyes of today's tech-savvy buyer.