Friday, December 07, 2007

Wi-Fi With Care

A couple new federal rules meant to protect us from two very different things will have a direct effect on property owners who offer Wi-Fi services to their residents. If you put up a hotspot in the clubhouse or by the pool, keep reading...

CALEA
The first law is called CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) -- it's meant to give law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security the ability to conduct surveillance. It went into effect earlier this year, and it requires telecommunications carriers and equipment manufacturers to "modify and design their equipment, facilities, and services to ensure that [law enforcement agencies] have the necessary surveillance capabilities."

The way I understand it, if you, the property owner/manager, own any piece of active electronics used to deliver public Wi-Fi (or any other telecommunications service, for that matter) anywhere on your property, you could be obligated to comply with a warrant for information about a user on your network. This means capturing and sending Internet communications in real time to the law enforcement agency or another third party. This can be complicated and expensive, so it's best left to the ISP -- their network should already be CALEA-compliant.

Check with your ISP and your communications attorney to see if you could be subject to CALEA requirements.

SAFE Act
Just this week, the House of Representatives voted on legislation called the SAFE Act (Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online). While CALEA is meant to protect us from possible terrorists, SAFE is meant to protect us from kiddie porn.

Anyone providing an “electronic communication service” or “remote computing service” to the public who learns about the transmission of certain illegal activities or an illegal image must (a) register a bunch of information with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s “CyberTipline” and (b) “make a report” that must include information about the suspected person or Internet address and the illegal images themselves.
Supposedly, this bill won't require you to police your Internet, but we'll just have to wait and see how the final legislation is interpreted by the courts.

More commentary on the SAFE Act here, here and here.

Wi-Fi is a great amenity to offer -- it's become almost universally available and expected by residents. It's not going to go away anytime soon, either. However, it's increasingly becoming a requirement to outsource the service. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you hang an access point from Best Buy in your leasing office, and consider providing some basic resources about wireless security if you allow your residents to install their own access points.

You didn't really expect them to make this any easier for you, did you?

Monday, November 26, 2007

HD Ready for the Masses, But Are the Masses Ready?

High definition home theater is not quite an option for every consumer, but it is getting much closer, according to a recent report.

HDTVs with the best resolution (1080p) now start at around $1,000, and HD DVD players start at $299. As with all consumer electronics, the prices will continue to come down.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that almost 10% of American adults plan to buy a flat-panel television this Christmas season, and 8% more said they'll go for HD during the holiday hangover clearance sales.

Here's the problem: Everyone wants a fancy new high-def television, but few people actually know how to hook them up or get HD channels on the screen.
Consumers aren't even aware of what they don't know. One survey shows that about 20% of HDTV owners in the U.S. mistakenly think they're watching high-def programming when they're not. As the Dallas Morning News reports:

Often that's because they went into a store, bought a fancy television, went home and plugged it into their regular cable outlet and assumed they were now watching high-definition programming.
"People are very interested [in HD], but we also find that people aren't quite sure what that means," said a spokesman for Panasonic. "They're not really aware of what they need to get high definition."

TV makers and retailers are working to reverse that trend, because unhappy customers generally lead to returned televisions and lost sales. Your video service providers should do the same ... education about HD services can often lead to sales of premium channel packages and other digital services.

For multifamily property owners, the key is to understand that HDTVs, and particularly flat-panel TVs, are here to stay. Help residents find a way to recycle that old tube set. Work with your service provider to let your residents know what equipment they'll need to get the services they expect.

In new buildings, plan your unit layouts accordingly -- flat TVs mean that units can potentially get smaller. In the living room, reinforce the wall at the TV location, and consider adding an extra outlet higher on the wall so residents can hang their new toy.

It looks like it's going to be another busy holiday shopping season, and electronics are at the top of many wishlists ... What else can you do over the next few months to ensure that your residents are watching the big game in style come February?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Traffic Jam: Another FCC Ruling to Watch

A company called Vuze -- a cool online video site similar to Joost -- has filed a complaint with the FCC, asking the agency to stop broadband Internet providers from blocking or slowing peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic. Depending on how this ends up, this is a bigger deal than you would think for apartments ... more on that in a minute.

Vuze uses the popular BitTorrent P2P service to distribute its videos. Their petition asks the FCC to set rules restricting 'network management' by ISPs. Vuze's filing follows recent reports that cable broadband provider Comcast is slowing some P2P traffic, including BitTorrent.

Vuze rightly claims that ISPs like Comcast sometimes slow access to P2P services like their's. One Vuze executive said, "They say that they're engaging in reasonable network management, but what they're doing is slowing down some traffic."

Here's my question: Have you ever been driving in traffic and not had to slow down at some point during your trip?
The fact is, some traffic management is necessary in multifamily communities to ensure that all residents who are trying to get online will have a reasonably good connection speed.

If the ISP doesn't manage the traffic coming and going from a building, then all of the bandwidth to that property could potentially be consumed by a few heavy users -- effectively choking off others' connections by downloading a lot of music, photos, vidoes and other large files. I wouldn't do business with an ISP that didn't have a strategy for managing P2P traffic in a densely-populated apartment community.

(While we're at it ... This is another good reason to keep security systems, surveillance cameras and other IP-based in-building communications systems off of a shared resident network. Do you really want your monitoring systems choked off by the guy upstairs downloading the complete first season of 'The Office'? Probably not.)

ISPs should not decide by themselves how to treat access to any website, including Internet-based file-sharing services. However, while I agree that large-scale content blocking should probably be prohibited, properly administered network management by the ISP is a necessary and good thing for property owners who want to ensure that everyone has a quality online experience, not just the heavy users. We'll keep you posted as this story develops...

Do you know your ISP's policy regarding peer-to-peer traffic?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Do You Reflect Your Residents' Values?

According to the Conscious Consumer Report from BBMG, consumer prefer to buy from companies that reflect their own values ... amazing stuff, I know.

Almost 90% of Americans say the words "conscious consumer" describe them well, and they are more likely to buy (if price and quality are equal) from companies that:
• Manufacture energy efficient products
• Promote health and safety benefits
• Support fair labor and trade practices
• Commit to environmentally-friendly practices
One BBMG partner says, "... conscious consumers expect companies to do more than make eco-friendly claims. They demand transparency and accountability across every level of business practice... "

Americans readily self-identify as: "conscious consumers", "socially responsible", "environmentally-friendly", and "green".

While price and quality are still paramount (and I'd add location in multifamily housing), convenience has been edged out by more socially relevant attributes ... how energy efficient a product is and its health benefits are becoming integral to consumers' purchasing decisions.

Jeffrey Pollock of Global Strategy Group sums it up: "Americans think before they buy... they tend to prefer to buy from companies that reflect their values."

What are you doing to reach, inspire and motivate values-driven residents? Do you start with the design of your community? Are you incorporating values and values-based design into your marketing plans?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fast Stat: They're Into Tech More Than You Think

Don't think your residents are a tech-savvy crowd? Check this out:

88% of men and 82% of women describe themselves as being interested in consumer electronics products, according to market research conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association.

Source: CEA, "The Truth About Women and Consumer Electronics," July 2007.An electronics tower during move-in

Friday, November 02, 2007

Dallas in Review: Emerging Technologies

Day Two of last week's Apartment Technology Conference started with a packed room anxious to hear about "Emerging Technologies."

Web 2.0:
Mike Mueller of VaultWare focused on the sharing and collaboration opportunities presented by 'Web 2.0' sites -- such as Facebook -- and SMS text messages. (Personally, I think Facebook and now Google's OpenSocial are huge opportunities for the apartment owners who get them right...)

Mike talked about viral marketing and the importance of making your online marketing interesting and easy to share. As an example, he used the most popular landlord in the world -- Pearl from FunnyorDie:



Pearl is a viral success ... Over 48 million people have met her in the last seven months!

There are all kinds of places online where your apartments should be listed: MySpace, Craigslist, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Earth, ApartmentRatings.com and so on. Mike asked the question: Is your apartment on Web 2.0? I'll take it a step further: Are you controlling the conversation about your community? In addition to these websites, a property blog gives you a great place to drive all of that traffic and show prospects what your community is all about.

IPTV
Steve Winn of RealPage talked up his company's latest offer: IPTV. Steve calls it a "potentially disruptive technology," especially considering the fact that the average consumer spends over 27 hours per week watching TV.

Already available throughout Europe, IPTV presents the possibility to offer some completely new services: converged platforms, place-shifting, and two-way TV for gaming and video conferencing. Steve made the point that residents don’t go to the property portal online, so IPTV could be used to integrate community services into the TV channel guide.

The RealPage IPTV solution looks promising, but it will be interesting to see if gains any traction in a multi-provider environment. Steve did note that bandwidth needs are inevitably going to grow, and many existing networks will not support the bandwidth necessary for tomorrow's services.

Dynamic Bandwidth:
Dave Daugherty of Korcett talked about the need not only for more bandwidth, but also for better bandwidth management to improve network performance. Money quote: "Kids don’t practice safe Internet."

Dave's company enables service providers to offer dynamic bandwidth services and give residents online tools to edit their account and handle their own issues. Residents can turn services up or down as you need to, and property staff can utilize a private messaging platform that's built into the system (ex: “Pay your rent now.”).

Korcett's next plans are to extend messaging to campus-wide events via email or text messaging, and also to enable more two-way communication opportunities between residents and staff.

In the panel Q&A, property infrastructure became a clear concern. Steve encourages a flexible network that enables expandable bandwidth needed as technologies evolve. Wi-Fi is also a requirement, as residents don’t want to be tethered to a desk. Dave would like to eventually see "dynamic provisioning" of service providers, and Mike pleaded for property managers to make it easier for residents to find properties and interface with staff.

Final Thoughts:
I'm a software and 'Web 2.0' guy, but I think that there's way too much focus on software as the savior. In an industry that is focused on building community and increasing resident retention, it's counter-productive to focus entirely on TV and Internet services that keep residents cramped in front of a screen in their units.

While these guys are all clearly experts in their fields, it's disappointing that an hour-long talk about 'emerging technologies' didn't offer a single mention of any opportunities to incorporate technology throughout the common areas of a community … and maybe more surprising, there wasn't any mention of sustainable technologies.

What are some unique 'emerging technologies' that you've seen recently in apartment communities?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

FCC Bans Exclusive Deals, Considers Other Restrictions

In an effort to "foster greater competition," the FCC has adopted an Order that bans the use of exclusivity clauses between cable operators and apartment communities and other real estate developments, including existing agreements.

They are also considering taking similar action to prohibit exclusive agreements with satellite providers, private cable operators, and other video providers. They want to ax exclusive marketing and bulk billing arrangements, too (which could create a real mess in student housing communities). The goal is to "increase choice and competition" for residents in these communities.

As expected, the NMHC and NAA have come out in oppostion to the ruling (PDF), claiming that the decision "does not enhance tenant choice and will not result in lower prices."

This is an extremely complex, politically charged issue -- and I don't think that anyone is really being honest about the true state of the marketplace in this one.

While there are certainly some bad deals out there that are not in the best interest of the consumer, there are also a number of property owners that have negotiated incredible discounts on premium video services, as well as higher levels of customer service from their providers.

What now?
The coverage surrounding this ruling backs property owners into a corner. Now residents will expect to be able to choose whichever provider they like -- you may want to prep your property staff with some prepared responses to resident questions.

In new construction projects, most of the costs associated with the infrastructure needed for multiple providers will likely be assumed by the developer, which could lead to higher rents or a conscious decision to leave some wiring out of the budget. Existing properties will be even more difficult to upgrade.

Thus far, the Commission and the media have focused this issue on price, but I think the ruling presents a real opportunity for property owners to demand greater innovation from their service providers. If there are three or more providers in a building, the winner will be the one who provides compelling value-added services that are uniquely possible in multifamily communities.

Here's the link (PDF) to the FCC's release explaining their decision. I'll provide a complete roundup of links related to this Order on the Multifamily Technology news feed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Think Symmetrical: Change the Way You Market Broadband

As usual, the folks over at Parks Associates are on top of things when it comes to the latest trends in consumers' digital habits.

Verizon has announced a new FiOS broadband offering to their East Coast customers -- Internet service that offers 20 Mbps both up and down. The pricing is competitive to existing cable broadband offerings, but it marks the beginning of a shift in how we're going to see broadband services marketed. For years, Internet service providers have promoted fast download speeds, with little emphasis on their upload offering.

Now, based on the current trends in online gaming, unlimited online email and storage, and video and photo sharing, consumers will want fast uploads in addition to fast download speeds. It stands to reason that marketing very responsive upload capabilities could start to become a critical differentiator. Along these lines, Parks has conducted surveys exploring consumers' digital media habits that show "the growth of the media habits that are likely to drive consumers toward a symmetrical broadband service."

Another Parks study from 2006 shows that some consumers would even pay a slight premium for a symmetrical broadband service. Of course, video gamers and "creative computing consumers" (photo and video editors) are the groups with the strongest interest in such a service. The study also found similar trends in consumers' interest in online storage - another applications that would benefit from symmetrical broadband.

As Parks' Kurt Scherf also notes, "Verizon indicates that symmetrical services are going to be applicable far beyond entertainment applications -- they view such services as remote video monitoring and digital health as also important for driving symmetrical broadband. We're keeping an eye on applications like these as well."

Property owners should do the same ... especially considering the new competition for your residents' attention and dollars that will result from next week's FCC ruling.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Americans Don't Blame Buildings for Greenhouse Gases

According to studies by the EPA, construction and maintenance of buildings produce up to 48% of dangerous greenhouse gases. Yet most people, including our government officials, have been trained to think that the worst culprits are the gas-guzzling Hummers on our roads.

The American Institute of ArchitectsA recent survey by the AIA shows that only 7% of respondents accurately identified buildings as the primary cause of emissions. In comparison, 40% of those surveyed believed that cars and trucks were the greatest producers of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Other offenders taking more blame than buildings included power plants and natural causes.

Despite the misconceptions, American consumers want more energy efficiency in their homes. Some reports indicate that they're willing to pay for it. Others disagree.

Another recent survey by the AIA reflected a growing desire among homeowners for green products, including geothermal heating and cooling systems, tankless water heaters, and flooring made from easily renewable materials, such as bamboo and cork.

The AIA is vowing to continue to impress upon its members, Congress, and the general public that energy efficiency is achievable whether in new construction or in existing buildings.

The problem is, the AIA isn't the group selling the home, or renting the apartment.

What are you doing to make your building more energy efficient?

What are you doing to educate your residents about ways they can be more environmentally friendly?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Social Networking for Your Property

LifeAt.comLike some other sites we've reviewed in the past, New York-based LifeAt wants to create a social network for your community. The site has received some attention from the Silicon Valley crowd. (Read the comments ... it's interesting to see how the world of "Web 2.0" has reacted to the idea.)

LifeAt's business model is to make a one-time sale ($5,000) to the property owner or condo association, then they host and maintain the co-branded site indefinitely. The site is visually more appealing than AptConnect, with lots of features for residents, but it does not appear that it offers as much functionality for property managers ... yet.

Each property website is primarily built around resident-generated content, but can also feature leasing info and other items posted by the building manager. Residents sign up to get news about the building, interact with other users, etc. They can provide information and reviews about local businesses (dry cleaners, restaurants, delivery services, etc.), and there's a marketplace for residents to buy and sell their own goods within the building.

It remains to be seen whether the transient nature of apartment renters will benefit or work against sites like this ... either residents won't stay long enough to care about meeting their neighbors, or they'll want an easy, engaging place to make new friends and learn the area. Either way, it's clear that websites of all kinds are getting more social, and your property's sites can only benefit by joining the party.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Multifamily Musings: Wireless Options

Last week, I wrote about open access for multiple service providers. Currently, this debate centers on “wired” services –- like TV and telephone. For now, Internet also is typically included in the wired category, but with the proliferation of wireless Internet services such as Wi-Fi, WiMax and cellular, will that change? Can property owners prevent multiple providers from offering wireless services at their communities? Is there enough business for more than one ISP on a property, be it wired or wireless?

In addition to presenting a serious technology challenge, this issue poses an interesting contractual situation as well. In the not-too-distant-future, this is going to become an issue that the industry will need to handle. Everyone -– including service providers, developers, attorneys, and architects –- needs to start working together to find a solution. Any ideas about where we start?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Multifamily Musings: Open Access

Multifamily Musings will be my new weekly post – I’ll pose a question or a hot topic that we, as an industry, need to be thinking about. Hopefully we can initiate some dialogue about these important issues.

This week, I want to direct our attention to telecommunications and open access property networks. Now that almost every provider can deliver the triple play, does it still make sense for property owners to partner with an exclusive provider if they want to include bundled services in the rent? Should residents have the ability to choose their providers based on their personal preferences? Should the developer have a choice between these two scenarios based on each property’s specific needs?

Service providers are innovating at an unprecedented pace, but often leave multifamily properties as a distant second behind their single-family subscribers. Property owners need to understand that communications services and residents’ expectations have evolved – and will continue to change at an incredible pace. And it remains to be seen where the FCC will fall in all of this… Where do you stand?

Asking the Questions That Need to Be Asked

Over the past year and a half, this blog has evolved into a forum that offers perspectives and thought-provoking content unique to the multifamily market. Our goal is to get people thinking about technology’s role in the multifamily industry and in our residents' lives. Every day, we’re excited to find more and more readers that are following this site and joining in the conversation.

Starting today, we’re introducing a new weekly feature to draw more attention to the issues and potential challenges facing the industry. Every Wednesday, look for Multifamily Musings – a series of issues and questions, posed by Richard Holtz, CEO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects.

We’ll continue to update you as we add new features and content to the blog, and we look forward to more of your feedback. If you like what we're doing, please forward our site to a friend or associate. Thanks for reading and for participating in this community.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Marketing In Social Media? Try To Fit In

Harvard Business School recently published an interesting academic paper about marketing in the social media environment, which includes sites that offer consumer reviews, social networking, trading and user-generated content. The paper -- written by John Deighton, professor at Harvard Business School, and Leora Kornfeld, research director at the Mobile Muse Consortium in Vancouver -- reviews five emerging models for marketing in these environments, and concludes something that might seem a bit obvious: that the "locus of control over meanings" is moving from the marketer to the consumer and is rewarding "more participatory, more sincere, and less directive marketing styles."
Harvard Business School: Working KnowledgeThink of it this way: In peer-to-peer environments, the marketer should be more talked-about than talking. At best, the marketer's role is to "provoke conversations among consumers." At worst, you become the enemy, "attacked with invective or parody." The report goes on to, quite correctly, state that "as marketing strategy grapples with the question of how to work with social media, old paradigms die hard. Marketing may be less a matter of domination and control, and more a matter of fitting in.”

I typically cringe when I see marketers trying to insert themselves into the context of social media, primarily because so many of them are incredibly bad at it. Multifamily has a distinct advantage because you're in the business of creating community... have been for years, even decades. You know when to insert yourself into the conversation and when to get out of your residents' way. Take those same concepts into consideration if you're marketing in online communities and other social media. Take it from Harvard: the best thing you can do is try to fit in.

You can read a longer summary or download the full paper from here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Links for the Kids: Web Tools for School

It seems that every property with a resident portal provides a section for links, which are usually local retailers and services.

Well, here are a few more to add for your student communities -- Mashable has posted a list of over 60 links for college students, with categories such as buy/sell/trade textbooks, homework reference & work sites, organizational sites and social networks. Most are great resources for both incoming and returning college students.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Experiencing a Halo Effect

Don't be surprised if you get a few more complaints than usual about slow bandwidth this week -- on Tuesday, Microsoft began selling “Halo 3”, their acclaimed (and highly anticipated) alien shoot-'em-up video game for the Xbox 360. Take special note if you're operating a student housing community... I talked to one ISP exec earlier this week, and he admitted his company was expecting a considerable "spike in bandwidth for the next several days."

The game's launch was much like the premier of a Harry Potter book or the iPhone. If you're not convinced it's a big deal, think about this: the third installment of Halo made more on its first day than Spiderman 3.

Photo: Microsoft XboxProperty managers should take advantage of opportunities like this to create related events, as long as they fit the community's demographic... popular video games often provide the chance to put together parties or tournaments. You might think that Halo-type games will typically only appeal to the young men, but the Nintendo Wii and new games interest a much wider range of "casual gamers." Whatever the idea, you'll have plenty of time to plan an event this week if your Internet slows to a crawl... thanks to your Halo enthusiasts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Not-So-Entertaining Thought

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 73% of new home builders offered home theater as an option to their buyers last year. 74% said they offered multi-room audio.

The survey wasn't broken out by property type, but my guess is that the numbers are far lower in multifamily properties, for sale and rental alike.

In-home entertainment options are simply not priorities for many multifamily developers... At most, they're often passed off as upgrade options that are handled by a local electronics installer. Yet these are features that many residents are willing to pay for and will use almost on a daily basis.

Consumers have come to expect entertainment technologies in their home... Shouldn't you be offering them?

If you are offering these options, what has worked and what hasn't?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Broadband Properties? Yes.
Broadband Applications? Stay Tuned...

Broadband Properties SummitI had the opportunity to moderate a panel at the Broadband Properties Summit earlier this week... more on that later.

After attending a number of the other educational sessions, I left the conference with three overriding impressions:

1. There are a relatively small number of technology companies that are truly innovating and providing great new services in this industry, and an even smaller number of property developers and owners that are paying any attention to them.

2. Everyone wants someone else to pay for the technology. No one has really figured out the right business model yet.

3. The U.S. is way behind Asia and Europe when it comes to broadband policy, deployment, and usage.

I was truly amazed by the general disconnect between service providers and real estate companies, not to mention that applications developers were nowhere to be seen at this conference. It's important to discuss how network infrastructure is designed, installed and funded, but until we advance the conversation about new services and applications (other than HDTV), the need for more bandwidth and more infrastructure really won't increase that much.

So, if you're a web application developer looking for a huge opportunity, look to the housing market... out of 60+ exhibitors at the show, only two were offering consumer applications beyond the typical phone/TV/Internet triple-play services.

Which brings me to my panel. I moderated a panel titled "Applications as Amenities in the Digital Home." Neil Olshansky from Steeplechase Networks spoke about premium broadband services, Brent Williams from AptConnect made the case for social networking as a community-building tool, and Kurt Scherf from Parks Associates addressed the rise of the digital lifestyle and the growing need for quality technical support services.

The conclusion we came to during our debate was that some very interesting applications are starting to become available, but there is a real lack of direction when it comes to providing applications for residents beyond the triple play. Download the slide presentation here. (PDF)

Other industries are finding ways to use digital tools to make physical spaces more productive, more entertaining and more convenient... The time is right for community developers to do the same.

What applications could you provide to your residents?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

AppleBucks

If you're not paying attention to Apple, you're missing a lot.

Last week, Apple's big news was their introduction of a new iPod lineup, and they dropped the price of their popular iPhone.

But that wasn't the most interesting part of the story.

Apple also announced a partnership with Starbucks that will soon introduce a chain of highly-customized digital entertainment stores.AppleBucksAt Starbucks locations, Apple will offer a Wi-Fi version of their iTunes music store that will feature custom music selections based on each store's recently played songs and other featured content. This gives Starbucks the opportunity to turn its coffee shops into digital music and video stores.

This is just the tip of the iceberg... I think we'll soon see similar deals that will give digital media a much greater presence in physical locations. I also think it is another indication that consumers expect to be able to access and control their media anywhere, without the need for their PC as a middleman.

For multifamily property owners, it certainly is further evidence of three major lifestyle trends:

1) Consumers expect broadband Internet, and they expect to be able to access it from almost anywhere.

2) By providing more opportunities to buy music, people will simply buy more music. There is an almost insatiable appetite for digital content, especially when presented in a fun, easy-to-use format.

3) The connection between mobile devices and physical locations is becoming increasingly important.

As the Wired article states, "If Starbucks installed compact, terabyte-size media servers with [a fast local network connection], a 1-GB movie could be delivered to an iPod in seven minutes," instead of the 90 minutes required using a typical Internet connection. Apply this idea in an apartment community, and this is something that could easily be done from the Main Communications Room (MPOE) at a typical property. And don't you think more folks are downloading movies at home than at Starbucks?

When working with your service provider or other third-party technology companies, property owners should be creative and aware of what is available to consumers through other outlets. Understand these trends, and look for unique ways to play with popular devices like the iPhone... or else you might soon find all your residents down at the local Starbucks.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Outdoor HDTV

Would you want to include TVs on your pool deck or rooftop patio?

New all-weather LCDs from SunBriteTV are designed specifically for outdoor use, offering full HD support and display sizes up to 46 inches. (HGTV video)

A corrosion resistant, power-coated aluminum enclosure protects the TV from the elements, while the screen itself is protected by an anti-reflective, impact- and scratch-resistant window. The sets feature a watertight cable entry system and a variety of input options.

The built-in cooling system and heater work to maintain the proper operating temperature in hot and cold conditions, although the heat ratings stated in the product's technical specs (max. operating temperature is only 122° F) could be an issue if you're building in the South.

SunBriteTVThe line of all-weather outdoor TVs could be a good fit for property owners who want to offer viewing options on patios and outdoor spaces.

SunBrightTV offers three models of the all-weather sets, in 23-inch, 32-inch and 46-inch sizes. They're not cheap... MSRP for the 23-inch version is $2,295, $3,695 for the 32-inch model and $4,995 for the 46-inch set.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Think Mobile... Your Residents Do

Hewlett-Packard has quietly introduced a free service called Cloudprint, which should make it possible for anyone to share, store and print their documents on any printer almost anywhere in the world, using only their mobile phone. (New York Times)

Here's how it works:
The user stores their documents to H-P Web servers, which can then be retrieved as PDFs and printed later at any Windows-connected printer, using a simple text messaging system (a Mac version is in the works). The service will include a directory service that will show the location of publicly available printers on Google Maps.

How can you free your residents' data?The idea is to unhook data from a user’s computer, making it simple for travelers to take their documents with them and use them with no more than a cellphone and access to a local printer. If you've ever spent time on the road hunting for the closest Kinko's, you can probably see the value in a service like this.

The Cloudprint service is the first of a wave of applications that will surely be developed as a direct response to the hugely-popular iPhone. Expect more services like this from H-P and a host of others that will increasingly "unhook" data and specific functions like printing from a user's computer. An H-P exec was quoted, saying this service will help the company "ride the wave of the Web.”

Sounds great, but what does it have to do with apartments?

Well... there's a broader strategy here that multifamily owners should note:
Create a valuable service that will reinforce the company's brand and foster the sale of other products. In this case, it's H-P ink and supplies.

For apartment owners, it's unclear what that valuable service might be... but I'm sure that there are a few good ones out there, and it's time we start thinking about them.

It could be free or discounted data storage or website hosting. How about exclusive deals from local retailers straight to residents' cell phones? Free printing (and maybe shipping) to any community within your portfolio? There are lots of ways for owners to deliver value, reinforce their brand and drive retention & referrals.

Apartment residents are mobile and connected, and they value convenience. Basically, they're the perfect candidates for these types of services.

So the question becomes: What can you do to offer more mobility, more utility, and more value to your residents?

Monday, August 13, 2007

More WiFi, More Problems

Get ready for more residents bringing home wireless-ready consumer electronics products... and the increase in unit-to-unit interference that will surely follow.

According to a report published last week by ABI Research, the popularity of wireless routers and devices using the new high-speed 802.11n standard will soon spill over to CE products like home theater systems and cable set-top boxes, outpacing other networking technologies.

The electronics vendors see WiFi as an easy way to get consumers' digital media delivered to their devices. As consumers increasingly look to bring Internet video into the living room and share their music and videos between rooms, older WiFi technologies simply don't have the bandwidth to deliver this content, particularly over longer ranges.

802.11n is supposed to help alleviate these constraints. PC manufacturers are shifting to 802.11n gear, and consumer electronics manufacturers are expected to follow suit in a big way.

Running Interference
The problem for multifamily property owners enters when many residents start trying to build these networks on top of each other in a densely populated area. (I was in a condo last week where I could see 42 different wireless networks from one unit!)

In addition to competing networks, there are other sources of interference, such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, and even mirrors, that also pose problems for Wi-Fi gear and leave networks with poor range or intermittent connectivity.

The new wireless standard promises much faster speeds and a stronger resistance to this interference, but there are potential issues when used in conjunction with current wireless standards. Plus, there just aren't enough channels available to keep up in a 250-unit property full of tech-savvy young residents, especially as more devices become WiFi-enabled as predicted.

Manage Expectations
There aren't very many good answers available to property owners, but you should start by asking a lot of questions of your property's ISP or WiFi provider. Realize that wireless isn't 100% perfect, but your provider should commit to a minimum acceptable service level. They may even be able to remotely manage the network from their operations center to help minimize any problems with interference. (This is a service that more property owners should be asking for.) In any case, leave the networking to the professionals... it can be more of a hassle and expense than it's worth to try to be your own wireless service provider.

One thing is for sure: As wireless networking becomes more prevalent and compatible devices become increasingly ubiquitous, property owners will need to offer some level of WiFi (residents will bring their own if you don't), but should set clear expectations for residents that it's not a perfect technology.

Are you offering WiFi access at your property? Which service providers are offering the most creative solutions to this unique problem?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Social Networking Comes to Apartments

Resident portals are a hot industry trend, and social networks are a hot consumer trend... so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to combine the two, right?

AptConnect is a new resident portal that adds social networking and a host of other features for apartment management and residents. The site builds on the portal with an online network that keeps residents involved in their community, potentially improving resident retention.

The site offers all the usual tools for property management: an online newsletter, online rent payments, maintenance requests. Unique features include an events calendar, a "meet the staff" page, community photo galleries, an FAQ section, community polls, and move out surveys.

The portal's messaging system allows residents to send messages to each other or to the office. There is also a mass messaging tool that allows management to contact all residents at once.

AptConnectGetting Involved
Many features of AptConnect focus on communication and resident interaction within the community. Residents are encouraged to create, publish, and contribute, using the site as a place to meet others and get involved.

Resident can search other user profiles, create their own events, add photo galleries, chat in community forums, and post classified ads. They can set up their own clubs and volunteer committees, and even post their own content, such as recipes, jokes, or poetry.

The site includes a statistical analysis package that features real-time reporting of site usage and activity, but does not yet comply to the MITS data-transfer standards.

Pricing for the entire package is a subscription fee based on the size of your community.

The Right Site for You?
As a portal, AptConnect is as functional as most others.

However, the site faces a major obstacle in achieving a critical mass of users and fresh content that online communities thrive on. Because the site is built to reinforce resident retention, most of the site is currently designed to give residents access to information and user profiles exclusively from their apartment community. It would seem that the network could be much more useful if residents could also connect with other local people and businesses. Partnering with other locally-focused social networks like Meetro and Insider Pages, or sites focused on local businesses, such as MerchantCircle or Judy's Book, could make it a very handy tool for getting to know the neighborhood.

AptConnect has the potential to become an interesting tool for property managers, although it leaves many new questions, and it remains to be seen if it actually has any effect on resident retention. Considering the trends in online communities, it is a step in the right direction for portals, but leaves much to be desired in comparison to many of the robust functions available through more mainstream social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, or even LinkedIn. Pay attention though... what you see here could be the future of resident communications.

Have you tried social networks or other online tools in your community? Let us know what works and which sites you like best!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Surface That Could Change the Way You Sell

Are you already using digital displays and maybe even touchscreens to show floorplans, availability, and other property info in an interactive way in your sales or leasing center?

Well, soon you'll have a new tool available that could be the next step in providing these types of unique interactive experiences. Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled a new table-top computer called the Surface - it uses a slick touch-sensitive interface, much like Apple's iPhone. Check out this Forbes Video story about the device.

Here's another overview from Reuters:


...And a demonstration of a potential retail application using T-Mobile phones:

Apply these capabilities to the real estate industry, and it's easy to see how a device like this could become a very powerful tool for property owners to provide interactive experiences and additional services to current and prospective residents:

- A leasing agent could easily review and compare floorplans, availability and unit details.

- Condo buyers could quickly see and select their desired upgrade options.

- With one touch, a resident could download special offers from local retailers to their phone.

- A virtual concierge could recommend a restaurant, make a reservation, download directions to the resident's phone, and even set the unit's thermostat back to the right temperature before the the resident returns home for the night... all in a matter of seconds.

Customer experiences are becoming increasingly interactive and personalized. Adding the element of hyper-local applications customized for your community will allow you to communicate with, and provide services to, your residents in ways that we've never seen before.

How would you use a device like this in your community?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

All Services on One Cable = One Bad Idea

Developers have some tough choices to make right now. Costs keep rising, but residents expect more than ever.

The question is: Are you giving your residents the technology options that they expect and desire?

As multifamily builders try to find ways to offset rising construction costs, I've seen recently that some companies are revisiting their specifications for low voltage wiring, trying to cut costs by consolidating all of their properties' communications services on only one or two wires to each unit.
This convergence is certainly becoming increasingly affordable, and it may sound like a promising way to control costs.

Well... While there are some systems that can be converged throughout your property, right now could be a really bad time to consolidate the cabling for your telecommunications services, especially considering recent rulings from the FCC. (PDF)

More players are entering the telecommunications business. New applications, major partnerships and other strategic maneuvers demonstrate that competitors within this industry aren't going to give up market share without a fight. Here are just a few examples:

:: Both major satellite TV companies are making major investments to provide their most advanced technologies to date in multifamily communities.

:: Cable operators continue to grow their on-demand services, and they're starting to test the first of many unique wireless applications that will come from their 20-year deal with Sprint.

:: Verizon and other FTTH providers are expanding rapidly, offering high-quality video services and extremely fast broadband services that are receiving high reviews from users.

Simply put, we are in the middle of what could possibly be a golden age of innovation among service providers.

There are more unique applications and functions than ever that are either available now or in the near future, and it's making this a tough time for anyone to try to pick the winners that you and your residents will want to do business with now and also 3-5 years down the road.

Consolidating your property's structured wiring will limit how many providers your residents can choose from, limit your options if you ever need to change providers, and limit your ability to upgrade your network when new services become available.

One wire per unit is not going to get the job done if you want to provide today's advanced services. Investing in a flexible, upgradeable infrastructure now will save you a lot of headaches later, and will allow you to deliver the technology options your residents desire today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

10.5 Ways to Use Technology to Go Green

Awareness of the need to conserve energy is skyrocketing in response to higher gas prices, efforts from Al Gore and others, and the associated media frenzy. Residents are more cost-conscious and environmentally-aware than ever.

Using technology to go green will help you maximize your energy conservation efforts throughout your community.

This entails everything from creating an easy-to-use interface for commonly-used audio and video systems, to less obvious ways to help reduce residents' overall energy consumption, including integrating lighting and HVAC.

Here are some suggestions for communities that are starting the process of going green:

1. Install LED or compact fluorescent lights. Lower energy usage, markedly longer lamp life and low maintenance mean these innovative lighting categories are a win-win-win for you and your residents. Adding occupancy sensors will save even more.

2. Choose energy-efficient appliances and electronics components. Every little bit helps in terms of curbing energy costs and integrators can find components for their clients that are more energy-efficient than others by visiting the Consumer Electronics Association’s myGreenElectronics.com or the government’s EnergyStar.gov.

3. Recycle old computers and components. It probably doesn’t save you money, but environmentally-conscious residents will have peace of mind if you pledge to properly dispose of their old components.

If improperly disposed of or illegally dumped, “electronics can pose a serious risk to the environment,” according to myGreenElectronics.com. Share this site with your residents to help them find information on how and where to properly unload old equipment if you can't take on the burden yourself.

4. Smart irrigation. You don't need to water your green spaces if it just rained last night, yet many watering systems often operate uncontrollably. Install a system such as WeatherTRAK that monitors current weather conditions and only waters your lawn when plants actually need it. You'll conserve water, and reduce both your water bills and landscape maintenance costs.

5. Manage your energy use. Even though technology tends to involve multiple energy-guzzling components, new systems are available that allow you to conveniently monitor energy use with a main interface that controls all of your building’s electrical systems.

6. Use lighting control. Without control, lights run at 100% brightness, 100% of the time. With a lighting control system, you can program the majority of common area lights to run at lower brightness, controlling energy and saving lamp life.

7. Motorized shades. Managing the volume of sunlight entering a building will keep the HVAC equipment from running through the day and keep energy costs down.

8. Offer home control to your residents. Something as simple as making it easy for residents to turn off energy-guzzling components can make a difference. New home control systems are rapidly coming down in cost, making this a more viable option than ever before.

Provide very simple, convenient buttons such as “all on,” “all off” and “good night” on any kind of control interface in the clubhouse, fitness center and living units. Energy conservation through convenience is key.

9. Check the garage. Replace any fleet vehicles with energy-efficient alternatives, and offer residents a shared car service such as Zipcar.

10. Go solar. Installing renewable solar energy systems will reduce your utility costs and can even earn you energy credits from utility companies.

10.5. Pre-wire for solar. Maybe you're not sold on solar energy now, but you might be in a few years. Pre-wiring your community for solar today will make retrofits will be easier and less costly later.

Energy conservation is a growing trend, and it's good business, too. Use technology to go green, spread the word among residents and when marketing to new prospects, and your energy-saving ways will pay off many times over.

Have a great way you're using technology to go green? Leave us a message and tell us your favorite "green" technologies!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Stories That Are Simply Del.icio.us

Thanks to all of you who have been following this blog... subscribers are joining daily, and I've received some great feedback about future posts, ideas to improve the site, and ways to continue to grow this community. I hope to bring you a lot of great new features in the months to come.

One of the new features I just added is AddThis bookmarking. At the bottom of each post, you'll see a "bookmark" button that lets you save the posts you like best and share them on your favorite social bookmarking site, whether it's Reddit, Del.icio.us, Digg, Simpy or any of the other great sites out there.

Another great feature is the del.icio.us feed on the side of this page. Almost daily, I post stories from around the net that are interesting and relevant (some more than others). If you subscribe to MT 360° by RSS or email, you'll receive this news feed along with our regular posts. (This is why the title is always followed by [del.icio.us].)

There are way too many stories and websites out there for me to keep up with, so I'd like to invite all of you to join my del.icio.us network and share your favorites with the rest of this growing community.

If you're not yet on del.icio.us, you can sign up right from their homepage. Once you have an account, you can share any story with me by adding the tag for:mwhaling to your post. That's it! I'll add the best stories to the daily feed. (Here's a link to more info about sharing bookmarks on del.icio.us.)

Social bookmarking is a great way to share stories among co-workers or friends without contributing to inbox overload. Give it a try, share it with your onsite staff members, and I think you'll quickly see that it's easy to keep all of your favorite links in one place.

Happy bookmarking - I look forward to seeing the stories and pages that interest you most.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Music to Your Residents' Ears

Sonos Digital Music SystemMany thanks to Scott Sheppard and the rest of the crew at Inside Mac Radio. We had a great time on the air yesterday discussing in-wall iPod docking stations and the iPod-ready Apartment Home Media Station.

Once it's posted, you can hear the interview as part of their podcast for June 2nd. Here's the link to subscribe in iTunes. These guys really enjoy their work!

:: iPod Your Property
Whether it's in the clubhouse or in the apartment, we're seeing more owners who want to give residents the ability to listen to their own tunes.

Integrating an iPod docking station into your clubhouse stereo is an easy way to give residents this option. There are several great models available, but we recommend the in-wall versions - that way you know the dock isn't going anywhere.

Several docking stations, such as the Channel Vision iBus, even fit inside a standard single-gang wallplate, which means there's no custom holes in the drywall if you want to offer an iPod upgrade option in each unit. Now that's an amenity that a resident can't find anywhere else!

:: Background Music Gets Personal
Besides the iPod, there are a number of great ways to customize music stations to get the atmosphere you want.

One of our favorites is Pandora.

Pandora lets you build a entire radio station (actually, up to 100 stations) based on the custom preferences that you want. Salsa, got it. Classical, no problem. Party tunes, done... there are over 2 million tracks in their database, and the service only costs $36 per year.

There are several devices available that allow you to play Pandora music through a home stereo without the need for a computer. The first was the Squeezebox from Slim Devices, and the most recent is the Sonos system, which Pandora just announced last week.

We like the Sonos system because it allows you to create multiple "zones" - you can customize a unique music station for each room in the amenities area, or you can play the same song everywhere. The system is extremely easy to use... it's interface is similar to that of the iPod. :: Personalization Everywhere
Custom radio stations are just one way to create a unique atmosphere and give your residents a more personalized feeling throughout your community.

As more web-enabled technologies are introduced, and new applications are developed for products like Bluetooth and RFID, the opportunities for personalization through technology will continue to increase.

What technologies are you using to customize your property's atmosphere and give it that unique feel that sets you apart?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Off Topic: Donate Your Miles to a Hero

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day. While I hope everyone has the opportunity to put down their Blackberries and get away from your email for a day or two, I do want you to check out a website that'll be worth your time.

Operation Hero Miles was created by Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger in cooperation with a number of airline companies in 2003. The program gives family members of wounded servicemen and women free plane tickets to visit their loved ones recovering at military hospitals across the country.

The program is brilliantly simple.

Travelers donate their unused frequent flyer miles, which means that Operation Hero Miles gives ordinary folks like you and me an opportunity to help our troops in a way that makes a real difference in their lives.

This weekend, the participating airlines will match your donation mile-for-mile, from 6 AM, Friday, May 25th through 11:59 pm, Monday, May 28th. So set yourself a reminder, and donate those unused frequent flyer miles before you leave for the weekend!

Visit the program's website at www.heromiles.org for a list of participating airlines. Enjoy your holiday weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

New Form Factors Mean Rethinking Unit Design

Many TVs today are only 3-4 inches thick, and entertainment centers are being redesigned to be far less conspicuous in the home.

So here's the question... are you considering electronics trends like this when you lay out units for a new building?

In most new construction, space is at a premium. Material costs aren't going down. Together, that means that every inch you can get back without sacrificing rent dollars means considerable savings.

So, if you could make each living room 8 inches narrower, how much could that save you in labor and materials? Multiply that savings across 100, 200, 500 units... you're talking about putting real dollars back in your pocket. Many apartment living rooms today are still designed for the old tube TVs, but a walk through Best Buy will tell you that's not what consumers are in the market for. As flat TVs become more prevalent, that extra space simply isn't necessary any longer.

Following consumer trends like this is a great way to gauge how you should consider designing your units. Coordinate your architect and your low voltage engineer to make sure that changes are being made thoughtfully... If you're planning for flat-panels, make sure the living room wall is reinforced to support mounting. Consider including additional video and power outlets at eye level. Think about what other connections the typical couch potato or sports buff will need to make to get their home theater up to par.

If you really want to sell your renters on technology, include it in the rent. This morning, I could pick up a 42" flat-panel TV on Buy.com for under $850. In-wall surround speakers can be wired and installed for a couple hundred bucks per unit. Are the potential savings during construction enough to offset these costs? Depending on where you're building... quite possibly.

These are just a couple ideas, and they certainly won't apply to every project. So let me ask you this... How else has technology affected the way you design a community?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Killer Apps Hit Ft. Wayne

I'm not the only one impressed by Ft. Wayne!Earlier this week, I had the privilege to speak at the developer's workshop at the Killer App Conference in Ft. Wayne. I was extremely impressed by the turnout, and I was even more impressed with the amount of resources that the city dedicated to the show.

Ft. Wayne is one area where Verizon's FiOS service is available, and the city is making a concerted effort to bring its citizens and the surrounding region into the forefront as a model "wired" city. The conference's expo hall was open to the general public for all to see, with a number of displays focusing on high-bandwidth networks and the applications they enable. There was even a community outreach area sponsored by the city – all around, it was a great effort to get local residents excited about the opportunities afforded by the digital lifestyle.

For the benefit of those in attendance at the workshop, I am posting a quick list of the popular applications that I mentioned during my talk, in the order that they were mentioned. Consider this a work in progress... I'll be adding to it as I find new ones and remember old favorites. You can also download the slides from my presentation here. (PDF)

I'd like to ask for your feedback as well. Do you have any useful applications or products for developers that aren't yet on this list? I fully realize this is only the tip of the iceberg... there are lots of great applications out there for developers... so c'mon, let's hear about some of your favorites!

Applications for Developers:

Resident portals:
Property Solutionswww.propertysolutions.com
Realpage Crossfirewww.realpage.com/crossfire

3D Renderings and virtual tours:
Renderings.comwww.renderings.com

Touch-screen virtual tours:
Computer Presentation Systemswww.cpsusa.com
Aareas Interactivewww.aareas.com

Virtual community:
Second Lifewww.secondlife.com

Podcasts:
Garage Bandwww.apple.com/ilife/garageband
Audacityaudacity.sourceforge.net
MyPodcast.comwww.mypodcast.com

Publish your podcasts at:
iTuneswww.apple.com/itunes/store/podcasts.html
Podcast.netwww.podcast.net
Yahoopodcasts.yahoo.com

Web log software (commonly called blogs):
Bloggerwww.blogger.com
TypePadwww.typepad.com
WordPresswww.wordpress.com
Movable Typewww.movabletype.com

RSS:
Feedburnerwww.feedburner.com

Virtual leasing agent:
VaultWarewww.vaultware.com

Structured wiring systems:
On-Q Legrandwww.onqlegrand.com
Suttle SOHOwww.suttlesoho.com
Home Directorwww.homedirector.com

Instant hot water (tankless water heaters):
Rinnai www.foreverhotwater.com
Noritzwww.noritz.com

Web-enabled thermostat:
Proliphixwww.proliphix.com

Mapping tools:
My Maps at Google Mapsmaps.google.com

Instant webpage editing (called wikis):
Wikiawww.wikia.com

Video intercom/concierge:
Elbexwww.elbex.com

Web-based concierge software:
Techciergesimplikate.com/synth/

Digital signage:
Samsung MagicNetwww.samsung.com

Customizable Internet music stations:
Pandorawww.pandora.com. Use a Squeezebox from Slim Devices (www.slimdevices.com) to play your Pandora radio stations on any stereo system without the need for a PC.

Gaming:
Nintendo Wiiwii.nintendo.com
PlayStation 3www.us.playstation.com
Microsoft Xbox 360www.xbox.com

On-demand music/movie server:
Kaleidescapewww.kaleidescape.com

Networked fitness equipment:
FitLinxxwww.fitlinxx.com

Networked laundry centers:
Mac-Graywww.macgray.com/mu2_over.html

Entertainment media serv ices:
Napsterwww.napster.com
Ruckus Networkwww.ruckusnetwork.com
Groovesharkwww.grooveshark.com
Netflixwww.netflix.com
TiVowww.tivo.com
Joostwww.joost.com

Home control:
Control4www.control4.com
LifeWarewww.lifeware.com
Lagotekwww.lagotek.com
Supernawww.supernasystems.com

Building communications management:
BuildingLinkwww.buildinglink.com

Wireless sync-to-PDA/Blackberry for maintenance staff:
Realpage OneSitewww.realpage.com/onesite

Mobile phone applications and reverse 9-1-1 alerts:
Rave Wirelesswww.ravewireless.com
E2Campuswww.e2campus.com

Home awareness systems:
Eaton Home Heartbeatwww.homeheartbeat.com

Smart irrigation systems:
WeatherTRAKwww.weathertrak.com

Energy management:
GridPointwww.gridpoint.com

Solar power:
Sunpowerwww.sunpowercorp.com

Energy data displays:
Home Joulewww.consumerpowerline.com/homejoule

RFID products and systems:
Transcorewww.transcore.com
Saflokwww.saflok.com

Local music licensing:
Audiosuitewww.audiosuite.com

Resident technical support:
Support.comwww.support.com

More communications tools for your website:
Meebowww.meebome.com
Google Talkwww.google.com/talk
Skypewww.skype.com

Multi-provider structured wiring modules:
Suttlewww.suttlesoho.com

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Architect: Part II

Let's wrap up our list of questions that you should discuss with your architect as an early part of the design process for any project:

5. Is this design suited for any in-unit electronics upgrades I may want to offer?
Reliable technology and sophisticated fulfillment centers make offering HDTVs, home theater systems and other upgrades easier than ever, without putting property owners in the electronics business. Upgrades installed prior to move-in show residents you appreciate both their lifestyle and their time, but require some forethought to ensure you're providing the appropriate level of pre-wiring.

4. Will I have to allow individual satellite dishes on residents’ balconies?
Regardless of the terms of the lease or HOA bylaws, the FCC gives residents the right to mount a dish on their balcony, unless a central satellite TV system is already distributed to each unit. Your architect should plan for a 12’ x 14’ climate-controlled room in the clubhouse or basement to accommodate the necessary equipment.

3. How will access control be managed? Can I pull regular reports from each entry?
Properly managed access control to common areas and resident floors is possibly the best security feature a developer can offer, especially in mixed-use projects. However, as fewer residents use traditional landline phones, be aware of how this trend affects your building's access control systems (as well as burglar alarms, satellite TV and other building systems).

2. How can I use technology in the leasing office and clubhouse to create a vibrant community atmosphere and a lasting impression on my prospects?
You know it’s important to create a powerful impact that entices prospects and encourages a sense of community among residents. Multimedia theater rooms, distributed audio, custom lighting, gaming centers, wireless hotspots and digital signage are all ways to make your clubhouse the main attraction.

1. Can I provide the high-quality telecom services that my residents expect?
Residents are more connected than ever before. Although technology isn’t often the primary reason a prospect chooses to live at a given location, poor services can frustrate residents and increase turnover. Telecom industry standards dictate the distance that signals can travel between connections. Ask your architect to include small rooms for distribution equipment that are typically no more than 150’ from the further point of any unit – this will enable your service providers to meet these standards and provide quality phone, video and Internet services to your residents for years to come.

As with all the other materials and resources used in a project, there are always more questions to be asked and more considerations that can be given to the technology that goes into today's buildings. Above all, it's important to understand the needs and expectations of your residents - as well as those groups that represent your next wave of renters - to give your team the best gauge of which technologies might not yet be the best fit for your business versus those that have become absolute essentials.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Fast Stat: Home Audio

Consumers pland to spend $9.2 billion on home audio products in the next 12 months. This figure likely includes core home audio components and speakers plus ancillary products like media servers and cables. Source: CEA Market Research, 2007 Audio Purchasing Study, March 2007.

Probably time to invest in better acoustic insulation...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Architect: Part I

Consumer technology is getting more exciting, more compelling and more complex than ever before. The choices that you face as a developer or property owner are increasingly confusing, but cannot be avoided. Here are a few questions to ask of your architect before you get started that will help get your project off on the right foot:

10. Do my property's technology needs change if my project is for rent, for sale, or some of both?
Condo associations might not want their telecom services from the same providers that you may contract with to provide service to renters – understand that you might need separate provisions (and contracts) for each. Also, buyers may expect more choices to be available - think multiple provider and in-unit upgrades.

9. How can residents select the phone, TV and Internet provider of their choice?
Multiple providers means more choice for residents, but it also requires a more thoughtful approach to structured cabling networks. In any case, caution the architect or MEP against using any proprietary service provider designs. Also, consider cellular network amplifiers as many residents will rely solely on their mobile phones.

8. Does the leasing office design consider how our staff will utilize technology?
The onsite staff has technology needs that are very different from those of the residents. What does the leasing staff need? Will there be terminals for residents to access the property's web portal? How can maintenance staff become more efficient? Security is also a huge issue; residents or other unauthorized folks should be on a separate network to keep them from accessing private data.

7. How will residents access wireless Internet services with minimal interference? Residents like the freedom of wireless Internet access, but it gets messy in a high-density environment if it’s not properly managed. You should consult an Internet service provider that can automatically authorize accounts and remotely manage wireless Internet access in each unit.

6. What in-unit entertainment options do you expect our residents to use most?
Walk through a Best Buy – flat-panel TVs, audio in every room, and iPod docks are quickly becoming the norm. Planning for your residents’ lifestyle will give them greater flexibility, reduce damages to your units (a poorly hung plasma can wreak havoc on drywall!) and enable you to offer electronics upgrades.

Pay attention to the gadgets that you see people using, and keep an eye on the unique experiences that other industries offer to their customers. Think about the options you would want available to you if you were a resident. Offer something new and different, but take the time to test it for yourself - a new service won't do you any good if it doesn't offer a great resident experience.

We'll have five more questions next week... by then, at the rate things change these days, we'll probably be asking ten completely new questions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If My Hotel Offers a Unique Experience, Why Can't My Home?

It's all over the web today: Hyatt Hotels has formed a partnership with U.K. digital music agency Audiosuite in which they will offer guests collections of destination-specific music. Hyatt is starting with properties in Arizona and Texas, and plans to roll out the new digital download program across North America and the Caribbean throughout 2007. Guests will be able to download the music in digital MP3 format and take it home with them. The music can also be heard and purchased via websites associated with each hotel - check out scottsdale.hyatt.com or lostpines.hyatt.com. The company will do marketing around the program, and will measure the program's success in by music downloads. Austin Business Journal, Marketing Daily, WebWire

:: Be Local, Add Value
Hyatt executives say the project evolved from a desire to find ways to add value and create more of a "sensory experience." But the music offering reflects a trend among premium hoteliers to make their properties seem local - a kind of anti-franchise movement in design and amenities that often focuses on sensations and non-tangible aspects of the experience that aren't necessarily obvious.

To the multifamily developers that aren't already thinking this way - you should be. Whether a renter or a buyer, nothing is more local to your resident than her home. The ability to customize to a location, to focus on things that will give the resident a sense of place, is very important these days. Much like evolving hotel chains, multifamily developers that used to build the same garden-style project wherever they went are now building mixed-use and transit-oriented communities that fit in with their locations a lot better.

:: Create an Experience
There are some great technology-based services out there for developers looking to create a music download arrangement like Hyatt's, from companies like Napster, Rumblefish, Grooveshark, Ruckus, and others. Be warned that multifamily doesn't usually fit in their regular business model, so it might take some trial and error before you find the right partner. There are also some unique ways emerging that allow residents to acces their favorite tunes from Internet radio services through devices that can be placed in units or in a property's common areas.

But sound is just one of the senses - what about an on-demand server or movie download service for those that are more visually stimulated? Many leasing offices have offered small movie libraries for years, just take this idea a step further. Smell? Gadgets now waft scents on command that are designed to create a specific reaction in the mind of the "sniffer." Would your prospect feel more at home during a property tour if the air of the model unit was filled with the scent of a fresh-baked apple pie? Possibly. Taste? I haven't come up with one for that yet, but you get the idea.

A resident's experience will determine whether that person ultimately decides to renew his lease and refer one of his friends to your property. Making technology personal and easy to use will enable you to create unique service opportunities that will go a long way toward a great overall experience.