Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today in Multifamily Technology: December 30th

Wireless Offerings Coming from Cable Companies
We can expect cable operators -- not just traditional telcos -- to set the agenda for the wireless industry in 2010. It will be the first year Cox Communications operates its own cellular network and the first time Comcast and Time Warner Cable will provide access to wireless data networks with national reach. The question for multifamily: How does a wireless offer from the cable companies affect existing agreements, and how will this impact the deals that are available to owners from the telcos? From

Top Ten Solar Trends in 2009
This year has largely been a painful one for manufacturers and project developers around the world, though as always, they hope for a better one next year. Among the encouraging developments for the solar-energy industry in 2009 were signs that more localities favor the idea of letting property owners pay for solar-array installations when they pay their property taxes. The article also contends that a market for building-integrated photovoltaics is emerging, as seen in deals announced by Dow Chemical and the roofing maker Johns Manville. From GreenTechMedia

Windows 7, New Smartphones Top 2009's Tech News List
From the transition to digital TV to the Amazon Kindle, here are the top stories of the year in personal technology. From USA Today

Five Tech Trends to Watch
Looking at the custom home electronics market, areas of focus in the near future include 3-D TV, affordable custom (important to note for high-end apartments and middle-market condos), streaming digital media, the retrofit market and tying electronics systems into the smart grid. Look to these trends to get a better picture of your savvier residents' expectations. From CE Pro

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Look at ActiveBuilding's New iPhone App

There was a lot of conversation surrounding mobile at the NMHC Technology Conference, mostly related to marketing via SMS, websites optimized for smartphones or iPhone apps from companies like Apartment Guide and UDR.

I recently had the opportunity to interview one company that's taking a different approach to mobile -- here's the transcript of my interview with Kobi Bensimon, CEO of ActiveBuilding, about their recently released iPhone app, which is targeted to residents living at properties that use the ActiveBuilding resident portal software. Here's what Kobi had to say about their app:

MT: What is ActiveBuilding?

KB: ActiveBuilding is a platform that provides best-of-breed resident portals to residential properties. The offering includes a service component in which the resident portal is customized and tailored to perfectly fit the unique needs of every property. On-site teams are trained by the ActiveBuilding team and are being guided on how to best utilize their resident portal to achieve maximum effect on the property and residents
MT: 'Resident portal' is a loosely-used term these days ... can you be more specific?
KB: I was hoping you'd ask this question. In a nutshell, we automate and streamline all the processes and services at the property level; we also help residents fully realize the social potential in the property they live at. With over 70 different modules and a prominent social media component within our Resident Portal, Rent Payment and Maintenance Requests are just a couple of components, and not the entire resident portal.

MT: So you guys released your iPhone app. Why is that important for a resident portal?
KB: 1. Reach 2. Convenience 3. Cool factor

You see, at residential properties not everyone is connected to the web, and even if they are, it's easier to do stuff on the iPhone; and it is way cooler. We’ve seen registered residents download the ActiveBuilding iPhone app, and more so, residents that register to their property's resident portal because of the iPhone app. We have seen a surge in new registrations since the launch of the iPhone app.

MT: What does your iPhone app do?
KB: We focus on a combination of social and utility value. On the utility side, you will find the usual suspects, such as maintenance requests, package tracking etc. On the social front we enable residents to communicate with their on-site team and neighbors, without the need to have their neighbors’ contact info (such as email, or phone number).

MT: How is that achieved?
KB: We let residents send messages to their neighbors using only a unit number; if you know your neighbor's unit number, go ahead and communicate. It's that easy.

MT: And it works?
KB: Oh yes. You could have always done that through our Resident Portal, but this functionality is now enabled through the iPhone too; and thus makes it easier for people to communicate with their neighbors with greater convenience and freedom.

MT: Are there any privacy risks with this mechanism?
KB: Not really; at the end of the day, residents living in the same property can still stick notes on their neighbors' doors; except in that case they're anonymous. In our case, when you send a note to a unit number, they can see which unit messaged them; they can block messages from certain units, or become friends, and so it goes and the in-property social network is born.

MT: Can you tell us how many downloads you’ve had thus far?
KB: We just launched our app a little over a month ago, and we are already in the hundreds of downloads.

MT: What are the features residents use the most on ActiveBuilding’s iPhone app?
KB: Messaging and package tracking.

MT: Is your iPhone app free?
KB: It certainly is; but, you have to be a resident at a property that is using ActiveBuilding's Resident Portal for the iPhone app to work for you. Otherwise, it'll just be a waste of space on your iPhone.

MT: Any plans to expand the application to other platforms beyond the iPhone?
KB: Yes, both Android and Palm are things we need to do.

MT: Are they works in progress, or future goals?
KB: We’ve done some initial research and experimentation, but they are still in the future.

MT: What's next for your iPhone app?
KB: Version 2.0, of course: guest authorization, community marketplace and more. Somewhere between ground-breaking to revolutionary; we'll let our clients decide.

For more on the ActiveBuilding iPhone app (and a link to download it in the App Store), check out the ActiveBuilding blog.

Have you tried ActiveBuilding? If so, what has been your experience?

Are you using a resident portal at your properties? What are the features your residents use most? What are the most features that aren't yet available?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Today in Multifamily Tech

Google Wants to Monitor Home Energy Usage
Google and a firm named Energy have joined forces on a residential energy-monitoring system. The offering combines Google's PowerMeter Web tool, which the company debuted in February, and Energy's TED 5000, a device that measures power use, to monitor home energy consumption without a smart meter from the utility company.
>> Full story at Reuters

The App Store on the Job Site
Did you know mobile apps can turn your BlackBerry into a ruler or protractor? Or with the download of a construction calculator app you can calculate volumes and dimensions of concrete and lumber on your iPhone? Contractors are finding value in apps built for business.
>> Full story at ConstrucTech

More on Augmented Reality
Your cellphone's camera can now provide a computer-enhanced view of the world through programs that provide "augmented reality." These applications take advantage of the phones' GPS and compass features and access to high-speed wireless networks to mash up super-local Web content with the world that surrounds you. One use: See available apartments on the block where you're standing.
>> Full story at USA Today

Cox Makes Big Investments, Prepares for Wireless
Cox Communications, on the verge of completing a network upgrade to 1 GHz, is also preparing to launch a 3G mobile service as an extension of its video service with wireless installed in the last mile of its network, the cable company said. "We can bring the four-product experience together in a way that's unique."
>> From Multichannel News

FiOS Expands in New York, U-Verse Moves into Nashville
Verizon has launched its FiOS broadband package in eight upstate New York towns near Syracuse, while AT&T also added a new market to its U-Verse portfolio with the introduction of its services in Nashville.
>> Full story at Multichannel News and the Tennessean

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Is Internet Access Just an Expectation?

Last week, Apartment Guide released a list of the highest ranking apartment features and community amenities that consumers searched for on over the past six months (from February 2009 to August 2009). Here are the results:

  1. In-Unit Washer and Dryer
  2. Pets (allowed)
  3. Air Conditioning
  4. Some Paid Utilities
  5. Washer and Dryer Connections
  6. Dishwasher
  7. Balcony
  8. Garage
  9. Cable Ready
  10. Furnished Available
  11. Swimming Pool
  12. Short-Term Lease Available
  13. Fitness Center
  14. Gated Access
  15. Oversized Closets
Here's what surprised me most: Wi-Fi, or even wired Internet access, didn't even make the list. (To be fair, it did make the list over at

Over 74% of the U.S. population is online, yet renters don't need Internet in their apartment? (About 85% of the population pays for TV service from a cable, satellite or telco provider.)

This doesn't make sense to me, unless Internet access has finally become an expected utility, rather than an amenity. Heat didn't make the list. Water didn't make the list. Electricity didn't make the list. Now, Internet access doesn't make the list. (Just a couple years ago, Wi-Fi was touted as a "must-have amenity" ... I would argue it still is.)

What do you make of this? What are you seeing in the market? Is Internet access not as important, especially if apartment hunters are "being mindful of their budgets," or has it become such an expectation that searchers don't even think to list it as a requirement?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

MHN Announces Their Technology Choice Award Winners

Multi-Housing News Technology Choice Awards 2009Multi-Housing News has announced the winners of their 2009 Technology Choice Awards, as selected by their readers.

I'll echo the comment in the article:

Now, more than ever, your technology choices are critical to efficient operations—the bonus is retaining and attracting satisfied residents.
I'm not going to write much more about this, primarily because I'm not a fan of the selection process employed by MHN. When some of the companies on their original list aren't even categorized correctly, I can't agree with their emphatic statement, "please confidently use this list as your reference."

I would also love to see a study of residents'/prospects' impressions of some of these same services, if for no other reason than to see any possible differences in the results.

Don't get me wrong ... there are many outstanding companies on this list. Congratulations to all of the winners. I've taken the work out of searching for you (where possible) by linking directly to the website of each winner:

Intuit Real Estate Solutions
One Site by RealPage
Yardi Systems

First Advantage SafeRent
One Site Screening (LeasingDesk) by RealPage
Resident Data


NWP Services Corporation
One Site Payments (Velocity) by RealPage
ResidentPay by Property Solutions
Yardi Portal/Yardi Checkscan

Comcast Cable
Time Warner Cable
Verizon Enhanced Communities

KeyTrak, Inc.
Saflok (Now KABA Multihousing)
Schlage/Ingersoll Rand

American Utility Management
ista North America
NWP Services Corporation

Lead Tracking Solutions
Level One
Resite Online

Crossfire by RealPage
Property Solutions
Resite Online
Yardi Portal

Crossfire by RealPage
Ellipse Group
Property Solutions
Resite Online

What do you think? Do you agree with these picks? Are there companies (or whole categories) that you would add to the list?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are Electronic Locks Right for Your Property?

This is a guest post written by Yvette Felix from Saflok. For more information, please visit their website or contact her at

Why Choose Electronic Locks?
Choosing an electronic lock system for your property does more than secure access control and enhance safety and life security. Selecting the right system for your building’s unique needs could mean increased operational efficiency and a significant return on investment, not to mention serve as a unique selling point for potential residents. Here are some critical considerations to keep in mind.

Choose a stand-alone lock. Installing a hard-wired system is a significant investment. Battery life in a typical stand-alone lock is approximately two to three years under normal use — a long time to be sure, but it's best to incorporate a battery change into your maintenance schedule at turnover to alleviate any confusion and to ease record keeping.

Streamline Operations
If electronic locks are deployed site-wide (both in the common spaces and at the apartments), the residents only require one key to get anywhere on the property, whether it's the parking garage, the fitness center or there apartment.

Electronic locks for multifamilyElectronic locks also help eliminate lost-key related issues and streamline the move-out process in all types of multihousing properties. A new key should automatically re-key a lost or stolen key by canceling the old key. You shouldn’t have to hassle with the use of a re-keying device on the locks. Especially in situations where the master key is lost, there is no need to re-pin all the locks on your property.

Protect Yourself
Electronic lock audit trails are an important feature to consider. This use-history report details exactly who has been in and out of an apartment or restricted areas throughout your community — this becomes an especially useful report in the event of theft, giving you better control over your liability.

With an electronic system, you also can program various access levels on a key. For example, a visiting contractor could be given a key that gives him access to only one room on the property and the key could be programmed to work only during a specified time.

One Size Does Not Fit All
Don’t forget, one lock sometimes doesn’t fit every door requirement. So choose a provider with a complete lock line-up with unique products for different applications such as common access locks, and locks with unit and suite configurations.

Also, make sure that the locks are ANSI/BHMA-certified. Certification speaks to the fact that the lock has withstood appropriate testing, and adheres to usage parameters and safety criteria as defined by nationally accepted standards.

Do you use electronic locks at your property? What has been your experience? If not, what is preventing you from trying them? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 and PadZing Cook Up a Tasty Data Buffet

Start with the massive database of vacancy information that drives VaultWare. Then take all the rental rate data from the largest consumer apartment search website. Throw it all together and you have one serious market research tool.

This week, Realty DataTrust and today announced an agreement to do exactly that -- they'll integrate the rental rate data from's 25,000+ property listings into the site RDT built to analyze apartment market data and trends, VaultWare, the keeper of the data that currently drives PadZing, is already the leading online apartment availability and reservation system, so the data should easily make PadZing one of the most comprehensive sources for current rent and vacancy data in the industry.

PadZing Screenshot

If you're not already familiar with PadZing, it's a subscription-based tool that allows users to obtain up-to-date competitive information ... it includes some pretty cool mapping and customization features. (It's a free subscription.)

Both Mike Mueller, CEO of Realty DataTrust, and Peggy Abkemeier, General Manager of, are all smiles about the new partnership -- you can check out their happy quotes in the Padzing Pressroom.

Have you tried PadZing previously? What did you think? What data resources do you use most when doing your market research?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apartment Search Goes Social ... Almost

MyNewPlace, a site that lists apartment and home rentals site, today announced that it has added Facebook Connect to its site. The feature allows its users to get feedback on prospective apartments, condos and home rentals by posting property information to their Facebook page. MyNewPlace claims to be the first real estate and apartments Web site to implement Facebook Connect, allowing consumers to tap into their network of online friends to make more informed decisions about where to live.

Mark Moran, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for MyNewPlace, had this to say about the new feature:

Most people want the opinion of friends, family and roommates before choosing a new place to live. Facebook's more than 150 million users can now quickly and easily log into MyNewPlace using their Facebook account, post properties they are interested in to their Facebook page and get feedback and advice from the people that are most important to them. With Facebook Connect, getting opinions from friends and family is as simple as a click.
Traffic to MyNewPlace appears to be growing rapidly in recent months -– the company claims that over 3 million people use the site monthly. MyNewPlace's internal research indicates that over one third of its visitors already have a Facebook account, which seems quite low to me based on recent data about Facebook's amazing growth.

Trying It Out
Trying the new feature out didn't go so well. Signing in was easy enough, there's a big "Connect with Facebook" button on the sign-in page.
MyNewPlace Sign In Page

Once a user signs in, they can search for properties like normal. When the user selects a property, they'll see the property profile, which now includes an option to "Post to Facebook":
MyNewPlace Property Listing

The user can make a short comment on the property, and a listing then gets posted to the user's Facebook page:
MyNewPlace Posting on Facebook

Pretty cool, eh?

Here's where it starts to get less exciting. As a Facebook user, the whole point of posting a property like this to my profile like this would be to have my friends comment on the community and tell me what they think about it, or better yet, what their experiences were if they lived there in the past.

Facebook typically allows users to share posted information like this with their friends through the feature called a "newsfeed." It makes (almost) every interaction on the site a more social experience, and it's a huge reason why Facebook is as popular as it is today.

Well, here's the problem ... the posting from MyNewPlace doesn't automatically get shared with the user's friends through the newsfeed. Which means those friends probably won't have any idea when that person posts a property for comment, unless they go directly to that person's profile page. Others also tried it without any luck.

It misses the most social aspect of the entire site.

When I asked the MyNewPlace rep about the feature (via Twitter), this was the response I received:
Our app allows FB (Facebook) users to post to their profiles. FB shows what it deems to you RE your friends on your home page.
Great ... the feature only works if Facebook wants it to. Well, here's to hoping that Facebook wants features like this to work as much as I do. There is huge potential for multifamily websites to embrace these types of features that enable their prospects and residents to easily share information about the property with their friends.

It will be interesting to see how MyNewPlace works through these issues, how they promote this feature to their users, and how they push similar "sharing" features into the site in the future. They also have a website-building tool, called MyNewSite ... it could be very interesting if they incorporate the Facebook Connect feature directly into their property website templates.

Have you tried the new MyNewPlace Facebook Connect feature? What did you think? How else can other ILS providers and property websites take advantage of social networks like this?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now If It Could Just Help Me Find My Keys...

Sometimes designing for technology isn't about more buttons and features. Sometimes it's not about touchscreens, wireless access or voice-activated whatever.

Sometimes it's just about convenience ... make my life a little easier, let me enjoy the view, give me a place to put my new TV, help me get a little more organized.

That's why I love this wall-mountable charging station from KangaRoom Storage. It's a simple idea ... here's the description from their site:

We're all proud of having the latest (and smallest) electronic gadgets to organize our lives. But what good are they if we can't find them or the uncharged battery dies right in the middle of a conversation? With our Charging Station you can say good-bye to multiple chargers and their unsightly electrical cords snaking all over your desk. You can corral up to three items and neatly tuck a 10" power strip ... out of sight behind the sliding door. You can also mount it to the wall as easily as a clock...

Place a power outlet on the wall in the kitchen or near the front door, hang this charging station over the outlet, connect a power strip and ShamWow!, you have yourself an apartment that's ready for all of your residents' mobile devices.

Life is instantly a little less cluttered and a bit more organized. The stations come three different colors -- pick them up for $40 a piece here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Technology Trends for 2009

Want to know the technology trends that will have the greatest impact on the multifamily industry this year? Yeah ... me, too.

That's why I'm glad I got to interview Richard Holtz of InfiniSys and Steve Sadler of Post Properties today as part of our first Multifamily Technology webinar. (I'll post the full recording soon.)

Both of these guys are experts in their field, and it was interesting to get the different perspectives from the consultant (Richard) and the property developer/owner (Steve). They talked about everything from fiber optic cabling to fitness equipment.

Lastly, I can't say thank you enough to the people who dialed into the call ... you all rock. There were so many great questions, I think it will definitely warrant similar events in the future. If you have any feedback, additional questions or ideas for future events (including format), feel free to contact me anytime or speak your mind in the comments.

Until I can get the full recording posted, here is the slide presentation these guys ran through today:

Know a great speaker/expert with knowledge about multifamily technology that just blows you away? Give me a call (386.236.1530) ... we're looking for folks to participate in our future events.