Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why People Rent: Dispelling Some Common Misconceptions

If you rent, you do so because you can’t afford a home.  Or, you are just too young, and have no desire to own a home at this point in your life.  It is a misconception to think that these are the only – or even the most common – reasons for renting.

In a recent article picked up by the “Capital Business” section of The Washington Post, Tom Bozzuto, CEO of The Bozzuto Group, explains how the profile of today’s renter has changed along with the times.

“This is no longer the fifties,” Bozzuto says. “Many people rent in America as a matter of choice, not necessity. Many of these people love the flexibility renting provides. Many like that renting allows them to live in places where they couldn’t afford to buy.  These people, these renters, are contributing members of the community who hold full-time jobs, spend money, volunteer in their community and vote.”

Bozzuto also points out how the apartment dweller is marginalized in the political realm.  With the left focused only on subsidized housing and the right concentrating solely on the single-family home, little or no attention is given to the apartment renter.  This political mindset inevitably bleeds over into the private sector and affects the assumptions of the general public, as well.

While renters receive little attention from politicians, they are no small segment of the population.  Bozzuto estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of Americans rent.

For those in the industry of building, selling and managing apartments or multifamily housing developments, the “too young, too poor” assumption can be hugely detrimental to your marketing initiatives and can mislead your approach to interacting with potential and current clients.  Renters want to be treated with the same respect that potential homeowners receive.  And, what they really want is flexibility.

The need for flexibility of today’s renter tends to go beyond just their choice of housing.  It is a basic desire for choices, options and possibilities.  They want alternatives.  They have preferences. 

No doubt, this recent craving for choice has been largely fueled by the rapid advancements in personalized and mobile technology.  And, for developers of multifamily housing units, no area offers greater opportunities or greater challenges.

It is essential that your development is capable of accommodating the various technological preferences of your renters.  Can they choose their preferred service provider? Are your apartment amenities both Mac and PC compatible?

On the flip side, today’s technological capabilities provide an enormous range of ways to wow your potential clients.  Between jumbotrons in the pool area, state of the art entertainment rooms and hallways equipped with scent technology and mood lighting, there is no shortage of chances to impress your tenants.

The renters of today are smart.  And, they want to live in a Smart ApartmentTM.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Need for Speed

Place yourself in the shoes of a typical college student:  You've invested in a brand new computer because you know you’ll need it for taking notes, writing papers and doing research throughout the upcoming semester. Increasingly, your professors are also sending you online for more and more required coursework – often including exams!

You’re ecstatic because there’s nothing better than doing coursework in the comfort of your own apartment. But, then you suddenly remember how spotty your internet is at your apartment complex. The joy quickly fades as you realize that, undoubtedly, you’ll have to walk back to campus to get a signal strong and steady enough to take the test or complete the assignment. Few things are more frustrating than your internet fading and kicking you out of a secure session.

So, as a property developer, what options do you have to provide the quality of service expected by these student tenants?  When everyone in your apartment complex is frustrated by the speed or quality of the internet connection, there is only one thing to do: provide a faster, better connection.  Student tenants should be able to depend on this; In fact, internet speed has become the most important technological amenity for students as well as third most important amenity for any demographic according to Multifamily Executive Magazine.  Students are doubling internet usage every two years.

J Turner Research polled students and found that 86% use the internet for more than three hours per day. They also found that students connect to the internet with more than three devices, which means it may often seem that more people are living at your apartment complex than actually do!  Just like cell phone service is expected, internet speed is becoming the same way. It is leading students to “shop around” for internet connections when looking for an apartment, because it’s now a required amenity -- much like a dishwasher or cable TV.

Understanding the necessity of this service is the first step, but a close second step is understanding the variety of cost-effective options available to you as a leading property developer.  Options such as FTTATM -- “Fiber to the Apartment” -- can greatly increase occupancy and retention by providing a level of service that meets the residents’ expectations.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Best Buy Walk Through with a Tech Expert

As an employee of leading low-voltage design and multifamily technology company Infinisys, Elisa Smith knows a thing or two about the technology demands of college students.  The firm’s work in designing technology systems for student housing has been nationally recognized.

So, it should be no surprise that her recent trip to Best Buy to purchase a new WiFi adaptor for her son’s computer was a little more than just a quick “back-to-school” shopping trip.  She used her knowledge of the space to bring back some thoughts for Infinisys’ clients.

“I thought that there would be a lot of bells and whistles because of the students preparing to go back to school,” Elisa said.  “However, all I saw in regard to that were a lot of pre-packaged deals — with laptops paired with software and accessories to make buying more simplified.”

With technology becoming such an important part of students’ lifestyles and education, the retailers’ focus on bundling the products reinforces the current trend:  students are connected all of the time through multiple devices.

Students want small and adaptable.  That’s the way technology is heading, so tech savvy college students want something that they can bring with them wherever they go and it won’t take up too much room. 

“I have been hearing that a lot of people are seeing laptops as somewhat old fashioned, because they are big and bulky,” Elisa said. 

Basically, the tablet is quickly replacing the laptop as the standard for on-the-go productivity.  However, the sleek and aesthetically pleasing versions of these portable units can be expensive, which causes some people to hesitate before purchasing.  Students especially have to weigh their choices between functionality and cost.  But, the idea of lugging around a backpack filled with books and a laptop is not appealing to the modern student, which is why tablets have become popular. 

This increased connectivity – and portability – increases demands on student housing developers as tenants are expecting to be able to maintain those connections, through multiple devices, at all times.  As technology manufacturers and retailers continue to make the devices more and more affordable, this trend will only continue.  Developers need to focus on staying ahead of this trend by giving careful consideration to low-voltage design options that allow for growth and flexibility.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Security Considerations in Student Housing

By Richard Holtz

It is certainly not something that student housing developers and property managers want to think about, but the tragic events at Virginia Tech and similar institutions have demonstrated the need for effective security and emergency communications for everyone affiliated with the campus environment.

The lessons learned by public safety officials following the recent mass-shootings around the country provide valuable insight for developers and managers of student housing.  An article published recently by the Mass Notification and Emergency Communications website highlights some areas of focus for the multifamily industry.

The MNEC (Mass Notification Emergency Communications) industry brings together integrators, codes, technologies and customers. Over the last two years, NSCA (National Systems Contractors Association) has been committed to educating and engaging integrators in this emerging marketplace.   The organizations will work to educate end-users and government officials and further engage a wider scope of integrators and manufacturers in this critical public safety initiative.

The MNEC suggests that for multifamily developers, the first step in evaluating emergency response is to focus on communication.  When property owners plan and develop a proactive approach in this area, they can take logical and reasonable actions that can deliver significant value to tenants.  Understanding what means of communication authorities will be using in an emergency and being prepared to assist residents in receiving messages is vital.

Networked digital signage is an example of a critical tool that is easy to implement and maintain on student housing properties.  In an emergency, as information is often conflicting and chaotic, digital signage can be a key tool in quickly reaching large numbers of residents in high-traffic areas.

Blue Light Phone Systems offer developers another way to enhance emergency communications on their property.  These brightly lit stanchions, equipped with emergency telephones, cameras and broadcast speakers, can be strategically placed in potential problem areas around the property.  Emergency Blue Light Phones can prove invaluable as initial-report tools, alerting proper authorities quickly and directly.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is another safety feature that takes on added importance in a time of crisis, and it is essential that the cameras feeding these systems be of sufficient resolution.  Security cameras need to be part of a system that is able to capture high-resolution footage in order to take full advantage of capabilities.

Access Control systems with a common credential provide a safe environment and instill that sense of security that residents rely on.  The presence of access control will, not only deter potential threats, but improve residents’ comfort as well.  A secondary benefit is having a historical record of who went through an entryway.

While solutions for low-voltage technology often focus on cable television, phone and internet as amenities for tenants, that same infrastructure takes on a whole new level of importance when considering resident safety.  Be sure your technology vendors and consultants have taken these valuable lessons into consideration when assessing your needs.