Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cable sees the importance of the Internet. Do apartment owners?

You know you’ve reached a tipping point when even the cable company starts looking past set top boxes. 

For the first time, cable giant Comcast reported it had more high speed Internet customers than cable TV subscribers, according to an Engadget report. The same article noted that Comcast launched its “Stream” online video service just in time to capitalize on the trend. 

That’s notable, of course, as more and more Americans become “cord cutters,” and choose to watch streaming video over an Internet connection rather than subscribe to cable.

But for apartment owners, it also highlights an elephant sitting in the middle of multifamily’s living room. Namely, while residents have been saying for years that a reliable, high-speed Internet connection is the most crucial amenity for any apartment, the industry as a whole still doesn't seem to have heard that message.

That’s the gist of Broadband Communities’ latest MDU Survey, which found that less than 39% of apartment owners were familiar with the term “fiber to the home.” Of course, that's the phrase pros use to designate high quality, high-speed Internet delivered to residential addresses, such as apartments, over fiber-optic lines. 

The magazine concluded, “In general… perceptions of MDU owners and managers toward broadband-related issues, and particularly ultra-broadband issues, continue to lag the perceptions and needs of their own residents.”

For years, multifamily owners have loved to complain about cable providers being inflexible and hard to work with, as well as deaf to their residents’ concerns about customer service, which often ended up at the apartment manager’s door.

But with the combination of these two pieces of news, it’s time for multifamily to start listening to what cable is saying, loud and clear: high quality, high-speed Internet actually is kind of important, after all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Incredibly Adjustable Apartment

Technology just might be the answer for taking your Murphy bed to the next level. A group of MIT grads led by Hasier Larrea have created a mix of home automation apps and robotics that can change the dimension’s of a small apartment’s individual areas, such as a bathroom or living room, on command, according to the Boston Business Journal. A great YouTube video shows how the furniture in a 400-square foot apartment adjusts to different times of day and living scenarios, such as a bed sliding out of a drawer when it’s time to sleep, and converting into a desk when it’s time to get up and work. It even shows how a closet-sized bathroom could expand into more space when someone uses it. Now that’s smarter living through technology. Check out the article and video here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Apartment Access Gets Fob-ulous

Electronic keys are coming to multifamily. But you need to take steps to keep them secure.

For Diana Pittro,  executive vice president of Chicago-based RMK Management Company, the banks of keys hanging in her leasing and maintenance offices are slowly disappearing. In their place is a PC-like console where the company codes the electronic fobs it now gives residents instead of traditional keys.
Each of those fobs can be programmed to open an individual apartment door, as well as other common areas in a building, such as a fitness room or clubhouse theatre room. That means residents can carry just a single fob that opens all the areas they have access to, instead of multiple cards or keys.
“That alone is much more convenient for residents,” Pittro says.
Long used in businesses, hotels and campus settings – where facility-wide control allows for lockdowns in emergency situations -- keyless electronic access is now becoming more commonplace in market rate apartments as well. Add to that the raft of consumer-oriented smart locks that have been hitting the market and synch with smartphones using Bluetooth technology – August Smart Lock and Kwikset’s Kevo are two – and it’s clear that physical keys are going the way of CDs and VCRs.
The reasons why are clear. Pittro’s fobs can be programmed to provide access to just one or both of the towers in a two-tower property, and can be used for other amenities, ranging from storage lockers to parking garage access. Using the console that came with the system, Pittro’s leasing agents and property managers can set the times that residents can access those areas – say until 10 p.m. for the community theatre room --  and, in the case of lost or damaged equipment, identify who used a room last. “It allows you to customize access down to the individual resident,” Pittro says.  
RMK has been deploying Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Kaba Access Control’s  multihousing “SafLoks” to new buildings as they’re constructed, and outfitting older ones when they’re remodeled.
“It costs more at setup, but it’s cheaper in the long run because you don’t have to change the locks when someone leaves,” she says. “Plus, now, I don’t have a million keys floating around. Or worse, a master key that can open any lock in the building. With this system, you just don’t have that.”
Cost to set up the system has run RMK (or the owners of the 30 buildings and 7,000 units RMK manages) between $400-$500 a door, or about $200-$300 more than a traditional keyed locking system. But because Pittro can simply reprogram the fobs when a resident leaves, instead of changing the locks, she says RMK believes it will save money in the long run. Plus, by charging residents $25 per fob, she says they do a much better job of returning them than traditional keys.
“It’s just a reality of apartments, people are not very good at giving their keys back,” Pittro says. “With this, if I don’t get it back, I can just block it from the system. It just makes more sense to have a key that you have control over through programming.”
But while the advantages of keyless access are many – automated reprogramming for apartment managers, no more rogue keys, and access control options to various parts of a property during pre-programmed periods -- apartment owners need to be aware of the inherent risks of giving residents electronic access to their properties. Namely, as with any electronic network, you’re also providing a potential gateway to anyone who can hack into the system
“The main risk, of course, is the issue of duplication, and how easy it is to duplicate that electronic key,” says Sam Rehman, chief technology officer at application protection firm Arxan Technologies. “Before, I would actually have to steal a physical key, duplicate it and then distribute it. Now, I could literally just post that key online, and then everybody would have access to your apartment building.”
Arxan provides security to smart phone apps to prevent exactly that, by making sure that the identity of the person using the key is encrypted. But other methods of duplication are also possible. For instance, just as cyber criminals have installed so-called “sniffers” on retailers’ credit card terminals, ATMs and gas pumps, they could do the same with electronic entry access devices.
“The goal, in that case, is to monitor the protocol so that as people walk close to the door and open it, they can record the information that goes back and forth, and then see if they can find any patterns in the information,” Rehman says. “It’s very doable.”
And criminals could, of course, purchase the types of machines that RMK uses to code its fobs, and try to reverse engineer the system to break any encryption, just as they might try to steal traditional keys and duplicate them.
“The critical element comes down to how people store these electronic keys, and the security they build into the system,” Rehman says. “If you’re talking to a vendor, you should ask them how the keys could possibly be duplicated. If they say they can’t, you really need to start asking more questions, because there’s always a way.”
At the same time, Rehman says the benefits of programmable, keyless access for industries like multifamily, hotels and short-term rentals such as AirBnB and outweigh any perceived risks.
“As with any security-related issue, it’s always a race,” Rehman says. “We just need to keep innovating to make it so expensive and time consuming to break into the system that it won’t be worth it to the criminals to try doing so.”
If manufactures and vendors can do that, keyless access for apartments could open a whole new door of opportunity for the multifamily industry.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Let the Right Ones In, Part 2

Fargo, N.D.’s KVLY-TV has an interesting report on the future of electronic access to buildings and multifamily communities. Spurred by an investigation the news station launched earlier this year, the story highlights a growing concern about the safety and security of physical, keyed locks. Namely, reporters were able to take a picture of a co-worker’s keys, send the picture in to a key copying website, and then use the copy they got back to unlock the co-worker's door and walk into the home. Those kinds of nefarious capabilities, as well as the cost of electronic access systems dropping nearly 70 percent in recent years, according to the report, have led to increased adoption by many businesses in the station’s viewing area, including several multifamily properties. Again, stay tuned for our own special report on electronic access systems, coming soon. Watch and read the full KVLY report here.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Let the Right Ones In

Jay Pritchett may never have to tell Gloria and Manny how to buzz him in to the front gate again, thanks to LiftMaster's new Internet Protocol Access Control (IPAC) system. By using VoIP Technology, the access system allows residents to buzz visitors and guests into their buildings or homes without the use of an old-fashioned telephone line, according to Multifamily Executive's Lauren Hunter. That should be good news for multifamily owners, who have sometimes struggled with antiquated units that rely on old telephone wiring, which they're putting into their buildings less and less these days. Those systems also require a closed-loop to work, which means if two people answer different extensions of the same line at the same time, neither will be able to buzz the caller in. (This is the concept that Manny and Gloria can never quite figure out, even though they're part of the Modern Family.) As access control is near and dear to our heart, the MDU Geek will be reporting on keyless entry systems soon. Until then, LiftMaster's large display screen will ensure that residents are only letting the right ones in.  Check out the full MFE article here.