President & CEO, National Apartment Association (NAA)
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the adoption of technology in the rental housing industry.
Although a technological revolution in the rental housing sector was well underway prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the novel coronavirus has acted as an accelerant, especially concerning onsite operations, where the traditional aspects of a highly face-to-face business are adapting to the unique challenges presented by social distancing protocols.
Automation, artificial intelligence, online resident portals, smart-home devices, and more have been the focus of rental housing investment for years. Prior to the pandemic, these solutions were viewed through a lens of added convenience, enhanced amenity offerings, and improved resident experience. COVID-19 has added considerations that include the health and safety of residents and staff, greater operational efficiency, and asset protection.
Bringing residents together
As the pandemic has underscored, the rental housing industry is certainly capable of swift adoption of technological solutions to enhance the resident experience and improve the efficiency of operations.
Regarding resident engagement, communication technologies have greatly assisted operators in connecting with residents. Many communities are using social media platforms and digital communications to share important information, schedule amenity use, and outline enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures. This method has helped reinforce the additional measures undertaken to ensure the safety of the 40 million Americans who call apartments home.The tools are also being used to bring the community together, engage neighbors, and counter feelings of isolation and loneliness. Operators across the country are hosting virtual trivia nights, cooking lessons, digital fitness classes, book clubs, and more. The multitude of Americans spending more time working and learning from home also means operators are paying careful attention to ensuring adequate internet bandwidth for their residents.
Keeping safety at the forefront
Resident safety and convenience, as well as enhanced efficiency, means creating a digital alternative for everything; a trend already in place but becoming a greater necessity by the day. This includes applications, work order requests, payments, renewals, and any other potentially paper-based processes that may be in place at the community.
Amid stay-at-home orders across the country, many apartment communities were quick to add virtual tours and virtual leasing to their capabilities, giving prospective residents the opportunity to tour and rent a residence safely and from afar.
Operators have gotten creative with the ways in which they recreate an in-person experience through digital means. Some are using smartphone apps and communication tools like FaceTime and Zoom to give prospective residents a first-hand look at a community, while others are recording video tours and adding them to their websites for on-demand engagement.
Another critical factor exacerbated by the pandemic and leading to technological adoption involves the multi-decade growth in e-commerce, with apartment communities experiencing a sustained and significant increase in package deliveries.
Operators are creating safe and efficient ways to connect residents to their deliveries, with onsite package lockers becoming more common to address this challenge. It eliminates the need for interaction between staff and residents, or residents and delivery people. Storage spaces converted to dedicated smart package rooms with key fob access and additional security have also started appearing in apartment communities.
Much of the technological innovation borne out of the pandemic for conducting business and enhancing the resident experience will persist long after COVID-19. Owners and operators who are delaying adoption because they are waiting for future-proof technology to arrive are at risk of falling behind their competition and missing opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness, both of which are critical in keeping their consumers — the residents — satisfied.