Fifty years ago it was inconceivable that an object as fundamental as a front door key might become extinct.
But today, smart access control systems that allow residents to unlock doors with their smartphones are increasingly prevalent in multifamily blocks. This technology underpins the successful implementation of all proptech, according to Jeff Morrison, senior director of access control provider Brivo.
“If you’re going to add technology to a property and provide any level of resident experience, you have to install the common denominator — smart access control with an API that can integrate with other proptech platforms,” Morrison said. “This is the bedrock for the whole proptech industry.”
The proptech sector has been expanding rapidly, not least due to the pandemic, which increased the need to work anywhere using online tools. In 2021, $32B was invested in proptech— a 28% increase over 2020.
Many technologies are now being implemented across real estate, from smart apartment Internet of Things platforms with facilities management tools to resident engagement apps and leasing platforms. All these tools, however, rely on reliable and secure smart access control, Morrison said.
“To quote our CEO, access control used to be about keeping people out,” he said. “Now with the growth of proptech, it has become about how we let the right people in at the right time. It’s about facilitating everyday life at a multifamily property — letting in delivery people, dog walkers, electricians and so on, as well as the residents who live in the building.”
Smart access control facilitates access for self-guided tours and leasing, as well as amenities, parking and Airbnb reservations. It can help to relieve the daily package management challenges for on-site staff, as delivery people can enter the building or delivery area.
With this many people accessing a building every day, property managers need to make sure the site is secure, Morrison said. As the proptech sector has grown, new “rookies” are offering solutions in the access control space in multifamily that he said should be vetted completely for SOC 2 compliance and encryption before their solution is deployed.
“As a property owner, is security something you want to gamble on?” he said. “Your access control platform must work 100% of the time — it’s not like a z-wave light switch that goes unnoticed if it falls offline. The risks if you can’t open and close the right doors reliably and securely are very real and can bring immense liabilities.”
Providing the right resident experience is equally important, said Mariam Rogers, director of multifamily sales at Brivo. Property managers need to make sure that moving around a building is seamless — residents will soon tire of a building where access is complicated or unreliable.
“The multifamily sector is realizing that residents don’t want to have six different apps to do six different things,” she said. “Proptech providers come to us because we have the API solution that allows a seamless flow of people within a community, which integrates with the other resident portal elements inside their mobile app. While using those API partner apps, residents don’t even know they’re using Brivo.”
Morrison said that smart access control has moved beyond being a brand differentiator to being expected by today’s residents. In 2016, Wakefield Research found that 60% of residents in multifamily units would pay more for a unit with smart access control.
“And that was six years ago,” Morrison said. “When the concept of a smart apartment was new, early adopters were reaping the rewards through increased rental growth. But now it’s expected. Property managers need to be able to offer this technology.”
This is one challenge that is slowing the adoption of proptech in the multifamily industry, Rogers said. While property managers want to offer the highest, most viable level of technology to residents, developers don’t always see the need to invest. The conversations between the two sides aren’t happening nearly enough.
“Opting for the system that is cheapest will effectively kill a property,” she said. “It will get handed to the property manager and many smart systems aren’t possible. We want to educate both sides to come together to identify use cases for access control that allow the right technology to be installed in the first place.”
The need to work together is a message that is currently resounding across the proptech sector. Many providers publicize the integrations that are possible between their tools and others. While this is essential to ensure the foundations of a smart system are right, Morrison said, it has also led Brivo to move into the consultancy space. The team provides advice to multifamily operators looking to implement smart technology.
“We work with the right tech partners to guide property managers and developers, helping them to deal with the huge choice of proptech out there,” he said. “Some smaller operators don’t have dedicated staff to look at this, others didn’t see this wave coming. Many have just been dipping their toes, but now is the time to get this right.”
There is always new technology on the horizon and Brivo continues to find new partners, Rogers said. A technology the team is looking at right now is high-speed, propertywide WiFi. This will not only eliminate the need to make calls using cellular, but as the WiFi will extend throughout the building — including in elevators and parking garages — it will allow them to make calls and open doors anywhere, without cutting out.
“When you combine smart access control with the right mobile experience, you can create a powerful value proposition for the property owner,” she said. “It reduces the amount of hardware we need to implement and provides the ability to move through a building even more seamlessly.”
Today, all developers and property owners are looking to create a smart building, Morrison said, and it is essential to consider future-proofing. As more proptech solutions reach property managers and change how things are done, one common factor will remain: People will always need access.
Learn more about Brivo’s multifamily solutions