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Sell Me | in-unit technology

Multi-Housing News
June 6 2007

Technology continues to become more and more important to multifamily residents. Here`s what developers and property managers told MHN Managing Editor Teresa O`Dea Hein that they look for in order to meet their residents` tech needs.

PÃ¥l Hottesen, Vice President HSC Real Estate, Seattle

"Each apartment building we manage has its own Web site (or two) but how much people access it depends on the market. In Seattle and Portland, the penetration is very high--70 to 80 percent of tenants use it to pay their rent on line and to submit maintenance requests. But when you get out to smaller markets, the penetration is very low--people prefer to walk the check over to the management office and some are afraid of online payments. They don`t realize that their check gets scanned and turned into an electronic (ACH) payment anyway.

Plus, some property owners don`t want us as third-party managers to set up that management software because there`s a fee involved. We think that`s shortsighted. Overall, the benefit is that we get paid quicker. And it`s a benefit to tenants, too--unless they`re floating a check.

We try to get people used to paying online and submitting work orders before they even move in. Most newer properties have a wireless network, at least by the pool and other common areas. It`s a must to have something faster than dial-up, even in seniors housing."

Seattle-based HSC Real Estate Inc. manages 26,000 multifamily units in 175 buildings in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Idaho and Nevada.

Dan Oltersdorf Vice President of Resident Life Campus Advantage, Austin, Texas

"To be able to do things at the click of a mouse is important to student residents. High-speed Internet is an expected feature and amenity in student housing (while there is less and less of a demand for land lines), and we also utilize tech to build community and make sure we`re plugged in and meeting residents` needs. Students will click a mouse faster than they`ll dial a phone.

People have a desire for connection, as shown through social networking sites and online video gaming tournaments. Student living is not just housing. Some people fight social networking sites but that`s shortsighted--it`s where the students are. You have to meet them where they`re at. It`s a shift in communication styles.

Ultimately, we want good usability for the resident, as well as added value and convenience. As a third-party management company, we have to look at ROI and make a wise investment. I`ve seen different tech solutions at extremely different price points, such as Web site development prices ranging from $100 to $10,000 per month. One innovation we`re unrolling this summer is an online roommate matching program called MyMatchU.

We also have sites where resident directors can share tips and get ideas to plan events and programs, and set up social group Web sites for residents to create a sense of an online community. I highly recommend the book, Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results, by Jack Mitchell, published in 2003.

Campus Advantage, headquartered in Austin, Texas, operates student housing across the U.S. in the by-the-bed format with over 25,000 student housing beds.

Aaron Gee Senior V.P. of Technology Services The Ginn Co. Lifestyles Group, Palm Coast, Fla.

"We like fiber to the unit for several reasons. It lowers the amount of square footage needed for IT equipment, with only one IT room needed as opposed to one on every other floor, and thus lowers the overall cost of construction. Since we build in Florida, which is the lightning capital of the world, we like that fiber, unlike copper wiring, does not provide a conductive path into the building units.

And with fiber, I can push really cool content--there`s bandwidth to spare and more choices. The voice/video/data/security technology packages we select are all designed around the owner--we treat every owner as if they were a guest. We also try to keep these technology packages the same from property to property.

We wanted someone to maintain the infrastructure for us, so we chose a fiber-optic amenity company, which selects the service providers and operates the entertainment and communication networks, with white-glove service. This gives us one number to contact `one throat to choke` if there`s a problem. And a service activation specialist walks new owners through all their tech options because the amount of man-hours that could go into managing these simple questions, such as showing a resident which plugs are for phone and which are for data, could be enormous.

And unit monitoring technology enables us as a property manager to be more proactive and head off some potential problems while also offering a remote owner the chance to check on their unit."

For over three decades, Bobby Ginn, owner of Ginn Clubs & Resorts, has been developing master-planned communities. Based in Palm Coast, Fla., Ginn Clubs & Resorts develops, builds and manages communities and resorts. Its properties are located in Florida, South Carolina, and the Bahamas.

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