As apartment executives know all too well, the technology landscape is changing rapidly—and constantly. Cable firms are rushing to deliver phone service, phone companies are starting to provide video programming, and American consumers are being bombarded with offers for new content and services for everything from their television to their cell phones. With so many possibilities, it's hard for a multifamily company to decide what it should do regarding technology at its properties.
A recent National Multi Housing Council report on technology usage in rental housing should help. According to the survey, done by SatisFacts Research in 2006, apartment residents express some strong preferences regarding video, voice, and data services. Among the findings: Landlines are clearly on their way out, renters of all income levels expect broadband connections, and contrary to industry belief about the appeal and convenience of offering a bundled technology package to residents, those residents would rather make those decisions themselves—even if it means multiple providers—without their apartment company's help.
GET READY FOR REPEATERS One of the clearest conclusions of the NMHC/SatisFacts report, which surveyed 14,000 apartment residents, is that the wired home phone's days are numbered. Only 58 percent of the renters surveyed have a landline phone, and even fewer—38 percent—consider it their primary phone.
As more renters adopt cell phones as their primary phones, the ability to get a cell signal may become a significant factor in their decision to renew their lease or recommend a property to friends. This means that apartment owners as part of their due diligence and development planning should ensure that their properties have adequate reception, that the properties do not block cell reception, and that they are not in a particular cell service provider's “dead spot.”
Many mid- and high-rise apartment owners are struggling with this issue. One option is to purchase large-scale cell phone repeaters for properties to improve the strength of cellular signals; office building owners and public transit systems often do this very thing. However, these fixed stations are relatively expensive and can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per floor to accommodate each cell network. (A repeater only works for its own network; if an apartment property wants to boost the signal for multiple cell providers, it will need a repeater for each one.) Unfortunately for multifamily firms, the data suggests that an investment in repeaters may be necessary to attract and retain residents going forward.
INTERNET FOR EVERYONE The Internet has become deeply embedded in renters' everyday lives, regardless of age or income level.
According to the survey, 78 percent of renters have a computer at home, and 85 percent of those have Internet service. Somewhat surprisingly, lower-income households demonstrate the same involvement with technology, with 78 percent of lower-income rental households also reporting a computer at home. A majority of older apartment residents are active users as well.
No wonder high-speed Internet service ranks 3.44 on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of importance when selecting an apartment community, not far below rent and location in importance.
Significantly, those renter households that have high-speed Internet access use it a lot. Three-quarters say they use their home Internet connection seven days a week. Heavy usage is not only proof of a high demand for the service; it also provides opportunities to connect with residents through portals and other high-technology options.
When it comes to the Internet connection itself, cable modems remain the most popular broadband connection among renters (50 percent of respondents), compared to 31 percent for DSL and 13 percent for dial-up.