Today, tech-savvy consumers arguably hold the upper hand in shaping businesses’ digital services. This is particularly true among the myriad companies with an extensive digital footprint. The rental market, which also faces headwinds in the form of lower demand and rising vacancy rates, is no exception, with the pendulum recently shifting toward residents. It’s now cheaper to rent than buy in nearly every U.S. market.
A growing portion (nearly half) of the resident population outwardly finds the digital tools offered by a property management company “important” in evaluating an apartment. So, property managers and owners are increasingly turning to digital solutions to accommodate this class.
In a short span, proptech has markedly improved the user experience, with residents engaging in near-real-time communications with a building’s staff. It’s also yielded benefits for property managers who find themselves on the receiving end of cost/time savings, better internal records, and a more pronounced digital presence that leads to many operational efficiencies.
As this technology continues to evolve, I’ve monitored several interesting shifts that are already altering our physical space. Here are three ways proptech is (literally) reshaping our housing of the future.
Applications Bring New Features
With consumers’ retail behaviors shifting to e-commerce—2022 was the first year that total U.S. e-commerce sales eclipsed the $1 trillion mark—renters looking for a new home often weigh whether an apartment offers secure options for receiving their orders. And package lockers are redefining the way residents pick up their deliveries.
These units, comparable to more spacious P.O. boxes, allow users to schedule, confirm, and pick up their deliveries—independently of building staff. Management teams are now steadily altering their lobbies and entry spaces to account for this type of physical storage. Easier (and more frictionless) access to their purchases is an important value-add.
These cubbies are effectively reshaping how residents and property managers deal with mail. Previously, property management teams also became package handlers—storing and/or distributing packages to units throughout the building. With the advent (and adoption) of package lockers, managed from centralized software, residents can essentially own the delivery process and avoid chances of package loss or theft, freeing up property managers to focus on other important tasks.
‘Smart Locks’ Transform Entry and Use
Remotely controlled keypad smart locks give residents another layer of security and support, and they provide building staff with easy guest access for important tasks like maintenance or unit showings.
I foresee these devices replacing traditional deadbolts—allowing property managers to ditch the oversight of hundreds of brass keys and, ultimately, cases of key-fumbling or outright loss. For residents, it means they’ll no longer have to wait around for a technician or a dog walker, among other guests. Instead, these visitors can be given convenient guest access. Plus, through electronic alerts, residents retain peace of mind about the status of their doors and belongings.
These locks certainly accommodate the on-demand lifestyle of younger residents, and they will help managers do away with the physical steps once required to gain (and coordinate) unit access.
Self-Guided Tech Offers Flexibility
Self-guided tours have been a trend for a while and continue to be: A 2023-2024 National Multifamily Housing Council report found that 33% of prospective tenants prefer touchless, self-guided tours while searching for a new home over all other options. It’s a significant portion of a property manager’s potential customer base.
Various reasons exist why self-guided tours are on the uptick. They allow prospects to see a home on their own time, with no on-site staff needed. In most cases, the experience simply requires prospective tenants to download an app and select a time slot for available showings, which lets property managers have multiple showings going on simultaneously. Property managers can also automate email or text communications for prospects to keep tabs on their decision journey.
What about security? Since these tours require people to use an ID verification, they reduce fraud risk. In addition, property managers gain valuable privacy-safe, first-party insights into their prospects’ needs and wants.
Self-guided tours securely make everyone’s experience more flexible and easier, allowing property management companies to wow prospective tenants. And property managers can do and offer all of these things without having to increase their rental company's headcount or payroll, improving return on investment while boosting revenues.
A New Era for Property Management
These upgrades are revamping entire properties. They’re taking older buildings and propelling them into the digital age—and all largely guided by consumer tastes.
For all of this, the underlying technology is equally significant. In fact, the technology stack, which forms the basis of these “smart” services, has become a lifeline for property managers, determining whether they’re able to implement such features. If their platform has buggy integrations or doesn’t have a strong enough foundation to support it, they’ll be unable to incorporate the solutions, which is a big “strike” in the eyes of residents.
Nevertheless, I’m seeing steady improvements in the underlying tech infrastructure across property management. This means more property managers are unveiling these services and delivering a great resident experience.