When The Breeden Co. redeveloped an old industrial complex on a peninsula in Norfolk, Virginia, into a 258-unit luxury apartment community, it kept a remnant of the area’s past—a century-old beer bottle—while looking to the multifamily industry’s future.

The Lofts at Front Street, overlooking the Elizabeth River, is Breeden’s first in its Enriched Lifestyle Community brand to feature a smart-home technology package that includes a smart thermostat, keyless entry, sensors that monitor appliance performance, and a digital home assistant that can help answer questions and activate lights and appliances with your voice. Combine this with state-of-the-art amenities and top-tier customer service, and you have a property that places a premium on convenience and leisure.

Jamie Kane, Vice President of New Development
Jamie Kane, Vice President of New Development

But providing the latest in technology and best-in-class service to attract and retain residents is a real balancing act, explains Jamie Kane, Breeden’s vice president of new development in Virginia Beach. Breeden strives to offer cutting-edge digital experiences without alienating those who prefer to keep things more traditional.

Here are three ways Breeden strikes that balance.

Make It Simple

At move-in, Breeden gives residents a code to access their unit via smartphone, along with a text message with a link to a video that shows how to set up their username and password. That’s all it takes to activate their smart-home features.

“It’s as simple as that,” Kane says. “One, two, three, and they’re done.”

For the not-so-tech savvy, Breeden ensures they can easily get the answers they need, when they need them, and how they’d like to receive them. Instructions can be provided via video, text, or in person.

“Some people want to read it, some people want to see it, some people want to hear it, so we have all three options,” he adds.

This way, Breeden is making technology more accessible.

“We recognize that there’s a young generation that’s driven by technology and that there’s a generation that doesn’t use technology as much,” Kane says. “We’re not focused on only one demographic.”

Keep It Real

Breeden embraces technology but not at the expense of reality. While the developer makes it a breeze to find an apartment, apply, get approved, and sign a lease online without ever stepping foot in an office, it also wants to give those who visit a memorable experience.

To do this, Breeden “activates all five senses,” Kane says. The company pumps its signature scent, bamboo—though it changes during the holidays—through the ductwork; refrigerators are stocked with assorted snacks and beverages; and prospects are invited to ask the apartment’s digital assistant for further information about living in the community. Named Ziggy, the device is preprogrammed to answer up to 22 questions ranging from “What’s the square footage?” to “What are the fitness center hours?” It’s as much a helpful resource as it is a showcase for the property’s technology.

“Residents really enjoy that because it creates an interactive experience even though a leasing agent is with them in person,” Kane says.

Be Responsive

As part of Breeden’s commitment to an elevated customer experience, managers must respond to any correspondence within an hour. That goes for both prospects and residents alike.

“People expect an immediate response,” Kane says.

Proactive communication is also crucial. Smart sensors can detect leaks or problems with the HVAC and immediately notify the renter, as well as the property manager or a regional property manager if the issue needs immediate attention after hours. In many cases, sensors ping the renter long before the person even realizes there’s a problem. Likewise, residents get a text notification when a package is delivered to their locker, and they’ll receive reminders until they pick it up.

With so much of the resident experience dependent on a strong internet connection, it’s vital that property managers find a partner that’s up to the challenge. “We’ve established a really good relationship with Cox Communities,” Kane says. Cox Communities is an end-to-end provider with the service and network that helps keep properties on the cutting edge.