Being a property manager is a challenging job. You’re constantly dealing with a variety of problems on a daily basis – from people who don’t pay their rent on time (or at all) to violations and infractions. Online research into the pain points of property managers for multi-unit apartment complexes shows that property managers frequently worry about the following types of problems:
- Paying rent on time – This one is pretty straightforward. You have bills to pay. In order to meet the needs of your cash out, you need cash in! When people don’t pay on time, it affects your ability to pay things like your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, salaries, and fix problems in a timely manner. You may even have to borrow money on interest in order to meet some of your obligations. Therefore, besides the stress involved when rent is not paid on time, it actually costs you money!
- Maintenance Requests – Part of the job of a property manager is to fix things that break. If someone’s oven is not working, air conditioner is blowing hot air, or toilet gets stuffed, it’s your pleasure to ensure it gets the proper attention, and in a timely manner. Murphy’s Law states that a major emergency service request, the kind that requires your personal attention, will come in just as you’re about to sit down to dinner with your family.
- Lease Compliance – Some people feel entitled to throw rave parties, in their condos, nightly at 3 a.m. Maybe it’s a cultural thing? However, for the vast majority of us this is more than just a nuisance. At the very least, it prevents us from functioning properly, due to the lack of sleep. At worst, you’re dealing with a rise in crime due to the abundant supply of alcohol and narcotics. As a property manager, besides the headache of dealing with the actual confrontations and frequent visits of police officers, this has a direct effect on your wallet. Unhappy customers take their business elsewhere. The people you are trying to attract, who pay their rent on time, are moving out, and the only ones moving in are the ones you don’t want!
- Evictions – Besides the actual stress of dealing with the court system to get a deadbeat evicted, the process can often take 6-9 months. This costs money, and ties up your property, preventing you from earning money from it. Let’s not forget complications associated with evictions such as deadbeats trashing the apartment, generating noise complaints, and harassing other tenants.
In our highly-connected world where every new device seems to be “smart,” what are some of the ways a landlord or property manager can leverage today’s IoT technology in order to better serve their customer base, become more profitable, and make their job much more enjoyable?
There is a technology available today called Intelligent IoT Messaging, which is the ability for products and software to communicate with people and things in natural language over any messaging platform (such as Facebook, Twitter, SMS, and even WhatsApp!) The ‘intelligent’ part of the technology comes from its artificial intelligence, based on IBM Watson technology, the same technology that won first place in the 2011 Jeopardy challenge!
Property managers can utilize an intelligent chatbot to enable people to pay rent as well as generate maintenance service requests, using nothing but ‘dumb’ SMS text messages. For example, people can send a text message to their property’s chatbot which says, “Pay rent.” The intelligent chatbot will respond, “I have scheduled a rent payment in the amount of US$1,275 using your registered payment source.” As the famous commercial goes, that was easy! Maintenance requests can work in a similar manner. For example, a person can text the property’s chatbot, “My heat is not working.” Assuming it’s not mid-summer, the chatbot will flag down the emergency repair manager, schedule a visit, and respond, “Patrick will stop by in 30 minutes to repair your heat.”
Suppose the tenant is vague with his request. Here is how the conversation may go:
Tenant: “I need help with my kitchen.”
Chatbot: “How may I help you with your kitchen?”
Tenant: “Sink is broken.”
Chatbot: “Joseph will arrive in two hours to repair your sink.”
Making it easy for people to use will increase adoption of the service, and get you paid on time!
One of the key drivers of IoT technology in manufacturing is knowing when things WILL break down, instead of being informed you have a problem after the fact. The same technology can be applied to apartment complexes. You can IoT-enable the entire development by installing sensors on critical components, such as heat, AC, plumbing, appliances, etc. For example, your hot water heater can send you an alert over WhatsApp stating that a problem has developed with its machinery and that the pump will malfunction in five days. This will give you accurate, real-time data on the available lifespan of these devices, so that you can proactively schedule the maintenance window, instead of being called to an emergency while you’re eating dinner with your family.
The biggest value of deploying “smart” technology comes not from its use or application, but from the data it provides. The intelligent chatbot can serve as a live dashboard to manage your business. For example, you can ask your chatbot, “Who hasn’t paid yet? Who’s late? Who’s been late more than once? Etc.” We can even get more specific, such as, “Show me everyone who’s 45 days late in zip code XXXXX.” The chatbot makes your property management system completely interactive. Let’s go back to our 3 a.m. rave party host. You can ask the chat bot, “Show me all noise complaints of high severity.” The chatbot will send you a list of all the areas in all your properties that have serious noise problems. The same can be applied to evictions. You can ask the chatbot to show you “all eviction notices.” This will help you focus your cleanup efforts so that you can straighten out those trouble shots before it drags down your entire development. The natural language with artificial intelligence gives you super powers!
In conclusion, IoT technology is a tool that can be leveraged in order to better serve your customers, faster, and in an automated fashion, so that instead of spending lots of time chasing after people, organizing, and coordinating, you’re able to spend more time doing what you do best, which is running your business. You may actually be able to also have time to finally have dinner with your family!
My question for you is, what kind of smart solutions would you like to see for your property?