It’s not often that one finds oneself struggling to stay warm in Florida, but it’s been happening this week in Orlando, where we’ve been these last couple of days, along with a few thousand of our closest friends at the 2020 NMHC annual meeting.
Among the gathered throng of multifamily dealmakers huddled (mostly indoors to avoid the cold) one could not help but notice a marked break from the previously mandatory uniform of grey pants, white shirt and blue blazer. Many attendees commented on the degree of self-expression in the clothing (we’re talking blue, and even the occasional checkered, shirts) and the apparent disruption of a long-established order. But it was a different type of disruption that grabbed at least some of the attention this week.
About that tipping point
On Wednesday we were treated to a rapid-fire panel featuring luminaries of three technologies that have more potential than anything to transform multifamily operations. A succession of providers of AI leasing agents; smart home technologies and self-tour came to the stage to answer questions from operators. The dialogue - although too quick to do much more than whet the appetite for further research and discussion - touched on some themes to which our industry should be paying attention.
As Rick Haughey (NMHC’s VP of Industry Technology Initiatives) reminded us at the start of the session, our industry has moved “from laggard to leader” in proptech. A year ago in our 20 for ‘20 white paper, we noted that the industry was at a technology tipping point, largely because of those three technologies. What’s impressive is the progress that has been made in 12 months.
Remind me - why are we doing this?
The technologies on display are exciting and open up some opportunities to change our industry. Mike Mueller, CEO of LeaseHawk said “Everything you can do with a leasing agent you can do with a bot.” The inference of the comment, of course, is the reality that some roles will be assisted or ultimately replaced by AI technologies. There is a real possibility that (as we also predicted in last year’s paper) that companies will finally break the 1/100 (associates/unit count) paradigm.
For multifamily to realize that (laudable) possibility, a couple of additional problems must be solved. We have to be able to get people into both buildings and apartments, and we have to organize the tour that they will experience once they have decided to take one. Solving these problems requires mindful delivery of solutions, each of which must be justified in terms of costs.
And this - beyond conference wardrobe-related considerations - should both give us pause, and give us confidence in the potential of new technology to change our industry. Lucas Haldemann - the CEO of SmartRent, a smart home technology provider - put it well as he noted the unusually broad variety of benefits available to companies bringing smart home to their buildings. A single source of benefit: damage protection (from eg leaks), energy savings or revenue increase can easily justify the cost of the entire project. But the sources of upside beyond that are manifold and exciting.
Watch this space
We could say much more about all of these technologies, but we would rather cover these important industry developments in appropriate detail, as we will in the forthcoming 2020 edition of 20 for ‘20. Not to telegraph the findings of the 20 executive interviews that we conducted at the end of last year, but the areas that were discussed at the panels here in Orlando received considerable airtime in our interviews.
We look forward to this discussion. Almost as much as we look forward to warmer climes as multifamily notches up another great year in 2020.