Lucas Haldeman, Founder & CEO
Until a decade ago, telling your bed-side lamp to “dim” would have been a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie. Even outlandish, maybe. Today, this has become not just a reality, but also a highly thriving business at that; with an estimated 15 percent of the American population owning a smart speaker already, it is a happy hunting ground for the consumer-facing players in the smart home industry. Sometime during this transition—where having a conversation with home appliances seemed a highly ambitious technology marvel and the same becoming the norm—Lucas Haldeman, the then CTO of Colony Starwood Homes [NYSE: SFR], felt that the market was moving, albeit on a unidirectional course. For one, the property owner was being neglected; the situation was not much different for the field workers—the ones that go about transforming a building into a smart home—who were left to do the spadework with no universal user manual. It was then that Haldeman got the idea for SmartRent, and together with a team of residential real-estate experts coupled with developers and engineers, he set the wheels in motion in 2017. SmartRent has something for everyone—the property owner who gets to manage the assets of his building remotely; the installers who are trained and navigated throughout the deployment process; and the consumer, who gets to enjoy the safety and sophistication of a smart home.
One Consumer, One Home Doesn’t Work Anymore
Before SmartRent, most IoT device manufacturers were created with the end user in mind, as their purported goal was addressing the “one consumer, one home” need. Not a lot of people thought about what would happen when there arose a need to manage an entire community of buildings. At Colony Starwood Homes, when Haldeman’s team had to manage more than 40,000 single-family homes, the need of the hour was an enterprise-layer software that could manage thousands of connected devices—something which no vendor at that time could provide.
“We started out as a company solving enterprise software problems during which we realized that in real estate tech, there was installation and hardware problems as well,” says Lucas Haldeman, founder and CEO, SmartRent. “Subsequently, we decided we should have an internal team develop our own unique hardware that is suited for residential rentals, as well as crews who visit the properties and take care of the installation and linking of the devices.” From then on, giving it scale, Haldeman has built the company, as it evolved from a one-legged software solution provider into a robust company that deals with software, hardware, and installation in the multifamily real-estate property management space.
In an effort to build from scratch, SmartRent’s engineers have developed their own hub-based solution for property management. As opposed to the industry standard of IoT devices that use Wi-Fi, the SmartRent solution uses the Z-Wave wireless communications protocol, primarily owing to its heightened level of security. Secondly, rental apartments often don’t have internet when they’re vacant and unoccupied, and controlling them is an expensive challenge. For property owners, this removes the monetary burden of paying for the internet on behalf of thousands of empty apartments, at the same time, they can monitor the units remotely. “Our hub is compatible with any Z-Wave-based device, and we’re also developing a whole new range of Z-Wave devices in our hardware division,” adds Haldeman. However, once the resident occupies the apartment, they can enable Wi-Fi with the hub and allow it to perform more consumer-facing functions, like setting schedules and performing routines.
Something for Everyone
SmartRent has developed a master “control room,” that helps property owners manage their buildings. Traditionally, ERP systems were used for the purpose of accounting and property management, which may have served the purpose, but fails when it comes to real-time asset protection. A deeply integrated system, the SmartRent solution uses APIs to receive and push data back and forth saving people the struggle of manual data entry. As part of the platform, they can deploy leak detection, water sensor, smoke and carbon monoxide sensors, and temperature and humidity sensors. “We can actively alert our property manager if the pipe in a unit is about to freeze, or if it’s getting too hot, or if there is a water leak detected,” explains Haldeman. “The water leak detection alone could save property owners hundreds of dollars a year.”
"Our hub is compatible with any Z-Wave-based device, and we’re also developing a whole new range of Z-Wave devices in our hardware division"
The procedural approach that SmartRent institutionalizes for its installers is designed to make installations easy and effective. The idea here is to take the complications out of the installation and device-pairing process. For any given property, the SmartRent team is equipped to deploy the necessary tools for 50-100 units a day. All compatible devices owned by the property owner for a particular unit are pre-paired on the server side ahead of time, removing the need to bring the device in person. The main problem for other companies is that they have clunky software that is developed by third-party software engineers. “Our software is built by the same UI team that creates our consumer app. Intuitive and easy-to-use, it has the look and feel of a consumer app, and helps the field staff install, pair, and troubleshoot,” says Haldeman. The maintenance staff requires minimal training, as the app comes with a simple interface allowing them to diagnose and repair problems when needed.
For the consumer, the benefits of the SmartRent platform are endless. Anything that they desire in a home automation setting can be opted for— including smart locks, smart climate control, smart plugs, self-monitored security, and motion sensors—from a single, flexible base system. Assuring security yet comfort, the system can be used to set up a temporary one-time code that allows a third-party technician to enter the property and perform any kind of repair.
Once they close the work order, the system automatically removes the code out of that lock. In addition to the resident, the property owner can also choose how to manage the unit, by granting or separating access to external contractors for specified time slots and duration.
Creating a Connected Home
SmartRent sets out by gathering the required data about the property to understand what goes where and what basic home automation equipment needs to be added. It is a general consensus that this differs from property to property. From then on, they recommend a tree of devices that can be deployed. The owners are then brought in for their input on what smart home accessories will create maximum benefit. As the final step, the resident makes his suggestions on how the system can be upgraded and customized, for which the property owner is not required to pay for the capital expense, as the consumer is charged, accordingly. “The installation and the activation shortly follow next, and at the same time, we send our training crew onsite to teach the staff and residents on how to interact with the property,” states Haldeman.
After installation is completed, SmartRent maintains and supports the home automation setup. Residents are able to submit requests directly to the SmartRent support team through their Android or iOS app, which also allows them to gain complete control of their apartment. By allowing the consumer to communicate with SmartRent directly, the property management team does not have to get involved in any small, technical issues that may arise. If any residents do not have a smartphone, they can still contact the support team through regular support channels, such as e-mail, chat, or call.
Seeing how multifaceted and holistic the solution is, it is no wonder when SmartRent’s clients say they “can’t remember the last time one platform helped solve so many aspects of their business.” In one case, when the water leak monitor that the company had installed at one of their clients’ property “went off,” they delegated a service manager who found that it was the hose of the washer-dryer that had broken. In what could have become a case of a flooded apartment if not for the water leakage sensor that would have played havoc with the rest of the appliances in the house, the service manager fixed the leakage and mopped the floor, saving the property owner thousands of dollars in damage.
Where the Expertise Pays off
Despite being a niche area, “we do have a lot of competition, but what we have is a rare combination of business and technology experience,” adds Haldeman. “We like to sit squarely between operational expertise and technology prowess, that’s how we create better and advanced products.” Within the two years since its inception, the company has gone from zero to 20,200 installations. Their expecting to sign off on another 50,000 projects by the second quarter of 2019.
What was once a luxury that can only be afforded by single-family homes, has now become a huge opportunity for residents in rental properties, thanks to SmartRent’s all-round proficiency in building the smart homes of tomorrow. With enhancements and more function-rich features being added every month, along with the list of compatible devices getting longer, SmartRent is en route to becoming a transformative force in the property management space as well.