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Joel Berntsen, Vutility, offers some industry inisghts ahead of Smart Spaces

Joel Bernsten, Vice President, Channels & Partnerships, Vutility is speaking at Smart Spaces 2023, hosted by Parks Associates. Smart Spaces brings together property owners, building managers, and technology leaders. The event caters to building executives and hardware, middleware, and software providers enabling the next generation of consumer and property manager experiences in multi-dwelling and hospitality environments.

Joel is an award-winning, strategic senior sales, marketing, and technology leader with 15+ years of experience creating and scaling exceptional product offerings at organizations ranging from Fortune 100 leaders to Inc. 500 start-ups. In his roles he has advanced the emergence of innovative smart building and energy management solutions to increase efficiency, sustainability, and peace of mind in the IoT-enabled world of today and tomorrow.

Here are some of his industry insights below:

What are the top use cases for prop tech in apartments? 

Community Wi-Fi and broadband services are essential, as more and more tenants have WFH and hybrid jobs and streaming services become the primary sources of home entertainment. Connected solutions for energy management and access controls, e.g., thermostats, smart door locks and doorbells, deliver significant financial benefits for the building owners while increasing the comfort and convenience of the residents experience. EV chargers will become more essential to many renters as EV adoption continues to increase. 

All that said, submetering is one of the most critical technologies to helping multifamily owners and operators becoming more energy efficient and sustainable. Unfortunately, it has historically been cost prohibitive and too intrusive to add submetering for tenant billing in existing properties, even though it’s one of the biggest costs and potentially financial risks to the owners and operators. Research by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found residents who are individually metered for their energy consumption use 20-30% less energy than those who are not. That’s a big number if a REIT has made sustainability commitments and has ESG reporting requirements. 

Alternately, in buildings with units individually metered by the utility, ESG reporting requirements are pushing many properties owners to seek cost-effective and scalable “shadow metering” solutions. This enables those owners to understand and report on the total energy consumption profile of their properties without depending on the tenants or utilities to share data, as well as which units are least efficient and may have underlying maintenance concerns.

What are the leading barriers to adoption of technology among MDUs? 

MDU owners and operators are often hindered in adopting new technologies due to upfront costs making hard to deliver a justifiable ROI. As an example, nearly 60% of multifamily properties units are not individually metered or billed, according to a 2017 report by the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC). Additionally, many solutions are intrusive and complex to install which adds to the cost and disrupts the tenant’s use and experience in the property.

What is the most important value proposition of smart apartments for MDUs property owners and building managers?

Solutions need to present a strong ROI and meaningfully move the needle on cost reduction, average rental value, or tenant retention. If a solution can check multiple boxes, it will have any easier sales cycle and faster adoption. 

Which aspect of smart apartment implementation creates the most challenges for MDUs?

Upfront costs, unclear ROI or business case, and interruption of operations and tenant experience to retrofit and install. Technologies that present a clear, compelling value proposition and can disrupt the status quo financial models of other solutions and be installed and scaled quickly without disrupting the quality of life for the tenants will be viewed much more favorably. I’d also add that property managers are most likely to take a bite of the apple if they can experiment at a smaller scale and validate it without committing making significant commitments upfront. As a vendor it’s important to align with the customer in those pilots on the KPIs so there’s no ambiguity as to what success looks like and next steps post-pilot.

2023 Smart Spaces
In-person Conference: April 17-18 | Dallas, TX

2023 Virtual Sessions
July 20 | Virtual: PropTech Market Evolution: Senior and Student Housing
Oct 5    | Virtual: Hospitality Market: Tech Driving New Value
Nov 30 | Virtual: Investment and Expansion in Smart Spaces