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2021 Is the Year That Homesharing Comes To Multifamily

The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted all industries globally since its onset early last year. For the hospitality, accommodation and travel sectors (among the hardest hit, according to McKinsey) this disruption of daily life has forced monumental adaptability, and only the most innovative have managed to succeed. 

But despite all of this, Airbnb, now synonymous with the short-term rental concept it pioneered in 2008, is carving its own path amidst significant shifts in travel trends and consumer preferences. Since the start of the pandemic, home rentals have outperformed hotels in 27 global markets. Interestingly, more than half of all Airbnb bookings are being made within 300 miles of the renters’ home. With a valuation of $100 billion on its first day of public trading in mid-December (the equivalent of Expedia and Marriott combined), Airbnb’s IPO has established the sustained resiliency of the home rental market throughout the pandemic. And of course, there are far-reaching implications for the more than 660,000 registered Airbnb hosts within the United States and 7 million listings across the globe. 

One of Airbnb’s unexpectedly successful adaptation strategies has been the creation of its Friendly Buildings program, which allows multifamily operators and residents to reap the benefits of homesharing. It might surprise many to learn that 65 percent of recent Airbnb bookings have been in multifamily buildings. This is proof that the trend of homesharing is not just a single-family home phenomenon. And while some multifamily operators still resist homesharing in their buildings, many are eagerly looking for ways to safely and effectively implement a homesharing program that benefits their residents and the community at large. In addition to Airbnb’s booking tools, operators are looking to smart amenities and contactless solutions (especially keyless entry, already one of the most desired smart amenities in multifamily living) to adapt to the evolution of the home rental market. 

Home Away From the Pandemic

While homesharing is not a new concept, short-term rentals have become increasingly popular as long-term alternatives to hotels during these last nine months, with the average length of a guest stay ticking up 58%. And despite announcements by hotels sharing extensive cleaning measures and social distancing protocols, travelers have remained cautious, with many opting for a more controlled, home-like experience rather than risking exposure to crowded hotels.

While more guests are looking for a “homeshare away from home” when they travel, that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to forego all of the amenities of a full-blown hospitality experience. Today’s Airbnb travelers are looking for the best of both worlds: a comfortable, home-like stay with access to hotel-style (or better) amenities and technology. They want the nice apartment and the gym, as well as a responsive host if they have any problems.  

Travelers still want to be able to reach a person when necessary, but the pandemic has greatly accelerated their demands for contactless interactions. Until recently, homesharing often required hosts and guests to meet in person for the infamous key swap — far from the contactless experience travelers now seek. New technology makes it possible for multifamily properties to handle all access electronically, with no physical key or token required. This, combined with rigorous cleaning protocols, gives guests a new sense of confidence in the safety of their stay. 

Prior to its IPO, Airbnb published its highly anticipated 2021 trends report, which included revealing insights on how COVID-19 has altered travel and rental patterns. To no one’s great surprise, how and where we travel has been profoundly impacted. But these changes came in ways that few expected. People are now increasingly booking short-term rentals of two weeks or longer, and younger workers and traveling consultants are convinced they can now perform their job remotely from anywhere. These findings are especially relevant to property management companies, which have traditionally made money on long-term leases and rental income. Shorter-term homesharing has since emerged as a potentially huge revenue stream during the pandemic, offering dual benefits for both the property manager and for the resident. 

This new revenue stream, however, brings additional considerations for property managers, including how to safely manage guest turnover, minimize or avoid in-person contact to the safest degree possible, ensure appropriate access and protect property.

Benefits of smart locks

Property managers are using smart locks to provide guests with temporary access credentials that will automatically expire at the end of their stay. This gives guests the flexibility to check themselves in when they want, without needing to stop at a front desk or meet anyone in person. Plus, many smart locks enable remote control and monitoring capabilities, empowering property managers to watch for arrivals and update reservations when guests cancel or extend their stay. Even better, with alerts for lock usage and access records, property managers can keep an eye on residential units and common areas to track capacity in the case of parties or large gatherings.

Best of all, some innovative smart lock systems integrate with Airbnb’s booking platform, saving property managers money on lost keys, eliminating the hassle of delayed flights and late check-ins and ultimately making homesharing easier than ever for everyone involved.

Identifying and sourcing an access solution is often one of the first steps to getting a multifamily building ready for homesharing. Unsurprisingly, each property brings its own challenges and requirements, and it takes time to find a solution that’s cost-effective and can offer frictionless deployment. First, it is important to consider a building’s common spaces. Most access systems must manage a myriad of different locks and door types (including exterior doors, garage entries and elevators) with a variety of user profiles interacting with a building every day. The system must safely give the maintenance team access to every door on the property while also protecting residents’ privacy. In addition to physical infrastructure, the technology should seamlessly integrate with property management software and external systems like Airbnb and Guesty.

Access control solutions should be smartphone-enabled and hardware-agnostic so that they support smart locks from industry-leading brands, such as Schlage, August, Kwikset and others. They should also have an open API for longer-term flexibility and scalability and so that they are able to integrate with Airbnb, Guesty and other online travel channels, as well as a property management system. Modern access control should give users options about how they want to gain access, be it by using their phone, a fob or a pin code.

While nothing could be less predictable than the future of the hospitality, travel and accommodation industries in 2021, one thing is certain: homesharing is here to stay. Forward-thinking property companies should look for ways to tap into this growing market and give their residents the ability to do the same. These investments will pay dividends during the age of COVID-19 and well beyond.

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