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What Multifamily Housing Operators Can Learn from the Auto Industry

There has been a rapid ascent into new and emerging technologies surrounding the multifamily housing industry. From software designed to help with maintenance requests, such as the online platform available through Real Page, to package handling services tackled through applications such as Drop Spot, there are a myriad of new choices in technology. Although it’s exciting to see the rise and focus on our industry, it also poses new issues raising a lot of questions such as: What tech should my properties adopt and what can wait? Do I focus on the resident or do I focus on the buildings infrastructure? Do I continue to operate the way I always have, or do I take a new approach? It’s a paradox that many of us find ourselves in, with the majority of us knowing that adoption rather than avoidance is the key to attracting and retaining renters.

Market research reports that property management software is expected to rise in use and availability by as much as 6.7% through 2020 which has companies such as Yardi and Entrata chomping at the bit for market share (Market Research Reports, 2017). With the industry growing rapidly and unit need expected to rise by as much as 4.6 million units by 2030, there’s plenty of growth to keep them busy fine-tuning their property solutions while others will begin to find their way into the space (NMHC, 2017).

With the meteoric growth in the multifamily housing (MFH) industry, it’s hard not to find parallels in other industries that at some point had the same type of ebb and flow to make similar comparisons to. Especially when it comes to looking at how the adoption of technology, or lack there of, has defined their position in their industry. Let’s take a moment to look at an industry that not only has some similarities with technology acceptance, but also has a huge impact on the MFH industry as well. Let’s take a stroll through Automotive Avenue…

The automotive industry, much like the MFH industry, was forced into adopting new technology. The first technology introduced to the automotive industry was designed to keep the driver and passengers safe. The development of airbags, padded dashboards, and even seatbelts – once deemed a far fetched luxurious idea, is now standard on every vehicle made today with one thing in mind, the consumers safety. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found the technology to be so necessary that it made it mandatory to have on all vehicles manufactured after the initial introduction of the new technology. Now automotive technology is trend setting and forward thinking. Automobiles are being looked at for not only the type of technology they currently have, but how far ahead into the future they are looking so that they can continue to adapt to the ever changing consumer environment and stay relevant. What’s more interesting than the different types of technologies being deployed in the car industry, is how the adoption of the right technology at the right time makes all the difference in how well companies perform in the market.

What’s more interesting than the different types of technologies being deployed in the car industry, is how the adoption of the right technology at the right time makes all the difference in how well companies perform in the market.

Let’s take a look at varying approaches to technology by three auto manufacturers that were once known as the “Big 3” comprised of Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, to get a clearer picture of how detrimental or monumental technology’s role has played. Let’s start with Ford – The Ford Motor Company has always been just as technologically advanced and forward thinking as its founder Henry Ford, who was quite the inquisitive type. Not only was he inventive, but also had inventor friends that he shared his time with, such as a person you may have heard of before, Thomas Edison. Ford was no slouch himself, inventing and perfecting the first ever assembly line process for manufacturing back in December of 1913.

knight rider

The innovation continued through the years, but let’s fast-forward to 2007 to the development of the first ever infotainment system featuring Ford Sync powered by Microsoft. Ford Sync was on Knight Rider level advancement at the time and made it so that you could literally give your vehicle voice commands to complete, and if you were lucky, the car would actually listen. Ford Sync empowered the driver to give verbal commands to the sound system to tie the driver into the experience of loving their vehicles. Was it perfect? Far from it! It would take a command such as, “Play Hanson’s Mmm… Bop” and the system would randomly ask if you wanted to call your uncle Bob. It didn’t matter if it was perfect, that’s the beauty! They were the first to have it and it hit at a time when people were starting to download MP3’s and carry their favorite music everywhere they went on tiny devices called iPods. Wonderful times! As most good things, those didn’t last because if we all can remember 2009, and how it walloped the automotive industry – Ford was not spared. But here’s the thing, since Ford had dedicated an enormous amount of money teaming up with Microsoft to develop Sync prior to the crash, they had a much easier go at it while trying to make cars that people still actually wanted to drive. Were they beautiful? If you squint hard enough maybe, but that didn’t matter. Ford continued to make affordable cars and had one thing no other vehicle had at the time – Sync.

If you look at General Motors (GM) approach to tech, they have had a great time dipping their toes into emerging technology and making it work for the company and its customers. What’s impressive, about GM’s adoption and creation of technology, is how much effect and influence they have had on other manufacturers behind the scenes. GM, which also has Cadillac under it’s umbrella of offerings, was always exposed to having extraordinary and luxurious amenities available from their well-to-do and much prettier sister. Way back in the day, I’m talking the 80’s, GM was taking an approach to economy and eco friendliness by inventing the first engine technology that could shut down cylinders in the engine when not needed. Sure it resulted in some car fires and losses of personal property. But you know what? GM had the gumption to see the environment was worth saving and they knew they had to adopt technology to help in the preservation. So what? It made a few models crispy while trying to perfect the technology – that fiery tech was the great grandfather of GM’s aggressive push to make electric and hybrid vehicle technology into many of the vehicles they offer today. They have always understood where the industry was going and positioned them selves properly to be a leader in alternative energy. By the way, GM still has that original technology in many of their current lineup, now known as Displacement on Demand. See, good idea!

Sure it resulted in some car fires and losses of personal property. But you know what? GM had the gumption to see the environment was worth saving and they knew they had to adopt technology to help in the preservation.

As for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) they’ve changed hands with so many different controlling parent companies, from Chrysler, to Cerberus, to a trip with the Germans at Daimler. Now the Italians have their arms around the shoulders of the company that has has a tough time finding an identity. With the company being juggled from owner to owner, it’s difficult to find an identity and stick with it, and even harder to advance with it. Although FCA has always made a quality car, their tune has been mainly practicality. From Lee Iacocca’s brain child, the minivan. To now having offerings of perhaps the most outlandish mass-produced vehicles in the market. Can we say Dodge Demon? Unfortunately FCA seems to have a consistent unlucky draw. The company was dusted, smoked, and lapped by others in the industry, as they were always just a few steps behind the leaders. With no autonomous vehicle plans or real hybrid or electric offerings in mass. But they still manage to make really fun cars to drive.

So what does any of this automotive stuff have to do with the multifamily industry? A lot actually. You see, your current position and your current role in how you decide to own, manage, and control how your properties adopt technology will have a huge impact on how you continue to grow. Do you associate more with Ford Motor Company? A company who was always ahead of it’s time in adopting tech to help it grow. To take on technology and new ways of achieving things to help improve processes and make it more efficient and to carry it through even the toughest times. How about the GM approach? Are you the trend setter? Is the fearless embrace in an emerging technology more your style? Although scary at the time of the decision, knowing it’s the right decision by listening to the market place and knowing how it’s developed and where you see it going will ensure that when you take on technology, it’s the right choice. And those decisions will continue to carry the company to the top and make you a global leader in your industry. The FCA model has not been the prettiest. It down right got dark for the one-time giant. Changing hands and never fully finding and embracing an identity can be catastrophic to growth, and can negatively continue to effect the growth and stymie the want to take on any new ways of thinking.

The question of technology based on current position came up frequently throughout the different sessions we attended at the NAA Assembly of Delegates held in Dallas this past November. For one, the industry is focused heavily on the advancement of electronically handling the lease process. This is an arena that sorely needs the aid of the tech industry, and is a priority for some. There are some hurdles in that there are well over 100 different documents to take into consideration depending on the size and location of the properties; a big undertaking to say the least. We also heard the all to familiar case for what to do about package delivery and acceptance. A great solution is Drop Stop mentioned earlier which takes a hands-off approach to package handling. Also discussed were grumblings of how to handle and plan for self-driving cars. However, based on the information from the current automotive market, this may be taking a look too far ahead into dealing with self-driving car issues. Self-driving technology in widespread use is further away than we think, as affordability, and the grips of the CAFÉ standards being loosened with the current administration, may slow that growth. For short to mid-term return on investment, that may be harder to realize if the dedication to that technology is taken too far. We also kept hearing the echo of how to take on the resident experience head on, but no real solidified concepts were brought up outside of the brick and mortar amenities, which are continually offered.

However, my company Apt. App takes that resident experience head on. One issue we have researched from both the resident aspect as well as the property management point of view was that of how to deal with tenant turnover due to residents not knowing how to deal with other residents. This is a major costly issue as 70% of residents are choosing to move from a property if they experience noisy disruptive neighbors with little to no resolve from property staff (Zillow, 2016). Another staggering statistic we have found is that 87% of residents are in fact too afraid to confront their neighbor if they are being disruptive (Zillow, 2015). With the national average cost of turnover per unit at $1,800 (NAA, 2016); the issue of how to empower the resident to live in a thoughtful community we thought should have come up as a high priority subject at the NAA Assembly of Delegates, but to our dismay it didn’t even get an honorable mention.


Today, with the offerings of tech, it is hard to believe that our industry still doesn’t have a tactful way for neighbors to be considerate of one another. If you Googled “How to deal with a noisy neighbor”, the results of your search would lead to antiquated ways to handling these issues such as; bang on the wall, leave a note, complain to management, and even call the police. With the amount of technology entering the market place, it’s a wonder how none have been quite as laser focused as technologies for the automotive industry to help alleviate consumers concerns.

That’s where Apt. App lies in the MFH industry. Apt. App provides a mobile application solution that allows residents to anonymously, safely, and effectively communicate with one another in order to handle common neighbor disputes. The beauty of the tech is that neighbors submitting the requests to the disruptive neighbors never need to worry about their neighbor knowing who sent the request, hence keeping the peace. Additionally, we understand that if someone’s blissful sleep is disrupted by the thumping bass of a partying neighbor, choice four letter words would be used to message with – so we only allow for respectful pre-set messages to be sent. Last, all of this activity is copied to property management without holding the resident’s information private, so if additional recourse is required, there is now proof of time and disruption type so no more chasing phantom he said – she said complaints. MFH has gotten to the next level and the technology offered by Apt. App takes real issues plaguing the industry and answers with a real solution. One that is smart, easy to implement, and continues to take properties well into the future with a full on suite of offerings beyond the Neighbor-to-Neighbor notification tool.

So whether you identify your business as the Ford of the industry and see yourself as a prominent leader, or maybe you see yourself as the GM as a risk taker and continued supporter of tech. Perhaps you are the FCA of the MFH industry and continue to fight to find your position within the industry, innovative new multifamily technology is forging the future and supporting properties of any size rise above the rest with continued growth and differentiation.

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