The spread of the novel coronavirus has accelerated tech innovation across all sectors — and the apartment industry is no exception.

While technology such as Bluetooth shower heads, smart thermostats and voice assistants were already on the rise, this year saw even more apartment providers explore new technologies — as health precautions and value-adds for residents.

As we look ahead to 2021, what trends are here to stay? What changes are in store? Here are a few predictions:

Enhanced virtual and self-guided touring experiences

Virtual tours, once only offered by a few apartment operators and primarily used for people moving across the country, have become essential. This year, many apartment companies acted quickly to add virtual tour options out of necessity. In 2021, we will probably see the quality and interactivity of virtual tours grow.

At the same time, self-guided tours have surged in popularity, offering a way for the individual or family to view the unit in-person, while creating their own private touring experience and maintaining social distance. In 2021, we will probably see even more apartment communities introduce or upgrade self-guided options to include touchless technology and integration with prospective residents’ mobile devices.

Upgraded package technology to keep pace with e-commerce

E-commerce activity is soaring with many Americans sheltering in place, quarantining and generally spending more time at home this year, and possibly next. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2020 rose more than 35 percent year-over-year.

That means residents are receiving more packages than before, and apartment communities must find efficient, safe ways to manage the uptick in package deliveries. Package locker systems will probably become more common, ensuring that packages are kept safe and eliminating the need for in-person contact between the resident and property manager. Apartment communities may also continue to experiment with text messages or community app notifications that alert residents when their package has arrived.

This technology isn’t only convenient for residents — it frees up more time for the on-site teams to respond to maintenance requests and other needs of residents.

Growth in smart home tech and touchless features

While community amenities such as fitness centers, pools and lounges remain a priority for residents, apartment operators are seeking more ways to add value in-unit, particularly with ongoing capacity restrictions in common areas and residents spending more time at home.

Residents have demonstrated a growing interest in smart-home technology such as smart locks, motion-detector lighting, remote-access thermostats and Bluetooth shower heads — and apartment companies are eager to deliver.

In addition to these amenities, apartment companies are looking to implement even more remote-access and touchless technology throughout their communities. At the top of the list? Touchless features on elevators and doors to help residents and guests feel safer.

Community-wide digital offerings

During the pandemic, property managers have also sought other ways to add value for residents in place of community and social events. These solutions have included streaming service subscriptions, access to online fitness classes, virtual book clubs and more.

Even as community events begin to resume post-pandemic, we will probably see some apartment companies continue to upgrade digital amenity offerings. With so many residents working from home, a strong WiFi network has become even more important. As a result, we may see more apartment companies offering community-wide WiFi at a discounted rate for residents who opt into the network.

Amenities have long been a differentiator for the apartment industry — among the top reasons a growing number of Americans are choosing to rent instead of buy. In 2021 and beyond, the goal of apartment tech will remain the same: to heighten the resident’s experience through comfort and convenience. However, residents’ lifestyles and needs will continue to evolve, spurring constant innovation as apartment operators strive to adapt to our changing society.

Robert Pinnegar is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, headquartered in Arlington, Va.

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