Looking for a little extra pizzazz to make your empty rental stand out and rent for more? Consider making it a “smart home.”
For a few hundred dollars, you can trick out your rental property with connected devices that make it easily programmable and controllable from anywhere. It adds an air of modernity and luxury to your rental unit, and justifies higher rent. After all, how many other rental units in your neighborhood can boast that they’re smart homes?
For about $500, you can install two or three items from the list below, and may well be able to justify an extra $50-100/month in higher rents. The investment could pay for itself within six months, depending on your market.
Better yet, many of these gadgets are super eco-friendly, as smart and green home tech have gradually been merging. That means you could advertise your property as a “green home” as well as a smart home!
None of these are affiliate links, we aren’t trying to sell you anything. Here’s our list of smart devices in 2017, with an eye on best ROI for landlords.
Smart Door Locks
There are several ways to install smart door locks. One is with a smart touchscreen keypad, to make any deadbolt lock work with either its original key or with a combination. Kwikset’s Smartcode 916 is an example of such a system, with added features like an alarm that goes off if the door is forced.
Alternatively, consider the August Smart Lock, which also lets you use either a key or app-controlled access to enter the property. It’s smaller and lets you grant temporary access to individuals, logging who enters the property and when. (Just don’t log your tenants’ comings and goings, if you want to avoid privacy violations!)
Both of these systems cost around $200, and let you give contractors, realtors, prospective tenants or anyone else a temporary way to access the property. You can then revoke their access or change the combination remotely, all from the comfort of your smartphone.
Smart Surveillance, Security & Video Monitoring
Set up cameras inside or outside any room in any property, to track what’s going on there. You can pull up live feeds on your smart phone, or view recorded video. Control the camera remotely with panning, zooming and even a night-vision option.
But it doesn’t stop with video – smart cameras come with audio recorders, motion detection, sound detection and more. If you wish, you can set it to only alert you if motion or sound is detected.
That means that these smart video cameras can serve multiple purposes, used to monitor the baby or just as easily used for home security. Nest makes an excellent third generation camera, with an outdoor option with weatherproof housing, for around $190.
Your tenant can always enroll in the Nest Aware subscription service for cloud storage of recordings, but that choice (and cost!) is theirs.
Alternatively, try out the Canary smart security system, which includes air quality, temperature and humidity monitoring and alerts.
You’ve almost certainly heard of Nest’s flagship smart thermostat, which popularized smart home devices earlier in the decade. Their third generation thermostat not only allows for remote control and behavior learning, but also has a geofencing feature to know where you are in relation to home and adjust the thermostat accordingly. Nest’s thermostat works neatly with their cameras and smoke/CO detectors, too.
But Nest is not the only excellent player in the field. The Ecobee3 allows you to monitor the temperature in multiple rooms, to keep all rooms optimal. It’s also seamlessly compatible with Amazon Echo and Apple HomeKit, for easy control and programming.
Each of these options is in the $200-250 range, and let you justify higher rents by advertising lower utility bills.
Smart Smoke & CO Detectors
Nest’s smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors will alert you no matter where you are, if there’s a problem. They also make it simple to turn off the alarm when you burn the turkey, or set that annoying low-battery chirp to simply send you text messages rather than wake you up every twenty minutes.
Don’t feel like shelling out $100 each for a bunch of new smoke detectors? Try out Roost’s smart battery for smoke detectors instead. For $35, this battery converts any smoke/CO detector into a smart alarm, alerting your phone and giving you control over silencing it. And just like Nest, it lets your phone know when the battery’s low, rather than that annoying chirping.
Control the power to any device remotely using a smart outlet, or program it to power on or off at certain times and days. At a price tag of under $30, TP-Link’s Smart Plug can make it a simple, cheap way to convert an old device into a connected, smart device.
The SmartPlug is also compatible with smart home hubs like Amazon Echo.
Smart Home Hubs
Who wants a dozen apps to control a dozen different devices? Your smart home isn’t very smart if it’s not controlled by a central brain.
If you only use Nest devices, then Nest’s app and central hub is sufficient. But if you use a wider range of devices, from multiple brands, you probably need a more robust hub.
Amazon Echo (~$180) serves as both a hub, a personal shopper and a smart speaker. It can connect a multitude of devices, responds to voice commands, can play your music or audiobooks on demand, and lets you buy anything on Amazon with a voice command. That latter should probably scare you a little, especially if you have a spouse (like mine) who likes shopping.
But Echo also lets you program simple If This Then That recipes, so that, for example, if the smart lock opens, then the coffee brewer starts, or the lights turn on, or your favorite song du jour starts playing.
Smart Coffee Makers
I’m not above getting a little gimmicky if it result in higher rents and more demand from prospective tenants, are you?
For $125, you can rave in your rental listing about how nice it is to wake up to the smell of brewing coffee every morning. Smart coffee makers like Nespresso’s model can be set to brew at specific times, or can be started from anywhere using your mobile phone.
Sometimes it’s the details that sell properties to renters and buyers. Just sayin’.
Risks, Returns & ROI
Smart homes make great selling points, to differentiate your home from all the other rentals available in your neighborhood. They aren’t without risks though; most of the devices are small and portable, making them prime targets for tenants to take with them when they move out. And like any sleek electronic devices, they can be broken by careless renters. And if they do stop working, guess whose phone will ring off the hook, with demands for replacements?
If you do choose to go this route, protect yourself and your investments in several ways. First, all these shiny new electronics are a good excuse for you to collect a higher security deposit (but be sure to check your state rental laws to stay within legal limits). Second, include a clause in your lease agreement that the tenant is solely responsible for the maintenance, care and operation of these devices, and if they break, the tenant is liable, not you.
Every advantage helps, in securing higher-quality tenants in your market, and higher-value rents. Before spending a penny on smart home devices, run the numbers on how much extra you’ll be able to charge in rent, and how long it will take to recover your initial investment. Every expense needs to be justified, and if it will take longer than 18 months or so to recover your expenses, perhaps your property doesn’t need that smart coffee maker after all.
Have you tried adding any smart home tech to your rental properties? How quickly did they pay for themselves in higher rents? Tell us your experiences!