Magazine article Journal of Property Management

The Wired Apartment

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

The Wired Apartment

Article excerpt

From the outside, it would be difficult to believe that Princeton at Mt. Vernon is one of the most high-tech apartment communities in Massachusetts. Even with recent rehabilitations, the property's architectural design clearly identifies it as an apartment community from the 1970s.

Yet each of the community's 144 apartments offers high-speed Internet access and six telephone lines so that residents can just plug in their computers, modems, and fax machines. While few residents need six lines, the additional installation cost was minimal now, and lines will already be in place as band width demands grow. Digital thermostat controls can be set like alarm clocks to save energy and preheat apartments before residents return home. An electronic security system gives residents a special access card to enter both the community and their building, giving them a greater sense of security and reducing owner liability. The laundry room is operated using debit cards, making it unnecessary for residents to carry change with them and reducing the likelihood of vandalism.

Do 21st century features belong in a 1970s apartment community? It depends. But in the case of Princeton at Mt. Vernon, they have helped increase occupancy from just 30 units to more than 100 units, while rents were doubling.

When Smart Is Smart

Smart features cannot make an old apartment community new again, but they can make it more competitive. To determine whether smart features are appropriate for an older apartment community, property developers and managers should consider both practicality and market conditions.

Because most smart features involve rewiring, it is impractical to add them unless you are already opening walls as part of the renovation process. Smart features also should not constitute the major portion of the rehabilitation budget. They should be an added attraction, not the central focus.

In the case of Princeton at Mt. Vernon, smart features accounted for about 10 percent of a comprehensive $1.5 million rehabilitation that included extensive landscaping, contemporary lighting, and revamped signage. New Eurostyle cabinetry, high-quality appliances, new carpeting, and new windows with New England-style mullions were installed in each unit. Chandeliers and large palladium windows added light to the stairwells at both ends of each building, enhancing the appearance both outside and in.

Given the tight profit margins in the property management business, we still would have hesitated to add smart features to Princeton at Mt. Vernon if there were not several significant marketing factors.

Location. Princeton at Mt. Vernon has easy access to major highways that are used by commuters to local high-tech and financial service companies, such as Raytheon, PictureTel, and Putnam Investments. Because of the property's location and the technological orientation of the target market, we recognized that amenities such as highspeed Internet access would be more attractive to potential residents than swimming pools and tennis courts.

Corporate Furnished Suites. As with most communities owned by Princeton Properties, approximately 20 percent of the apartments will be corporate furnished suites, which are used for employees or consultants who need temporary housing while they are on assignment, attending training programs, or relocating to the area. Corporate furnished suites are designed to make residents feel at home, but those who are on temporary assignment often take their work home with them. Internet access, extra phone lines, and office set-ups are provided in response to their needs. …

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