Nashville Property Management Blog

Should Your Rental Property be a Smart Home?

Trevor Garrett - Thursday, February 28, 2019

It’s 2019. Technology is ever-present from our office to our home to everywhere else we go. Even driverless cars are coming soon.

In my home I have smart locks that allow me to remotely lock or unlock my door. I have a Ring doorbell that allows me to video chat with someone on my front porch. My smart thermostat allows me to control my HVAC system from my smartphone.  I know people with smart refrigerators filled with cameras that allow them to see what’s inside their refrigerator while walking the aisles of the grocery store.

Technology is great... until it isn’t.

As a current or potential landlord, you may want to fill your rental property with the latest technology. Maybe you love the technology in your own home. Maybe you think potential tenants will love to have this same technology in their house.

You may be a technology expert that can setup and manage the smart devices for your home. The reality is that most likely your tenant won’t be able to manage the smart devices.  

As each year goes by, a larger percentage of the population becomes more comfortable with technology. This blog post may be outdated in a couple years, but today’s tenants are not ready for a “smart home.”

Owning a rental property should be viewed as a business and you should want to make money from your property. When smart technology breaks down (either by mechanical failure or user error), you as landlord will experience higher maintenance costs.  

Here are smart items to avoid in your rental property to minimize maintenance expenses:

Ceiling fans on remote controls – The ceiling fan industry is quickly moving away from pull chains to control the fan speed.  The remote control presents two issues. First, the remote control gets lost. Sometimes it’s hard to assign fault.  Remember during a tenant turnover, you can easily have five different vendors in the house (painter, flooring contractor, handyman, house cleaner, carpet cleaner) within a period of a few days and it is very easy for a 1-inch by 2-inch remote to easily be misplaced. The second issue is the receiver unit in the actual fan breaks easily. As a property manager we probably experience a broken receiver unit every other month.

Ring (and similar) doorbells – A tenant has a right to privacy at their home and thus the owner should not have a camera or similar communication device to monitor the property. While the tenant may be able to set the Ring up in their own account, it is likely that a tenant may struggle to setup and the owner could incur costs for assisting the tenant on setup.

Nest (and similar) thermostats – Smart thermostats present their own challenges based on the specific traits of the thermostats. Overall, we’ve found that the simpler the thermostat, the less likely for a tenant to mess something up. We specifically recommend thermostats that are not programmable.

In Nashville a significant portion of rental tenants are in a roommate setup. A Nest thermostat attempts to “learn” the schedule of the home occupants. In a roommate situation, the Nest is just setup for failure in its attempt to learn a schedule of roommates who are constantly coming and going. The Nest thermostat could be turning the HVAC off and on at the wrong times.  

Electronic key locks – and the batteries they require. Who is responsible for changing the batteries?  Batteries always die at the worst time – usually something like 10 pm on a Saturday in a big rainstorm. PMC does not have a great answer to this question. A tenant would argue that the landlord is responsible for giving them a safe and reliable way to access their home. Most likely a Nashville judge would agree with them  If traditional key locks are removed from the house, the landlord is likely going to be responsible for the locks. Therefore, additional handyman visits (and additional owner cost) will be necessary to the change the batteries – and hopefully no expensive weekend overnight emergency visits will be required.

Dual-flush toilets – A toilet may not be a true technology. But toilets vary a lot in quality and attributes. First, we recommend to avoid the cheapest toilet option as they tend to clog easy and break quickly  But we also recommend owners should avoid low-flow and dual-flush toilet. While we all want to minimize the waste water, we’ve found that tenants don’t understand or care about the dual-flush option. You’re probably paying more for the toilet originally, not getting an environmental benefit while increasing service calls from the tenants.

High-efficiency air filters – Air filters are also not a technology, but they have a major impact on how well your HVAC system functions. We require tenants to change the air filters in the house on a regular basis and we can hold them responsible for HVAC breakdowns based on not changing the filters. The filter manufacturers have developed lines of high-efficiency air filters. The high-efficiency filters have MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) ratings in the 13 to 20 range. The higher the MERV rating, the thicker of the air filter.  A dense filter slows down air moving through it, forcing the fan motor to work harder to maintain optimal airflow. Filters above MERV 13 are too dense for many residential systems. These are likely to strain the motor and cause early failure.