Accidentally left the fryer plugged in at the apartment? With a few clicks of his smartphone, Tyler Manley can remotely turn off the source.
Returning home with arms full of groceries, Manley can yell for Alexa. The voice-controlled gadget turns on the light, and does the same with the TV.
Manley said he’s looking forward to motion sensors learning his household habits, because lights and other items will be programmed to start and stop without any prompt — making his “connected” apartment even better over time.
As a growing number of apartment complexes compete for convenience-craving renters, developers continue to seek awe-inspiring amenities to set them apart. At north downtown Omaha’s new 1415 @ The Yard — the apartments where Manley lives and works — managers tout a super-techy smart-home environment. They say the complex is the metro area’s first apartment project to have a “fully integrated” smart home technology system wired during construction and operational in all 101 units.
“Renters move in and have a plug-n-play-ready smart apartment,” said Matt Greene, vice president of the Portland-based IOTAS Inc., which created and installed the technology for Omaha’s NewStreet Properties. “This comes with smart lights, outlets, thermostat, sensors, locks, dimmers, voice control and more.”
He said the key is ease. Once tenants sign a lease, they download a special app that offers a floor plan view of their apartment with icons designating what’s synced as smart, such as the TV electrical outlet. They can control those areas with a screen touch even when traveling outside the city.
Tenants also sign in to the Amazon Echo device sitting on their kitchen counter and can start Alexa voice commands.
Despite the popularity of smart technology in single-family houses, Greene said full operation in apartment complexes is “rare at the moment.”
“Quite frankly when we tell people that one of the first ground-up, new-construction, fully integrated smart apartments is in Omaha, they usually look at me funny.”
Some other local apartment buildings have hopped on the smart wagon but offer the technology in a more piecemeal fashion.
Take the Wire apartments downtown, where residents can adjust thermostats by cellphone, laptop or computer. NuStyle, the developer of numerous urban apartment buildings, uses photocells and occupancy room sensors to light common areas and also offers integrated Wi-Fi throughout the Wire.
Greg Rothermel says NuStyle has reviewed other options including smart door entry locks, but “at this point, we are wanting to make sure the technology is there and the desire from the user prior to implementing into our projects.”
Still other developers have preferred to sweeten the pot with trendy yet more tried-and-true features.
Peter Caye III of the Georgia-based Giddings Group said his 283-unit Duke apartments, under construction in Dundee, will offer a pool, bike-repair shop, electric vehicle charging stations and concierge service. He has experimented with smart technology touches but said they became a hassle for apartment staff and residents.
“Nothing works as smart as an old-fashioned key,” he quipped.
At Alchemy Development properties in Omaha, Bert Hancock said he’s looking at keyless entry door locks activated by smartphones. He’s already convinced of the need for a package delivery system in which apartment dwellers receive a code via text or email to open a secure locker containing their goods. (The 1415 offers this, too.)
Not high on his list, he said, are remote thermostats and lighting controls: “More suitable for homeowners, in my opinion.”
Christian Christensen of BlueStone Development said he’s trying to understand what matters most to customers. He said he’s focused in part on delivering great Wi-Fi at minimal or no cost.
“Advanced technology is very cool, but if it doesn’t address an ongoing daily problem or concern in a meaningful way, it has a very short shelf life,” Christensen said.
Molly Skold of Midtown Crossing — which includes apartments along with shops, condos and a park where public events are held — notes that third-party companies such as Cox and Google offer smart-home automation systems whereby renters can set up their own remote control of lights, alarms and more.
But she said the 1415’s ready-to-go, wide-ranging software smarts are unlike any other apartment complex she knows of in town.
Opening in phases throughout September, the 1415 also features a huge outdoor patio with gas grills, a fire pit, outdoor TVs, as well as deck and floor-to-ceiling window views of downtown and TD Ameritrade Park across the street. Rent runs from $799 for a studio to nearly $2,000 for two-bedroom premium units with inset covered patios.
Retail bays (yet-to-be filled) and parking stalls are on the ground level of the five-story structure, which is part of a $50 million project site along 14th Street from Cuming to Mike Fahey Streets.
On the south end of the two-block tract that used to be surface parking is the new Kiewit University training center. Under construction between that 62,000-square-foot facility and the apartments is a hotel.
Gabriel Gianes of the Lund Co., which manages the 1415, said 40 percent of the units were leased before opening. “Turns out, people like convenience,” he said.
Still, many real estate developers are slow to change, Greene said, given upfront costs and barriers to understanding potential returns.
For Tyler Manley, personal payoff ranges from cutting energy consumption to saving time.
The 24-year-old, who also is the project’s leasing agent, moved onto the top floor with husband Travis Manley in July. While away from their apartment on a recent vacation, the contrast in convenience was stark. No shutting off the lights via smartphone, no asking Alexa to check the weather.
“It starts to add up,” said Manley. “And you realize, wow, that’s something I don’t want to live without.”