By Jeffrey Steele, Special to the Tribune
8:40 AM EST, November 15, 2013
You swipe a key fob at an apartment elevator that speeds you to your floor. Your smartphone sends an alert that your package has arrived. Then you head to the fitness center where Internet-connected equipment tracks your workouts.
From keyless entry systems to wireless thermostats, smart technology is becoming mainstream at high-end apartment buildings in Chicago, simplifying the daily routines of residents and property managers. In many cases, tech-savvy renters are willing to pay more for these premium amenities.
"Apartment living tends to be more convenient to begin with," said Rick Haughey, vice president of industry technology initiatives with the Washington-based National Multi Housing Council. "Adding these lifestyle amenities and conveniences makes the lifestyle even more compelling."
Nationwide, the trade association is seeing an upswing in apartment technologies such as keyless entry systems, wireless thermostats integrated to smartphones and resident key fobs.
Smart technology is also giving some apartment communities a competitive edge by expediting the leasing process.
"As you're touring the facility, the leasing agent can be taking in your information and interests on the iPad, and when you get to the lease, all this is incorporated, which speeds up the process," Haughey said.
Thanks to the innovations, it's easy to control an apartment's systems with a smartphone. But Haughey cautioned that the technology will collect data, "and we're trying to strike a balance between convenience and preserving privacy."
Here's a sample of high-tech amenities that prospective tenants can find at luxury apartment buildings.
Keyless entry. At new high-rises like K2, Optima Chicago Center and 500 Lake Shore Drive, residents access units through key fob entry systems. The systems also let residents access amenity areas, and ensure they don't enter prohibited areas.
Fob-reading elevators. The technology goes a step further at 500 Lake Shore Drive, where the elevator system incorporates a key fob. "You wave your key fob under a reader as you enter the elevator banks, and it takes you directly to your floor," said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest, the developer. "You don't have to press buttons in an elevator."
During high-volume times such as around 8 a.m. or 5 p.m., the system can increase elevator speed by up to 40 percent, he said.
Package tracking. At AMLI River North, the ActiveBuilding app customizes communications for tenants, cultivating a sense of community. For example, the system alerts residents about package deliveries, allows them to reserve the clubroom or connect with other residents.
"Residents log on through the ActiveBuilding website and are on their way to using the system," said Jennifer Wolf, senior vice president of AMLI Residential.
A similar feature called BuildingLink lets K2 residents track packages and get building alerts on mobile devices, said Alan Schachtman, executive vice president and principal of K2 developer The Fifield Cos.
Distributed antenna system. Bailey said 500 Lake Shore Drive ensures wireless service is available with a distributed antenna system. "It's designed with the (cellular) carriers," he said. "The benefit is that you will have full five bars of service when in your unit."
Tracking workouts. Precor Preva equipment in AMLI River North's fitness center has Internet connectivity that lets residents track workouts and monitor progress, Wolf said. K2's fitness center features Technogym equipment, with large screens that can display content downloaded to users' iPhones. "Because it's Internet connected, you can log on the Technogym website, create a profile and track your workouts," Schachtman said.
Tech gurus. The technology concierge at 500 Lake Shore Drive can help residents do everything from setting up their Xbox to hanging a flat-screen TV.
Optima Chicago Center's residents can lease 175-square-foot offices complete with an information technology backup team, said Optima Inc. President and CEO David Hovey.
Bluetooth audio system. K2 apartments have Bluetooth audio systems with built-in wall speakers and amplifier. The system has two separate inputs, one connected to your flat screen, the other to the Bluetooth receiver.
"You can pair your phone or device with the Bluetooth receiver and stream music through the speakers," Schachtman said. "It comes with a separate remote allowing you to change the inputs or volume remotely. ... The audio from the flat screen can be streamed through the speakers as well."
Convenient charging. AMLI River North apartments have power outlets with USB ports, making it easier for residents to charge portable devices, Wolf said.
As more apartment buildings roll out high-tech perks, property managers would likely agree with Bailey's view: "Our residents work very hard. If we can lighten their load through technology, that's a real goal for us."
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