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    What’s Smart About Vacation Rental Properties?

    Since buying a rental property in North Carolina last year, I’ve been making it a smart home. I live near Washington, DC, which means I keep an eye on my rental mostly from afar. Outfitting my property with smart tools is not only for the ease of renters but also to protect my investment. When installing smart technology, it’s important to strike a balance between monitoring things and over-complicating life for renters.

    Tools for Saving Energy, Peace of Mind

    Among the first things I set about doing was installing smart thermostats. Devices like these are an effective way to dial back the temperature a bit when renters aren’t in my property. If the housekeeping team I’ve hired forgets to lower the temperature, then my mobile app alerts me, and I can make the adjustment. Gadgets like smart thermostats are a good way to take a bite out of the electric bill when a property is idle. The best smart thermostats have an intuitive, easy-to-read user interface and the capacity to learn your property’s heating and cooling patterns. Another feature that the best smart thermostats have is a remote temperature sensor. This works well for rooms (e.g., walkout basement) that run hotter or cooler than the room where the thermostat is located; the sensor prioritizes the temperature for that room, either up or down.

    I’ve also installed smart water detectors near my rental property’s washing machine and water heater to monitor these appliances. If something springs a leak, I can call my property manager or a neighbor to shut off the water feeding these appliances. Several of these smart water detectors also pair up with smart water shutoff valves, which turn off the water supply when there isn’t anyone available to turn off a water valve for you.

    Rental properties in the Midwest and Northeast also face the potential of basement flooding. A device called a sump pump is supposed to prevent flooding by pumping rainwater that pools below grade and around the home up and out to sewer lines. The smart version of these sump pumps read the electric signal in the pump’s motor and tell owners weeks or months before their pump ever fails that the device might need maintenance. While flooding due to a malfunctioning washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, or, if you have one, a sump pump may never cross your mind, you only have to experience it once to never forget the damage. In fact, statistics from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry estimate the average cost to remodel after a basement flood is approximately $40,000.

    Technology for Convenience

    Another way to make a rental property smarter is by replacing a traditional wall outlet with a smart in-wall outlet. A smart outlet uses a logic board, integrated chips, Wi-Fi, and a mobile app to allow you to turn on interior lights for a soon-to-arrive renter or turn off lights and appliances after renters leave. Smart light switches (with labels corresponding to which lights and appliances they turn on) are something I’ve contemplated adding to my rental property but haven’t yet. Imagine waking up early in an unfamiliar home and turning on the disposal instead of the kitchen light as you try to make coffee before the rest of the family—light sleepers will hear the misstep. If smart switches seem over the top to you, then a Plan B is simply using a label maker to affix some helpful hints to certain switches and outlets.

    No conversation about smart homes would be complete without mentioning Wi-Fi. At best, connecting to Wi-Fi in a rental property typically requires finding the login information. While you can help renters by posting the login information prominently in the check-in documents (online or in print), a better, smarter solution is taking advantage of a near-field communication (NFC) patch. NFC is contactless technology, like the kind that helps you pay for your coffee with your smartphone at the point of sale. An NFC patch includes a chip and an antenna to broadcast information to your phone, such as your rental property’s Wi-Fi information. You can add an NFC patch to a convenient location in your rental property for guests to get Wi-Fi access.

    The technology has been around for years. The drawback is NFC requires a renter to download an app to their phone to read the information from the NFC patch. That’s a bit of a pain. But a new device called a Wifi Porter mitigates that pain. Here’s how it works: The property owner places the porter in the rental home, downloads an app, and broadcasts the Wi-Fi information to the porter. Renters arrive, touch their smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device to the porter, and connect to Wi-Fi without having to download anything. There’s a QR code guests can scan as a backup if their phones don’t support NFC.

    Low-Tech Can Be Smart, Too

    There is a line I don’t want to cross in making my rental property smarter, of course. Too much technology can frustrate renters. A solution shouldn’t be more complex than what’s needed to reach a goal. For example, I took a low-tech approach to saving energy and bought timer switches from the local hardware store for the exhaust fans in my rental property’s bathrooms. I swapped them for the conventional switches. And now, if a renter forgets to turn off one of these fans at the switch after taking a shower and leaving the home, the conditioned air won’t escape through the vent.

    When it comes to smart technology for your rental property, don’t overthink it. Start by considering your renters’ feedback. If there’s something at the property causing frustration, and you can solve that with a smart tool, try it. Also review your bills and decide whether a few smart technology tweaks might save you energy or reduce headaches related to managing the property. Ultimately, you want technology to make your renters’ stay easier and improve the efficiency with which you manage their experience.


    Richard Gunther is a digital-product experience consultant for ConnectSense, a smart home product and services company, and co-host (with Adam Justice) of The Smart Home Show podcast. Readers with questions can contact Richard at richard@richardgunther.com.

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