You’ve been in the trenches designing and installing elaborate electronic systems into the spaces of your clients of single-family homes. It is fun, challenging work for which you can apply your well-honed engineering, programming and creative tech skills to tailor the systems specifically to each homeowner, and it’s been your bread and butter for years.
Sure, single-family homes offer many opportunities to pull in a good profit, but there may be a largely untapped—and potentially profitable—market segment that you should be adding to your business plan: multi-family dwellings (MDUs). This could include everything from luxury high-rises to apartment buildings and condominiums.
The Timing is Right
According to statistics revealed by the Consumer Technology Association's 14th Annual State of the Builder Technology Market Study, the timing couldn’t be better to reach out to builders and developers of all types of MDUs.
For starters, they are the most active type of builders in terms of promoting home tech, even compared to luxury builders, with 73 percent of builders of apartments and 68 percent of MDU builders noting that they “promote technology heavily,” to their clients, while 67 percent of luxury homebuilders say they do the same.
And just like luxury builders of custom homes, MDU developers and builders are incorporating into their projects a wide variety of home systems, including lighting control systems, home automation systems, multi-room audio and video systems, energy management systems, and more.
While monitored security seems to be the most popular technology among builders, with 86 percent saying they offer it as an option and/or upgrade, lighting control isn’t far behind with 68 percent of developers offering automated lighting control systems as an option or upgrade.
Although lighting control may not currently be the most sought-after technology by MDU developers, it’s an option that offers lots of marketing and money-making potential for home systems integrators. According CTA’s market research of builders, the typical price of a lighting control system for MDUs is around $3,888, and $5,115 for apartments and condos. This is on par with the typical price of lighting systems specified by builders of single-family detached homes ($3,420) and for luxury homes ($4,378). Furthermore, more than a quarter of MDU builders say they install lighting control into 26.3 percent of their units, compared to 29.2 and 21 percent of homes built by luxury homebuilders and single-family homebuilders, respectively.
“Developers of MDUs want to have an edge against their competition,” says Jonathan Flamm, president of Audio Command Systems, of Westbury, N.Y., whose company has been successful at securing many notable MDU projects.
“The main building blocks for MDU technology packages have been lighting control, structured cabling, automated window shades, and prewire for whole-house audio.”
Lighting and shading, in particular, resonate strongly with MDU developers, he says. “Many new high-rise residences have large windows to take advantage of the views, so motorized shading makes a lot of sense to the developer and the end user. Lighting control goes hand-in-hand.”
Lighting and Shades: Must Haves for MDUs
Adds Rhett Thomas, national residential sales director at Lutron, “Amenities like an audio system are ‘nice to have,’ while features like lighting and shading in many MDU developments are more of a ‘need-to-have’ amenity,” as effective protection against UV rays to prevent damage to upholstery, minimize solar gain, and maintain privacy.
Builders also see the value in lighting as a life safety tool, and are able to use its ease of integration with most security systems as leverage. For example, having the lights activate when a motion sensor is triggered or when a security alarm sounds can be a great feature for developers to market to their clients as another “need-to-have” amenity.
Start with a Good Base
No matter what types of systems you offer, however, it’s important to offer them as a well-defined, cost-conscious package that can be installed efficiently into all units of a single building, complex, or high-rise. Having one common tech package to integrate into multiple units will allow the developer to more easy work your installation team into the construction schedule, and have a clear, concise message of its benefits and features to relate to his potential buyers.
“Every project has unique requirements. Developers only want just enough technology to add value to their units, but they will not over spend,” says Flamm. “The pricing structure for these projects must be much tighter than for a single-family home.”
You will likely need to modify this base package as you take on additional MDU projects, as every builder is different. While a developer of a luxury high-rise in New York City might be sold on the consolidation of multiple light switches into a single keypad for its aesthetic benefits, a developer of apartment buildings in San Francisco like might find networking to have greater marketability.
Regardless of what your base packages include, keep customization out of the equation. You’ll have plenty of time to do that after the units are sold. Here’s where you can promote your programming skills to tailor the systems to then specific needs of each client. And, you might be able to upsell them on additional technology, such as an audio distribution system or additional handheld remotes.
No matter the demographic, however, Thomas suggests that offering A, B, and C options to MDU developers could jeopardize your success landing a contract. “This tends to result in decision paralysis among builders,” he says. Bottom line: keep your packages singular, simple, and straightforward.
Also know that it may not be the developer who specifies the technology for the MDUs, apartments, condos and townhomes. It could very well be the architect or even the interior designer, so bundle your technology accordingly.
Manage Your Manpower … and More
In addition to implementing a standardized approach to the MDU market, you’ll also need to organize your manpower in a slightly different manner than you may do with single-family home projects.
“This doesn’t take a huge army of manpower, however, scheduling well-trained teams to work efficiently over a project that lasts many months and has strict deadlines requires focus and coordination,” says Flamm.
“Additionally, documentation is extremely important,” Flamm continues. “The technology that you install becomes an integral part of the entire building. You’ll be working in a demanding environment and with more trades and subcontractors than normally found in a single-family home project.”
Given the huge potential to establish valuable contacts in the building community and generate additional revenue, there’s no better time than now to branch into the MDU marketplace. Developers are ready to embrace a wide variety of home systems as a way to set themselves apart from the competition and to provide their customers with practical amenities for everyday life.
The skillsets you will need aren’t that much different from your work in single-family residences; it’ll just require more of a packaged approach to the systems you sell, but once you find that magic formula of products, the sky is the limit to your MDU revenue potential.