A $69 million office-to-apartment conversion project in Kansas City will soon feature new Internet-of-Things technology that its creators hope will become a model for the world of real estate.
Amid a flood of development projects in downtown Kansas City, Sunflower Development Group and Block Real Estate Services are converting Traders on Grand — a 20-story office building at 1125 Grand Bvld. — into luxury apartments over the next 18 months. But unlike the many area apartment projects now underway, the project will offer its tenants and property managers access to an app that improves communication and enables smarter management of its amenities.
A Think Big Partners-incubated firm, Homebase Technologies will not only allow tenants to pay rent and request maintenance, but also schedule services and tap a plethora of smart home technology that has emerged in recent years. Homebase will enable property managers to remotely manage vacant units’ lighting and thermostats to help with utility costs.
Homebase CEO Blake Miller said those devices are really just where the opportunity begins, as more “smart home” products — or contraptions that are connected to the internet to offer remote management or information — are arriving everyday. Smart home devices can be anything from internet-controlled door locks and WiFi-enabled cameras to retractable window shades and smart thermostats.
Miller added that the app also pairs nicely with Kansas City’s smart city effort, a $15.7 million public-private project that transforms its downtown into a living lab of Wi-Fi connectivity on and around the 2.2-mile streetcar line.
“This platform will make it really easy to integrate with all these new smart devices that are coming about,” said Miller, who’s also a partner with Think Big. “People live in buildings and buildings are a part of cities. If we start to make these buildings better connected, the citizens will be better connected through their home experience and throughout the city.”
Mark Moberly, director of development with Sunflower Development, said that Homebase offers his firm an edge on competitors that are also rushing to “redefine luxury.” As he saw more smart home devices become available, Moberly said Sunflower hoped to incorporate more tech offerings in its units. Tenants signing 12- to 24-month leases, however, are unlikely to outfit their units with pricey gadgets only to leave them behind, he said.
In addition to providing new amenities, Moberly said that ultimately, Homebase can offer the firm cost savings.
“For Sunflower, we saw Homebase as an opportunity to make our apartment buildings more competitive and unique than our competitors for not a great deal of cost,” he said. “And as we continue to look at more opportunities, we’re actually looking at a return on our investment to where it’s not only an expense as an amenity, but they can become profit centers or to decrease costs, such as with utilities.”
In addition to remotely controlling or monitoring their apartments and interacting with property managers, tenants will be able to receive service offerings via the app. For example, a property manager could offer tenants a discount coupon on an apartment cleaning and then schedule it via the app’s calendar. The app would also notify the tenant when the cleaning has begun and finished, as indicated when the unit’s smart lock has been engaged.
“We’re utilizing these devices to offer better services to tenants,” Miller said. “Not only do we have this cool technology that accepts rent payments and all that, but we basically have a concierge as a service for apartment buildings.”
Moberly said that as more millennial-aged people — those who are 18 to 34 in 2015 — seek urban dwellings, Homebase should offer his company a local advantage. He added that Kansas City’s goal to increase the downtown population to more than 40,000 people in the next decade helps, too.
“We’ve got an audience of tenants that want to live in a downtown environment because they’re young, on the go and live life from their phone,” he said. “We weren’t providing them any sort of amenity that allows them to manage their apartment and living situation in the same way. That’s where we really think it’s going to be most successful.”