Pump Up the Volume

Properties offer iPod docking stations.

When residents move in to the Towne Centre at Englewood, they can unpack to tunes blasting from their own iPods thanks to handy built-in docking stations in each unit. “Residents love the docking stations,” says Jeremy Halpern, a vice president for Atlantic Realty Development Corp., which built the 188-unit luxury rental community in New Jersey. “We got a much more excited response than I even thought we would.”

The response shouldn't be too surprising; after all, iPods have quickly become one of America's most beloved gadgets. InfiniSys Electronic Architects, a Daytona Beach, Fla.-based amenity solutions consulting and design firm, offers the docking station for both residential units and common areas such as leasing offices and clubhouses so music can easily be piped through the rooms. “As everybody offers the triple play [telephone, Internet, and TV], we have a lot of owners who are the early adaptors, and they're saying, ‘What's next?'” says Mike Whaling, InfiniSys' business development manager. “This is the next step.”

InfiniSys is installing the product in rentals and condos as either a standard offering or an upgrade option for renters and buyers. The station, which fits into the wall much like a light switch plate, is connected to a home theater system. The equipment (including installation) ranges from $300 to $500, and properties are investing in the gadget for common areas but overall have been slow to install the product in individual units, says Whaling, who expects that to change. “With as much competition as there is out there, they are looking for different ways to leave a lasting impact on a potential prospect,” he adds. An iTunes gift card is a good start.

Price Check

A new site offers a one-stop shop for rent comparisons.

Call it the Expedia.com of the multifamily industry. Rentometer.com, an online tool introduced last fall, shows property owners and managers as well as renters how a community's rents stack up to comparable units in nearby apartment buildings. “More and more people are starting to use the rentometer because it can take you hours or maybe a couple of days to really dig up the all information and do the comparison yourself,” says Allison M. Atsiknoudas, CEO of Investment Instruments Corp., which provides the service.

The Web site's search function is simple. Enter a building's address, the current monthly rent for a specific unit, and the number of units in the building, hit “analyze my property,” and the site generates a comparison of the property's rent compared to nearby units. Next to the rentometer (which resembles a car speedometer), a Google map shows the location of the specified rental unit with the comparable properties highlighted with blue and green markers. Most of this data is derived from listings provided by property owners or from large classified sites like Rent.com, says Atsiknoudas.

The system is easy to use, but it does have its drawbacks. It doesn't take property amenities into account, so a unit in an amenity-rich building may be unfairly compared to a unit in a property with no amenities. Also, it doesn't always offer the specific locations of nearby properties for comparison—but that could be a plus for some property owners.

Confidence Builders

AIMCO's energy team drives the bottom line.

Rob DeGrasse knows all too well the difficulty of integrating sustainability into the typical multifamily executive's business model. “I had to go before senior management to ask for seed money for our energy savings project in 2006,” says the AIMCO senior vice president of service and technical standards. “And by seed money, I mean $5 million. Quite a few jaws dropped to the floor.”

To help gain approval for the pilot program, DeGrasse promised AIMCO brass a 20 percent ROI. By targeting common area lighting retrofits—and, to a lesser extent, central mechanical upgrades and weatherization projects—the newly minted energy team delivered to the tune of 28-plus percent. “That is pure utility cost reduction,” DeGrasse says, noting that there is also the opportunity to boast a larger ROI on the additional service, repair, and maintenance savings.

“We might include those moving forward, but [we] wanted to first establish the program by not including savings that could be seen as less tangible. Migrating to a program like this in a company requires a lot of confidence,” DeGrasse says. “You can't approach the lofty and elusive goals of sustainability without targeting the business side first.”

AIMCO execs apparently were won over, tripling the energy team's 2007 budget to $15 million. “That will likely double again in 2008,” DeGrasse says. Next up for the team: promoting conservation to AIMCO's residents, who themselves spend an estimated $300 million to $400 million on their own energy across AIMCO's portfolio. “We think we can bundle energy conservation with other types of amenities targeted toward our residents that we then integrate with marketing for an incremental rental hike,” says DeGrasse. That program pilots this year.