According to “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2012,” a joint report by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and the Urban Land Institute, most developers and homebuilders have remained on the sidelines during this extended economic recovery because, without evident demand drivers, construction lenders are holding back funding on most projects. Fortunately for electrical contractors, multifamily development has remained an exception. The report projects a ramp-up in apartment development across many markets justified by plunging vacancies and continuing rent increases.

“The multifamily segment grows with more sophisticated tenants that have leverage when finding the property that best accommodates their living needs, so the more value a property offers, the higher its occupancy rates,” said Michael Keen, vice president of strategic accounts at Protection 1, Irving, Texas.

One such value is tenant security. Keen said providing security is more about value than amenity. Property owners look for ways to differentiate their properties in the market and entice renters.

“Comparing the usage rate of an individual security system to, for example, the workout facility, pool or common spaces, favors the security system and sends a strong message that the owner cares about personal security and maintaining the health and well-being of the tenants,” he said.

In addition to providing security for the outside of residents’ units, a multiresidential application has historically consisted of an individual security system for every unit on the property. According to Keen, each unit would be outfitted with a panel, door contact, window protection, panic button and other components. Even the use of card access systems in lieu of keys is becoming a prevalent trend as the costs and resources necessary in physical key and lock replacement has become more prohibitive.

“As the needs of the tenants have evolved, so has the technology,” he said.

In addition, electronic locks are becoming increasingly popular in multifamily applications, while wireless contacts and communications have enabled tenants to stay protected without the need for a hardwired phone line running to their panel.

“Wireless communication enables property owners to experience fewer maintenance calls related to cut wires during building renovations,” Keen said.

Additionally, the wireless solution at the property level for a bulk intrusion system allows for up to 90-plus individual units to communicate wirelessly to only one collector, addressing the property owner’s desire for an intrusion system while matching the tenants’ current technology needs and using personal cellphones instead of landlines.

For properties that wish to employ a wide-range, comprehensive security system, state-of-the-art solutions incorporate Windows-based access audit systems that monitor the use and ownership of resident keycards, while also integrating point-of-sale and other third-party applications, according to Philip Shea, associate editor of Multi-Housing News, New York.

“Tenants in this segment desire stronger feature sets from their security systems with elements including online technology, mobile phone functionality, customized equipment and smart home features,” Keen said.

There has also been a recent trend within the multifamily segment of enhanced security for affordable housing projects, specifically in aging-in-place homes.

“Cameras are being installed on each floor, with both interactive monitoring and remote control,” said Seth Barcus, vice president of managed services for Peace of Mind Technologies, New York.

For the electrical contractor (EC)
ECs can leverage their low--voltage and security system expertise in this market.

“The repetitive nature of an installation in the multiresidential market requires a great deal of structure and is a great planning opportunity for the contractor,” said Adam Prasse, president of APS Security, Little Rock, Ark. It also is an opportunity for ECs to exponentially grow their customer bases because of the population density in the multiresidential segment,” Prasse said.

Although many contractors are capable of pulling the wire and installing the equipment in a multifamily security application, Keen said they also must be able to evaluate all of the elements that contribute to the customer’s experience, including installation, service, monitoring, billing and customer service.

“Contractors need to partner with the property manger to fully understand what they wish to accomplish in terms of providing services and what the tenants desire in terms of security, energy management and home automation,” Prasse said.

As always, Barcus said, clients are price conscious and will look for technically sound and advanced security systems at an inexpensive cost.

“Opportunities are flourishing with buildings in need of upgrades and the owners’ and tenants’ desire to enhance technology and security. Although contractors need to find innovative ways to get cables to locations that have never had devices installed there before, they are in a position to creatively use wireless and other wiring technology to ensure that installations will be efficient and cost-effective,” he said.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.