Instead of selling my condo in a buyer’s market when I moved cross country, I listed it on Airbnb.com and VRBO.com, hired a housekeeper, and hoped renting it out would help me pay the mortgage until the market changed. Then a funny thing happened: I had fun, made money, met people I like, paid all its bills – and a little more, and have a place to stay when I want to visit my old town. I didn’t sell, even when the market picked up.
It can be frightening letting strangers into my biggest investment, though, so I have been installing a host of smart technologies to help me keep an eye on the place from afar. Smart home products can also add a lot of convenience to the rental process as well, which makes the small up front investment well worth it.
I’ve researched all the best smart home tech that everyone with a vacation rental should have. Check it out below!
No More Key Exchanges
A smart lock simplifies the key exchange
One of the big hassles of managing a rental is keys. I have a lock box outside my condo. My housekeeper cleans and puts keys in there. But this system is flawed. I change the locks periodically in case someone made copies of those keys, and sometimes tenants can’t open or find the lock box, lock themselves out, or need more copies of the keys than I have. A keyless system — using the Schlage Sense, Kwikset (shown), Vivint, or another would solve all of this.
With a smart lock, you can issue a key code for each guest that is live only for the time they are staying. Even better, you can let Airbnb issue the key code automatically. The Vivint system, in partnership with Airbnb, automates the check-in system by sending tenants a key code when they check in and activating it on the day of their arrival. Tenants can then share the key code among themselves and never worry about getting locked out. And you can then see when they type in that code and thereby know when tenants have arrived.
After they check out, the key code stops working, saving you the worry and hassle over compromised keys. This system would also simplify another big remote-management hassle: letting repair people into the unit. With a keyless entry system, you can issue a key code to the building management or cable installer and expire it as soon as they are finished.
Know Who Comes and Goes Using a Smart Doorbell
A smart doorbell would show me who is coming to the door — in my condo on the opposite coast
I have no way of knowing if my tenants are telling the truth when they tell me they are a quiet couple planning to visit their college-aged kid for the weekend. They could just as easily be twenty college sophomores using Mom’s credit card. The latter will not play well with my neighbors or the décor in my condo.
I recently read a story about a host whose apartment was used for an orgy that was widely publicized on Twitter, which did nothing to calm my worries. A video doorbell – such as the August, Ring, or Vivint — would give me eyes on who is coming and going without invading the privacy of my tenants. It would also let me greet my guests in person – or at least via a voice-to-doorbell connection — so that I can welcome them and remind them of the parking and smoking rules.
Be Notified of Smokers Immediately
A Nest Smoke Alarm would let me know — not just the people nearby — when there is smoke in my condo
I have a strict no-smoking rule in my condo. Unlike some hotels that claim there is no smoking but then show you to a room that smells like the Rat Pack just partied in there, I mean it.
My personal furniture and books are in that condo. I would be horrified to discover they all smell like smoke. I plaster my listing and the unit itself with this rule. But how can I know for sure that anyone is listening? A smart smoke alarm. A smoke alarm that calls the fire department and scares the neighbors if someone burns toast is not what I’m looking for. I want one that tells me – 3,000 miles away — when there is any amount of smoke – especially cigarette smoke – in the unit.
The Nest alarm can you know if there is smoke, and allow you to silence the alarm from your phone. You can then check in with the tenants to find out what happened. Also? That low-battery alert chirp that smoke alarms tend to go off in the middle of the night? You’ll never have to subject my tenants to that. The Nest will alert your phone before the batteries are low enough to make the alarm chirp so you can have someone change the batteries proactively.
Catch Leaky Plumbing Before it Floods
A water sensor is an inexpensive way to know the minute there is a flood
My condo is in hurricane country. So when the weather report says there is lots of rain, I worry, hassle my housekeeper for updates, and worry more. A flood is bad for my tenants. But it is worse if there is no one there to tell me or do anything about it. I am planning to install water sensors such as the Honeywell Lyric Water and Freeze detector under the skylight and in the bathrooms (which don’t need foul weather to cause water damage.) That way, I can worry only when there is water getting in.
Smart Homes Get Booked
A smart assistant will make my condo smarter than everyone else’s
My condo has some competition from nearby hotels and similar rentals. I know my unit is the best deal in the area but potential tenants have only my word on that. So I have to get them in the door to convert them to return customers (my bread and butter.)
Installing a smart assistant, like Google Home or Amazon Echo gives me an edge my competition doesn’t yet have. For very little money, I now give my tenants voice-controlled music, answers to questions that pop into their head, and help with local restaurants. Eventually, I hope to connect the lighting and thermostat to the smart assistant, too, so they can simply ask to turns lights off or have the temperature warmer or colder.
A smart thermostat will save me money and be convenient for my tenants
A smart thermostat — such as the Nest, Honeywell Lyric, Vivint Smart Home, or another — that works with Alexa or Google Home would be more than a convenience for my tenants, though. It can save you and me money.
Tenants tend to forget to reset the thermostat when they leave. They have a lot to do, typically, and have to catch a flight. With a connected thermostat, I can check that the heat isn’t blasting or the AC isn’t chugging away when no one is in the unit. Even better, I can tell the thermostat to keep the temperature a little cooler at night and warmer during the day so tenants never have to touch the thermostat. I can create a profile for “Away,” so that managing the temperature for an empty condo is just one-tap for me.
With smart lighting, I can leave the lights on for my tenants — even when I am far, far away
Finding the lights in a new place can be a challenge – especially for tenants who arrive late.
Smart lighting — such as Lutron’s Caseta Wireless smart lighting kit — allow me to be the perfect host and turn the lights on for their arrival so they show up to a place that is warmly lit and inviting. Similarly, when they leave, I can turn off the lights – even if they forget to do it.
A condo that’s sitting empty for several days with the lights blaring is expensive — and annoying to my neighbors. When the unit is empty for any length of time, I can deter theft by creating an away profile that has lights come on occasionally so it looks like someone is home.
Smart plugs give me control over the appliances in my rental — without setting foot in the place
There are a few appliances that give me worry: Space heaters, the toaster, the coffee machine, that lamp in the living room. Tenants aren’t always careful about making sure these are turned off when they leave.
Plugging them into a smart switch like the Wemo helps in a couple of ways. First, a smart plug can tell you if people are using your appliances, and — with some switches (such as the Zuli) — how much that appliance is costing me.
With that information, I might simply remove them if they are costly and not adding much. But, at the very least, I make sure they are off when the unit is empty or put them on a timer so they never run for more than a few hours.
Now that I have decided that keeping my condo is viable, I am planning to make it as smart as possible. Some of these tweaks will save me money. And, when it comes to operating what is essentially a small business, that means profit. There is some investment involved. But preventing one theft, fire, flood, or wild party would more than make up for the cost.
Do you have a vacation rental? Tell us what tips you have for others in the comments!