Welcome to your intercom journey!
Whether you’re replacing an existing apartment intercom system or choosing one for a new building, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help you find the best intercom system that fits your budget, makes residents’ lives easier, and improves building operations for property managers and owners.
As you begin your search, you’re probably wondering: What is the right intercom system for my building? That all depends on your needs and priorities. Perhaps security is a concern, or maybe you’re constantly missing deliveries. Maybe you also need to provide remote property access to visitors. Whatever you’re seeking, there’s an intercom system that will meet your needs. Today’s apartment intercoms offer wireless installation, video calling, and smartphone-based access — and it’s important to understand the costs and benefits of each.
To help you find the right intercom for your multi-tenant apartment building, we’ve created this complete guide. It describes all the important features and decisions you should consider.
This guide will answer:
- What is an apartment intercom system?
- How does an apartment intercom work?
- How much does an apartment intercom system cost?
- Why every apartment building needs an intercom
- Four types of apartment intercoms
- Seven features to look for when choosing an apartment intercom system
- What’s the best apartment intercom system?
What is an apartment intercom system?
Sometimes called an apartment buzzer, an apartment intercom system is an electronic device that enables two-way communication and grants property access between tenants and their visitors. Installed at the entryway of a building, intercoms include a microphone, a speaker, and sometimes a camera. The intercom captures audio and video and transmits them to each tenant, which lets tenants see and speak with visitors before giving them access to the building.
The modern apartment intercom is the product of many innovations throughout history. Beginning with the first telephone entry system patented in 1894 to the cloud-based intercoms available today, these systems have become essential tools for apartment living.
Modern intercom systems for apartments:
- Allow residents to open doors and manage property access from anywhere.
- Let property managers instantly add, revoke, and review property access permissions.
- Reduce installation and maintenance costs for property owners and developers.
Images of video intercom systems for apartments
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Apartment intercom system with door release
To remotely grant access, an apartment building entry system requires a door release device. Apartment intercoms with door release allow tenants and building staff to open the door for visitors by simply pushing a ‘door open’ button. When someone pushes the ‘door open’ button, a relay on the intercom sends a signal to the door release device to unlock the door. The door release device is typically an electronic strike or magnetic lock.
The difference between electronic strikes vs magnetic locks is small but important. Electronic strikes are considered fail-secure, which means they require power to unlock the door. In contrast, magnetic locks are considered fail-safe, which means they require power to lock the door.
Choosing the right locks for your building depends on your security needs. We recommend speaking with a licensed electrician in your state to understand which door release device is right for your apartment building.
Front desk vs. multi-tenant intercom
Apartment intercoms can be sorted into two categories: front desk intercoms and multi-tenant intercoms. A front desk intercom only places calls to the front desk or leasing office. In contrast, a multi-tenant intercom lets visitors call a specific tenant within the building. In nearly every situation, multi-tenant intercoms are better.
Multi-tenant intercoms are more convenient for residents, who can speak directly with their visitors. They’re also more convenient for building staff, who won’t have to operate the intercom system at the front desk 24 hours a day. Property managers are always on the go — showing apartments, fixing issues, and interacting with tenants. They don’t have time to receive calls from an intercom and grant property access.
Front desk intercoms are too limited for modern multifamily buildings that have many visitors. Multi-tenant intercoms are much better suited to accommodate package deliveries, on-demand services like dog walkers, food deliveries, and other visitors.
How does an apartment intercom work?
An apartment intercom system works by enabling visitors to call and request access from a tenant or building staff member upon arriving.
Here’s how apartment intercom system works:
- To enter the building, the visitor must use a directory on the intercom to look up the person they want to request property access from. Typically, visitors call a resident or staff member.
- When the visitor finds the right person in the intercom’s directory, they push a ‘call’ button to notify them.
- The tenant or staff member receives this notification on either a buzzer installed in their apartment unit or on another device such as a smartphone. From there, the resident or staff member can either dismiss the call, talk to the visitor, or open the door.
- If the tenant or staff member decides to open the door for the visitor, an electronic relay is triggered inside of the intercom installed at the building’s entrance. Triggering this relay sends a signal to a door releasing mechanism (an electronic or magnetic lock), which unlocks the door at the entryway and lets the visitor enter the property.
Watch how ButterflyMX works:
How much does an apartment intercom system cost?
Today’s apartment intercom systems cost between $1,000 and $7,000, which doesn’t include installation or maintenance fees.
While intercom hardware varies in price, it’s easy to estimate the total hardware cost because the price is fixed. But apartment intercom installation and maintenance costs are more difficult to calculate.
Each installation company will estimate its fee based upon the materials needed and the difficulty of the installation. And ongoing maintenance costs will vary depending on the number of hardware devices purchased and the amount of wiring used to install that hardware. Since every building has different hardware and wiring needs, you need to contact a certified installer and compare your options.
If you’re replacing or purchasing an apartment entry intercom system, be sure to get a quote for both the price of the hardware and the installation. Reputable companies will not only ensure you’re paying the best price for hardware, but they’ll also connect you with a local certified installer who will get the job done right.
5 factors that affect intercom hardware & installation costs
- The number of intercom systems needed. If your building has one entryway, you may only need one intercom. However, if your building has multiple entries — such as side doors, garage entrances, etc. — you may need to purchase multiple intercoms for each door.
- Location of installation. Intercoms installed on a wall near the door they control are typically cheaper to install than intercoms mounted on a pedestal 20 feet away because of the additional wiring and labor needed.
- The intercom’s wiring requirements. Wiring costs add up quickly. Expenses include purchasing cables, opening up walls to run those cables, and hiring people to do all the work. So if the intercom system you select requires wiring throughout your building, the price tag will be higher.
- Installing hardware in every apartment unit. If you choose an apartment intercom system that requires in-unit hardware, you’ll have a higher upfront bill. Not only do you need to purchase the additional in-unit hardware, but you’ll also have to pay the labor and material costs to install it. Additionally, your future maintenance and upgrade costs will be higher since all the in-unit hardware must be maintained or replaced.
- Your installer’s knowledge. Possibly the most expensive cost is an inexperienced installer. They can recommend unnecessary costs, damage your building, or worse. If your installer isn’t certified, you may end up paying more than you need to. Only a certified installer should accurately assess your building’s unique requirements, provide an estimate, and install your intercom system safely and correctly.
Why every apartment building needs an intercom
An intercom system is crucial for your apartment building because it provides a way to manage visitor access. Multi-tenant intercom systems have directories that visitors can use to call tenants within the building and request access. Tenant directories are an incredibly important feature that other property access solutions, such as video doorbells or access control systems, don’t have.
Video doorbells are designed for single-unit buildings, primarily single-family homes. Because video doorbells lack directories, visitors can’t use them to select the tenant they’re visiting in a multi-unit building. Also, video doorbells don’t have electronic relays to unlock the door, which means tenants and building staff have to manually open the door for guests.
And while access control systems like card or fob readers offer many benefits, they’re designed only to manage property access for tenants and building staff, not visitors. Just like video doorbells, access control systems lack a directory. As a result, visitors such as friends, family members, and delivery drivers have no way to notify individual tenants and staff when they’re at a property’s entrance.
Benefits of apartment intercom systems
- Improve security. Apartment security intercom systems keep tenants safe. They’re a vital layer of security that lets staff and tenants control who enters the building. They also give renters peace of mind because anyone who visits the property has been vetted and authorized.
- Enable package deliveries. Package management is a huge pain point for property staff. With an intercom in your building, staff and tenants can grant seamless property access to couriers. Some intercoms also integrate with solutions like package lockers and package rooms.
- Increase visitor management capabilities. Intercoms allow seamless communication between residents and visitors. Multi-tenant properties need a way to communicate with visitors and grant them property access. And an intercom is the best solution.
- Add convenience. Modern tenants want convenience. Don’t make them go downstairs to open the front door for guests — let them grant remote property access with an intercom.
- Retain residents by improving the resident experience. The security and convenience an intercom brings to your apartment building will help shape a positive experience and give your residents a reason to renew their leases year after year.
Four types of apartment intercom systems
You have a lot of options when you’re choosing an apartment intercom system for your property. The system you choose will impact the access experience for residents, staff, and visitors alike, so take the time to consider various types of intercoms before you purchase one.
The four main types of apartment intercoms are:
Wireless apartment intercom systems
Intercom systems can be wired or wireless — and we can’t stress the importance of this choice enough. When selecting an apartment intercom system, you need it to be wired when it’s important, and wireless when it’s not.
When apartment intercom wiring is important
We generally recommend against intercoms that operate over a cellular connection or WiFi. Systems with a wired internet connection are far more reliable. Cellular or WiFi issues outweigh the benefits of a wireless connection. Instead, use a direct connection to the internet.
Buildings are made of concrete, steel, and lots of copper wiring. These materials cause issues for most wireless devices. Internet connectivity issues frustrate staff, residents, couriers, and visitors alike. Imagine your visitor being stuck outside in a rainstorm while you’re unable to open your door for them because of your intercom’s internet connection.
We suggest you pick an intercom that is wired directly to the internet and the door it controls. This way, no one’s ever stuck outside in the rain.
When apartment intercom wiring is not important
Wiring and installation costs will quickly add up if your intercom requires wiring throughout the building to each apartment unit. What should be a quick and easy addition to your property becomes a costly and time-consuming project. On top of that, future upgrades will require you to rewire the building all over again.
So, to save time and money, select an apartment intercom that doesn’t require building wiring to each apartment or in-unit hardware to receive calls.
97% of Americans own a cell phone, and 85% of them own a smartphone. There’s no longer a reason to spend time and money installing wiring and hardware in each unit. Instead, residents can use their smartphones to speak with visitors and buzz them in.
A good intercom system will send those calls to residents’ cell phones so they can speak with visitors and open the door for them. A better intercom system will let you send video calls to a mobile app so residents can see visitors. The best intercom system will let you do both.
This type of hybrid system is a great choice. It ensures that residents who don’t have a smartphone can still get calls and provide access. It also prepares your building for a future where 100% of Americans have a smartphone and will receive video calls through a mobile app.
Multi-tenant apartment buildings are made of dense materials. These materials interfere with your intercom system’s wireless internet connection. To ensure your video intercom works as intended, don’t use WiFi or a cellular signal to connect your intercom system to the internet. Instead, connect your intercom directly to your building’s internet.
Apartment intercom system installation can be an expensive, complicated process, but by choosing the right intercom system you can cut costs while providing more features. Avoid wiring the system from the entryway to each apartment unit because intercom wiring is expensive to install and maintain.
Since everyone has a smartphone that can receive video calls, choose a smart intercom with a mobile app. This way, you’ll save time and money by not buying and installing building wiring and apartment hardware.
- Connect your intercom directly to the internet.
- Avoid a system that requires building wiring and apartment unit hardware.
- Pick a wireless apartment intercom system that makes video calls to smartphones.
Watch a live customer review of ButterflyMX:
Property staff members aren’t always on site. But now that many of today’s intercoms are powered by the internet and store data in the cloud, a staff member doesn’t have to be on a property to manage it.
Just like tenants want to remotely open the door for their guests, property staff will appreciate a system that lets them remotely manage the intercom system. So, choose a cloud-based video intercom with online management capabilities so building staff can remotely manage who enters the building.
Cloud-based intercoms also allow property managers and owners to remotely:
- Update the resident directory
- Add & revoke tenant permissions
- Offer self-guided tours, reducing the need for an onsite leasing agent
- View audit trails of door releases to keep track of who has entered the building
Video intercom systems
The ability to transfer video is a major benefit of ditching a telephone-based intercom and upgrading to a video intercom. Apartment audio intercom systems that use telephone wiring can’t provide video because their analog technology can’t carry the data load. Nothing takes up more bandwidth than video transfer.
Plus, today’s apartment residents need a reliable visitor management system for all of their friends, family, and delivery people. While you may remember a time when you could trust anyone you let into your building, those days are gone. Thanks to social media, the rise of e-commerce, and the gig economy, renters need to be able to see who they’re letting into the building.
An intercom with a built-in video camera is a security must-have because:
- Residents and building staff can see who’s at the door before letting them into the building. This lets you confirm that your visitors are who they say they are.
- It can reduce the risk of vandalism. When a visitor approaches your property and sees themselves displayed on the intercom screen, they’ll believe they’re being recorded. A reminder that a camera is watching is all someone needs to not vandalize your property or break-in.
Some apartment video intercom systems also document all door entries with a picture for added security. Property staff and residents have an online dashboard to view time- and date-stamped photos of who has entered the building.
In contrast to a traditional analog intercom, an IoT intercom uses the internet to enhance its functions. Through an IoT intercom, visitors and residents can communicate wirelessly. The intercom’s internet connection supports superb audio communication, and may even support video calling.
Additionally, IoT intercoms empower residents and staff to open doors and manage access even if they aren’t in the building. Users can connect to the IoT intercom from anywhere.
How to choose an intercom system for your apartment
You learned about the different types of intercoms for apartments and you now know why your building needs an apartment intercom. But how do you choose one?
When purchasing a building intercom, look for systems that are reliable, secure, and convenient. There are also a few features you should be on the lookout for.
7 features to look for when choosing an apartment building intercom:
- Mobile app
- Integrations with other systems
- Delivery management solution
- Multiple property access methods
- Supports multiple entrances
- Contactless and touchless entry options
- Reliable provider with a good track record
1. Mobile app
For the best resident experience, select an apartment intercom with a mobile app.
Intercom systems that pair with a mobile app allow you to open the door from anywhere in the world. This lets renters grant entry to delivery people and service providers — such as house cleaners or dog walkers — even when they aren’t home. It also lets building staff remotely grant property access to maintenance people and prospective renters.
Additionally, if your apartment intercom also has video capabilities, you can see who’s at the door before letting them in via a smartphone call.
Finally, intercoms with a mobile app let you see everyone who has called or messaged from the intercom. You’ll also get a history of door releases to review at any time.
Before choosing a system that comes with a mobile app, check the app’s ratings. If users report that the app is buggy, unreliable, or the app simply has no reviews, it might not be the right fit. The last thing you need is for your residents, staff, or visitors to be locked outside because the app doesn’t work.
2. Integrations with other systems
Apartment residents seek convenience — but so do property managers. So, choose an apartment intercom system that can integrate with the other systems you’re using, whether that’s your property management software or access control system.
For example: If you connect your intercom to your access control system or you wire it directly to the automatic door operator, you can provide touchless entry into your property.
Another example: If your apartment intercom connects to your property management system, you won’t have to waste time updating multiple databases. When you add or remove tenants from your property management system, they’re automatically added or removed from your intercom.
For residents, connecting to other proptech amenities such as smart locks provides a seamless living experience. Tenants can open the building door and their apartment door from the same mobile app.
If you can’t make all these upgrades, focus on overall property access before individual unit access. After all, everyone accesses the building’s front door, but only limited people need access to apartment doors. Choosing a multi-tenant intercom with integrations allows you to continually improve your property in the future.
The most important reason to select an apartment intercom with integrations is that you’ll have total control over what technology you install in your building. You won’t be locked into one company for smart locks or access control. This is even more important if you already have those systems up and running.
3. Delivery management solution
With the growth in e-commerce, managing package deliveries has become a big issue for apartment residents and owners. Now that we order everything from a bar of soap to a king-sized bed online, apartment buildings must figure out how to accept and store all those packages.
The worst-case scenario is when the delivery person can’t access the property to make their delivery. They’ll either leave a note on the door or leave the package outside — neither of which is ideal. So, you need an apartment intercom system that ensures you never miss a package delivery.
Look for an intercom that allows you to assign delivery PIN codes to each carrier. This way, couriers can access the building and complete deliveries without involving tenants or building staff. The intercom should also take a photo of anyone who uses a delivery PIN for added security.
Once the delivery person is inside your building, they can either leave the package in the lobby or store it in a package room or package locker. Package rooms provide a secure and convenient way to receive and store packages at your apartment building. And you can even control access to your package room with an intercom system!
4. Multiple property access methods
Aside from enabling communication between residents and visitors, intercom systems provide property access. Traditional intercom systems usually only offer a door-open button on in-unit hardware — think of the old-school buzzer system where a resident pushes a button in their apartment to open the door for their guest. Over the years, however, intercom systems have been designed to offer more than one property access method.
So, look for an apartment intercom that offers multiple ways to open the door.
Property access methods include:
- Door PINs: Some systems allow residents to create their own door PIN, which they can enter at the intercom panel to unlock the door. Property admins can also assign door PINs to couriers to simplify package deliveries.
- Mobile app: If you choose an intercom with a mobile app, residents can open the door from their smartphones.
- Virtual keys/QR codes: Some intercoms offer a virtual key feature. Virtual keys are QR codes that a resident can send to visitors for easy property access.
- Facial recognition: Some intercom systems offer facial recognition technology. Residents can use this feature to unlock the door simply by looking at the intercom’s camera.
- Voice controls: Modern intercoms may offer integrations with Alexa- and Siri-enabled devices, allowing residents to open the door with just their voice.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth-enabled intercom systems let residents open the door with a device that has been connected to Bluetooth.
5. Supports multiple entrances
The best apartment intercom systems can control multiple building entrances.
For example, perhaps you have a vestibule with two doors in a row. If this is the case, sometimes you may want both doors to open (like when a tenant grants property access to a guest). At other times, you want just the first door to open (like when a delivery person is dropping off a package). Asking yourself questions about how you want your intercom system to work is important.
Many intercom systems can only support granting access to one door. So, if you have more than one door that you want to unlock, choose an intercom that supports multiple entrances.
The best intercom systems will also give you the ability to manage multiple entrances from an online portal. This way, you can control each individual door and update your system remotely without being on-site.
6. Contactless and touchless entry options
Touchless and contactless building entry options are becoming increasingly important for apartment buildings.
Contactless entry is the ability to provide remote property access to a visitor. This means you can grant property access to guests, delivery people, and maintenance professionals remotely — without physically being at the building or coming in close contact with that individual. Apartment intercom systems that offer contactless entry options are a must-have for tenants who are always on the move. They’re also crucial for building staff who work remotely or manage multiple properties.
Touchless entry, on the other hand, allows residents, visitors, and building staff to open doors without touching them. Touchless entry for apartment buildings adds convenience and safety. It’s convenient to avoid manually opening building doors while your hands are full of groceries. It’s also safer because it reduces the risk of spreading germs through contact. To offer touchless entry at your building, be sure the apartment intercom system you pick has the ability to connect to an automatic door opener.
Watch how touchless entry works with ButterflyMX:
7. Reliable provider with a good track record
If you’ve narrowed down your options to just a few intercom systems but still can’t choose, take a look at each company’s reviews. See what others are saying about their products. The apartment intercom you install should be a worthwhile investment that lasts for years to come. So, buy from a company with a positive reputation and a strong track record of reliability and service.
Search for reviews of the company online before purchasing. You can also ask fellow real estate professionals for their advice and opinions.
Finally, it’s smart to purchase an apartment intercom from a company that offers live support in the event you need it. Some intercom providers simply don’t have the staff to offer ongoing live support. Others are based outside of the U.S. in different time zones and can’t provide live support at the times you may need it.
What is the best intercom system for apartments?
You’ve read this guide, done your research, and asked yourself all the tough questions. You know which features you want in your apartment intercom system. But how do you know which intercom to select?
Choose a ButterflyMX intercom
We’ve reviewed the best video intercoms for apartments, and ButterflyMX is the clear winner.
The ButterflyMX video intercom empowers building staff and residents to open doors and gates with a smartphone. By eliminating building wiring and in-unit hardware, ButterflyMX saves you time and money while adding convenience for residents.
Property owners and managers love ButterflyMX because it:
- Is a cloud-based system that you can manage remotely from any device
- Integrates with other proptech, including smart locks, property management software, and more
- Facilitates seamless access, meaning residents never miss visitors or deliveries
- Saves time for property staff, who no longer have to handle all property access duties
Residents love ButterflyMX because:
- They can open the door or gate for themselves and their visitors right from a smartphone
- Virtual keys and Delivery Passes empower them to grant access to guests and delivery carriers — even when they’re not home
- They can see who’s at the door through a video call before letting someone in
- Older buildings can be easily retrofitted for the ButterflyMX intercom system
Since launching in 2015, ButterflyMX has been installed in more than 6,500 buildings and more than 650,000 units. The company also has the most five-star reviews in the industry with more than 7,000.