Multi-Housing News hosted a webinar with Cyrus Claffey of ButterflyMX, Kent Woodyard, from Amazon, and Steven Boyack from CA Management. They discussed managing access, deliveries, and operations during Covid-19, which has led many real estate professionals to work remotely. Find a transcription of the webinar below.
Below is a transcription of the webinar: managing access during COVID-19:
Suzanne: Welcome to today’s Snap Session: Managing Access, Deliveries, and Operations during COVID-19. I’m Suzanne Silverman, Editorial Director of Multi-Housing News. I’m talking with Kent Woodyard from Amazon, Cyrus Claffey of ButterflyMX, and Steven Boyack of CA Management. We are recording this session and it will be available for later viewing. In addition, we’re going to leave some time at the end to answer your questions. Feel free to submit them at any time during the webinar.
Internet retailing was already on the rise before the arrival of the novel Coronavirus. With most Americans now staying home, home deliveries have increased still more, with the added challenge of contactless delivery. In many cases, the property management office itself is now closed. So let’s talk about how best to manage deliveries during these difficult times. Cyrus, why don’t you start us off and tell us how property access has changed during COVID-19.
Cyrus: Hey! Thanks, Sue. I’m glad to be here and that’s a great question. Property access has changed a lot, just like the world around us. Pre COVID-19, property access was really about enabling convenience for the people and services that mattered. When we spoke with developers and property managers, they were primarily concerned with providing the residents with a living experience that matched their lifestyle. One in which, access to anything was just a tap on their smartphone away. However, with all the health and wellness concern surrounding COVID-19, we all know that people’s lifestyles have changed dramatically.
Now, we’re all being asked to work from home, interact less with others, and do most of our shopping online. So property access has gone from enabling resident convenience to ensuring resident safety. And we’ve seen this change most dramatically in how people are using our products and services. For example, some of our built-in security functionality, such as video calling, has seen a five times usage rate increase in the last four weeks alone. This is primarily because on-site staff are relying on it to see and speak with visitors. Often times from a remote location, or behind the security desk in the lobby.
We’ve also seen residents now start to use touchless door opening functionality in our mobile app. They’re using our mobile app to unlock the building’s door instead of using their keys, key fobs, or pins. And lastly, with the onslaught of deliveries, we’ve seen a huge demand for a package room solution. Property managers see the value of the partnerships we’ve created with providers, such as Amazon. With that partnership, we grant UPS and FedEx drivers access to complete deliveries without the involvement of building staff.
Suzanne: Okay. Thanks, Cyrus! Kent, can you talk about how delivery has changed?
Kent: Yeah, absolutely! So, and thanks again for having us on. It’s been a crazy couple of months and so, it’s an important conversation. We’re happy to be a part of it. We’ve seen highly elevated levels of usage, and really a switch in how people view e-commerce. Not just Amazon, but e-commerce in general. Where it’s less of just a convenient way to shop and it’s become more of a public utility almost.
It’s like an essential lifeline. If you can’t go outside and if many brick-and-mortar retailers are closed, then online ordering is the answer. And so, that’s what we’re seeing from our customers. Just to read one quick anecdote. This is from, a lady posted this on social media saying:
“Thank you, Amazon. Thank You, Whole Foods. Your grocery delivery saved us. A family member was hospitalized, not flu-related, and with all the insanity at the stores. I was able to be a caregiver and stock the house with food, all at once. #lifesaver.”
And so, I think that highlights what we’re seeing, and what I’m sure the property managers are seeing as well. That’s been especially true with things like grocery delivery have long been the last remaining holdout. Where the majority of the shopping was happening brick-and-mortar in physical stores. But, we’ve had a kind of forced adoption for people who, maybe weren’t comfortable with it. Now they have no choice and so they’ve had to convert to online grocery shopping. And so, we’re seeing a lot of that as well, where folks are now just depending on this. And so, in terms of the other kind of cohort for my role here specifically at Amazon, I work on our hub locker teams.
So we have Amazon package lockers in almost 4,000 properties across the country. In addition to another 8,000 retail lockers that are in front of 7-Elevens, Whole Foods, Rite-Aids, these unattended pickup options. And that unattended part is obviously very critical these days as we’re all trying to practice social distancing and not just protect the customers, but also protect our delivery drivers who are out there on the streets as an essential service. But also wanting to not have to interact if we can avoid it. So, these delivery lockers are becoming a key part of that. Whereas Cyrus mentioned, working with Butterfly, we’re able to offer access to the building. And then access to these lockers, where the packages are ultimately delivered without requiring any human touch or any point of contact.
Suzanne: And Steven, can you give us that property operation perspective? How have these changes to property access and to delivery caused you to change your operations during COVID-19, and what are you hearing from your residents, as well?
Steven: We manage both student housing properties as well as multi-family properties. So, we have a pretty wide view of the marketplace. Our student housing properties are averaging about 35 percent, give or take occupancy. Most of the kids that could go home, did. Occupancies in multifamily properties have stayed stable around 95%. Our operations are typically very service-centric but we’ve closed our offices.
Our maintenance teams are still staffed but are working on only essential work orders right now. Concierge desks are plexi-glassed off so they can still provide the services that people expect. Packages across are averaging about anywhere from a 50 to 150 percent increase. And the packages are being managed through various package rooms and package lockers. In some cases, buildings are using amenity spaces as triage areas. The residents being home has really helped in our abilities to manage the tremendous increase in input.
They would often leave packages with us all day and then picked up at night or in the morning. But now we have a system where residents can schedule package pickups. We’re able to make sure that there’s not any large groups coming at one time. Also, I think interesting was mentioned, food deliveries. Food deliveries across the board are up about 60 percent at our properties. We’re managing those differently and using different systems, like ButterflyMX. Now, we hold the deliveries at the front door and residents schedule pickups as well. With this system, we can limit the amount of foot traffic of people. Both in and through the common areas of the buildings.
Suzanne: Okay. Thanks, Steven! Let’s talk about how much technology has been accelerated to bring these three components together in recent months. The access tools, the delivery, and the operations. What was happening leading into this time and what have you seen since everybody’s been home?
Cyrus: Yeah, I mean. This is Cyrus, too. Just from our perspective, what we’ve seen has been a rush by operators to implement technologies that provide the remote-based access and control, that I think Steve was referring to and Kent alluded to, in terms of efficiently getting packages on-site. In order to safely facilitate deliveries and visitor management at their properties before construction was eliminated as an essential service.
Kent: Yeah I think it just ratcheted up the urgency. So folks who had maybe been exploring an automated package delivery option, or they’ve gotten through the pain of Q4 last year and thought – man that was a mess, but hey, we’ve got ourselves some time until the holidays come up this year to kind of make space or carve out the budget for it. I mean, we are seeing right now at Amazon, in April the Q4 levels of volume, and Steven shared some helpful statistics there, just on kind of e-commerce in general. So seeing that level of volume happen now is really not something that anybody obviously anticipated.
Both on the Amazon front, we’re kind of de-prioritizing non-essential items. This way, we can to create capacity for food, healthcare, and household staples. But then really just to remove constraints on the entire supply chain. As we didn’t have that six-month ramp that we normally have going into Christmas to prepare for this. So I think that’s the one piece, is driving urgency. Saying – we need to figure this out now because this is posing a challenge to our residents and properties. Obviously nobody ever wants to see a crisis like the one we’re going through happen. But, the one thing that comes out of them is often, it forces creativity. It forces innovation. It forces you to think – okay, what are we going to do to address this current problem?
Steven: I think properties with these technologies in place are starting to realize some of the pent up value. With the video interactions that Cyrus mentioned. With the integrations that exists between the different technologies and the functionality that’s now bringing to bear. And also, for instance, with the Butterfly system, other internal access points being technology-enabled. Being able to track who’s in the building and how much time they spent there. It’s now showing itself to be tremendously valuable.
Suzanne: So I guess that begs to. So the big looking ahead question. How much do you see these are short-term changes and what will become the new normal?
Steven: Well, I think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of stickiness, just in behavioral change. And then there’s going to be, I think a lot of change in just peoples’ comfort levels with things. I think things like tech-enabled access have always been in my mind a table stake. And that’s been an argument with a lot of owners. I think they will now see the value that controlled access and virtual access bring to the table.
Because I think we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the amount of virtual service that we’ve been able to provide. Another stat our work orders, because we’re only doing essential work orders are down by 51 percent. We’ve been able to actually service 75 percent of the work orders that come in through virtual means. So the service levels are remaining very high, although our individuals are not interacting as much. So I think things like, handsfree, touchless, virtual. All of those type of technologies are now essential in order to serve the influx of deliveries. I think that’s certainly going to be sticky.
Kent: I think a couple different things that we’re going to see going forward, and we talked about this a little bit when we were preparing for this webinar, that this whole hearkening back to, oh we can’t wait to get back to normal and we can’t wait for life to go back to how it used to be. I think we all realized to some degree that it’s going to look different than it looked in January. And I think a hallmark of that is both, as Steven was saying, an elevated level of online orders of e-commerce driven not just by the change in behavior, but by every brick and retail mortar that I know right now.
If they are shut down their focus is on ramping up their online store. Ramping up their e-commerce capabilities. You know, making that a more core part of their business. And so we’re kind of seeing this rising tide across the industry. And then the other behavior I think is we all realize that, just this idea of social distancing and maybe trying to limit interactions at least for the next couple of quarters, and maybe for the next year or so. That’s going to take some time before that kind of starts to be where we just hug every stranger on the street if that’s what we were doing before.
So, I think those two things combined are going to lead to an increase of packages and then an increased expectation from customers to be able to receive them securely, efficiently, but without requiring a human hand-off. Those, I think are going to kind of be the societal changes and behavioral changes that continue to impact the conversations like this one going forward.
Cyrus: Yeah, I was just going to say, obviously at the beginning of this we reached out to our customers to just kind of help them understand how they can use ButterflyMX to kind of restrict access to the package room. To help with social distancing at the front entrance of the building. And how residents, of course, can use the mobile app to kind of have touchless entry into the building. A point that I think both Kent and Steve have made is like look, you learn so much from how your customers are using your technology platform. And then, you kind of bake that into the platform as you go forward. And you share that with all your customers so that everybody can benefit from kind of those things that people are using in the wild.
We’ve basically used, kind of an idea from a customer where with our package room you send a virtual key that has a limited duration in length to a customer who has a package in the package room. They have to come get it and then they leave. But that restricts access to the package room and helps create social distancing. I think at the very highest level we believe that convenience will come back as we exit the COVID-19 world. However, like Kent, and Steven, and I think most people, we think that safety and security are going to remain an important part of the resident experience in the post-COVID-19 world and so that’s kind of here to stay.
Suzanne: Okay! Well, as we’re talking about the future and how this extends to other aspects of life, there’s not a whole lot I think of use of unit-level service providers, like dog walkers, and house cleaners right now. But, as we get back into normal life, whenever that may be, and these kind of services become more active again. Steven, with your properties how do you see access technology applying to these businesses as they’re able to ramp back up? And then Cyrus I’d love to hear from you about that as well.
Steve: Yeah, you know you’re right. The service provision, which really was probably the biggest demand on the resident side coming into this, and certainly slowed to a stop with both the residents now being at home and being able to provide a lot of these things for themselves. But at the same time, a lot of the service providers are also a little anxious about coming in to all of these different homes. I think that will ramp back up and I’ll go back to saying not only the access points, but the integration between the access points, between the front door, between the common areas, and the unit’s themselves will be more important than ever. So that a dog walker can get from the front door to the unit to pick up the dog.
To the dog wash or the pet run and back to the unit and back out the front door, without having come in contact with any of our staff, or the residents. We will have to stand and pull a key and do a lot of touching and things like that, and then the other thing that will do again, as far as the concept of contact tracing if that becomes necessary at any point in the future, you’d know who came in. Where they went. When they came in. When they left. So, I think both the technologies themselves and the integration amongst them is going to be essential to future operations of the building.
Cyrus: Yeah I couldn’t agree more with that. I mean basically, for many years we’ve heard from multi-family owners and operators who want to provide their residents with a high-touch living experience, but don’t have the capital to invest in the workforce to support this. So instead, they’ve been forming partnerships with third-party service providers, the WAGS in the world, the Rovers, the Task Rabbits, to provide the residents with a high-touch living experience.
In order for those partnerships to work, the operators need to be able to grant access to the front of the building. And so they turn to us to provide one time verified access to these third-party service providers. I think as Steve just touched on, in a post COVID-19 world, there’s going to be greater concern about limiting access to the service providers, to just those areas that they need to get to inside the building. So we anticipate now playing a much more important role to kind of meet that need in the future.
Steven: Grocery deliveries, as Kent was saying, become more ubiquitous in the buildings, how will the buildings handle those? We don’t really have currently areas to store a lot of non-perishable, or perishable items. You might have some refrigeration, but certainly not enough to handle 60 percent of the residents ordering the groceries online. So whether they end up in a refrigerated storage room of ours or direct delivery to the resident’s fridge, that’s something that’s going to need to be figured out and go forward.
Kent: Yeah, If I could just make one more comment, Suzanne. I think one of the things we’ve been talking about. All of us have been focused kind of on the resident experience, and consumer behavior, and on kind of the end customer and the impact. But one of the things that we always focus on is also, what’s the property manager experience going to be like? And a dynamic that we all see coming from this is not just health and behavioral, but economic. We know that rent is going to be a challenge for many folks in the months ahead. We know that that’s going to tighten margins and just operating budget for properties.
Hopefully not, but I’m sure there’s going to be some evictions that result from this. So all of that just places a downward pressure on the property management’s bottom line. And so from that, there will be a need for your on-site staff to be as efficient as possible. It’s focused on the right things, which is going to be serving residents and then potentially filling vacancies. And so any time spent, if it’s letting a dog walker into the building, if it’s receiving a carrier delivery, if it’s shuffling around in a package room trying to root around and find the box for a resident. All of those things are going to be time lost and time wasted by property staff. And so having automated, touch-free, technological solutions for these things, I think is going to become that much more critical.
Suzanne: And I guess that can apply also to prospective tenants who are touring the property. Some opportunity up there, Cyrus?
Kent: Absolutely. Yeah, I think would become like a – Oh, well yeah, yeah, Cyrus has some thoughts there. But I think also becoming kind of an amenity that prospective tenants are looking for and expecting to see as a differentiator.
Cyrus: I think that what’s happened is that people are now employing these technology systems. Lockers, package rooms, front entrance smart video intercom, IP based access control, etc. They’re employing it in a way they’ve never really done before and they’re seeing the value there.
And to Ken’s point, this is going to only accelerate going forward for a variety of different reasons. They’re finally seeing the value, there may be economic pressure to try and do this. And when we live in a very interesting time in the PropTech world, and Steve has certainly seen this as kind of an old industry hand who’s been through different kind of waves.
But, we finally have an ecosystem that’s formed between all kinds of different PropTech companies that can provide different end-to-end solutions. Whether it’s us letting the UPS guy in the front door, handing it off to Amazon, and then to our package room. It’s a business partnership that we have. For us with some of the smart home companies, the smart home companies with energy management companies.
This event is I think is going to accelerate that adoption for a variety of reasons, as I mentioned. When you think about self-guided tours for example in a world where on-demand service is everywhere, prospective residents want the ability to view the property on their own terms. This will not only get accelerated because people are worried about getting too close to others. To support this, what we’ve done is we’re accelerating our investments in common area technology. This technology can grant prospective residents with access to the amenities and demo units via their smartphone. And in some of the beta properties where we’re actually testing this now, property managers can send a one-time virtual key. It works at the front door and then it’ll work at various points throughout the buildings, like the common areas.
Suzanne: Anybody have anything more to add?
Steve: I would just say it’s likely going to become another necessary arrow in the quiver. It will solve existing long-standing problems of overflow touring, or after hours touring, but at the same time, to Cyrus’ point, there will be a certain group of people that will either take considerable amount of time or will never get back to feeling comfortable being in close quarters with large groups of people. So, to be able to serve them well is a strong desire of ours.
Suzanne: Okay, so before we turn to Q&A I would just like to ask each of you in, say four or five words, but I won’t grade you on whether you go under or over. Could you please offer your key takeaways for our audience?
Kent: Yeah, I think I’ll hop in first. Expect, to just kind of summarize a lot of conversations, expect the volume that you’re seeing now to maybe not stay at the same level. Expect it to stay elevated at least. So, elevated volume of packages coming into your building. And then expect an elevated desire for that to happen in a hands-free, secure, and an unattended manner.
Suzanne: Okay, Steven?
Steven: I would say a lot of the buzzwords that we’ve used, or keywords around hands-free, touch-less, virtual, all of those will remain highly necessary as we deal with the topics that we’ve talked about, so far on this call. But one of the phrases I think that’s been thrown around the last several years in designing buildings, and amenities, and services, is the concept of being alone together and how people really enjoy that from a design and service standpoint.
But, I would challenge it and say for the immediate future, technologies that allow us to be together alone are the ones that they will probably get the most play, and we’ve seen that with zoom meetings and all this other stuff. People are looking for opportunities for virtual engagement to make them still feel connected. So, I think that’s where a lot of our head space is going to be spent in near future
Cyrus: That’s a really interesting point, Steve. Yeah, I think from my perspective I think the biggest takeaways are really you’re going to see an acceleration of PropTech into buildings and building operations. And you’re going to see security as an amenity that buildings use to market on.
Suzanne: Okay, great. So, let’s turn now to some questions from the audience. First question: Tenants still need to move in and out of apartments, what protocols do you see being put into place currently and how do you see that moving forward, relative to the technology?
Steve: We’re in the process of designing what we’re calling a hands-free move in right now. And the technology that we’ve been talking about throughout this call is certainly going to be a key player in that. People have the opportunity to choose how they want to interact with us, just like they have in the past with, whether its email or text or whatever. Now they’ll be able to have kind of a white-glove experience like we’ve provided in the past, or the ability to do their entire move in all the way to scheduling the elevators, getting into the building, picking up any sort of keys or content. We’ll havea fully virtual option for them as well
Suzanne: Okay. Thank You. Steven, do more packages mean more cleaning regimens, more stricter cleaning regimens now?
Steven: Well, I think more people means, more people in heightened concern, mean elevated cleaning protocols for us. So, throughout the pandemic, we’ve had an elevated cleaning regimen in place for all high-touch surfaces in the building. And on a go-forward basis, we’re looking at options wide-ranging. We’re testing products that are actually nanocoatings for a lot of the surfaces that have the ability to kill viruses for as much as six months or more. We’re looking at lighting options that are also antimicrobial and then also some of the ionized water. Technologies that are out there or products that are out there right now is kind of more of the day-to-day or week to week type cleaning product. So, I think there should be a tremendous amount of change in what’s expected from residents and the products and the technologies that are being utilized in all of our buildings.
Cyrus: One thing that we’ve been kind of looking at is, how do you kind of automate your front entrance door opening? Meaning so that you don’t have to touch the door handle. And there’s fairly inexpensive technologies that you can implement into the door frame that basically, for example, if you’re a ButterflyMX mobile app user, you use hands-free door opener on the mobile app and then the doors automatically open without you having to actually touch the door handles. So, I think you might see more of that in the future.
Suzanne: Okay. Are there certain requirements onsite regarding turnover related vendors, disinfecting, training? Is it similar to the requirements for other staff and for other delivery people as well? Anything different there?
Steve: I would say for us it’s really, it’s all different and changing on a daily and weekly basis, as we put together our protocols. I don’t know if the question is during the pandemic or after. Certainly, during the pandemic, it’s a tremendous change in everything we’ve already talked about. But post as well, we’re looking at options of, again providing typical turn services for the units, but then maybe doing another level of sanitation or cleaning so that the unit can be certified, as delivered to the new residents in that way. Now I don’t know exactly what that will look like today, but that’s definitely one of our internal conversations.
Suzanne Okay, and while we’re on the subject. Steven, we have some questions regarding your anticipation for annual resident turnover this year and whether you anticipate more people preferring single-family homes over rental properties. Just given this whole experience with COVID.
Steven: You know, it’s an interesting question because it’s something that I’ve thought a considerable amount about as well. I think with people being pent up in small spaces for long periods of time, you would think that their desire would be to get out and have more space. But, at least so far what we’re seeing is a dramatic increase in renewals at the properties. Both in the immediate and for the ones that we’re doing well into the future.
You know, I think for people who live in major cities they consider the city itself to be an extension of their home. And so when the city opens back up, and they have access to everything that it offers, their world will change back again. So, I don’t know, for a limited number of people maybe they’ll jump to houses or the suburbs, but at least what we’re seeing right now in the data is we’ve probably seen a 15 or 20 percent uptick in renewals right now for existing residents.
Suzanne: Well, okay. Well, that’s certainly good news for apartment properties. I have a question regarding smaller properties, 5 to 15 units that don’t have on-site property management. What are your recommendations for managing those, of course, some along those lines may not have package rooms either? How should they handle deliveries? What kind of recommendations do you have? And this could apply to each of you.
Kent: This is Kent here, if I could just allude cryptically to forward-looking. It’s something that currently the kind of packaged locker solutions that we have for multi-family are really targeted towards probably 20 units and up, just given their size and the cost. But we are exploring options and opportunities in ways that we can make that same technology available down to a 3 flat walk-up, kind of a thing.
So, it is something we’re working on if you ask – looking forward, what’s the call-out? Or what do we think it’s going to look like in the next five years? I think there’s certainly going to be an influx of solutions available. That’s kind of how you see a lot of technology adoption happen. It gets built for the biggest customers and you kind of add all the bells and whistles and throw everything at it. And then from there a lot of the trickle-down innovation is able to impact some of the smaller properties that don’t have the on-site staff and don’t have the space for a big unit.
Cyrus: Yeah, this is Cyrus. So, I would encourage the questioners actually go to our website and take a look at our seven-inch model. Because we actually have a ton of smaller buildings, both kind of smaller building portfolios, as well as individual HOAs that use our seven-inch touch screen at the front entrance of the building because residents and kind of self-manage. They can provide remote access for delivery people. They can use our virtual keys for service providers.
And of course, we’re working in concert with Amazon to kind of provide a packaged solution both for large buildings and small buildings. So, we’re happy to answer any questions along those lines.
Suzanne: Okay, well that leads to a question I had. And if we don’t have any other questions, we may just close with this. Kent, at the beginning, when you answered your first question, you made reference to other plans for expanding technology that you could talk about later, and that sounds like a perfect one. I would love to hear both about what Amazon has in mind, as well as butterfly, any other evolving technology solutions we should be looking out for?
Kent: Yeah, I think obviously with companies like Amazon that question could be a series of webinars, and a lot of them are outside of my limited little scope here in my own little corner of the company. But some of the things that we’re working on are continuing to focus on the hands-free aspect of it. One thing that we’ve done, even in the past month or so with COVID, is when a customer ships an Amazon order to a package, whether it’s at their apartment or at the Whole Foods up the street, they get a six-digit pin and they also get a QR code.
So, we’ve really highlighted the QR code as the preferred option. That way when they walk up to the locker, they just hold their phone in front of a camera, it scans the code and open the door. They don’t have to touch the unit. Another thing that we’re continuing to invest in and this is kind of complementary to what the ButterflyMX team is doing allowing access to buildings. There’s a product called Amazon Key, which is specifically for Amazon delivery drivers where when they are within the range of the scanner, it puts a Bluetooth device on the top of your door openers. Now, Amazon carriers specifically to get secure access to, first the building, but then even eventually we might be getting to the point where there could be home access or garage access for single-family houses. All touch-free.
Suzanne: Cyrus, anything to add?
Cyrus: Yeah, oh yeah, of course. On our side, I just ask everybody to stay tuned for announcements from us in the future. But, I did allude to our common area access control platform that we’re now beta-ing with a few customers. Which essentially extends that resident experience from the front entrance into the different common areas of the building.
And I would also just underscore, our philosophy has always been to partner with best of breed companies. This is because we understand that every owner has their kind of smart home solution they like. Every owner has a particular door lock that they’ve been using for a long time, or that they like. They have different after-hours touring companies that they’re talking to they like. So, really our philosophy is to partner with all of them and the best of breed of those companies. This way, the owner can pick and choose with what works best for them.
But we’re always facilitating access to the building and common areas to provide that end-to-end solution. Whether it’s for prospects touring, packages, or just really to provide the resident a better experience.
Suzanne: Okay, well we are out of time. We will be sending you all notifications when the recording is available.
Thank you again to our sponsor, ButterflyMX, and thank you to all of our speakers for this very helpful discussion.