Whether you’re upgrading an old apartment intercom or a first time buyer, this guide will help you assess and identify your building’s needs to find the best solution for your building. From our experience, it’s not always easy to align budget, tenant needs, and operations…until now.
Our experts put together this roadmap to apartment intercom success that will lead you to the perfect solution for you and your building.
Key takeaways from this guide:
- Benefits of Apartment Intercom Systems
- Types of Intercom Systems
- Top 10 Buying Considerations
- Best Apartment Intercom Systems on the Market
Benefits of Apartment Intercom Systems
Apartment intercoms are convenient for multifamily tenants and their guests, but they go far beyond just convenience. A building intercom system offers a layer of security to access management for the best protection of your biggest investment.
Secure delivery management is becoming more than just a building amenity. With the increasing rate of e-commerce, and the ability to have more and more essentials and necessities delivered right to your door, securing packages and deliveries is a must. With a building intercom system, couriers can easily be granted building access from either a call to the front desk staff or directly to the tenant.
The 2020 NMHC/ Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report revealed that 84% of tenants would like secure, self-service 24/7 package management.
Securely granting access to guests and visitors is not only convenient to the tenant, but also the other occupants in the building. Tenants have peace of mind knowing any other occupant in the building has been authorized.
The 2020 NMHC/ Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report revealed that 85% of tenants would like controlled amenity access.
Convenience for tenants enhances a building’s reputation and boost tenant retention and acquisition.
Reducing operational overhead is made easy with building intercom systems because it seamlessly supports front desk staff and enables frictionless access to other operational or maintenance staff.
Business continuity is another unassuming benefit of building intercom. But, should an apartment need to be seen or toured in order to fill a vacancy, self-guided, contactless apartment tours can be facilitated with remote unlock features.
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Types of Apartment Intercom Systems
Apartment Doorbell System
The simplest form of intercom is a battery-operated doorbell that notifies the occupant when the visitor arrives. This is not a traditional, minute long chime doorbell, but one that does send notification to your mobile device when someone is at the door.
Wired Intercom Systems
Wired intercom – as the name suggests – requires cable wiring to a wall-mounted station for receiving audio or video calls and to trigger a door unlock. The most notable distinction between wired intercom systems are audio and video capabilities.
Wired intercoms with audio calling allows visitors to “buzz” the unit they need and engage in a two-way voice conversation with the tenant. The tenant can then “buzz” the visitor in with a remote door release.
Video intercom uses the wired station for two-way interaction between visitor and tenant (or front desk staff). The only difference – of course – is that video allows the person inside the apartment building to visually verify who their visitor is.
Wireless Intercom Systems
Wireless intercom systems have been the real game changer in the world of modern access.
Instead of requiring a wall mount station inside the apartment unit and outside the front door, wireless intercom systems offer the ability for tenants to receive a visitor call to their mobile phone or other device that is compatible with the system’s software. Tenants are no longer tied to a wired intercom station inside their apartment – they are able to receive visitor calls and grant access from anywhere.
Phone Number Relay
Phone number relay is a type of function that a wireless intercom system offers. When a visitor selects a unit to call, the system sends a phone call to the affiliated phone number. That number will alert the tenant. Typically, there is a specific action (such as pressing a button on the phone’s keypad) that will trigger a door release and let the visitor in.
Mobile applications function slightly differently than phone number relays. The wireless call is sent through the mobile app (which can be used on any device that supports it, but most commonly will be used on a smartphone) and allows for two-way video intercom communication.
Calls can be answered wherever there is access to the app. Mobile apps also support a video interface for visual verification of the guest, as opposed to audio-only calling. Within the same mobile app, the tenant can remotely access the apartment intercom system with door release to grant their visitor access.
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Top 10 Considerations for Buying an Apartment Intercom System
1. Apartment Intercom System with Door Release
One of the primary features of any apartment intercom system is the door release capability. A door unlock can be triggered by performing a function such as pressing a button on an indoor unit or, for modern apartment intercom systems, from a mobile app.
Door releases can be triggered between electronic strikes or magnetic locks. The type of hardware for a system with door release function can also be either wired or wireless.
Not all apartment intercom systems come with access control – like ButterflyMX, for example, which is restricted as a visitor system only. If that is the case, you’ll need to explore the integration options that the system offers.
Apartment intercom can also integrate with visitor management software, property management software, and other proptech solutions. But again, it’s important to identify exactly which ones as it does vary from system to system.
Hardware is one of the first major hoops to jump through when buying an intercom system for apartment buildings. Different costs are associated with both wired and wireless systems.
Wired intercom systems need to assess cabling and installation. Most systems require a power unit, internet connectivity wire, and ethernet connection. Wired systems naturally have higher reliability from direct connectivity. This results in higher quality video calling, as well.
Wireless intercom systems need to access reliability of connectivity and potential environmental interference depending on where the hardware is mounted. Less invasive installation from wireless intercom systems is beneficial if there is not major risk of signal interference.
4. Front Desk Intercom vs Multi-Tenant Intercom
Front desk intercom essentially refers to an apartment intercom system with capability to call the front desk only. It will have a single button to reach a designated person or station.
Multi-tenant intercom will have more than just a front desk calling feature. Multi-tenant video intercom systems will provide the ability to pick a tenant from a listing, and then dial the tenant directly.
Intercom directories will vary in style. They can take the form of a paper print-out posted on a designated space on the hardware or – with more modern intercom systems – a screen will display a list of tenants. Digital directories are becoming more and more technologically advanced, taking the form of touchscreens as opposed to keypads.
Apartment intercom system with door release, as we mentioned as our #1 buying consideration, refers to an intercom system that will allow a tenant or front desk staff to unlock the door and allow the visitor to gain access to the building either from an in-unit station or via remote application. This function is available for both front desk and multi-tenant intercom systems. An apartment intercom system with door release is becoming an important amenity for renters, which should be taken into consideration.
5. Video Intercom
Some building intercom systems only offer audio functionality for communication between visitors. So, it’s important to review the video functionality of the intercom system. Many systems now have video built into the intercom system. If not, it may offer an integration.
One- versus Two-Way Video Intercom
After deciding on video intercom functionality, there is yet another decision to make. Video can function for only the tenant to see and verify the visitor, or the intercom can work both ways.
Two-way video intercom – as opposed to one-way – allows callers to communicate back and forth with the person they’ve called. Both one-way and two-way intercom provide visual verification of the visitor, however, two-way video intercom lets the tenant interact with their visitor before gaining access.
The experience a visitor has at the front door plays an important role in their perception of the apartment building. First impressions contribute heavily to overall building image which is a top facility manager concern.
6. Managing Multiple Access Points
Whether it’s managing multiple entryways in one building or managing multiple buildings, facility managers are always juggling different access points for tenants, visitors, contractors, cleaning staff, etc.
The number of building entrances that need to be secured is an important consideration when rolling out an apartment intercom system. Central management of all access points is going to be a must the more there are. This is also important for business consistency and streamlining operations.
To this point, it will also be important to assess and decide on multiple dashboard or account administrators. The capability to have more than one system administrator will depend on the system.
7. Installation Costs
Though we haven’t outrightly mentioned it yet, you knew it was coming. Of course, with any apartment intercom system, cost is a factor. And installation will be the biggest one.
Intercom systems come with wildly varying set of features and ongoing benefits. This is reflective of the difference in price between various systems. Ensure that there is a good value being generated at the price you are paying for an intercom system. Most modern intercom systems cost between $1,500-$6,000 for the hardware, plus installation and service fees.
8. Ongoing Service Fees
Typically, wired intercom systems only required the upfront installation cost (which includes the hardware and service fee) without any additional payments. With advances in technology, intercom systems are shying away from this model, however, and adopting a subscription-based service for their apartment intercom.
Apartment intercom systems with no backend or platform management do not require any further payment beyond hardware and installation*. While there are benefits to this intercom model, it is slowly phasing out as more and more systems are offering cloud-based options.
*It is important to note that beyond hardware and installation – while there is no fixed, accruing cost – this operation model does require additional costs for system maintenance, updates and on-site management by someone familiar with the system.
Apartment intercom systems that use a subscription-based model differ in two ways:
- Their software is managed in the cloud, as opposed to on-site; and
- Upfront costs are significantly lower, but there is a fixed, monthly cost (typically per user).
While the subscription-based intercom model may not be for everyone, there is something to be said about the reasons that facility managers are opting for it over legacy systems:
- Low installation cost creates accessibility and affordability
- Automatic software updates from the cloud
- Fixed cost-per-user is typically only $3 – $5
9. Design and Aesthetics
Another important consideration is the actual aesthetics of the hardware. Like we’ve said before, first impressions are important for building image. It’s important that the hardware meet the aesthetic requirements of the building for enhanced tenant retention and guest experience.
According to Forbes, we are currently on the cusp of seeing the highest rate of Gen Z tenants, and, according to Globe St., the amenities they are looking for are wildly different than the generations before them. Having a clean design with intuitive technology will go a long way in tenant retention and occupancy rates.
10. Access Control
Traditionally, apartments would use key cards and fobs for their access control system. Apartment building are moving away from key card systems and replace them with mobile credentials.
Mobile access control for apartment buildings have the benefit of coming with a built-in video intercom system or the capacity for integration with visitor management software. Below, we’ll go further into detail of the considerations associated with the access control component of an intercom system for apartments.
Benefits of Integrated Access Control and Intercom
Access control is an important component in buying a building intercom system, particularly for apartments and multifamily buildings. Below are just a few of the benefits of having an integrated access control and intercom system, including detailed considerations of when it is needed.
- Holistic security strategy
- Comprehensive system management
- Analytics and reporting
- Compliance management
- Consistency across systems for credential management
- Secure delivery management
- Additional layer of security and thus peace of mind for tenants
Parking Gate Access
Parking is an extension of a building’s access control system. Having gate access functionality further curates a holistic access control experience. Check with your vendor if they support gate opening functionality for parking gates.
Delivery Room Access
Package theft is one of the top nuisance for apartment buildings, equally important to preventing risks of break-ins. Access control with built in intercom can issue recurring or one-time visitor access for deliveries. Delivery management will be a big part of apartment access control strategy, and comprehensive intercom systems alleviate the need find an independent solution.
Access Control Credentials
Access control comes in many shapes and sizes. Assessing tenant culture and needs will help determine which form of access credentials will be best for each individual building:
Metal keys: Oldest and mostly widely used form access control still. Metal keys with a tumbler lock work reliably. In apartment buildings, however, metal keys are a major overhead and security risk. Changing locks and keys not only when tenants move out, but if a tenant loses their key is a cost intensive and time consuming venture. Metal keys are easily copied at hardware stores, as well, which is a security risk for all tenants.
Key Cards and Fobs: Commonly used to improve security and reduce ongoing re-keying costs and operational manual costs. They provide seamless access and ability to grant/revoke access easily, but they do have their drawbacks. Read more on the drawbacks of key card systems.
Pin Pads: Also commonly used, pin pads provide a convenient form of access. Unique pins are great for security, but shared pins suffer from security risks. Battery operated pin pad locks end up having their pin number shared by every package and food delivery person over time. Ensure that the system provides unique pins and one time use pins.
Mobile App Access: Mobile access has really evolved as a form of highly adopted access due to ubiquity of phones and convenience of not keeping track of any other access token. Mobile access has become increasing critical post COVID-19 as you avoid touching cards and pin pads, and also giving out credentials remotely without requiring in person exchange of keys.
Biometrics/Facial Recognition Access Control: Facial recognition access control systems provide a completely groundbreaking, future proof and pandemic proof experience for access control, via simply your face. The benefit of a modern system like this is a completely touchless access control experience for apartments.
The Best Apartment Intercom Systems
Buying or updating an intercom system for apartment buildings is intimidating to day the least. With so many options, it’s hard to know where to start.
But, now that you’ve done your research, check out the best apartment intercom system on the market today with our review and comparison guide.
(Updated: January 2021)
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