Video Intercom Systems for Apartments: Buyer's Guide

Learn all the considerations for buying an intercom system for your multi-tenant apartment.

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Buying or updating intercom systems for residential buildings is intimidating to day the least. The market has so much information to digest, it’s hard to know where to start. We believe in finding the best system for each building’s need in order to provide the best security possible. This is why we have put together all the critical considerations for buying an intercom system, and identifying the best system for your specific needs. After reading this guide, you should be fully equipped to start narrowing down the choices for intercom systems you would like to buy.

Swiftlane touchless access control and video intercom system

You can also read our comparison of best video intercom systems for apartments.

Best Intercom Systems for Offices and Commercial Buildings

Best Intercom Systems for Apartment and Multi Unit Buildings

Benefits of Intercom for Apartment Buildings

Below are just a few of the benefits for installing or upgrading an intercom system for apartment buildings.

  • Secure packages and deliveries
  • Manage guests
  • Front desk support
  • Frictionless property staff communication
  • Remote door unlock
  • Single use visitor pins and temporary access capability

Types of Intercom Systems

Doorbell

The simplest form of intercom is a battery-operated doorbell that notifies the occupant when the visitor arrives. Visual verification and door release is not an option.

Wired Intercom Systems

Wired intercom stations inside apartments require a wall-mounted station for receiving audio or video calls and to open the door. These have been very popular over the last two decades, however support for a lot of these pilots has been phased out due to several drawbacks to several drawbacks:

  • Expensive wired installation
  • Inability to handle visitors remotely
  • Require separate access control system
  • Limited functionality
  • Lack of good support

Wired Audio Intercom Station

A wall-mounted station allows you to receive calls from a two-way audio including a buzzer to open the door remotely. These are the most commonly deployed versions of the legacy intercoms today. Note that support for various such products, like Nutone intercom, is discontinued.

Video Intercom with Video Stations

These systems perform video intercom calls between the visitor and the receptionist, using a wall-mounted tablet. These tablets only work inside the building, and do not offer remote door release.

Wireless Intercom Systems

Modern intercom systems offer the ability to receive a call straight on your phone remotely, which eliminates the risk of missing a call and the hassle of going to a wall-mount station. Wireless intercom systems for apartment buildings provide maximum convenience for tenants. Wireless intercom systems increase operational efficiency for building management, since they can manage multiple entrances and buildings centrally.

Wireless Audio Intercom via Phone Number Relay

These intercoms, like DoorKing, send a phone call to your phone. You can receive a mobile phone call, and then press 9 (depending on the system), to unlock the door remotely.

Wireless Video Intercom via Mobile App

Systems, like Swiftlane, provide two way video intercom, with calls going straight to a mobile application on a smartphone. This allows you to pick up calls from anywhere. You can verify the person’s identity and then remotely open the door.

Considerations for Buying an Intercom System for Apartment Buildings

Hardware

When implementing an apartment intercom system, the costs and benefits need to be weighted for a wired, wireless or battery-operated system. For multi tenant apartments, we highly recommend installing a wired intercom reader. Most systems typically require a power input, internet connectivity wire and ethernet connection. We recommend a wired intercom system for multi tenant buildings due to higher liability from internet signals, which would result in higher quality video calling. Without it, you would have to change the battery on the intercom device often, and also rely on Wi-Fi signals which could be pretty unreliable on the entrances of the building.

Front Desk Intercom vs Multi Tenant Intercom

For multi tenant apartments, we recommend buying intercoms with multi-tenant support, not just a front desk calling features. A front desk intercom will provide a single button to reach a designated person or station. Multi tenant video intercom systems will provide the ability to pick a tenant from a list, and then dial the tenant directly.

One- vs Two-Way Video Intercom

Two-way video intercom, as opposed to one-way, allows you to communicate back and forth with your visitor. Both provide visual verification of the visitor, however, two-way video intercom enables a friendly interaction with the guest, elevating the visitor management experience.

Managing Multiple Entrances or Buildings

The number of building entrances that need to be secured is an important consideration when integrating an intercom system. In addition, you have to look at the desire for central management of those entrances. Ideally, a good intercom system should support ability to handle visitors from multiple entrances.

Installation Costs

Intercom systems come with wildly varying set of features and ongoing benefits. This also reflects in 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 $1500-$6000 for the hardware, plus installation and service fees.

Ongoing Service Fees

Traditional hardwired intercom systems only required the upfront installation cost, and no ongoing service fee. Newer intercom systems provide many benefits and require an ongoing service fee in order to operate their modern systems.

No Service Fees

A traditional hardwired system with phone number calling doesn’t require ongoing fees, however it suffers from the following drawbacks:

  • Cost an additional $5-$8K for the local server install and maintenance upfront, which could cover 4-5 years of subscription cost for newer systems.
  • Requires walking up to the buzzer to open the door
  • No video intercom of visual verification
  • No remote capabilities

Subscription Fee

Modern intercom systems charge a monthly fee but reduce upfront install cost and more convenient feature set. Below are the benefits:

  • Low installation costs
  • No local software maintenance costs, all software runs remotely in the cloud
  • Remote unlock capabilities via the apps
  • Typically cost only $3-$5 / month per tenant while providing significant boost in convenience and security

Design and Aesthetics

Another important consideration is the actual aesthetics of the hardware. It’s important that the hardware meet the aesthetic requirements of your building for enhanced tenant retention and guest experience.

Multiple Admins

When dealing with a large facility or multiple buildings, you should consider whether you want the system to handle multiple admins. This way, if one person is busy, there is a fallback and you can avoid missed calls or visits.

Swiftlane’s Video Intercom System for Apartments

See how Swiftlane is revolutionizing video intercom for apartment buildings for secure visitor access.

Access Control

Traditionally, apartments would install a separate key fob system for access control and an intercom system for visitor management. Newer intercom systems for apartment buildings come with access control functionality built-in. This reduces cost and operational overhead. Below, we’ll go further into detail of the considerations associated with the access control component of an intercom system for apartments

Benefits of Access Control for Apartment Buildings

Access control is an important component in buying an intercom system for your apartment building. Below are just a few of the benefits of having an integrated access control function in your intercom, including detailed considerations of when it is needed.

  • Give access to tenants via keys, pin pads, key fobs, mobile apps or biometrics
  • Re-issue access when keys are changed / credentials are changed
  • Improve security of buildings to prevent unauthorized access
  • Avoid package theft
  • Avoid apartment break-ins and maintain safety for tenants
  • Peace of mind for tenants
Swiftlane keyless door entry

Parking Gate Access Control and Visitors

Parking is an extension of assessing access control capabilities in your apartment video intercom system. Check with your vendor if they support gate opening functionality for parking gates.

Delivery Room Access

If you’re buying an intercom system that comes with access control built-in, ensure that it has capability to provide secure access to delivery rooms. Package theft is one of the top nuisance for apartment buildings, equally important to preventing risks of break-ins.

Door Entry System Functionality in Apartments

Access control is another related cost while setting up access and intercom systems for residential buildings. Modern systems provide combined intercom and access control for apartments so that you can reduce your cost of installation and operations by half. You need to consider what type of entry system you want to provide for the building tenants. Some commons forms covered here:

Keys: Oldest and mostly widely used access control still. Works reliably in smaller buildings. There are issues with rekeying doors when tenants leave and providing convenient access or remote unlock capability.

Key Cards and Fobs: Commonly used in multi tenant buildings to improve security and reduce ongoing rekeying costs and operational manual costs. They provide seamless access and ability to grant/revoke access easily, however they do have their drawbacks. Read more on the drawback of keycard systems.

Pin Pads: Also commonly used over the last ten years, 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 carrying any other fobs with you. Mobile access has become increasing critical post COVID19 as you avoid touching fob readers 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.