RentBits CEO Dan Daugherty just launched his latest project, and his inspiration ultimately came from Vail - but not its slopes. He got tired of the tedium of driving I-70 back and forth to the vacation rental unit he and his wife have there – something he had to do to change the code on the unit’s entry door every time the latest renter departed.
“We are rarely up there, so the lights are usually off. The possibility of a break-in concerned us,” Daugherty said. “The thermostat was not remote controlled, so we were concerned about pipes freezing, or wasting energy. That was the ‘aha!’ moment.”
From that came the idea for Remotely.com, which brings home automation to the rental property industry.
Remotely.com’s web interface and app (iOS and Android) launched last week after six months of beta testing. It now takes Daugherty just a few seconds to change the entry code on the unit from wherever he is. That saves him the time and hassle of a trip, but it also allows him to avoid a fee of $250 each year to change the locks on this and six other rental units he owns.
In line with RentBits’ focus on solutions for the rental industry that simplify the lives of renters and rental professionals, Remotely.com is a complete home automation solution for multi-unit and single-family rental properties.
The result is a system that gives property owners or management companies the ability to pick from a wide variety of standard hardware available on the market to outfit a unit. Subscribers can then control the entire unit from a cell phone, locking and unlocking doors, controlling the thermostat, turning lights on or off, monitoring moisture detectors, and more. Sensors can be set to alert on-site property managers and maintenance crews. Algorithms allow users to have specific lights turn on when someone enters or leaves, or cycle through various combinations when no one is there. Sounds simple enough, but there were a few challenges when it came to the home automation space.
“The equipment can be expensive, although prices are coming down," Daugherty said. "It can be difficult to install. Many times, professional installtion is required. Service providers tie you up in long contracts. Most ‘smart’ hardware does not communicate with other things in the unit."
He and his team set out to build a standard operating system for home automation that would address these issues. The end result is an agnostic system that communicates with more than 1,000 smart devices at a variety of price points, including different devices, hubs and technologies.
To automate their property, users simply register with Remotely.com and select the devices they wish to install. Providers program the hardware for the individual user’s account and ship it.
“Once they get it, they unbox it, installation is simple, and everything automatically recognizes the connections that are needed to bring the system to life," Daugherty said.
Customers can pay for the hardware up front, then pay a $9.95 per month service fee to connect and control the devices. For those that don’t want to pay up front, monthly fees of $29 to $49 over two to three years covers the cost of the devices, then the fee reverts to the standard monthly rate – all without a contract. Locks and thermostats run $150 to $200, while motion and moisture detectors, smart lights and plugs are $50 to $75.
The system already has a variety of customers, from big corporate developers of apartment complexes to owners of just a few rental homes. Realtors are using the system to get rid of the antiquated lock box on the door knob to gain access for showings. They’ve also had interest from people who want it for their own residences.
The team has found that renters like the technology better than traditional locks, particularly when it comes to the data and analytics the system provides. The system records when the door has been opened, and residents can provide links to give visitors access to their home, or let them in remotely in real time. In a large building with multiple units and maintenance people, a resident can set time windows that limit when management has access to their place.
On the owner side, an automated home is expected to allow landlords to get about five percent more in rent compared to a non-automated unit. The system also has been shown to help save 15 to 20 percent on utility bills.
With 40 million rental units in the U.S., RentBits sees a large, long-term opportunity. Right now, they have the opportunity to work with 2 million of those who are existing RentBits customers. The current $3 billion home automation market is projected to reach $15 billion in 2019. Traditionally, Comcast, AT&T and ADT have sold individually to homeowners. Because Remotely.com is built to integrate and control multiple units, the team’s targets include property managers, developers and community owners.
“We want to solve the frustrations we see in this space, and this was a huge one for me, personally, and for many others that we talked to,” Daugherty said. “It is great to get Remotely.com launched, and we’re excited to see where we can take it.”
RentBits is eight years old and has been profitable for three years. Daugherty reports 45 percent year-over-year growth, and said Remotely.com has the potential to dramatically accelerate that. The company is now hiring specifically to expand its sales team in support of the Remotely.com launch. Daugherty expects to grow to about 35 employees this year from the current team of 20.