SF Apartment : September 2017
by Katherine Tom
Robot butlers and virtual reality apartment tours may sound like something out of science fiction, but they’re just a few of the features designed to attract the young, wealthy tech-savvy tenants that continue to pour into the city. It’s no secret that San Francisco’s real estate prices have skyrocketed, threatening to topple even New York as the most expensive city in the U.S. in which to live. With young professionals making up a large part of the demand for high-end housing, property developers are increasingly incorporating the latest technology into their buildings. Gone are the days when a fitness center was considered a luxury amenity. These days the fitness equipment all comes equipped with personal entertainment stations and internet access.
As any tech employee can tell you, the 40-hour work week is as dead as the dinosaurs. The boundaries between work and home are blurring, and with more and more people telecommuting and working long hours, perks like free high-speed wifi are more or less mandatory for any new condo or apartment complex to provide. Michele Macgowan, who recently moved into Azure at Mission Bay, frequently uses the common lounges and free wifi to work from home. Other high-tech perks include electric car charging stations, AT&T GigaPower Internet, and an online portal for handling rent payments electronically. Prospective tenants can take detailed 3-D tours of the apartments on the Azure website.
Some property developers are exploring the power of virtual reality to provide truly immersive tours. JLL, a management firm specializing in real estate services, published an article in October of last year outlining the benefits of virtual reality for real estate. In it, their Associate Director of UK Research states that “Down the line, there’s nothing to say why an agent couldn’t sit in London and conduct tours of properties in Hong Kong, Vancouver, and San Francisco.” He also points out that VR tours are a powerful tool for attracting foreign investors. According to Bisnow, Lumina and Trumark Urban are two San Francisco properties that have used VR to sell high-end condos in their buildings.
Lumina is also an early adopter of the Audi at home program. Residents of the 655-unit building can reserve a new Audi for an hour or the weekend. The vehicles are brand new and include everything from sports cars for running errands around town to large SUVs for those weekends in Tahoe. Reservations are made via a smart-phone app and the rate includes cleaning, fuel, insurance, local tolls, and unlimited mileage. San Francisco is one of only two cities chosen for the launch of the program (Miami being the other).
In addition to car-sharing, part of the newer, greener vision the city of San Francisco has for its future includes electric vehicles. As EV Volumes recently reported, California accounts for more than half of all electric vehicle sales in the country. Earlier this year, Mayor Ed Lee introduced legislation to require “all new residential and commercial buildings to configure 10 percent of parking spaces to be ‘turnkey ready’ for EV charger installation, and an additional 10 percent to be ‘EV flexible’ for potential charging and upgrades.”
Already, start-ups like Powertree have sprung up to make installation painless for property owners. Powertree’s model is to install solar panels, which then power EV charging stations. They also pay rent to the owners for the use of the rooftop and parking spaces, allowing buildings to provide electric charging for their tenants with no investment of their own, and providing an additional source of rental income. Considering the cost for a typical commercial charging station starts at around $12,000 with installation, this can be an attractive option. To date, Powertree has installed EV stations at 53 Bay Area buildings.
Jay Paul Company is a San Francisco-based real estate firm that specializes in creating office space for tech companies, including Microsoft, Google and Apple. So it’s no surprise that their latest residential development at 181 Fremont boasts “next-level amenities.” The building has received ample press about its eco-conscious features—it is the first building in San Francisco to be pre-certified as LEED Platinum. Among its innovative green features are an “on-site membrane bio-reactor” (that’s a wastewater filtering system in English) that promises to reduce the building’s potable water use by up to 40%. They are also the first elevator evacuation building in the United States, meaning in case of catastrophe, the elevators will remain operational.
According to Haute Living, “The luxe light-filled homes come with a white color palette, electrical window coverings, a media unit, hidden docking stations, French oak hardwood floors, a wine cooler, high-end Miele appliances, and ravishing views.” Once completed, 181 Fremont will be the only residential building with direct access to the future Transbay Terminal. The building’s website also features a blog with ideas for exploring local attractions and restaurants. Recent entries include a list of all of SF MOMA’s summer exhibitions and recommendations about where to eat before catching a game at AT&T Park.
In fact, having a blog and a social media presence is now de rigueur for San Francisco’s hottest properties. Pretty much every building we researched for this article has a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter presence, often with a dedicated staff member to maintain them. Rowan SF, located at the border between Mission and Potrero Hill, encourages their residents to share how they use their space with the Instagram hashtag #howdoyouden. And Trinity Apartments regularly runs resident and prospect contests on their Facebook page. Meanwhile, online portals are making it easier to process applicants, receive rent, and keep track of maintenance requests.
One trope of the twenty-first century tech worker is their reliance on delivery services. Whether it’s their dry-cleaning, groceries or dinner, residents need a way to get their goods and keep them secure. Nielsen projects that online grocery shopping will account for 20% of all grocery shopping in the U.S. by 2025. While many properties are providing full-time front desk staff to address these needs, 450 Hayes has found a high-tech solution. Their virtual doorman—among the first of its kind offered in San Francisco—lets a remote team of operators greet guests, assist residents, and accept deliveries. The service, which is already widespread in New York City, also provides an extra layer of security since everyone who approaches the building is captured on video.
At La Maison Soma, the ultra-exclusive collection of condos with a mere 22 units, they’ve gone in a different direction. Their digital touches veer toward the personal, with services provided by the Hello Alfred app, which lets users request an on-demand assistant to take care of dry cleaning, mail, even furniture assembly. Other high-tech amenities include Toto toilets equipped for Washlet Technology and video security cameras by Nest. Nest is the poster child for smart home living, with a suite of products (Rowan’s units all come with the best-selling Nest thermostat) that promise to learn from your behavior and adjust to suit your needs. Plus, Nest products can work with a multitude of other smart home devices, allowing you to control lighting, temperature, music and more with a single app.
Crescent Heights, the development company behind Nema, wants to disrupt the sometimes slow-moving and traditional real estate industry with their latest project, The Jasper. According to Forbes Magazine, “They spent years attending hospitality and technology conferences searching out every possible high-tech amenity and hotel-like luxury that could push the boundaries of the residential lifestyle experience.” It’s an updated approach that they think has been missing in the space.
The result is a fully wired building boasting the fastest internet connection in San Francisco, a digital antenna for optimized cell coverage, and interactive touchscreens that allow residents to do everything from accept deliveries to alert the on-site valets that they’ll be needing their car. For those who opt not to own a car, Zipcar and Scoot are available on site. Residents also have access to a “full-service business center with video conferencing” and a “movie theater with large projector screen and pod-style seating.” Potential renters can see the view from any of the currently available units with a quick click on the website.
Both Jasper and its sister property, Nema, use secure keyless entry technology. They also incorporate destination-entry elevators, which optimize the flow of traffic for maximum efficiency. Individual units come with programmable thermostats with zoned heating. In the kitchen, select units come equipped with Betrazzoni speed ovens, which combine traditional and microwave technology to speed up the cooking process. Common areas not only have free wifi, but also USB charging stations. Even the art in the lounge is interactive. And yes, down the line, there are rumors of a robot butler that can deliver champagne straight to your door.
Katherine Tom is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.