Monday, November 8, 2010

Landlords attract tenants with free wireless internet

Landlords woo tenants with free Wi-Fi
Nov 07, 2010 (Foster's Daily Democrat - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When 22-year-old graduate student Eric Pitt needs to check his e-mail or begin online research for college courses while at home, he's getting online for free.

Pitt, who lives in Newmarket, is renting an apartment and has a landlord who is paying for wireless Internet access -- a service more landlords are beginning to offer to entice renters.

"It's a huge cost savings," he said. "I know it's probably about $70 that I'm saving a month." That can go a long way for a student, added Pitt, who is working on his master's degree in business administration at the University of New Hampshire. When he moved from Rhode Island in August, he said, he was sold on the apartment when he saw Internet was included.

"It's definitely a big selling point," he said. "And the signal strength is good. They put in a new router and it's strong. I've got no complaints." Tom Toye, owner of Arthur Thomas Properties, manages Pitt's 12-apartment complex. The idea of installing shared secure Internet for a complex is something Toye has been working on over the last three years.

"The real advantage is cost savings," he said. "If it's something people have to save $50 a month, that's an extra $50 they can use for gas money or insurance." The buildings are provided with one line of broadband shared among tenants. The wireless signal is encrypted and password-protected.

The Newmarket complex is the most recent installation Toye has helped create. The connections are installed at the owner's expense, and rental fees were not adjusted.

"There are two reasons it's a benefit to the owner," Toye said. "It's an amenity for the residential building that keeps the current tenants happy, while giving them less incentive to move on. It also makes it more attractive for new people looking to rent." Paul Bergeron, a spokesman with the National Apartment Association, based in Arlington, Va., agreed that it can be a useful tool for property owners and managers.

"With consumers demanding greater use, better access and more convenience of Internet connectivity at home, apartment owners who are able to offer options and higher bandwidth to residents can gain an advantage in attracting new residents while retaining those who they already have," he said.

Arthur Thomas Properties has tried it in three other properties and said by now, they have worked out the kinks. When signal strength was straining from routers too far away from apartments, they began cascading routers -- connecting one router to another to provide more wireless Internet coverage.

"The biggest trouble we had was trying to get strong signals throughout the buildings because it tends to be multifamily units," Toye said. "We found the routers worked up and down, but not left to right and fixed it." Arthur Thomas complexes that provide free wireless Internet to its tenants also have maintenance request forms online as well as online rental payment options.

According to Toye, he hasn't seen other small complexes providing such services in the area, but student housing in Durham does provide Internet to students. Those buildings are prewired, he said, adding that smaller landlords who use older buildings, have to rework setups.

For landlords offering free wireless, it's been a boost in rental interest, according to Toye.

"Everybody says it's great, because it's expensive to have," he said. "Even cable is expensive. Most people are looking at $100 just for those services. Everybody is trying to save a few bucks, and this works." Jule Holcombe of Dover has been renting out extra space in her home for the last four years. She said she offers free wireless for convenience and to help tenants save money.

"I think it seems ridiculous not to," she said of sharing Internet. "It's one house broken up into three apartments, and it seems ludicrous for three people to pay for wireless when we can split that cost." She said the renters share the passcode for the wireless and in the four years she's been living there, there has only been one time where the connection was disconnected.

"We thought it was an added benefit," she said. "The expense of paying your heat and utility and water -- it all begins to add up."

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