With smart homes growing in number each year and smart technology becoming more widely available, it’s clear that the UK property market is experiencing a blossoming trend for homes that centre around technology and automation.
As smart technology often adds to a property’s value and appeal, it’s important for estate agents to offer practical advice on whether their clients stand to benefit by integrating smart tech into their properties. For instance, will installing smart locks add more value to a property up for sale or appeal to renters if home security tops their wish list?
Smart technology in general exists to not only give homeowners more control of their energy usage but also to make their lives more convenient and their homes more secure. Smart lock systems, meanwhile, are a modern home feature that has gained popularity in recent years, also providing added convenience for homeowners and tenants of rental properties.
When it comes to analysing the benefits of smart door locks, convenience should never come at a cost to our security and safety. This is why estate agents and landlords need to understand the inherent security risks associated in order to make fully-informed decisions about adopting smart door locks in favour of tried-and-tested, traditional keyed locks.
This article will look at the benefits, risks and best practices of installing a smart lock system in your property, as well as common security vulnerabilities to be mindful of.
Possible benefits of smart door locks
Smart door and window locks provide some advantages for homeowners, landlords, and tenants.
Secure and seamless entry
Smart locks eliminate the need for residents to hold and fumble around for sets of keys, which can be handy when arriving at the property with your hands full. By allowing immediate and easy access through key fobs, PIN codes, smartphone scanning software or biometric data like fingerprints, residents can gain access to their property in plenty of convenient and non-invasive ways.
Integration with the smart home
Some smart locks pair easily with existing systems, such as alarms, security and surveillance cameras, and other smart home devices like lights. This can create a futuristic feel for a property which appeals to a certain kind of buyer or tenant.
Control and visibility
Some smart locks use apps to remotely lock or unlock doors, grant temporary access and monitor activity from anywhere in the world. This can particularly helpful if you live far away or spend large periods away from home, providing you with a convenient solution to keep an eye on your estate without worrying.
Many smart door lock solutions come with additional features such as real-time notifications and alerts to give homeowners full visibility over who enters and when. Time-stamped activity logs also provide them with additional insights and control. If something doesn’t look right, homeowners can grant (or refuse) access to anybody who they deem necessary.
There are, however, a number of factors to consider before agents and landlords see this as a silver bullet for managing access to rental property (see below).
Potential Challenges of Smart Locks in 2023
Getting a reliable connection
In the majority of Smart locks, the more advanced functionality (such as being able to grant a person access from anywhere in the world) relies heavily on the lock having a connection to the internet. This often means attaching the locks in some way to a home Wi-Fi network. Although home Wi-Fi is getting more reliable all the time, the majority still wouldn’t rely on it for the essential security of their property.
Landlords are often not responsible for the internet provision to the tenant, meaning that they can’t rely on the tenant setting things up correctly for correct operation of the smart lock. There is still a danger of smart locks becoming just one more thing that needs to be maintained with the work required outstripping the benefits.
It’s tempting to see smart locks as a great solution to the problem of managing keys faced by landlords, tenants and agents alike. If all parties can have access to a smart lock, then it becomes easier for access to be provided when needed. At least, in theory. In practice, most domestic smart locks are really designed around a single family to use, and don’t allow for easily sharing of control between different parties in a tenancy contract. It introduces a number of problems around who has control to the smart lock apps. Who assigns new users.
Many agents and tenants alike would be concerned that different teams of people would all need to be trained in each different type of smart lock. Most agents don’t want the risk of a team member accidentally opening up access to a property because they didn’t understand the app properly.
What happens when it goes wrong?
There are many reasons why smart locks can go wrong in practice. Aside from connectivity, the most common is a power failure. Most smart locks rely on a battery, which if not changed, can lead to tenants being locked out. Most have a a backup mechanism such as external battery contacts or a USB port to attach a phone- but they rely on the occupier having the correct battery or charging cable with them when they need it- not at all likely if it’s late at night!
Other smart locks still have a backup key to allow manual unlocks- this is perhaps the best solution, but still requires keys to be carried and managed by the interested parties.
Addressing potential vulnerabilities
While smart door and window locks offer plenty of security benefits, agents and landlords must be mindful of certain risks before any smart lock is installed. If not properly addressed, these possible risks could manifest into larger problems.
Cyber attacks and hacks
Cybercrime is rife at the moment, and hackers might attempt to intercept wireless communication between devices. Unprotected and unpatched networks and devices will make that easier. If a controlling device is compromised, a hacker could potentially disrupt the connection between it and the lock.
This is why it’s important to deploy a solution that ensures encrypted connections between devices, as well as regular security patches to prevent any breaches.
Firmware that is not updated or patched can expose smart lock systems to more vulnerabilities and hacking risks. If prompted, you should always ensure that you install recommended security patches to ensure core systems remain as secure as possible. You should also do this for any other smart home technology that you have, as it only takes one breach for all interconnected devices to become vulnerable.
Access code theft
If smart lock access codes are compromised, it means that unauthorised individuals could gain access to your property. This is why enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocols like biometric verification, SMS or email access codes, or phone calls to trusted devices can be a valuable additional layer of security. You can install reputable third-party authenticator apps to verify all legitimate requests and refuse any that have not come from a trusted device.
Best practices for optimal security
There is no denying the fact that smart locks present some security risks. However, if landlords and estate agents can address these known risks and instil the preventative measures outlined below, security can be maximised.
Choose reputable brands
Make sure that you choose a trusted smart lock provider with proven security experience and one that is transparent about its approach. Make sure that you consider the relevance of all your solution’s features, whether it’s anti-hacking software, regular security patching or smart integration with other software.
Secure networks and devices
Make sure that you set your software to update all security patches automatically, as this will ensure all known vulnerabilities are promptly addressed and safeguarded. Don’t exclusively do this for your smart locks, but for all connected smart home devices, as this will ensure optimum security within your property.
Ensure that the Wi-Fi network (which the smart lock system will connect to) is also secure with a strong, unique password. Make sure that you change your network’s default username and password.
Implement MFA and real-time monitoring
If available, make sure that your smart lock system and app have multi-factor authentication features enabled. This will ensure that you (or another trusted resident) receive codes or prompts to verify the identity of whomever is trying to access the property, and thus will safeguard you and your possessions from potential theft or damage.
By integrating your smart lock software with a smart CCTV or camera system, you’ll be a step closer to achieving real-time visibility over your property. Landlords and estate agents can consider partnering with a reputable penetration testing expert that can provide 24/7 monitoring, as well as immediate assistance in case a system is compromised.
Smart locks: the future of secure property access?
As smart technology continues to affect the UK lettings and sales sector, you can expect to see Smart Locks becoming more compelling in the years to come. Traditional keyed locks are not going to go away, and certainly not anytime soon, however, smart locks will gradually become a more preferred option over time. As the market matures, the problems of today will become easier to solve.