Is Smart Access Control Worth It? Pros and Cons

By: Kathryn Casna

Smart access control usually involves a higher upfront cost than traditional keyed locks, so it’s important to carefully consider whether it's a good match for your community. Smart access control can be more convenient and save money in the long run, but it also has a steep learning curve and a reputation for reliability issues.

What to consider

We think the pros outweigh the cons for most communities, but here’s the lowdown so you can decide for yourself.

Pro: Time and money savings

Access control systems come with a ton of features that save you time and money in the long run.

  • Low or no credential costs: Purchasing a single key is a drop in the bucket for most budgets, but multiply that by the number of residents, staff, and doors your community has, and costs can add up fast. With smart access control, you don’t need separate keys for every person and door. You can create a key card or fob for each person. And some systems, like those that use PIN codes or mobile access, don’t require physical credential costs at all.

  • No re-keying costs: When a key is lost or stolen, you don’t just have to replace that key—you have to re-key every lock it can unlock. But with a smart access control system, you can deactivate lost or stolen credentials and quickly activate another set for little to no cost. There’s no need to rekey the lock itself.

  • Lower staffing costs: With smart access control, no one needs to be on site to manage keys. That means you can provide after-hours tours and vendor access without adding to your headcount.

  • Better use of time: When your site teams aren’t managing rings of keys for maintenance staff, vendors, new residents, and visiting prospects, they have more time to focus on revenue-driving tasks.

Con: Higher initial cost

While smart access control can save you money in the long run, it does require an initial investment. Hardware generally costs more than traditional keyed locks, and you may need to budget for recurring software costs.

How to mitigate initial investment costs

Take stock of all your entry points, how people in your communities will use your new technology, and which features will benefit your team most. And if you’re not sure about which solution is right for you, lean on industry experts for guidance.

If you can’t find funding for a complete access control system all at once, consider making a piecemeal investment. Start with smart access control for a single community in your portfolio or install this new technology only in a community’s most used areas. If you choose a solution that’s easy to add to later, you could spread out your costs while starting to capture value right away.

Pro: Smart access control unlocks other smart technology

Despite the upfront cost, access control is often one of the first proptech investments owners make. That’s because it provides plenty of benefits on its own—and lays the groundwork for future upgrades, too.

Here are some additional investments owners make that leverage smart access control to deliver even more value.

Self-guided tours

Smart access control makes giving excellent Self-Guided Tours much easier. Prospects can automatically receive unique, time-bound access codes so you can see which prospect is on property and automatically ensure access is removed after the tour.

You don’t need to manage keys between tours, and prospects can book instant tours without waiting for staff to hand them keys, even after hours. And there’s no risk of a prospect walking away with keys—or the rekeying costs that come with replacing them.

Mobile maintenance management

Smart access control is critical for centralizing your maintenance operations. Technicians don’t have to worry about carrying around giant, clunky key rings. That means fewer trips back to a central office between jobs and site teams that aren’t distracted by checking keys in and out.

Meanwhile, your assets are better protected than ever. Permissions and access codes activate when a tech is assigned to a job, and they deactivate when the work is done. And it’s easier to monitor access to equipment and storage areas.


Without the need for physical keys, you can manage access and create credentials from anywhere. You can also monitor access and get alerts when gates or doors are left open. That means you need fewer people on site for fewer hours.

Automated move-in/out

Moving residents in and out of your communities becomes much easier with smart access control. You can set credentials to automatically activate on the day of move-in and deactivate after move-out. You won’t need to rekey anything after a resident leaves, and no one needs to be on site to ensure keys are returned.

Parking management

Smart access control pairs with Smart Parking Management to give you complete control over who enters your communities. Using similar technology, Smart Parking Management allows you to control access to your parking areas, increasing your peace of mind and providing potential revenue opportunities. Even better, you can improve the resident experience by letting residents use the same key code in the parking area as they use throughout the rest of your community.

Con: There’s a learning curve

With any new solution comes the potential for pushback among your staff. People tend to feel more comfortable with technology they already know how to use, even if newer technology would make their jobs easier in the long run. Employees may also feel like they don’t have time to learn a new system. But with the right training, you can shorten the learning curve and minimize resistance.

How to mitigate the learning curve

Before you purchase an access control system, have a training plan in place. Look for providers that offer plenty of training materials, like how-to videos or in-person training. You can keep your team interested in learning by making sure they know how a smart access control system will benefit them.

Another way to flatten the learning curve is to lighten the load on your employees. Choose an access control company that offers full-service installation paired with excellent customer service.

Pro: Security features

Smart access control uses modern technology to give you more features than a simple keyed lock. Which features you get depends on the kind of hardware you include in your system.

  • Using keyless entry means residents don’t have to worry about lost or stolen keys, and you don’t have to worry about rekeying locks.

  • Biometric readers can’t be transferred to another person, so you always know exactly who has entered your community.

  • Some smart access control locks alert you when doors and gates are left open so you can secure them.

  • Nearly all smart access control systems keep an event log that you can reference if there’s an incident.

Con: Possible reliability issues

Because smart access control systems have more features, they have a reputation for lower reliability than traditional systems. But reliability concerns aren’t new to access control. Traditional locks stop functioning when keys wear out or break in the lock, for example. It's simply that smart access control’s failure points aren’t always mechanical. Usually they’re digital.

The good news is that digital failure points often have easier fixes than mechanical ones.

How to mitigate reliability concerns

There are four main ways to mitigate reliability concerns with smart access control:

  • Have multiple forms of entry. If the resident’s phone dies and they can’t use it to open a door, what’s the alternative? If you want a Bluetooth or NFC reader, get one that also has a PIN code option.

  • Keep an eye on power usage. Choose battery-powered locks that use very little power and alert you when batteries need changing. For wired locks and control panels, have a backup power source in case the power goes down in your community.

  • Use a reliable company with excellent customer service. If something goes wrong with your access control system, getting things back up and running quickly is critical. That’s always easier when you can count on your provider to help, day or night.

  • Stay up-to-date with the latest software and firmware updates. Consider these updates a form of regular maintenance, or choose a provider that pushes these updates out automatically.

Is smart access control right for your community?

Smart access control is often one of the first proptech investments owners make because it lays the groundwork for so many others, like Self-Guided Tours, Work Maintenance and centralization. And it brings its own value to the table, like saving your staff time, eliminating costly re-keying, and enabling upsells of premium amenities. It also provides security features that old-fashioned locks don’t, like event logs and sensors, and there’s no risk of losing keys.

Over time, smart access control can pay huge dividends, but it likely requires a substantial upfront investment—in both time and money. You’ll need to carefully plan your system. Hardware is more expensive, and you may need to run wires or pay for regular monitoring software. Convincing your staff and residents that the benefits outweigh the learning curve can be a challenge, too.

Luckily, SmartRent is here to help. Our experts can help you design the best system for your community. We install everything and provide plenty of training materials for staff and residents. And we keep you up and running with 24/7 customer service.

If you have questions about your access control options, contact us.