For years, people who live in apartments have asked me about getting some kind of connected gadget that would let them buzz visitors into their buildings using their phones. That’s because, other than fancy landlord-installed communications systems, those people couldn’t let their guests into their buildings if they weren’t home and the guest didn’t have the front door keys.
But Buzr, a New York-based startup from two Cornell Tech graduates, hopes to change that with a connected device that ties into an existing building system and sends incoming buzzer presses to a smartphone. The physical product isn’t ready yet, but according to Tony Liebel, the CEO of Buzr, after several pandemic and chip-related delays, it should ship in March of 2022.
The device was something Liebel had been thinking about after living in New York for several years. Unlike single-family homes in cities, where someone can install their own locks and smart doorbells, people in apartment buildings — especially the older, converted apartments in New York and other cities — rely on a buzzer system.
Visitors or delivery people buzz the appropriate apartment, and the person living in the apartment buzzes them in by pressing a button. Sometimes the buzzer system has an intercom so the resident can talk to the person outside. If the resident isn’t there or doesn’t answer, the visitor or delivery person might buzz another apartment to get into the building, or they might leave.
Folks who live in fancy buildings often have a doorman, but for hundreds of thousands of people, living in an apartment means sharing keys with a dog walker or housekeeper and never getting your Amazon deliveries. This isn’t just an NYC problem. Buildings in Chicago, San Francisco, and a few other U.S. cities have similar setups. It’s also fairly common in other countries.
Currently, there are products such as those made by DoorBird, which upgrade an entire building’s intercom and buzzer system, but the landlord has to get involved. Amazon is also entering this space with a program that outfits apartments with buzzers that Amazon’s delivery personnel can open. Amazon tries to woo landlords and often pays for its devices to be installed. For $229, those buying Buzr can do it themselves without the landlord knowing or (ostensibly) caring.
Buzr can be installed much in the same way one installs a Nest thermostat, according to Liebel: by taking off the existing intercom/buzzer, labeling the wires, attaching a mounting plate to the wall, and then attaching the wires in the correct spot on the Buzr device. The user then pops the Buzr device into the mounting plate, screws it in, downloads the app, and voila! They have a way to answer their door from their smartphone.
A premium version of the app is planned, which will offer more functionality, such as the ability to give people virtual keys to the front door of a building, activity logs, temperature readings from the apartment, and eventual integration with delivery drivers (provided the Buzr platform has enough users to be of interest to delivery drivers). That will cost $7 a month.
Those who simply buy the device without a premium subscription get the same functionality their existing intercom system offers, except it’s on their smartphone. So when someone rings the buzzer, a user can buzz them in. The system may one day integrate into the keycard systems for elevators in more modern buildings, but this is primarily an old-school solution for walkups.
Liebel told me the company’s goal is to make older buildings smart, so he has a plan for more products along that line, but declined to disclose them. Looking at the offering, I see a roll-up into an existing smart security or access company with Amazon/Ring scooping it up if it decides it has enough customers, or if Amazon sees a huge problem getting landlords signed up with its own offering.
Regardless, this is a tool that our readers and podcast listeners have asked about for years, so I’m glad to be able to share something other than DoorBird as a possible option — even if they do have to wait a little bit longer.