Best Smart Home Lock for Airbnb and VRBO: Rboy Rental Lock AutomaterBy - 12/07/2018
I’ve been working on a friend’s vacation home for a few years, turning it into a “smart” vacation rental. We’ve added sensors, a hub, light switches, and a thermostat, but a smart lock was provided by her management company. Since then, she’s decided to go straight VRBO and is in need of a smart lock that makes the process seamless. I tested August in my own home and liked it, but it didn’t fit her needs. Plus, battery-life is questionable. Next, I purchased the RemoteLock 7i, which I swiftly returned as the performance was questionable. Finally, I settled on a solution using Rboys’ Rental Lock Automater.
What is Rboys’ Rental Lock Automater?
Rboys’ Rental Lock Automater is a SmartApp that is tied to SmartThings, a home automation hub which supports Zigbee and Z-Wave. Zigbee and Z-Wave are low power, wireless protocols that can connect with and control smart devices including smart locks.
The Lock Automator is added as a custom Smart App to your SmartThings hub. It then allows you to integrate your lock with your Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway calendars to “automatically schedule and manage rental users for your doors and locks.”
The sad news is that it can do slightly more for Airbnbers than it can for VRBOers, including supporting more complex user codes and also automatically sending the created code to your renters. VRBO homeowners will receive a text message with the renter’s code, but you will ultimately be responsible for making sure you provide the code to your renter.
|Create Codes Using Phone Numbers or Dates|
|Send SMS to Renters With Codes/Dates|
|Customize Schedule Options (Check-in, Check-out, Activate Ahead of Time, etc.)|
|Extend/Advance Check-in/Check-out Times for Users|
|Works with Zigbee and Z-Wave Locks|
|Verification of Successful Programming|
|Supports Permanent User Codes (Owner, Cleaner, etc.)|
|Separate Actions and Notifications for Locking/Unlocking|
|Configure Door Open/Close Event|
Choosing a Lock
|Hardware & Software Required||Estimated Price||Buy Now|
|Rental Lock Automater||$99.00||Visit Site|
If I haven’t made it clear yet, let me do so now: You must first purchase a SmartThings hub. After that, you’ll need to select a lock that works with the SmartThings hub and with Rboys’ app. I highly recommend that you purchase a Z-Wave lock. I also recommend that you purchase a Z-Wave repeater and place it between your hub and your lock. Think of a Z-Wave repeater as a range extender but instead of boosting WiFi, it’s boosting Z-Wave.
With that out of the way, you can choose from any lock that supports remote code programming such as those made by Schlage, Yale, and Kwikset. While there are many fine locks that fall into this category, my recommendation is the Schlage Connect.
The Schlage lock is rated ANSI Grade 1 which is the best you can get. The lock also received high accolades on the SmartThings forum and from Wirecutter. Finally, it has a built-in alarm that will sound if anyone tries to break the lock.
In addition to considering Z-Wave versus Zigbee and ANSI grade, you should also consider your outdoor environment and battery life. Most locks will be outdoor rated, but some locks are built tougher to withstand salt air, humidity, and even sub-zero temps.
The SmartThings app will track your lock’s battery life for you. The Schlage Connect can last as long as a year, but I recommend planning to replace the batteries every six months. If you don’t visit your rental home often, you can ask your cleaning crew to change the batteries for you. As a side note, after two months of use, my battery level is still reading at 100%.
Setting Up the Rental Lock Automator
To use Rboy’s Rental Lock Automator, you will need to purchase a Commerical License for $99.00. After you pay for the license, you will receive an automated email with a password and username. You will then click on Rental Lock Automator and log in.
Rboy has instructions for installing SmartApps (Rental Lock Automator is a custom SmartApp) here so there’s really no need for us to deep dive into the process. In short, you will follow the steps below:
- Copy the code provided by Rboy.
- Next, log into your SmartThings IDE account or create one.
- Make sure you select the location you are trying to automate.
- Next, click “My SmartApps.”
- Then click on “+New SmartApp.”
- Click “From Code.”
- Into the text box, hit ‘Ctrl+V’ to paste the previously copied text, and then click “Create” before clicking “Publish” and “For me.”
Next, you will need to set up the SmartApp using your SmartThings app. For the time being, you must use the older Classic app as the new Connect app doesn’t support custom device handlers or SmartApps.
- Click on Automation.
- Click “SmartApps”.
- Select “+Add a SmartApp” and then scroll down and select “My Apps”.
- From here, you should see Rental Lock Automater listed. Click on it.
Configuring the SmartApp
At this point, the SmartApp is installed, but you still need to configure it.
To do that, navigate back to SmartApps and click on “Rental Lock Automator.” From here, you can connect the SmartApp to your lock. After that, I suggest you click on “Manage Property.”
This section allows you to set the number of units you are managing. For example, if you have one rental home, you will select one. Next, you will click on the unit you want to customize and enter the iCalendar URL for the property you are trying to manage. If you are using VRBO, directions for exporting your iCalendar can be found here. Airbnb users should head here.
Third, you can adjust scheduling settings.
Scheduling settings include:
- Days before arrival to activate automatic codes (or to activate on check-in day)
- Check-in time to enable code
- Check-out time to disable code
Fourth, you can set options and notifications. This section will differ for VRBO users and Airbnbers. As mentioned above, Airbnb owners have a few options for code creation, VRBO owners do not. If you are using VRBO, your automatic user code will be four digits: the day of check-in and the day of check-out.
Other options you will see include:
- Notify when automatic codes are used (limit to only so many times)
- Get automatic code scheduling notifications (set time condition)
Finally, you get to configure the fun stuff. Before you do, decide how many manual and automatic users you want.
Manual users are permanant users. You might set one code for each owner, one for your handyman, and one for your cleaning crew. Automatic users are created by the SmartApp when a new reservation is created. In fact, when you first uploaded your iCal, you probably received a few notifications that looked a bit like this:
Next, click on “Manage Users.”
From here, you can create users, assign each user a 4 digit code, decide if you want notifications when they use their code, and even set custom actions/notifications. You will also assign each user a type. You can choose from:
- One time (burner)
- Start/end date and time
- Weekly/daily schedule(s)
- Activate on user presence
- Active on mode(s)
- Temporarily disable
The final section you will see within the SmartApp is “General Settings.”
From here, you can set lock/unlock actions, door open/close actions, set SMS alerts, disable all push notifications, play notifications on select devices, assign a name for Rboy’s SmartApp, and turn off new version updates. Within most of the options we could dig in even further, but most users shouldn’t need to do much here.
Finally, there is are “Code Programming Options” for advanced users.
Concerns and Praise
While I feel that Rboy’s Rental Lock Automater is the best solution out there, it isn’t perfect. My biggest concern is that I feel that the lock code system presents a security issue. I don’t like that VRBO users are limited to using check-in and check-out dates. This is a fairly easy pattern to recognize, and a past guest with nefarious intentions could simply take a look at your online calendar and take a stab at the code.
Second, while I’m comfortable using SmartThings and custom device handlers, it can be intimidating to new users. Fortunately, once you have everything set up, you don’t have to interact with it at all as everything is automated. If you want to interact with it, you can also control the lock right from the SmartThings app where you can check device history (picture below), check battery life, rename the device, and lock and unlock the door on-demand.
Now, let’s talk pros. While SmartThings falls on the con list, it also falls on the pro list. When your smart lock is connected to a hub like SmartThings, you can also use it to create rules. For example, when your guests open the door, you can set your smart thermostat or turn on the lights if it’s past sunset.
Second, the lock isn’t entirely cloud-dependent. If your internet is out, the codes will still work assuming that they were in place before the internet outage. However, while the internet is out, you will not be able to add any new users or remove expired users. For added redundancy, we decided to add an extra permanent code that we can pass out to guests just in case. And if all else fails, you can always leave a physical key with someone who lives near your property.
Third, it’s been working well. I tested the lock for just over two months before publishing this article (including three guest visits and cleanings) and haven’t had any issues. In addition to being reliable, the lock I selected is also easy to use.
What lock are you using for your vacation rental?