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Home Technology is More Than Turning on the Lights

This article originally appeared on the NAHB Sales + Marketing Channel in July 2009. The Sales + Marketing Channel is member benefit of NAHB’s National Sales and Marketing Council (NSMC). Find out how to join NSMC to receive this publication.

Back when I spent Saturday afternoons working in the model homes of new Chicago communities, home automation was only for the Jetson’s. Our homebuyers demanded very basic, albeit very appropriate for the day, access to home technology: cable connections and phone jacks in the family room and owner’s suite (known as the master bedroom back then).

Though I was already learning about the Internet, most homebuyers in the early 1990s needed only a standard outlet to plug in a PC. They might opt for built-in cabinetry with room for a big boxy television and VHS tapes in the family room. Along with the occasional request for a security system or a whole house intercom/music delivery system, the basic technologies were top seller.

Like most of us, my own list of “must haves” has grown in the ensuing years. Fortunately, so has the list of options.

In talking with home builders and home automation professionals, staying current with the “must haves” is a requirement for success in any home market. Understanding the “nice-to-haves” in home technology can be the factor that makes you stand out in today’s environment.

List of “must-haves” expands

Mike Ruland, president of Atlanta-based Peachtree Residential, says the minimum technology requirements when he founded the company 21 years ago were the basic 3-2 – three cable tv connections and two phone jacks – and pre-wire for security. In more recent years, buyers began demanding both types of connections in each bedroom and in most other rooms as well. Full security systems became standard, and home theatres with surround sound were a common upgrade.

It’s safe to say that pre-wiring for satellite television has become a minimum homebuyer requirement in some places, as have home computer networks. Whole-house music systems and music delivery to outdoor living spaces are not far down the list, depending on buyer preferences. As for Ruland, he likes to watch home buyers’ minimum technology demands shift as our country moves from “the Era of Indulgence to the Era of Relevance.”

Meanwhile, some of the home automation experts I talked to have ideas on how seemingly indulgent home automation technologies can be relevant now in terms of convenience and even helping the environment. Plus, they’re really cool.

Techies say these are the coolest

R.L Johnson, DHTI+, president and chief residential designer for Elite Systems Solutions in Waynesfield, Ohio, sees energy management as an important trend for homeowners. These systems can be programmed (on-site or remotely) to shut down energy-using appliances during peak hours or when not in use. For example, your water heater can be turned off during the night, when there is no need for a constant supply of hot water.

Eric Smith, Chief Technology Officer of Control4, likes the way such home area networks can work in conjunction with utility companies’ load management software. Home owners, he says, enjoy greater energy savings and more control over their energy consumption.

Perhaps the greatest enjoyment is in being able to see the savings. “Of course, the wow factor is the Zigbee wireless energy monitor that shows how much energy is being saved using these systems,” says Johnson.

Ron Rimawi, president of Digital Interiors, Inc., says his favorite new tool is the media server. The media server stores movies and music collections, which can be played on any TV in the home, even allowing multiple users to access different content simultaneously. The media server enables users to browse its full library on screen, sorting by actor, date and other variables. The convenience and time savings (it skips intros and previews) make the media server top on Rimawi’s list for home buyers.

Good news for entry-level home buyers

The home automation experts I consulted say that many home technology tools are available in price ranges appropriate for first-time home buyers. Home builders can provide the basics, homeowners then have the ability to expand their systems later.

Johnson likes systems designed by Home Automation, Inc. (HAI) and Control4 that give basic security, lighting control and four-zone multi-room audio at an affordable cost. Because they’re compatible with vendors such as NuVo® and Russound, homebuyers gain options such as affordable touch screens, HVAC control, and other features that usually are more expensive. HAI’s OmniPro ll system, for example, is fully expandable and allows for video surveillance, point of entry keycards, energy management and more to be added as needed.

Control4’s Smith recommends the Home Controller HC-200 as a starting point for entry level buyers. Over time, it can accommodate intelligent control of temperature, security, lights, multi-room music and home theaters.

And good news for homebuilders

For buyers (and builders) who are short on cash, actually installing the technology is not always required at move in. Peachtree Residential’s Ruland says that one way his homes answer families’ growing technology needs is in the inclusion of appropriate spaces. A hallway computer niche where a tween can work privately and parents can still monitor content as they pass by, he says, demonstrates that his company is aware not only of how kids use technology, but also of parents’ concerns.

After all, from the “old days” of basic cable and phone jacks to the futuristic lives of the Jetson’s, home buyers primarily want one simple technology from their home builder – the ability to be heard. And as the “Era of Relevance” defines itself, my prediction is that builders who pay attention to their home buyers’ technology needs and equip homes to meet those needs now and in the future will be the ones who sell the most homes.

Or the most space stations, as the case may be.

Mitch Levinson, MIRM, CSP, MBA, a top new home sales producer with an MBA in CIS and eCommerce, brings an interesting perspective to real estate and technology. His passion for the Internet and social media combined with his strong desire for personal and professional development fuel his passion to help builders and small businesses become more effective. He is a Trustee of the Institute of Residential Marketing and Managing Partner of Levinson can be reached at [email protected] or 847-259-7312.