Real estate and home automation: prepare for the smart home

It’s 5:59am. The soft patter of the winter rain hitting the window is the only sound to break the early morning silence. The clock clicks over to 6:00, and, as if by magic, the thermostat comes alive and begins warming the chilly house beyond the comfort of your bedsheets. At 6:30, your curtains open themselves to allow the morning light to gently wake you. You rise to a reasonable power bill, a warm house, and the coffee machine just turned itself on.“What are today’s headlines?” you ask the empty room. A disembodied voice starts reading you the daily news – speakers in each room follow you as you get dressed and walk to the kitchen.It’s almost time for work. “Order me an Uber” you ask your home. A car pulls up the front five minutes later. You step out the front door. It locks automatically behind you. You activate the alarm system with your phone as you tell the driver where you’re headed. Inside, the air conditioner turns itself off to save power, and your Roomba – a disc shaped vacuum-powered cleaning robot - starts work on the carpets, while your Braava – a similar contraption for mopping – gets to work on the kitchen tiles.  While you’re at work, sensors in your house keep a finger on its pulse. Motion detectors and your alarm system make sure no-one lets themselves in uninvited. They’ll text you if anything out of the ordinary happens. Likewise, water sensors are ready to alert you the minute your hot water cylinder or roof springs a leak. Carbon Monoxide detectors, smoke alarms and quality sensors keep an eye on the very air you breathe.  You’ve planned a roast for dinner. On the commute home from work, you start preheating the oven with another app on your phone. Your thermostat starts warming the house for your arrival. Lights come on automatically and the front door unlocks itself as you walk up the front steps.It’s good to be home.

Home automation and real estate

Sure, this poetic, convenient future may appear a little far-fetched. It kind of sounds like someone gave that Michio Kaku bloke a case of RedBull – except everything I’ve mentioned is a real product. You can already buy this stuff ­– often for a lot less than you’d expect to pay. Home automation is already a thing. Someone, somewhere, has probably just finished having that very day. If you thought the automatic garage door was as close to living like The Jetsons as we were going to get, think again.The market is full of new, automated, convenience-orientated gadgets. For good reason too. Funding to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies has more than doubled in the last six years – attracting a cumulative 7.4billion (USD) in investment. And a huge amount of this money is going to start-ups like Nest and August; companies that focus on ‘Home Automation’ - the art of converting your house from manual to automatic transmission. The above is just the beginning. Smart homes are only getting smarter.So what does this mean for real estate professionals?These systems absolutely boost house value (even up to a 3-5% increase), and will definitely help any non-Amish potential buyers over the line to a sale. It’s a good idea to encourage vendors to think about installing some of them, or touting their benefits online to position yourself as a thought leader.Regardless, pretty soon some (if not all to some degree) of the homes you list are going to be of the ‘smart’ variety. Even if you don’t want to rally behind the automation flag, you’ll still need to keep up to date with these technologies to effectively sell their benefits to prospective buyers.Though that shouldn’t be too hard. I mean, just check out this smart lock system by August.The luddites are spinning in their graves. You’ll hardly have trouble convincing people how cool this is at an open home after you’ve unlocked the door with your smartphone while striding up the driveway.When selling property decked out with these systems, it’s not just the ‘cool factor’ and convenience that’s going to dispel any buyer’s doubts that the house is worth that little extra. A lot of these systems actually help homeowners save on utilities, often with pretty outstanding return on investment.Automated sprinkler systems, for example, can be programmed to start at the most effective time to save water. The Nest thermostat learns your routine to only warm your house when you need it to to save on power. Over time, these things add up.Not only that, but a lot of the systems push higher safety and security. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, Security cameras that can be accessed via the internet, smart locks - the list goes on. Imagine not having to worry whether the kids have left the front door unlocked, or whether or not you’ve left the oven on? Peace of mind is invaluable.Looking to the future of home automation (let me assure you, smart locks and Roombas are just the beginning) our homes might even be able to diagnose diseases early. Google, in all their wisdom, are truly pushing the humble abode to its limit. Take a look, for example, at this patent that they filed recently: noninvasive determination of cardiac health and other functional states and trends for human physiological systems.Google want to turn your bathroom into a general practitioner: sensors in the toilet seat and bathmat might be able to measure your heart rate on a daily basis and pick up on anything out of the ordinary. Your mirror could measure skin colour variations far, far better than even the most insecure teenager, and an ‘ultrasonic bathtub’ might be able to search for tumours with an echo test to truly ruin your relaxing, candle-lit soak at the end of the week in the most extraordinary way. (Jokes aside, consider the implications of this sort of technology for the elderly or disabled.)The list of use cases for a house full of clever sensors is seemingly infinite. Monitoring and maintaining holiday homes from afar. Saving precious (and sometimes, expensive) resources such as gas, water and electricity with automated systems that will turn themselves on and off at the right times. Ramping up security with lights that turn on and off, or alerts if any doors open up when you’re not home. Soon, apparently, even medical research and early prevention of diseases.Quite the value-add - home automation doesn’t have to just be a ‘cherry on top’ for technophile yuppies.You need to be prepared for the homes of the future. What’s more, you need to actively assist in building this future by recommending these systems to vendors. Let them know that investing in a few of these gadgets can radically boost the value of their home and speed up the sale.A few tips to conclude:

  • Research some of the best systems for different price ranges so you have a solution to recommend for everyone. Sellers may not be interested in spending a lot of money on a high-end system they’re never going to use.
  • If you’re recommending a system that needs to be professionally installed – make sure you recommend someone you know will do a good job. An improperly installed, ugly or faulty system is going to lower the value of the house just like poor carpentry would.
  • If one of your listings does have some kind of automated system – make sure you know exactly how to use it. Prospective buyers will only appreciate the ease of use and lifestyle advantages home automation can bring if you’re not flipping through an instruction manual trying to figure out how to dim the lights.

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