Home Builders and Buyers Don’t Have To Pay More For Smart Features
Smart home tech features are gaining momentum as a competitive differentiator in the new home market.
An increasing number of home builders are realizing that technology and sustainability features are differentiating factors in the minds of home buyers. Smart tech features come with a price, and managing the increased costs for both builders and buyers has been a challenge. Some builders find a balance by offering “smart rooms” instead of smart homes, and confine smart technology to one or two rooms to make it more affordable.
Then there’s the question of which technology. Choosing the wrong “one-size-fits-all” product can be an expensive risk for builders. Home buyers use technology everyday, but will they want what the builder is offering? Will it meet their needs, preferences, and expectations?
Choice and Flexibility Always Win
“Connectivity and technology are appealing across the board, but people are very inconsistent and diverse about why it is appealing,” notes Diahann Young, director of digital platforms and innovation for PulteGroup. “The focus for us is flexibility.”
“Smart home control is such a highly personalized thing,” says Felicia Ratka, president of TBI Smart Home Solutions (a Toll Brothers subsidiary). “Offering a solution to fit each buyer’s demands is not easy on a national scale. What matters to one buyer might not matter to another.”
Given the risks of specificity, builders are looking at general systems like electrical, water, and Wi-Fi for their smart home strategies. Building giants Lennar and Meritage have made Wi-Fi their headline smart home product, which makes sense as Wi-Fi connectivity is the backbone for all other smart home features. Lennar is offering general-purpose smart home tech and allowing the home buyer to get more specific after they move in.
The Right Smart Home Features Become Market Differentiators
“It’s your job to make sure your homes are not obsolete right from the start,” warns Denise Dersin, editorial director of Professional Builder. “Look at the lessons learned by some of the country’s biggest builders. See what you can implement in your homes that, at the very least, offers a base that buyers can build on as the technology progresses over time.”
Three best practices for evaluating smart products for new residential construction:
- Don’t force home buyers to adapt to the technology you put in their home. That may impact their decision to buy. Give them a general system that they can adapt to their own style and habits.
- Don’t depend on an internet connection or cloud service – when they go offline, their impact can take down a smart home. Give the buyer something that can stand alone or work with their local Wi-Fi connection at home.
- Choose systems that have simple plug-and-play installations. Skip anything that requires a special technician visit to turn on and program the system.
Wi-Fi Is Not A Differentiator… it’s Expected
Certified Wi-Fi performance is quickly becoming a “me too” feature. As of this writing, the list of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Home Design™ houses has 2,088 different floor plans and the number continues to grow.
“Wi-Fi is like a utility, it’s as necessary as having lights and water. If the buyer can’t get it from their home builder, they’ll get it from their internet provider or from an electronics retailer after they move in,” says Marv Verlage, vice president of sales and marketing at Levven Electronics.
If Wi-Fi is a basic expectation for the home buyer, then does a builder really differentiate themselves with Wi-Fi?
A Smart, Practical Feature that Doesn’t Increase the Price
A PulteGroup development in Atlanta, GA is trying the “shotgun” approach with a basket of smart home features designed to attract upscale tech-friendly buyers. These homes are in the $600-800K range and include Wi-Fi, smart door bells, locks, security cameras, switches, and garage doors.
“Function-specific smart products cost more. After Wi-Fi is in the home, electrical is the only system that can be upgraded to ‘smart’ without increasing the price of the house,” explains Verlage.
“Making the electrical system smart-ready is much easier and much less expensive when you’re using wire-free switches,” he says. “Wiring a smart electrical and lighting system adds at least $100 per switch. Thirty-two switches in a house and suddenly your cost has gone up by $3200. That’s not a price tag many home buyers want to see on their shopping list.”
“Wire-free controls allow the builder to make the home smart-ready without increasing the cost.”
Wire-free electrical controls deliver additional benefits for builders. “Trades and builders report they’re saving between 1.5 to 2 days of construction time when they do a house with wire-free switches,” Verlage says.
“This is the type of technology that helps builders complete and sell more homes. The builders with wire-free electrical controls gain construction efficiencies. And they’re able to offer every customer flexibility and choice. Control lights, fans, and power in the traditional sense using a wall switch, or using their smartphones and other devices. All without increasing the price of the home.”