The latest technology doesn’t just make properties more marketable. Learn how to use these smart devices to thwart danger when you’re out in the field.
Sure, smart-home devices can make a property more desirable, but have you considered how they can keep you safe as a listing agent or when showing homes to buyers? Open houses and vacant properties are the top places where real estate professionals report encountering threatening situations, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2016 Member Safety Report. Tara Christianson, technology and training director at Century 21 Redwood Realty in Arlington, Va., recently hosted a webinar and offered tips on how smart devices can protect your client’s property and yourself.
Smart door locks and keyless entry systems can help keep a vacant property more secure. Products such as Schlage’s Bluetooth-enabled locks not only allow you to control access to the property but also can record traffic in the home. You can create e-keys for contractors, assistants, and your real estate team members.
Video doorbells, such as SkyBell, contain video cameras so you can talk to whoever is on the other side of the door without even being on the premises. The video streams to your phone, and some products even allow you to take a photo of the person at the door to send to authorities if you become alarmed.
Motion sensors are helpful for both vacant homes and new construction — both properties squatters tend to target. Fibaro, for example, sends activity alerts to your phone when there is movement in the home. You can set alerts to the times you expect the home to be empty. “Maybe someone’s in the home that you need to be aware of so you know to bring someone with you when you arrive,” Christianson says.
Use devices that monitor doors and windows so you can tell when they’ve been left open. This will likewise alert you to suspicious activity at a listing, and these devices are useful for sellers as well so they can monitor their homes on days when they’re being shown.
Smart lighting and entertainment systems don’t just help you set the ambiance for a showing. Systems like Hue and Lifx allow you to set on and off times for lighting systems, making it look like a listing is continually occupied.
Do Smart Homes Invite Threats?
Such technology can make a home more vulnerable to hackers, Christianson admits, but there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk. You should never use open Wi-Fi networks when operating smart devices. If your client’s network is less secure, you can protect your own device with a virtual private network, which creates an encrypted connection when using your client’s Wi-Fi. But if you’re going to use a device in a seller’s home, you should always ask them how protected their network is. Do they have a password that’s hard to guess, or are they using a simple code like “123” or “password”?
Give Clients Smart Advice
Steer clients interested in smart devices toward well-known vendors such as Nest, which is backed by Google. “Sometimes, products or companies sound great, but then the vendor stops updating their devices or shuts down without notice,” Christianson says. “You don’t want your client to be stuck with something that suddenly stops working.”
Tell your sellers to disclose what smart devices they have in their homes to buyers up front. That will absolve them of any responsibility in case a buyer has a complaint about being monitored during a showing. “You don’t want conversations with buyers caught on tape without their knowledge,” Christianson says. Let informed buyers make their own decisions about whether they want to even enter rooms that have active recording devices.
Credit to Graham Wood
Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine.
Understanding the basics of a home’s component parts has always been in the real estate agent’s wheelhouse. As internet-connected technologies become part of the package, don’t fall behind the curve.
For the last century, homebuilders and manufacturers have been envisioning ways to make homes smarter, more efficient, and more maintenance-free. But as the Internet of Things (IoT) meets up with smartphone-wielding buyers, the buzz about smart homes is becoming deafening. How do you keep up without getting bogged down in hype? Keep your focus on three things—the definition, the devices, and the data—and on how each of those is changing the home and the transaction.
THE DEFINITION: What is a smart home?
The term “smart house” was coined in the 1980s by the National Association of Home Builders to refer to a home with integrated telephones, lighting, audio, and security. Such systems required special wiring and typically cost tens of thousands of dollars. But the concept has evolved with the proliferation of inexpensive devices that can be operated via smartphone and can make data accessible online. Now, one real estate franchise is trying to bring about some common understanding of what it means to call a house a smart home.
In May, Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC joined forces with consumer technology news source CNet to define a smart home as “equipped with network-connected products . . . connected via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or similar protocols for controlling, automating and optimizing functions” of the home. Their definition stipulates that the home has internet access, a smart security or temperature system, and at least two other smart features, such as appliances, entertainment devices, heating or cooling equipment, lighting, landscaping elements, air quality monitors, or thermostats.
Danny Hertzberg works on the front lines of smart-home living: the luxury market, where such features have moved “from an impressive amenity to an expected element,” he says. Hertzberg, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Miami Beach, Fla., and a member of real estate team The Jills, says his franchise’s effort to define a “smart home” is an important step toward eliminating casual or misleading uses of the term.
“It’s false advertising to have a Nest [thermostat] and call it a smart home. You can’t call the whole property a smart home or a smart condo and just have one element,” he says. “We need a nationwide consensus on the marketing terms. Otherwise people will be disappointed.” Or worse, they’ll feel duped.
THE DEVICES: What’s happening in smart-home technology?
In the high-end Miami market where Hertzberg works, he’s noticed home owners who are thinking about listing their homes are proactively installing smart-home systems, believing they’ll be at a disadvantage without them.
And with builders now installing smart devices in new construction, it’s only a matter of time before the trend reaches older homes and lower-priced listings, with sellers positioning these devices as points of differentiation. It helps that many smart-home devices can be had for a nominal cost—a few hundred dollars or less. Among the low-cost offerings are the Belkin WeMo switch, which plugs into an outlet and enables you to control lighting through a smartphone or motion sensor; the Amazon Echo, an interactive speaker that lets you use voice commands to access music, news, and more; and, of course, the Nest thermostat, which offers access from your phone and promises to learn your heating and cooling preferences.
Products like Nest have built-in data sharing tools to help potential buyers see themselves in a home, says Matt Flegal, a spokesperson for Palo Alto, Calif.–based Nest. Buyers who are considering a listing with a Nest thermostat, for example, can see the current owner’s app dashboard or the monthly usage email Nest sends to home owners. Although utility companies now offer online access to energy usage information, Nest brings control and usage data together in one package. “It’s a simple thing to do to make a house show better,” Flegal says.
When you’re vying for a listing equipped with smart-home features, Hertzberg suggests having a discussion about which features will convey and how those features improve the current owners’ lifestyle. “Understand why they installed a feature and what they love about it,” he says. For example, maybe they always left the lights on, so smart lighting has been a money-saving solution. Or maybe they entertain frequently, and smart speakers have enhanced the experience.
“As good as you think you are at copywriting, the owners sometimes have these diamonds,” Hertzberg says.
Understanding how smart technology works can make a difference. Hertzberg has seen the unfortunate result of showings where colleagues failed to learn how a system works. “The listing agent comes into the home and doesn’t know how to operate the system,” he says, adding that it’s a real turnoff for buyers. “Even to turn the lights on, they have to call somebody.”
The best way to get to know smart-home technology? Install it at home, Hertzberg suggests.
THE DATA:What’s the value of all that data collection?
One attraction of Wi-Fi–connected thermostats is that they enable home owners to track and optimize their energy usage. That data, combined with other available information, can be a boon for real estate agents.
For first-time buyers, in particular, the cost of ownership isn’t always readily apparent. “Energy costs are often the largest cost for the consumer after the mortgage,” says Hunter Albright, senior vice president of new markets for Tendril, a company with offices in Colorado and Western Europe that aggregates smart home technology data for consumers and real estate professionals. Tendril gathers around 300 data points about a property, most from publicly available sources and provides a system for helping consumers optimize their homes to be more energy–efficient. “It’s just more education for the home buyer,” says Albright. “It’s giving people a richer picture of that home.”
“Before a client is a home owner, you can use the [Tendril] tool to get an average of the energy costs,” says Ryan Carter, managing broker of 8z Real Estate in Denver. With tweaks based on possible upgrades and the potential owner’s energy needs, “the system can offer an idea of what a buyer might be looking at.”
Tendril sends 8z’s past clients a bimonthly email about energy efficiency and upgrade ideas. The email offers practical information, such as what makes a home suitable for solar panels or how an energy upgrade may pay off over time. The emails aren’t meant to replace brokers’ contact management systems but to augment them, Albright says. The personalized communications aim to show consumers that they made a smart decision.
Another company working to simplify home owners’ energy decisions is HomeSelfe, a division of Long Beach, Calif.–based Energy DataMetrics. The company’s home energy assessment app walks owners through their home for a snapshot of their home’s energy consumption. “Our free mobile app has you answer a few simple questions about your home and then sends an instant report that provides a picture of your home’s energy use and a personalized path to lowering utility bills,” says cofounder Ameeta Jain. HomeSelfe is one of eight companies currently in the National Association of REALTORS®’ REach accelerator program (narreach.com), which provides mentorship, education, and exposure for companies innovating in the real estate space.
For now, the data being collected by smart-home devices isn’t being curated for use in listing information. Although many MLSs have fields where listing agents can add information about energy savings, they’re not set up to feed in information from smart-home devices—yet. Chad Curry, managing director of NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology, says it’s just a matter of time. The Center recently established CRT Labs to help REALTORS® understand and have a voice in the development of smart-home technology.
Organized real estate’s role isn’t yet certain. But CRT’s participation in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Home Energy Information Exchange Accelerator is one cause for optimism. The accelerator is a three-year collaboration between the public and private sectors, with the goal of making home energy information more accessible. “With what we’re doing and the way we’re seeing MLSs respond, I think we’ll have this in two to three years,” Curry says. “Our vision is that none of this stuff would be entered by the real estate professional. It would be automatically updated by the house, and we think that’s possible.”
Will all this new data open up a host of new disclosure concerns? Yes and no. Say sellers have a moisture-sensitive smart device on their basement floor to measure water levels. It could give them hard data about the precise amounts of dampness and flooding that might have happened over the course of their ownership. But NAR Associate General Counsel Ralph Holmen points out that the greater availability of data won’t alter the basic calculation about disclosures. “These devices don’t really change the approach,” he says. The responsibility of the listing agent is the same; if you know it, disclose it.
But Holmen notes that brokers and agents must understand the data being collected. “The broker has an obligation to find out more about what the data shows and what that means for buyers,” he says. “He can’t turn a blind eye to things that might be a problem, even if the owner doesn’t say there’s been flooding.”
Privacy is another major concern. There have already been headlines about smart-home devices exposing private information about unwitting home owners. Some may worry that simple data, such as when electricity is being used, could help thieves determine when a home might be empty and vulnerable. Curry acknowledges these issues and notes that NAR is working with Underwriters Laboratories’ Cyber Security Assurance Program to address software weaknesses and review security controls.
Home owners who are reluctant to share energy and environmental data and other information about their home may soften over time as they see the convenience provided by these devices. “Rather than thinking of it as something you’ll have to disclose,” Curry says, “think of it as a way to improve owners’ quality of life.”
Credit to Meg White
Meg White is the managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.