Smart Homes Need Smarter Real Estate Pros

home automation app concept

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When Bill Gates’ famed Lake Washington estate was completed in 1997, it was heralded as a first-in-its-kind smart home, with features that included customized lighting and temperature settings for each guest. Even the art was designed to change based on the visitor’s preferences, with custom-projected photography and paintings displayed on the walls rather than framed images.

2021 REALTORS Conference & Expo logo

The home’s build took more than seven years and required 100 electricians to install the connected home technology that Gates desired; the total cost of the property was $63 million. Today, according to two smart-home experts who spoke at the 2021 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, homeowners can spend as little as $200 to have a home that’s considered “smart”—and just $2,000 to have a home that’s truly connected for security, convenience, lighting, temperature, and more.

Craig Grant, the CEO of the Real Estate Technology Institute in Stuart, Florida, and Brandon Doyle, a practicing agent from Maple Grove, Minn., and a monthly columnist for REALTOR® magazine, paired up to discuss how real estate professionals can better understand smart home technology and use this knowledge when working with buyers and sellers.

What Qualifies as Smart, Connected Tech?

When defining what qualifies as smart connected tech, Grant and Doyle referred to a framework developed by Coldwell Banker and CNET, a popular media source for reviews and information on consumer technology and devices.

This definition states that a property is considered a smart home if it has more than three connected devices across the following categories:

  • Lighting

  • Safety

  • Entertainment

  • Appliances

  • Heating and cooling

  • Outdoors

  • Security*

  • Temperature*

There is one caveat, said Doyle: Homeowners qualifying via security or temperature devices must have at least two devices in that category. In other words, said Doyle, to qualify for the security category, “You'd need the Ring doorbell and the Ring cameras.”

Applications of Smart, Connected Technology

According to Doyle, those with smart home technology can be enabled to perform based on a variety of triggers, including:

  • Schedule: Users can create a bedtime routine that helps them wind down each night.
  • Proximity: A user’s phone may signal a home’s security system to disarm as the user approaches the property.
  • Milestones: A device can turn lights on or off depending on the timing of sunrise or sunset.

Smart, connected tech can also be enabled for caregivers of infants, pets, and those aging in place, said Doyle. After his mother fell last year and was confined to a wheelchair, Doyle set up devices that would make her day-to-day activities easier. An Amazon Alexa device can turn her lights on and off with voice commands, and she uses her video doorbell and smart lock to let invited guests into her home.

In this way, Doyle said, connected smart technology “can help caregivers check in without being intrusive.”

Smart-Home Considerations for Sellers

The key to selling a smart home, said Grant, is to assume homeowners know nothing about how their devices relate to the real estate transaction. Specifically, he shared that real estate agents should:

  1. Ask their seller clients how many connected devices they have in their home, and if any are automatically set to record.
  2. Remind them that if they are in a dual-consent state, they need to disclose their recording in advance of a showing or open house or disable the devices during those times.
  3. Inform sellers that installed devices will be viewed as a fixture to a buyer and automatically included in the purchase agreement unless the seller explicitly excludes them.
  4. Remind their seller to restore each device to its original factory settings before they move.

Smart-Home Considerations for Buyers

When working with a buyer who is visiting a home with smart connected technology, Grant said, it’s important that an agent:

  1. Remind their buyers not to speak about any specifics of criteria or budget while touring the home.
  2. Tell their buyer to document any devices or appliances they see, so they can ensure these devices are included in the final home sale.
  3. Specifically outline, in the purchase agreement, the devices or appliances their client expects to come with the home.
  4. Request relevant documentation from the sellers, including manuals, service contracts, and manufacturer warranties.

Becoming a Smart-Home Expert

Agents who are interested in becoming an expert on the topic of smart connected technology should go to their local technology stores to learn about new devices and test them out, said Grant. There is also a CRS designation available for agents who want to specialize in the area.

But the best way to learn about each product, its usage and benefits or drawbacks, said Doyle, is personal use. “Have the products in your home, use them, and then you can more easily answer questions when they come up in your day-to-day business.”