How do real estate agents see smart home tech?

Technology won’t necessarily increase a home’s value but it can motivate buyers. Paul Skelton reports.

Do smart home technologies affect a home’s resale value, or even its saleability?

The mark of a good home automation system is its individualised nature; a system that is designed for the owners’ needs. But what if they want to sell?

Last year, when my partner and I were looking for a home, it was interesting to note that the only ‘technology’ that featured in online listings was the NBN. Perhaps this is because real estate agents don’t understand the technology, or maybe it just has no bearing on saleability.

Angel Piontek, who is based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is vice-president of marketing for the multinational real estate agency Coldwell Banker.

She believes there is a ‘disconnect’ between what people want and recognise and what integrators install – in particular, retail products.

“I don’t know where to find integrators that also deal with retail products,” Angel says.

“The truth is, real estate agents and integrators don’t have a strong relationship; but, it will come to a point where we need a roster of integrators that we can refer to on a regular basis.

“It will be similar to how we work with home inspectors. We have a list of people who are reliable and know what they are doing.

“The challenge is that the integrators that I know are working with home builders and they install whole-home systems, which is fine. But this opens the market to places like Best Buy and its Geek Squad. These days, these guys will also install smart home devices.”

Of course installing retail products won’t be suitable for every integrator, but there seems to be an opening in the mass market for those looking for volume work.

“Just recently, particularly in the past three months, I’ve been approached by more people looking for smart home technologies than ever before,” Angel says.

“And I’m seeing it from everyone, not just younger people. The age of the buyer simply changes the intended goal of the technology, but all age groups have an interest in its inclusion in new homes.

“One of the most important things with real estate and smart homes is that the installation has to be user friendly. I don’t think you have to understand the technology itself, it just needs to be easy to use.”

In 2016, Coldwell Banker became the first realtor to introduce a smart home certification scheme for real estate agents, and the US National Association of Realtors followed a year later. Angel was a subject matter expert for both programs.

“When I heard that Coldwell Banker was developing smart home certification I was immediately interested in helping,” Angel says.

Coldwell Banker was founded in 1906 in San Francisco and now has about 3,000 offices in 49 countries and territories. Its head office is in Madison, New Jersey.

“A lot of agents are afraid to talk about smart home technology, especially if they don’t know how to explain it, but we need a voice in the smart home conversation.

“In the next five years or so, people will expect to have all these connected devices already installed when they buy a home.”

Perhaps what drives Angel’s advocacy for smart homes and real estate is the fact that she is a self-professed early adopter of smart home technology.

“I was complaining recently that I’m running out of plugs.”

Further, she became a licensed realtor in 2003 and has sold smart homes by using the technology as a marketing differentiator.

“Not too long ago, we had a newly built home on the market that had a really challenging back yard and was really small. Plus, their neighbour’s yard was a mess. So our listing sat on the market for a really long time.

“We approached the builder and suggested installing Coldwell Banker’s smart home staging kit, which includes different products that you can install in and around the home.

“They agreed and, in doing so, gave us a different way to communicate with potential buyers about the property.

“The person that bought the property loved the smart home devices. They were really excited – they now had a Nest thermostat, a smart lock, some Lutron switches and a Nest Cam.”

The Coldwell Banker smart home certification, created in association with CEDIA, is designed to educate real estate agents on how to sell smart homes.

The program covers everything from the history of smart home technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) to the effect the technology has on sales.

“You can absolutely use smart home technology as a marketing tool,” Angel says.

She doesn’t think it will increase the value of a property, but it can mean a quicker sale.

“If you have something like a Control4 system that cost about $15,000 you may recoup some of that value, but not if you are talking about a Nest thermostat that cost a few hundred dollars.

“That said, it will definitely make your home stand out and give you an advantage in the market. For example, I live in a subdivision where all the homes are pretty much the same. If I can create a buzz or find a different way to present my home to a buyer it’s a big advantage.”

Angel says one challenge she is yet to overcome is finding reliable integrators to service the mid-market.

“I’m not entirely sure that it’s worth a professional integrator’s time to do these smaller jobs, but not doing so will mean more large corporations working directly with home owners.”

She says Coldwell Banker does not want to get into that sector.

“But I can certainly see us partnering with somebody that can help facilitate that relationship.”

Angel has noted that three devices in particular will help to sell a house.

“You should at least have a smart thermostat. It doesn’t have to be Nest, but it has to be a recognisable product. The other two devices are a smart door lock and a video doorbell.

“When you’re marketing to home buyers there’s a limited amount of time when they’re looking online or in the house. You maybe get 15 minutes, so it’s important to have recognisable products that directly meet a buyer’s needs.”

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Reference: Connected Home