Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Home Improvement Sees Benefits of Smart Homes

From the Associated Press:

Builders See Smart Homes as Intelligent Decisions for Homeowners

New homes with a mind of their own may seem futuristic to homeowners but not to the nation's home builders.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 home builders, the reality of the "smart home" is here and now.

A majority of builders -- nearly two in three -- say they already construct homes with an eye on "smart home" technology as it exists now and how it may yet evolve. The idea of ordering your oven to preheat as you sit in an office or turning on lights and adjusting thermostats as you're stuck in traffic will be commonplace, along with dozens if not hundreds of other in-home possibilities.

The survey, by home center retailer Lowe's, is a sign that high-tech homes are going mainstream in the housing sector.

According to David Steed, senior vice president of merchandising for Lowe's, that builders have warmed to creation of homes in sync with laptops or programmed for household functions is evidence that homeowners best be aware of more than bricks and mortar as they build their next home or undertake a major home renovation.

"Builders are keenly aware of how their business is changing and being driven by technology considerations," says Steed. "It's not a trend as much as it is simply the way home building is going."

Yet homeowners aren't in the dark about the enlightened possibilities. Some 51 percent of builders say their customers ask for the technology now.

And the pace of smart home technology seems poised to rapidly gain greater steam. The majority of builders see smart homes as having already arrived or just a few years away from catching on across the housing spectrum. Only 14 percent think the concept is five or more years away from widespread acceptance.

Right now, smart home technology centers on preparing a home to accept -- or be ready to accept -- various technologies.

Scott Goodelle, of Pass and Seymour, a supplier of what is described as high function junction boxes that bundle phone, broadcast and Internet technology through one spot in the house, says houses today offer "structured wiring," meaning that builders run high-capacity cables throughout the home to link rooms, appliances and entertainment devices. He suggests builders include additional wiring capacity during construction or remodeling so the home is ready to adapt as technologies and needs change.

Just how and when those changes occur is anyone's guess. Steed of Lowe's says that while beefed-up wiring in a home seems simple, having it centralized with easy access for upgrades and adaptations is the linchpin that will allow a home to change along with technology."

Although the cost to adequately wire a home -- Goodelle pegs cable costs at a nickel per foot -- adds incrementally to construction costs, homeowners would do well to take a long term view that their home will be in a state of readiness as technology becomes available. A so-called smart home can also be viewed as a plus by potential buyers during resale. One-quarter of builders say homeowner perception that the added cost isn't worth it may be a significant barrier to smart home technology.

For their part, builders think homeowners will gravitate to smart homes over time. One-third of builders say the concept will take off as consumers see smart home technology featured in show or display homes.

The survey was taken among attendees at the International Builder Show in Orlando, Fla. (January 2005)

Friday, July 22, 2005

High-Speed Internet is a Must Have

Following a trend that we have certainly been seeing for a while now, Multi-Housing News reported last month that more and more Class B and C properties throughout the country are offering high-speed Internet access and business centers as amenities for their residents. (Read the full article here.)

High-speed Internet is definitely becoming a must-have amenity, almost another utility in some cases. People are consuming more media than ever, and broadband Internet service simply rounds out the basic communications package of TV and phone - you'll see this often referred to as the "triple play." Wireless Internet access in common areas is another common amenity, and more properties will begin offering wireless access in units, either as a service to complement the existing wired network or as a stand-alone alternative to wiring altogether. (Either way, wireless has its pros and cons, but that's a topic for a different day. At some point we'll have to cover broadband over powerlines too.)

Designing a building with high speed data services in mind is more important than ever, especially considering what the major telecom and satellite companies are planning for the near future. Eventually all of your services will be delivered over data networks; just look at newer technologies like VoIP and IPTV. Even security systems can being monitored over data networks instead of the traditional phone line.

The fight for your business is quickly turning into a race to offer the most services at the highest speeds. Verizon and SBC want to run optical fiber into your building so they can get into the TV business and increase the speed of their Internet service. DirecTV isn't known for their Internet service, but they're trying to keep up by pledging to offer over 1,500 channels in High Definition over 5 or more different satellites.

With all the players vying for your business, this technology stuff can get messy in a hurry. And who knows what new technologies and methods of delivery the future holds? Could the next resident amenity be satellite radio or online gaming? If your building is designed to grow with these things in mind, you'll be far ahead of the game when the next hot trend hits the market.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

MHN Technology Choice Awards

Multi-Housing News Magazine is recognizing the top technology product and service providers as part of their Technology Choice Awards. Log onto the Multi-Housing News website or click here to cast your vote today. Voting ends on July 31, and the winners will be announced in their September issue.

Residents On The Go

Mobile content has been a hot topic lately in the media world. There's lot of talk about new applications such as mobile gaming, text messaging, and mobile office connectivity. The hardware includes smartphones, camera/video phones, Blackberries, and iPods and other portable media players. There seems to be no end to the list of features they're trying to cram into your pocket. But you're probably asking why any of this applies to the apartment world.

Well, it could be a great way to keep up with the fast pace of your residents on the go. is one company that is incorporating mobile technology. They currently have a program that will notify you (via email or text message) whenever an event is recorded by your home's security system. Imagine if the multifamily industry harnessed these features: residents can now monitor what is going on in their homes; residents could opt in for offers and account updates from property management; and corporate management companies can keep their management and maintenance staff updated on current building conditions. Communities could partner with local retailers to offer special deals redeemable exclusively by residents. Mobile devices are always with you, and the possibilities are endless. Many properties are already adopting these technologies in one form or another.

It's your turn to get creative. If you've seen a great idea for apartments, or if you have one that you haven't yet seen implemented, let us know what you think. If you work for a property management company, let us know what you've seen that works and what still has room for improvement. And if you're really on the cutting edge, you're probably forwarding this to a co-worker from your Treo right now.