Lennar’s New Home-Automation Paradigm: Embracing Amazon Smart Home Services
Lennar is reportedly shedding traditional IoT products and ‘CEDIA’ installers in favor of wireless DIY home automation systems installed by Amazon Smart Home Services.
Lennar, the #2 homebuilder in the U.S., is making a dramatic shift in its smart-home strategy, largely eliminating built-in technologies in favor of DIY home-automation systems like Amazon Alexa, Ring, Lutron Caseta, Samsung SmartThings and Sonos.
At the same time, CE Pro has learned from multiple sources, the builder will mostly eliminate traditional home-technology integrators from the equation. Instead, Amazon Smart Home Services – formally launched just a month ago – will deliver, install, configure and service IoT systems nationwide.
The move is bound to disrupt the traditional “CEDIA” channel, which has served production homebuilders for decades. CEDIA is the trade group that represents professional home-technology installers and integrators.
While the group is mostly known for promoting high-end work like glitzy home theaters and completely automated homes, a significant chunk of CEDIA installers provide more modest solutions in high volumes for mainstream clientele.
In the past, most of Lennar’s 25,000+ homes per year have been technologized by local security and home automation pros. That work will likely evaporate in the next one or two years if the Amazon Smart Home thing pans out.
Lennar’s Regional Business & National Mandates
For decades, production homebuilders have tried to launch “national programs” with vendors of structured wiring, home automation and other technologies. But homebuilding has always been a regional business, with area managers tending to stick with installers they know and the brands they trust … despite national “mandates” from corporate.
This time, however, it seems Lennar is sticking to its guns with a directive for local builders to abide by contracts negotiated at the highest levels – with companies such as Samsung (SmartThings and TVs), Sonos (wireless audio) and most importantly Amazon (Echo, Smart Home Services, logistics and other Amazony things).
It’s not just products that Lennar is standardizing nationwide. The builder also is dictating the entire process, like where wires are run (or not), and how customers work with Amazon for product fulfilment and installation.
In the past, Lennar’s regional offices maintained long-standing relationships with local integrators, who helped define technology standards for new communities, equip model homes with high-tech gear, and otherwise aid in the tech-selling process.
The Warm-up: Lessons From Amazon’s Smart Home Consultations
The integrator’s contact information would be displayed on the structured-wiring cabinet and elsewhere, and the new-home buyer would contact the company for service, support and upgrades.
Typically, these pros communicate with home buyers before or after move-in to configure products and discuss other technology needs. Access to these customers is critical to the installers, enabling them to sell upgrades at the time, but more importantly establish long-term relationships.
Additionally, during initial consultations with new home buyers, integrators will activate security systems and offer additional interactive services including home automation.
In most cases, it is the alarm monitoring that keeps integrators in the game, willing to make only modest profits on the production work in exchange for the recurring revenue.
Furthermore, the security monitoring helps integrators maintain those long-term relationships with customers, providing a subtle benefit to builders in the process: ongoing tech support for their buyers.
Because alarm systems and other low-voltage work (structured wiring, networks, audio, video, surveillance, automation) all come under the integrator’s purview, they can serve the Lennar customer with any tech need that arises at move-in … or in the future.
Sources familiar with Lennar’s new strategy say the local pros will no longer own the technology relationship with home buyers. Those “relationships” will fall to Amazon instead.
About Amazon Smart Home Services
Amazon Smart Home Services makes sure your new smart home product is installed and set up properly in your home. Whether you’re interested in reducing your carbon footprint or connecting your smart devices, our service providers will create custom solutions and help show you how to get the most out of your products.
Our providers will work with you to figure out the best placement of your smart home device, connect your device to WIFI and make sure it’s functioning properly, demo the device and walk you through key scenarios and provide tips and answer any questions you have.
- Smart Thermostat installation
- Connecting to other smart home devices
- Connecting to Alexa
- Troubleshooting WiFi issues
How Amazon Smart Home Services Might Work
Can Amazon handle it? Certainly not today. The Smart Home Services program is new, and the e-commerce giant has yet to staff up in areas where Lennar is building a whole lot of homes. The program was supposed to launch this summer, but is delayed in at least some regions, according to local integrators who did not want to be identified.
Some of those long-standing integrators are being asked to help out during the transition.
The learning curve might not be that steep for the new Amazon techs. Lennar’s shift to wireless DIY solutions – rather than built-in technologies like speakers, surround sound, alarm systems and cameras – will dramatically simplify the installation and integration process.
At the same time, the new approach will eliminate the need for low-voltage installers’ licenses.
Furthermore, with barely any low voltage wiring in the new homes, Amazon will not have to troubleshoot the cables and connectors if some technology goes awry.
Lennar is the first builder to adopt the new Wi-Fi Certified Home Design standard co-developed with the Wi-Fi Alliance, ensuring new homes have high-speed wireless coverage all over, with no dead spots. In the process, the builder has eliminated most other low-voltage wiring, including most Cat 5/6 and coax, and all speaker wire.
Traditional trades including electricians and HVAC contractors would continue to install smart dimmers, door locks and thermostats as usual; Amazon would take care of the rest, simply mounting TVs and configuring a SmartThings hub for the few smart devices included in the new homes.
From Lennar’s own statements, as well as others involved in the new smart-home program, the builder has planned to include the following as standard -- part of its "Everything's Included" program -- in average-sized homes (plans continue to evolve):
- Structured wiring cabinet – plastic, RF-friendly for mounting wireless gear (possibly supplied by Leviton and/or Primex)
- Cat 6a cable – to one, two or three ceiling locations for wireless access points; to the front door for powering (PoE) video doorbell; possibly to another location for the SmartThings hub.
- Coaxial cable – to two TV locations
- Ruckus networking – enterprise-grade wireless networking system, including router/switch and wireless access points; compliant with Wi-Fi Certified Home Design spec.
- Lutron Caseta lighting – one smart dimmer and maybe a couple of plug-in modules, integrated with SmartThings via Lutron’s cloud-enabled Smart Bridge gateway.
- Kwikset door lock – connected to SmartThings via Z-Wave technology
- Honeywell Lyric thermostat – integrated via Wi-Fi
- Amazon Echo
- Ring video doorbell – Communicates vis Wi-Fi; powered by PoE via Cat 6a cable to front door
- Sonos mutiroom audio
- Samsung smart TVs
CE Pro’s understanding is that an electrician or traditional low-voltage integrator will install the low-voltage wiring, and Amazon will fulfill the smart devices, including delivery, installation and configuration.
An Amazon Smart Home Services rep would meet with home buyers just before or after move-in to accommodate their tech needs.
Lennar is not yet commenting on the specifics of Amazon service, but some speculate there might be a dedicated e-commerce site for Lennar customers to order gear and schedule installations, possibly allowing Lennar to share in the revenues.
The Big Question: Monitored Security?
The issue of monitored security appears to be in flux. Two dealers tell CE Pro that Lennar is yanking professional security from its home-tech offerings, with one integrator saying, “They don’t believe in monitored security anymore.”
Yet another says Lennar in his region is planning to install Honeywell’s Lyric security system in new homes; however, the installer will not have access to the customer list, nor the (formal) opportunity to meet with buyers, thus removing the single most important benefit for integrators to engage with production builders.
As Amazon currently does not have the requisite licenses to install monitored alarm systems, it will be interesting to see who Lennar might find to install security without the benefit of selling subscriptions. (We are told Amazon would be the official smart-home liaison for new buyers, but that security installers might be welcome to "knock on doors" after customers move in.)
If Lennar is not specifying Honeywell security, perhaps the builder might push a DIY system from Scout, a SmartThings partner. The user-installable system enables professional monitoring, without the need for a licensed security contractor. Lennar and Amazon also escape any local regulations for installing surveillance cameras, as Lennar is not offering that option to home buyers. (Licensed contractors would install the Ring doorbell.)
It is unclear if Lennar will be offering connected smoke and CO detectors that could be tied into a security system for professional monitoring. (The Scout system does not monitor for smoke and CO hazards; emergency services would not be dispatched in the event of a fire or gas leak.)
A Whole Lot of Home Automation Hubs
Lennar is including two, maybe three home-automation “hubs” or "gateways" in its new-builds. First, there’s Amazon Echo, which can integrate a multitude of IP-based products and services via the cloud.
Then there’s Samsung’s SmartThings, which also integrates via IP (some local control, but mostly cloud-to-cloud), as well as ZigBee and Z-Wave. Our understanding is that there is only one Z-Wave device being installed in new Lennar homes – a Kwikset door lock – and no ZigBee devices. So why include it?
If indeed Lennar is installing Honeywell Lyric home security systems, those "hubs" too would integrate with third-party devices – directly via Z-Wave, and indirectly via cloud services (Honeywell’s Total Connect).
There is also Lutron and its Smart Bridge, yet another gateway for cloud-based integration. Considering there seems to be only one built-in Lutron dimmer and a couple of plug-in lamp modules, why wouldn’t Lennar just use SmartThings (Z-Wave or ZigBee) for controlling these devices?
Why the overkill? Quite possibly, Lennar’s agreements with all three big brands – Amazon, Samsung and Honeywell – come with stipulations that their smart-home hubs be included in new homes.
In the case of Honeywell, since they would get a chunk of recurring revenue through Total Connect, maybe they offer the alarm systems for free or at a very low cost. Perhaps they even subsidize installation through authorized Honeywell dealers.
Amazon’s Compelling Value Proposition
We in the home-tech industry can’t imagine that Amazon’s “start-up” smart-home business could possibly provide a positive tech experience for Lennar and its customers, either now or in the long term.
Indeed, the two companies are off to a rocky start, sources say. But somehow Amazon seems to dominate every category it enters, so why should this be different?
Amazon can afford to lose its shirt in any new business venture, and the investment in this one could surely pay off. Owning the smart home – more than 25,000 of them per year in Lennar’s case – could be Amazon’s Holy Grail.
At the very least, Amazon could rope in the homeowners as e-commerce customers (especially if there’s a special Lennar portal), but also collect important data about the home and its occupants.
The only thing Lennar should do today is build closet-sized “drop-off” zones in new homes to accommodate Amazon’s delivery service – cameras and automated door locks for security; refrigerators and freezers for cold foods.
Amazon could own the access to these protected zones with a complete security back-end of its own, including authorization systems for delivery personnel and service providers (e.g., smart-home installers).
Revenue-sharing or subsidies for homebuilders would probably be part of the (future) equation.
We can also imagine a time when Amazon will provide remote monitoring and system support of consumers’ networks and connected devices. They will provide monitored security systems – both physical and digital – with central stations that respond to all manner of emergencies, from medical to cyber.
We pondered earlier: “Will Builders Subsidize Smart Homes in Exchange for IoT Data?”
Maybe, just maybe.
Consumers Love ‘Name Brands’ Like Amazon, Google, HomeKit
We might laugh at the idea of “Amazon” as a leading home-automation brand, but the perception among home builders and buyers is exactly that. Actual leading smart-home brands like Lutron, Leviton, Legrand, Control4, 2Gig, Interlogix and Alarm.com don’t mean much to most entry-level home buyers.
And the local dealers who install these products? Who the heck are they?
On the other hand, “Amazon is a brand that excites many consumers,” says David Kaiserman , president of Lennar Ventures, in an interview with CE Pro in June, when the builder announced its Wi-Fi Certified program.
In deciding to provide an “Alexa-driven environment” for new homes, Lennar looked to Amazon as “leaders in their space.”
These Alexa-driven properties would include smart devices curated by Lennar, giving customers “another good reason to buy new,” rather than used homes.
But if the smart products are all wireless and DIY (Honeywell security excluded), why would consumers care if they were already included in the home?
“Home automation has been scary to many because of all the technology components that come together,” Kaiserman says. “We have taken the guesswork out. … It’s the combination of brand and expertise that makes the difference.”
He adds, “We buy the products, so it take the hassle out.”
Other production builders are following suit, using popular brands to sell their “smart homes.” In particular, several of them are embracing Apple HomeKit and Siri.
In fact, Lennar was set to go the Apple route before moving to Amazon and Samsung just a few months ago.
Brookfield Homes and KB Home are the big wins for HomeKit.
Brookfield continues to prewire its homes with Cat 5/6 (Ethernet), running the cable to at least four locations. Otherwise, like Lennar, the builder appears to be dismissing traditional low-voltage integrators, leaving new homeowners with some Lutron Caseta lighting controls and Serena motorized shades, along with Honeywell Lyric thermostats, and instructions for using HomeKit.
In March of this year, 9t05Mac.com asked its readers: “Would you pay more for a HomeKit-equipped home?”
Of 5,100 respondents, more than two-thirds (66.4%) said they were willing to pay a premium for HomeKit.
This perception that Apple (and Google and Amazon) are leaders in smart-home technology is not lost on device manufacturers. At the International Builders Show earlier this year, Mark Devine of First Alert's Onelink noted that homebuilders are increasingly embracing these brands as the new “standards” home technology.
Potential Pitfalls of Amazon Smart Home Services
Dealers say the conversion process to Amazon has begun, but it's not off to a smooth start. New products for model homes are in flux, and post-sale support is still a big question mark.
Consumer choice has been removed from the process, says one dealer: "There's no wiring so they can't put TVs where they want. Lennar really can't claim "everything's included."
Assuming Amazon’s service group overcomes its growing pains, how will it work as a long-term partner for builders and their customers?
For starters, according to Kaiserman Amazon at this time has no plans to provide remote system monitoring and diagnostics. Unlike traditional integrators, Amazon won’t be able to tap into a user’s network, troubleshoot any issues and fix them on the fly.
Who will ensure that the Ruckus networking products, along with all connected devices, stay up-to-date with the latest feature sets, including security provisions?
Furthermore, without proper licensing, Amazon won’t be able to install and service low-voltage gear and alarm systems in most jurisdictions. A specialist will have to be called in for that work, and then Amazon would need to come in afterwards with programming.
We don’t know at this time if Amazon will be able to support customers after they move into their “smart” homes. In the past, they’ve always had their “local guy” who could do most of the work, or subcontract it out to other trades if needed.
Then again, mass-market smart-home providers like Comcast and ADT have managed to do a good job in these areas. There’s no reason Amazon couldn’t get there at some point.
Who could blame Lennar for (potentially) shedding their low-voltage partners of the past?
Even with all of the potential benefits noted above, there’s one major advantage of hitching on to a company like Amazon and its nascent Smart Home Services: national coverage.
Kaiserman is right to note that traditional integrators can’t and don’t provide reliable, cookie-cutter installations and services nationwide.
He says Lennar would rather model its support services after Apple’s Genius Bar, “which stands for very high quality” from store to store, around the country.
If Amazon Home Services gains critical mass in the smart home, focusing on a smallish portfolio of connected products, its army of technicians can quickly be dispatched to any household requiring service – potentially on-demand, like calling for Uber.
Lennar: The Ultimate Smart-Home Early Adopter
Lennar is legendary in home-automation lore, adopting smart-home technologies well before peers – dating way back to the 1990s when the production-homebuilder installed Mastervoice’s voice-controlled Butler-in-a-Box system in a new Boca Raton community.
That one didn’t work out so well, but Lennar continued to break new ground and try out new offerings.
In 2006, the builder tested Windows Media Center and the nascent Lifeware home-automation solution from Exceptional Innovation. At the time, Best Buy was launching ConnectedLife.Home, a new offering from Best Buy. The retailer and its partners installed the system in about 150 Lennar homes in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento, Calif.
Both the initiative and Lifeware itself were short-lived, but Lennar continued to press on with new smart-home opportunities.
It tried Nexia Home, a DIY Z-Wave-based platform from Trane, for a few years. Then the builder said it would move to HomeKit, but finally settled on the "Amazon-driven home" this year.
Between Amazon and the new Wi-Fi Certified standard, Lennar shows it continues break new ground in the smart home.
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Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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