Two years ago, the giant real estate agency Coldwell Banker decided to get into the smart home business, convinced that connected properties sell faster and that tech-savvy agents can win more business. After launching a training program for agents and marketing the company as tech leaders, Coldwell Banker is now ratcheting up its efforts in the category by promoting smart home staging kits that include August, Nest and Lutron products.
Consumers can buy the connected devices through
Coldwell Banker's SmartHomeStaging.com, mostly at full retail price. (Correction: “It is not a Coldwell Banker site,” the company says.) Professional installation is encouraged through the national installation network Pro.com for a flat fee starting at $59 for individual devices ($550 for installing a complete Starter Kit).
“They see the connected home devices as a way to excite buyers of the future, a way to move homes,” Lutron VP Michael Smith told a small group of industry reporters this week.
Worthington Distribution, a national distributor for the custom installation channel, is handling fulfillment for the kits. A package comprising the following pieces are currently selling for $1,135 retail, with a discounted price of $999 available to agents to encourage them to try out the systems for themselves.
- Nest Learning Thermostat
- Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm
- Nest Cam Indoor security camera
- August Smart Lock
- August Connect gateway
- Lutron Caséta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit
Areas serviced by Pro.com can have the entire kit installed for a flat fee of $550.
A recent survey conducted by Coldwell Banker found that:
Roughly half of millennials and 42 percent of U.S. broadband households surveyed would “smart stage” their home to attract buyers. The survey also found that more than one-third of Americans (35 percent) now associate smart home technology with a move-in ready home – something that 71 percent of Americans would want if buying a house today.
Whether you believe this research is statistically relevant or methodologically sound, the trend is clearly there. Coldwell has anecdotal evidence from 85,000 agents in 3,000 offices that “the smart home world is leaving the luxury-only sector and entering into the more mainstream world,” Coldwell VP and spokesperson David Siroty tells CE Pro. “We’re in the home. We see what’s happening every single day.”
That’s anecdotal evidence you can sink your teeth into.
“We found out a segment of society was way ahead of our agents,” Siroty says. “If our agents are selling homes featuring smart-home technology, we need to become more aware … know what questions are coming from clients.”
With that, Coldwell Banker, “planted a flag in the smart home arena,” starting with a very public “definition” of the smart home (debated below) and a training and certification program for agents.
In a nutshell, agents take a three-hour course (co-developed with the home technology trade group CEDIA), pass a test and get certified as a smart-home-knowledgeable Realtor. Over 2,000 agents have already done the deal.
Siroty notes the program follows the same course as any other training that follows trends in home building, buying and selling.
“The rise of smart home technology mimics the rise of granite countertops” back in the day, he explains. “Back then, agents had to learn about granite. Some went to quarries to learn more about it.”
3 Devices Make a Smart Home?
Recently Coldwell Banker (with CNET) came up with a definition of a “smart home” that seemed laughable at first.
The definition was: a broadband home with three intelligent devices, with at least one of those devices being related to security or temperature control.
So, for example, a property with a connected thermostat, a smart TV and a water sensor for a plant would be considered a “smart home.”
None of the stuff has to be connected to each other or, for that matter, connected to the Internet or configured for automation.
It’s a “smart home” definition that just begs for a good lampooning.
But it started to make sense once I chatted with Siroty at Coldwell Banker. There needs to be some starting point for a conversation about the smart home, and the simpler the message the more the listeners.
Integration is foreign to the mass consumer, he (rightly) notes.
“When you’re so close to something, you just don’t see it,” Siroty told me, while stabbing a virtual knife in my chest.
To begin the dialog, the message has to be broad enough for mass interest, but specific enough to be meaningful.
“We were seeing: My TV is a smart TV so it’s a smart home,’” Siroty says.
The simplistic definition was “designed to begin the discussion, to help the real estate community have the conversation with consumers,” he says. “Their [CNET’s] definition — at least it is in the right direction. We wanted to stop people calling it a smart home when it just has a camera or a smart thermostat.”
OK, I get that.
Smart Home Staging
There are many reasons to stage a home with smart gear that go way beyond resale value. Connected thermostats don’t necessarily save money when a home is vacant because the property always needs to be kept at a comfortable temperature for showings. Smart lighting, on the other hand, can do a good job of showcasing certain features of a home … as long as the agent knows how to operate the system.
“If they don’t know how to use it, it doesn’t matter how good the product is,” Siroty says.
The Coldwell Banker training obviously doesn’t explain how to work every manufacturer’s smart-home products, but it at least raises the awareness of agents who can leave notes about a home’s technology and suggest the right buttons to press for the best effects.
There are tricks to staging a smart house. Motorized shades should be left down when the home is unoccupied to protect furnishings, for example, but raised to show the view when potential buyers tour the property.
Coldwell Banker agents will learn tips like this through the company’s efforts.
“An affluent listing can be hurt because of challenges” in showing a smart home, Siroty suggests. “If they [agents] don’t know how to use it, it doesn’t matter how good the product is.”
At the same time, too much of a good thing can be … too much. Like too much furniture and too many tchotchkes in a space, too many cameras (for example) can turn off a potential home buyer.
Siroty tells the case of one home for sale that creeped out potential buyers. Sure, the cameras can be removed or turned off, he explains, “but the agent couldn’t properly represent the fact.”
Whatever the result of Coldwell’s investment in the smart-home movement, all the buzz is undoubtedly a boon for the industry.
Home automation is still in its infancy. The only way to raise awareness is to engage with consumers, and who better to engage than a bunch of people giving home tours all day, every day?
“We firmly believe real estate agents are the ones to engage,” Siroty says. “They are the original social influencers. They’re in the community, they know everybody.”
Next Step: Automated Property Viewings?
Still in its infancy, the August Access program is a service that links the manufacturer's smart locks and video doorbells with third-party service providers such as pet-walkers, dry cleaners and the aforementioned Pro.com home-improvement professionals.
Consumers schedule appointments with partner services and the system grants access and logs activity.
While August and Coldwell Banker have not indicated they are teaming up for Access integration, such a partnership seems the next obvious step, especially considering the partnership with Pro.com
The property-showing process today is archaic. It makes sense for appointments and access to be coordinated between the seller, the potential buyer, the real estate agent and the home’s electronic systems.