‘Refreshing’ Business Model Takes Off with Millennials, Realtors

Refresh Smart Home displays installation prices for packages of equipment based around Nest for ‘Healthy Homes,’ ‘Secure Homes’ and ‘Energy-Efficient Homes.’


Maybe it’s because they don’t come from a custom installation background, but the guys at Refresh Smart Home in Mount Kisco, N.Y. just might have stumbled upon one of the best business models in the industry for targeting Millennial customers. The company, which was formed three years ago by three home inspectors, aggregates together various pieces of equipment into sellable “packages” on its website, posting a full installation price for each package and for each individual piece of equipment.

Want to have an “Energy Efficiency Home Package” installed that combines a Nest Learning Thermostat with a Chamberlain garage door opener? It’s just a click away. How about a “Secure Home Package” that has a Nest Protect smoke alarm, Nest Cam security  camera and August door lock/doorbell camera? Easy. Lastly, buyers can get a “Healthy Home” package installed that includes a Nest Learning Thermostat, Foobot air quality monitor and IQAir air purification system.

According to Don Ham, vice president of business development at Refresh Smart Home, the business model is a hit with Millennials in particular, who contrary to popular opinion, do want someone to install technology for them in their home, but do not want to speak with a salesperson. The solution is a vibrant website that lists the installed price for each piece of equipment.

The results for Refresh Smart Home speak for themselves: With just three technicians in the field, the company sells and installs 150 Nest Learning Thermostats per month on average, along with myriad other devices including Nest Cams and Nest Protects.

Website Sales; Referrals from Realtors

Refresh Smart Home started out as Refresh Inspections. The company specialized in home inspections and indoor air quality.

“When we were going into the homes to inspect them for the buyers before they purchased the homes to make sure everything was good, we'd detect a lot of issues. When Nest came out, and we started doing the installs, we were blown away by the user interface. It was so much better than the products we were used to. We started doing more Nest installations and weaning off of the inspections,” he recalls.

Soon, instead of just identifying problems for homeowners, Refresh started fixing problems for the homeowners. Today, most of the company’s business is smart home-based versus inspections; thus, the company rebranded as Refresh Smart Home.  

The business model has two primary sources of new business: referrals from real estate agents and the website.

Because of its background in the inspection business, the company forged very strong relationships with real estate agents in Westchester County, N.Y. and Fairfield County, Conn.

“Most of the inspection business is based on referrals. If you provide good service and value pricing, Realtors will always put our card on the top [when they are referring homebuyers to an inspection service]. We get most of our referrals that way,” says Ham. When Refresh started installing home technology, the company leveraged those tight relationships with Realtors for the new business model.

“These days selling a home is a lot easier when you have smart home devices already installed.”

— Don Ham, Refresh Smart Home

“These days selling a home is a lot easier when you have smart home devices already installed … it is a lot more appealing for buyers. The Realtors are saying that, particularly among Millennial buyers in their thirties, it's very appealing when a home is already outfitted with smart home products,” he says.

The growing interest in home technology among Realtors was emphasized even more to Ham recently when an agent that Refresh works with regularly called about her own townhouse.

“I did an installation for one of the heads of the local Realtor board. She was about to sell her own townhome, and she called us to install three thermostats. So even the Realtors are asking for it when they try to sell their own homes,” says Ham.

3 Primary Packages

Besides Realtor referrals, Refresh Smart Home uses Google, Social Media and the Nest Pro website to drive new Millennial customers to  its own website. To satisfy the inquiring minds of web-savvy Millennials, the Refresh Smart Home website needs to be as comprehensive as possible so no questions go unanswered. That includes pricing for dozens of devices, including installation. The company’s cost of labor is built into the listed price. It is not for DIYers.  

“By far the biggest product we install is the Nest Learning Thermostat. A lot of people are intrigued by it due to the energy efficiency aspect. And when people call and are just interested in ‘smartifying’ their home, they ask where to start. We suggest the thermostat because not only does it act as a hub for all Works With Nest products, but it can help save the homeowner money,” says Ham.

Ham says he parlays that Nest conversation to introduce products that the customer has likely never seen before.

“If someone calls us to install a Nest Thermostat, we have a lot of opportunity to speak to them, and why they're interested in certain technologies. [It could be they’re] adding to their smart home or even starting a smart home. We get a sense of where their interests lie, and based on that, we introduce them to products they've never seen before, ” he adds.

In particular, the “Healthy Home” package has been very successful.

“Our Healthy Home package is really where our passion lies,” he says. Built around a Nest Learning Thermostat, the package uses the Foobot air quality monitor, which communicates the air quality in the home in real time to the Nest, and the IQAir, a Swiss-made air purification system.  

“We install the IQAir to the central HVAC system, so when Foobot detects beyond a certain threshold of chemicals, dusts, allergens or carbon dioxide, it sends a signal to the Nest Thermostat to turn on the fan. The fan for the central HVAC system kicks on with the IQAir and starts purifying the air, bringing the quality of the air below the threshold. The homeowner always has the knowledge that these three systems are optimizing the indoor air quality for their families,” says Ham.

The cost of the packages varies based on the size of the home. Ham says Refresh has installed systems with as many as 12 thermostats and nine air handlers.

Both the Nest Protect smoke alarm and Nest Cam security camera are part of the company’s Secure Home package. The target clients for these installations are people who want to keep an eye on their second homes. The typical project has two to three cameras, but Ham has installed as many as 18 nest Cams in one home, and installs about 50 cameras per month typically.

“Nest is one of our most vital relationships because they do so much. They invest so much on marketing and support for the installers like us.”

— Don Ham, Refresh Smart Home

“It's really convenient for them to be able to access what's going on in their home remotely as opposed to the outdated way where an alarm system would call the fire department if there's a fire. This way, they can go into their Nest Cam and see what's going on. They can check the status of their Nest Protect in real time to make sure everything is connected and fine. It gives them peace of mind in the end.”

He concludes, “Nest is one of our most vital relationships because they do so much. They invest so much on marketing and support for installers like us. They're one of our biggest supporters and a lot of business comes in because of the name brand they hold.”