Smart Home Communities – Smart Bet or All Hype?

Smart home community trend is taking off. What can manufacturers, installers and dealers do to catch the tailwind?

Michael Smith

Let me start by painting a picture of living life with smart home devices. You wake up early on a beautiful Saturday morning and walk into your family room, settle into the couch, kick up your feet and drink a cup of coffee while reading the news on your mobile device. To set the mood for reading, you ask Amazon Alexa to brighten the lights, adjust the temperature by a few degrees, raise the shades to allow daylight from the rising sun to enter the room, and turn on your favorite Saturday morning music.

At first glance, this scenario may seem like something you’d see on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But after Lennar’s recent announcement to standardize roughly 30,000 new homes with smart home devices from Lutron, Ring, Sonos, Amazon and others, this scenario is becoming an increasingly affordable, simple and accessible reality for the average homebuyer. 

It’s disruptive… it’s exciting… but is it here to stay?  I would bet on it, and for two reasons:

Consumers Crave Smart Homes

Consumers are craving the convenience and simplicity of a connected home experience. Let’s face it – when interior lights are on, it signals “someone’s home.” In an effort to create that lived-in look, people leave lights on for hours – if not days – on end, or invest in timers that turn lights on at the exact same time every day. For those paying close attention, this sends a clear message that you’re not home. With a smart lighting control system, homeowners will not only enjoy the benefits of simplified daily routines, but more importantly, will enjoy greater peace of mind.

“As recently as two years ago, smart home products were considered nothing more than gadgets or more so, products designed solely for the luxury home market.”

For example, imagine after a long day at work, you drive an hour home in the dark and arrive at a well-lit home, where lights haven’t been burning bright for hours, but rather came on automatically at sunset – you’ll never have to enter a dark house again. People appreciate many other benefits of a smart home, including the convenience of seeing who’s at the front door on their mobile device and communicating with that person as if they were home. They desire the simplicity of automating shades, lights and the thermostat to improve comfort, save time and shave dollars off their energy bills. And there’s something to be said about a favorite song greeting them when walking through the front door after a long day at work. At the end of the day, people want products that simplify their lives so they can spend more time doing the things they love.

As recently as two years ago, smart home products were considered nothing more than gadgets or more so, products designed solely for the luxury home market. Companies were racing to market with gimmicky devices that offered little value other than a party trick. But today, this is no longer the case – technology is actually enhancing people’s lives. Millennials are primed to be early adopters simply because they grew up with everything around them connected. But really, every generation and type of homeowner can benefit greatly from smart, connected homes.

Imagine the freedom that remote-controlled shades can bring to an elderly person or someone with limited mobility – it could mean the difference between leaving the shades closed for years or, with the touch of a button, having the freedom to let the warm sunlight fill the room. And to someone who’s wheelchair bound, having the ability to use their voice to adjust lights, shades, temperature and more could mean the difference between a good day and a great day, providing them with the freedom and independence they might have thought were lost for good.

The challenge, however, is that many consumers don’t know where to start this journey, which will inevitably stunt the adoption of smart home products. Should they try to cobble together a DIY system on their own? Should they contact a professional installer to help navigate the murky waters? Who is their trusted source to help them through this process? This is where reason number two comes in.

Builders Are Responding to Demand

Builders are recognizing the consumer demand and want to differentiate themselves (and the experience of buying a new home) by including smart, connected solutions as a standard offering. uilders are beginning to realize that if they want to excite and attract new home buyers, they need to provide state-of-the-art features. Smart, connected homes are the way for them to accomplish this. Lennar’s recent decision to build tens of thousands of move-in ready smart homes is unprecedented, and also a sign of what’s to come.

Lennar took the leap to standardize highly reliable Wi-Fi in each home, which means no dead spots, and assemble best-in-class smart home device brands that are known for reliability, quality, strong support and service. They chose brands that know how to take care of customers and are thought leaders in their respective industries. Beyond that, Lennar is also offering white glove activation and service to make it a truly seamless experience for the homeowner.

“Lennar’s decision to build tens of thousands of move-in ready smart homes is unprecedented, and also a sign of what’s to come.”

What’s most interesting about Lennar’s strategy, in my view, is how the company is reinventing the “model home” concept into more of a “retail” experience center. The model home isn’t just a place to attract future Lennar homebuyers, but also a destination for anyone who wants to experience what life might be like in a truly smart, connected home. Their vision of delivering an immersive smart home experience creates a familiarity with smart home products, which is exactly what’s needed to move the industry forward.

Now, what does all of this mean for manufacturers, installers and dealers? It means tremendous potential, demand and disruption. While consumer demand for smart, connected homes is already here, you can expect it to pick up considerably as homeowners experience the benefits for themselves and as more builders standardize with smart home products – or offer them as an add-on feature in new homes.  Even those who aren’t in the market for a new home will likely be inspired by the benefits and as a result, call their local dealer or electrician to add this functionality to their existing homes. 

However, as mentioned, this smart home community trend has the potential to be highly disruptive and may shake up the home device marketplace. For the dealers who are on top of the smart home trend, this is a good thing. But, if you have yet to get on board with a local builder, you may want to start soon so you aren’t left behind. The future is connected products; and those who adapt more quickly will be best positioned for success.

Smart Home Preparedness Checklist

  • Live with a variety of smart home products to fully experience them. Learn about them and embrace the change.
  • Ask yourself what kinds of setup service packages you can offer local builders to make smart home communities a simple and affordable proposition for their customers.
  • Develop a business model for building relationships with individual homeowners in smart home communities in order to ensure you are first in line for add-on services later.
  • Consider partnerships that could help you create a world-class smart home experience.

Michael Smith is vice president of sales at Lutron Electronics.