One of America’s largest homebuilders, Lennar, made headlines this week with the announcement of what it is calling the “World’s First Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Smart Home.” Lennar’s tagline reads, “New homebuilding approach embraces Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Home Design to enable seamless voice control, shopping, and home automation.” This program is being developed in partnership with the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Lennar’s website goes on to explain that the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Home Design represents a standardized approach to Wi-FI in the home designed to ensure zero dead spots. These homes are being powered by Ruckus technology and marketed to buyers as a way to seamlessly control lights, door locks, and temperature using Amazon Alexa. The homes also feature a SmartThings hub from Samsung, and well-known products including Ring, Honeywell, Baldwin, Kwikset, Lutron, and Sonos. The national builder is also touting white-glove activation from Amazon Home Services (although it’s unclear whether they’re referring to actual Amazon Experts, or local low-voltage contractors hired through the company’s Home Services platform).
A Sign of Healthy and Growing Demand
This is not the only news we’ve heard about builders getting hands-on with the smart home. Toll Brothers also made news recently with a smart home expansion of its own, rebranding its longstanding Westminster Security subsidiary to “TBI Smart Home Solutions.” Two other large homebuilders here in the states, Brookfield Residential and KB Home, both now feature HomeKit-enabled smart homes. And if the integration scene here in Denver is any indicator, there are other local builders all over the country who are taking an increasingly active role in the smart home, albeit without the national headlines.
These are clear signs of healthy demand for connected home technologies among the target market of these builders, who surely wouldn’t be going to the trouble if they didn’t see a business upside. Conversations about the smart home going mainstream have been taking place for years (decades perhaps). But 2017 appears to be the year that we are finally seeing the first signs of these predictions coming to fruition. The significance of this should not be overlooked.
After the Honeymoon, Who Will Own the Experience?
The single biggest question I have to ask is who will own the experience once the home technology honeymoon is over? As a reader of Residential Systems, you are certainly aware that the shine of a brand-new smart home does not last indefinitely. Regardless of how well the systems are installed and commissioned, or whether the system is comprised of off-the-shelf DIY products or the best gear money can buy, systems will eventually fail. The only cure for the homeowner frustration that will surely ensue is a highly responsive and readily available service team that can solve complicated problems fast. I can’t help but wonder how much thought, if any, these builders have given to this inevitability.
As I’ve argued before, service is the single biggest determinant of the overall customer experience in the smart home. High-end custom builders (at least the good ones) all know this well, which is why so many of them stay relatively hands-off when it comes to home technology specification and implementation. Instead, most of these builders steer their clients toward firms with solid track records of providing this ongoing care, even if they come with a higher price tag than the competition. I believe this approach will remain the norm at the high end of the market for the foreseeable future.
At the mid-low end, however, it’s clear that builders are not just ready to dip their toes in the water; they’re diving in headfirst. Like anyone who’s earned their stripes in the smart home trenches, I can’t help but wonder if they know exactly what they’re getting into. How will they prevent unavoidable technology failures from leaving their buyers feeling like they bought a bill of goods? If their service strategy consists of partnering with the lowest local builder, or using the same in-house team that fixes plumbing and heating issues, then I suspect they’re in for a rude awakening.
A Pivotal Moment
At risk of sounding like a naysayer, let me be clear: I’m a big fan of what these builders are doing, and I wish them success. I’m a steadfast believer that a rising tide lifts all boats. I simply fear that we are witnessing a missed opportunity here. The time is now for those of us in the business of providing exceptional smart home experiences to stake our claim, partnering with these national builders to fill a void that I strongly suspect exists in their respective strategies (whether they realize it or not).
Local partnerships between builders and integrators have long been the bread and butter of our industry, but they are no longer enough. We need to find our place in the national headlines. Where has CEDIA been while the biggest builders in our country were huddled in their boardrooms mapping out their respective smart home strategies?
If we are serious about finding ways to leverage the explosion of DIY smart home technology to our advantage, then now is the time. National builders are running headlong into the arms of the DIY manufacturers, who are of course more than willing to embrace them. But after the product is installed, and the press releases are forgotten, who is going to be there to provide the ongoing service and support requisite for a positive homeowner experience?