High Tech Becomes the New Home Standard

High Tech Becomes the New Home Standard

Far West Industries offers 4-kilowatt solar systems on its mid-centruty modern Murano development in Palm Springs, in addition to drip irrigation, tankless water heaters and variable-speed pool pumps.

Homebuilders looking to distinguish themselves as forward-thinking leaders are finding new friends in high-tech home systems.

When Tucson-Ariz.-based homebuilder Pepper Viner Homes wanted a way to distinguish itself beyond the green and sustainable features it touts, it looked to smart home automation systems, and will offer the systems as standard in its Stonebridge in the Foothills subdivision and likely others.

“We wanted to find the next thing, and felt we were already the leader in green building in Tucson,” says Pepper Viner Chief Operating Officer Chad Williams.

Pepper Viner isn’t the only homebuilder looking to offer technologies such as solar, home automation and ultra-high-speed Internet connectivity as standard. In the past couple of years there has been a bevy of homebuilders jumping on the bandwagon to high-tech standardization.

Quick Hit: Green Home Builder Offers Home Automation as Standard


The Solar Also Rises

Homebuilding giant D.R. Horton is offering 1.5kw solar arrays as standard in its 80-home Orchid development in Milpitas, Calif. Regional Bay Area builder DeNova Homes is doing the same for 92 lots at Edgewater at River Islands in Lathrop, Calif., with upgrade options to 3kw or 6kw systems.

City Ventures offers solar as standard on their homes.At the mid-century modern Murano community in Palm Springs, Calif., Far West Industries is offering 42 homes, each with 4kw solar systems, for an estimated annual energy savings of about $1,980 a year.

These builders and others are joining the ranks of KB Home, SummerHill Homes, California Home Builders, City Ventures and more in offering solar as standard. KB offers solar as standard in 30 of its communities.

California Home Builders offers solar as standard through leasing options. When a customer purchases a home, they also purchase the lease at a monthly rate that saves them on utility bills.

Yes, the great majority of standard solar offerings are in California, where energy efficiency incentives and mandates inspire it, but the movement is likely to extend more to other states that offer good incentives as well.

The Smart Home Standard

Sure, Toll Brothers is offering Control4 home control systems in its higher-end homes, and reported to TecHome Builder’s earlier this year a 34 percent sell-through of Control4 systems in Amalfi Hills development in Yorba Linda. Calif., where we’re talking about home prices in the $1 million-plus territory.

Some savvy regional luxury builders are going all in. Frankel Building Group in Houston and Copperleaf Homes in Colorado Springs offer up basic, high-end Crestron home control systems that operate several lights and thermostats in the house, giving homebuyers the option to add multiroom music, home theater control and integrate other systems like security into a home automation package.

Home control isn’t just for the higher end of luxury homes. Lennar Homes’ Landmark development in South Florida will feature boomerang baby suites and Savant Systems’ Smart Series smart home systems that cater to younger generations’ interests in technology. Meritage Homes has added basic home control with Nexia Home Intelligence as standard in its high-amenity communities. Green-thinking KB Home offers a standard package of Schneider Electric’s Wiser Home Management System. The Wiser Power Monitor and Internet Gateway are now installed as standard in all KB homes so homeowners can view their overall electricity consumption via a web portal. Even modular builder Irontown Homes plans to offer Control4 home control in standard packages.

Copperleaf's Aerium family unit.

And it isn’t just for young people. Canada-based Landmark Group’s first U.S. development, the multifamily Aerium and Aerium Encore MDUs, will feature a total of 51 luxury multi-family residences that cater to urban-centric, downsizing empty-nesters hungry for green, gourmet and healthy living, and will come equipped with smart home automation systems from Clare Controls, with four upgrade packages.

At Pepper Viner’s 10-home Stonebridge in the Foothills subdivision, which will open the second week in October, up to 4,000-square-foot homes from $519,900 to $659,900 will come with Clare Control’s home automation system, which Williams found at the inaugural TecHome Builder Summit in March.

The smart home systems will operate two zones of stereo speakers for multiroom audio, two lighting dimmers and thermostats and connect to door contacts on exterior doors. It will also come with an iPad mini and dock to control the system, with optional upgrade packages for lighting, entertainment and security. A Wi-Fi router is included.

Smart Marketing, Smart Business

“The market has changed. [Builders and developers] are thinking ‘I have to market this  building,’ ” says Jeff Beall, founder and CEO of Digital Home Lifestyles, the high-tech  contractor for Landmark Homes USA in Scottsdale.

“The market has changed. [Builders and developers] are thinking ‘I have to market this building,’ ” says Jeff Beall, founder and CEO of Digital Home Lifestyles, the high-tech contractor for Landmark Homes USA in Scottsdale. That inspires homebuilders to include systems like solar and home automation.

“We’re not looking to make a profit on this stuff. We’re looking to set ourselves apart,” says Pepper Viner’s Williams of his company’s standard home automation offerings. That’s the sentiment of most builders TecHome Builder has interviewed about standardizing new home technologies.

However, there’s also no question that standard tech offerings can spur more options sales and more potential profits.

In two subdivisions near Sacramento where solar is offered as standard, the take rate on solar options has been about 90 percent, says Bryce Robichaud of PetersenDean, the roofing and solar company equipping D.R. Horton, DeNova. Summerhill and Far West Industries developments. KB Home also reports high take rates on options, as well as on solar as an option.

“Over the years standard solar does work better. Where it’s standard, you get more homebuyers choosing options,” says Robichaud. That could include other green and energy-saving systems. Options can produce about 25 percent to 30 percent margins, according to PetersenDean.

Can the same result from standardizing home control and automation systems?

“Once [homeowners] have an automated door lock, they’re certainly going to want to take advantage of other things,” says Digital Home Lifestyles’ Beall.

Steve Neary at Copperleaf Homes reports an options take rate of 75 percent and an average of $35,000 per home in low-voltage option sales, including adding music, entertainment and other options to Crestron home automation systems.

Home technologies like home automation not only help differentiate Copperleaf’s homes, they are helping to grow Neary’s “production custom” homebuilding business to selling 50 new homes this year and potentially 100 the next.

Copperleaf MeachamPepper Viner’s Williams said everything in its Stonebridge model will be available, even TVs. “When you have a 46-inch TV in the model home, people ask how much is it to go to the 52-incher. … If it’s there, you have a chance of selling it.”

High-tech homebuyer gifts like iPads to control the home systems, check on construction and access important home documents facilitate interest as well. When Copperleaf’s sales people give new homebuyers iPads they are shocked—but in a pleasant way, says Neary. With each gift the builder has a happier homebuyer, and a stronger potential for repeat or referral business. It’s good, sound marketing.

The Big Usual Questions

A couple of questions remain, however. First, how can you get salespeople to sell more complicated systems like smart home control and home automation?

Taylor Morrison and Legrand worked together in new communities in Houston, Austin and Orlando to create sales materials and train salespeople to sell Legrand’s Unity intercom and home control and entertainment systems.

Extensive training should not even be required. With today’s nearly ubiquitous smartphone use and app-based home control, just about anyone can operate and show the benefits of home control systems.

And what of reliability, which has been a common complaint about technologies such as home control and automation? “It’s easier now to understand the technologies, and the technologies are more predictable and reliable for our company. They work,” says Beall.

They can also work to grow a homebuilder’s business.

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