Connectivity and home entertainment are important to many homebuyers today—and you want your clients to enjoy those things. That could mean anything from multiroom audio systems with built-in speakers to smartphone control of thermostats and electronic door locks, to more involved home control and automation systems.
So who do you hire, and how on earth do you qualify the right companies, so you know they will do a good job, meet deadlines and satisfy your clients?
Follow these guidelines to seeking and hiring low-voltage and systems integration companies:
How many years has an electronics integration firm been in business? Does the company have related experience? And what other builders have they worked for? Visit their offices or showroom. If there’s no office, this probably isn't a big enough company for you to work with.
See the back-end of the office and whether it’s clean, organized and professional looking. Many good integration firms have racking areas where they put the systems together and program and test them prior to installation. Determine if the brands they represent match the technology needs and pocketbooks of your buyers. It may be a good idea to have the firm do some work and see how you like them.
Look at several companies
See what packages of technologies they can offer. Are those packages simplified, how are they priced, and would they appeal to your homebuyers?
How will they handle doing the prewire of structured wiring for your houses or entire communities? How do they plan to meet deadlines and stay on schedule? You may want to hire one company to prewire homes, provide security and networking, and other technical upgrades like audio/video systems. This way competing companies aren't butting heads and you’re not getting some technologies cobbled awkwardly onto others.
“Prewire is the most important thing to make sure a client has the right infrastructure in the home for future needs.”
Often, says Tim Boyd, owner of Save Electronics, an electronics integration company in Sunnyvale, Texas, “electricians and security companies don’t know [low-voltage] prewire and cut the audio/video and integration companies out of the equation, so the builder only has to make one call for prewire, which is a disservice to the builder. He doesn’t realize that prewire is the most important thing to make sure his client has the right infrastructure in the home for future needs.”
Get references and check them
Can they handle the volume you may provide them and meet deadlines, especially with prewiring homes? Ask other builders how they liked working with the company, how helpful they were and whether they brought good ideas to the table, met the deadlines and finished the job.
Validate their operational efficiency
“I like to see and understand the personnel and tools they use to schedule their work,” says Michael Bartleman, vice president of purchasing for Beazer Homes. “What are their lead times for new installs and their commitments for service and warranty? How do they source and inventory equipment? How many crews do they have and what is their crew structure? Are they in-house, hourly or piece workers? Are they subcontractors?”
Where will they sell electronics systems to your homebuyers?
Does the integration firm have its own showrooms, offices or design centers where it demos the home technologies it may install in your clients homes? Many custom electronics integrators no longer keep showrooms, but they should have some way of showing you how they can control and automate a home, such as with an iPad or smartphone demonstration of their own home systems.
For those who want to work with big builders, a high-tech design center or showroom with vignettes of various rooms and displays of technology options is a good idea. A builder may allow them to set up a display in the builder’s design center, train design center staff on using and showing the display, or sell in the builder’s design centers and even host promotional and educational events there.
Model home displays are also popular and can be quite effective in demonstrating the benefits of home technologies. Sales people at models can be trained in the basics of operating and showing the systems, and then direct interested buyers to the integration company.
Check their credentials
They should have certifications from organizations such as the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) in installing home control and networking systems, as well as audio/video and security. If they provide security, are they licensed in your state, or do they partner with a security firm? Whose call center do they use? You can also visit CEDIA.org to find a home technology professional near you.
How will they service your clients?
When something doesn't work with a homebuyer’s home electronics systems, will this company be able to service them swiftly and efficiently? “You have to have great customer service, that’s what a company is built on. If the client calls, you need to answer and provide solutions, even at the dinner table,” says Boyd.
Are they insured?
The company should have $1 million in liability insurance.