Smart tech: Controlling homes at the touch of a button

Pre-wired apartments are springing up from New York to California as developers begin to recognize the opportunities for new-build properties.

October 19, 2016

Imagine an apartment that uses motion sensors to turn on the lights on as you enter.

Or if you want to come home to a cool space on a hot summer’s evening, you can turn on the air conditioning from your smartphone.

Those are just some of the things a smart home can do. Building on the Internet of Things’ (IoT) concept – where a home’s devices “talk” to each other – pre-wired apartments are springing up from New York to California as developers begin to recognize the opportunities for new-build properties.

Although it’s an area very much in its infancy, smart apartments have potential, according to Stephen Jackson, Senior Vice President with JLL’s Capital Markets Group in San Francisco.

He says that while there’s only a small number of pre-wired apartments being built at present, it’s a good way for smaller or newer developers to compete. “Smart technology has a big draw in a competitive market,” he says. “We’ve seen this throughout the Bay Area, and it’s working. It’s something new. It’s something cool.”

One such development that offers smart apartments to renters is Grant Park Villagein Portland, Oregon, which uses software company IOTAS Smart Home Technology. This adaptive learning system gathers data from apartment residents and offers ideas based on that data to make life easier, such as turning on the radio when you turn on your bathroom light — but only if you agree to the suggestions. Although you can control the technology with a smart system, down the line the technology could automatically sense and then provide what you want.

Targeting the Millennials

Millennials, who tend to be early adopters of new technology, are also the most likely demographic to be interested in pre-wired apartments. “With the age of electric cars, it’s cool for Millennials in particular to be as close to technology and sustainability as possible,” says Jackson. “If you live in a pre-wired home, and you drive a Tesla, it’s a bit of a status symbol.”

Other markets, such seniors who live alone, could also find uses for smart technology to improve their lives, such as a smart stove alarm or a medication reminder.

They could also help to manage household bills by allowing the user to control the amount of electricity used. “Say you’re on a south exposure of a building,” says Jackson. “You might have a heat sensor in your house that senses a rise in temperature between 11am and 4pm. Maybe that would drop the shades in the south exposure, stopping the AC from turning on, yet still being comfortable for you.”

Although the demand is there for smart technology, there’s one big obstacle to developing pre-wired apartments: the cost. However, Jackson predicts costs decreasing as more competition enters the market. “As we see prices coming down, we’ll see more developers implementing the technology,” he says. “It truly comes down to economics.”

Smart products vs. a smart system

Demand for smart technology is already widespread in the U.S., with 18 percent of U.S. consumers considering the likes of smart security or smart lighting within the next year, according to a report from August Home and Comcast’s Xfinity Home. However, there’s a difference between buying smart technology products to add to an existing home and having a pre-wired apartment.

“When you buy products for your home, you’ll have multiple apps to control everything: one each for the windows, the lighting, the temperature, the security camera, and the fire alarm system. And that’s daunting at the end of the day,” says Jackson. “When you pre-wire, you have a really good system that can be controlled from one or two main applications, so it’s more convenient for the end user.”

Indeed, convenience and cost-effectiveness are two key selling points for both the rental and home-buying market. As the concept of smart homes becomes more widespread, rising interest in pre-wired apartments could encourage more mainstream developers to incorporate smart technology in their new build projects.