Homebuilders who aren’t interested in offering technology integration as part of their business model are now firmly in the minority. This point is proven by research from the CEA’s annual “State of the Builder Study,” which was compiled in conjunction with the NAHB Research Center. It states that 85 percent of builders believe technology is important in the marketing of a new home. The applications of this technology are extremely compelling to homebuyers: entertainment, whole-home control, security and more that can come with their new house, instead of them hunting for it on the aftermarket.
Clearly, in these extremely competitive times, the time is now to embrace technology (if you haven’t already). And thanks to some retrofit technology that’s on the way, it’s effectively yesterday! Allow me to elaborate.
Structured wiring and powerline
Wherever possible, structured wiring is a must for the 21st century home, bundling all of the home’s communications wiring into one coherent system. These bundles can include wiring for home networking, telephone, video, audio, alarms, infrared remote control and more. Running these wires before the walls are closed is more cost-effective and less disruptive than ripping up walls to do so at a later date. These bundles also serve as a Trojan horse, giving builders the opportunity to approach the homebuyer with new technological offerings as they become available.
Structured wiring has some inherent advantages compared to more slapdash wiring installations. With all of the cables running back to a central wiring panel, it’s easy to change how and what each individual cable is connected to and what it is used for. Structured wiring also makes troubleshooting a snap, since each of the cables can be isolated and tested for problems. Furthermore, because all the cables run back to the central wiring panel, they can all be connected to the same source without the need for some outlets to pass through more splitters and splices than others. This greatly improves the consistency of signals.
Structured wiring isn’t a good fit for every builder or every situation, however. With that in mind, here’s some great news. If you’re not willing to commit to structured wiring, a new option that leverages the electrical wiring in a home to transmit audio, data and more is on the horizon. This technology will allow you to retrofit your existing housing inventory at a reasonable cost and with minimal disruption to add a fresh twist for wooing homebuyers. The system will also provide an alternative way to offer some technology to homebuyers if you aren’t yet investing in full-blown structured wiring for new builds. A multi-room audio system using this technology will be available later this year with other solutions certain to follow.
The first feasible multi-room audio system using powerline technology will be available later this year with other solutions certain to follow. If you hear the name Renovia in the near future, you now have the inside scoop.
Explore Quick and Easy Demos
Demonstrating technology, particularly architectural consumer electronics like multi-room audio, has long been a thorny issue for home builders. A prominent objection is the expense. So consider this inexpensive trick to introduce the multi-room audio concept into your model home at a fraction of the cost of installing a full-fledged multi-room audio system. It starts by utilizing the consumer’s own music with an appliance they know and understand: the iPod.
Multi-room audio today is a more compelling new-home option than ever because it ties directly into the exploding concept of “My Music” among consumers. The advent of portable music players like the iPod has enabled music collections to go virtually anywhere their owners go. Many home buyers would welcome the extension of “My Music” to an entire home. By providing a simple music demonstration, you can entice home buyers by showing them how uncomplicated, powerful and fun a multi-room audio system can be.
Simply install an amplified source input and connect it to an iPod dock and in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. Set up a location in the room where an on-wall audio control pad would go. You don’t need to install a live control pad, just a blank plate covered with a transparent graphic that shows what a control interface would look like. Install this demo in the most public of spots in the home-the kitchen. Allow the home buyer to plug his or her iPod into the dock and hear the music instantly over the speakers. The demo will show the home buyer how easy it would be to hear “My Music” over the home’s audio system. It will make an immediate “I want that” impact on the home buyer: “Here’s something that will make life in this house simpler and richer.”
This unique selling approach is highly affordable. Roughly speaking, a pair of speakers runs $200, an iPod dock runs $49, and an amplified in-wall local source runs $125. Add a nominal cost for speaker wire and installation, and you’ve got a slick demo that doesn’t break the bank.
Find Your Digital Path
Believing technology is important, as the aforementioned CEA-NAHB study found, doesn’t make it easy. The complexity of choosing and installing home technology systems and products has always been the biggest hurdle for homebuilders, and it remains so. Low-voltage integration of consumer electronics products requires specialized skills, especially when dealing with proprietary technology platforms, rapidly changing technologies and user preferences, and the unique programming and configuration models many systems employ. Acquiring these skills-either by partnering with a local electronic systems contractor (ESC) or hiring your own talent-can be expensive and time-consuming. The builder just wants it to be profitable.
The current slowdown is giving us all a chance to reconsider, reflect and reboot what we do and how we do it. Right now is the time for the builder to consider this: What kind of technology offerings do my potential homebuyers want? Once you definitively answer that question, you can build a new, updated strategy from there-before you make any investments that may or may not be as focused and efficient as they should be.
Homebuyers in 2009 are far more sophisticated about technology than they were even five years ago. Smart phones, multi-room entertainment systems, networked PCs, HDTVs, iPod docks, GPS systems and powerful universal remotes, among other products and concepts, have changed the way homeowners and homebuyers view technology. It’s no longer considered a convenience or a luxury to be “connected.” It’s now a lifestyle necessity. It’s something people expect, and it’s something that can and should be profitable for homebuilders.
Identify what homebuyers care most about. Is it security, entertainment, energy management, convenience? A newly married twenty-something couple is probably going to get more excited about streaming music from their iPods all over the house, while a five-person family might want a dedicated home theater for movie nights and the ability to monitor security cameras from any TV in the house. Get a good sense of your target demographic’s needs, and explore and build your technology strategy and options from there.
In-House or Partnerships?
One way larger builders are adding technology integration services is by hiring ESCs. These professionals often are members of the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), the main trade association for ESCs, which provides them training, certification and education. Both CEDIA and the CEA both offer a wealth of educational information for builders that includes best practices for technology installation.
Ideally, every builder would be able to employ one or more in-house ESCs who could control the customer experience and installation process. Unfortunately, not every homebuilder has the resources to expand in this way, so long-term partnerships with reputable ESCs are the next best option.
The worst nightmare for a builder is to hire an unfamiliar “tech guy” at the homeowner’s request who comes in, does the electronics and wiring installation, collects his check and is never heard from again. The builder is often left holding the bag, but unfortunately is simply not equipped to troubleshoot any sort of A/V or electronics systems issues. Homeowners don’t want to hear this, however.
Before working with any independent ESC, demand that the ESC will be responsible for all follow-up service calls. The builder must be certain that the ESC will provide support over the long haul; if not, the installation should not proceed. By building a strong partnership with an ESC, the builder will gain a loyal and trusted A/V specialist on call who can provide punctual, effective service, rather than always scrambling at the last second to find someone to consult or, even worse, leaving it in the homeowner’s hands. Fortunately, collaboration between CEDIA, CEA and NAHB is at an all-time high and each trade group provides resources for pairing up homebuilders with ESCs on a local level.
Involvement early in projects allows the ESC to plan progressively not only with the builder but with the other trades in order to avoid costly and unnecessary changes to wiring, closet/outlet placement and other things that can affect electronics installation and performance.
Regardless of whether services are contracted or offered in-house, it’s wise for builders to have an understanding of “good, better, best” technology solutions for their customers. By offering coherent and appealing electronics packages, you can better keep on-time and on-budget. Avoid customization in all but the largest luxury homes, where price is secondary to the homebuyer and the sky is the limit.
Whether through an in-house staff or a partnership with an independent ESC, home builders need to find the technology models that work best for them financially and logistically. Ignoring technology is no longer an option when dealing with today’s homebuyers. Fortunately, those of us in the electronics industry are willing and able to help builders get where they need to go. We’re willing and eager to do great work for you-both in your upcoming projects, and to help you sell your existing inventory.
David Rodarte is president and chief operating officer of NuVo Technologies http://www.nuvotechnologies.com a manufacturer of multi-room audio systems. He serves on the board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) TechHome Division and is the current Vice Chairperson for the CEA Homebuilder Initiative to stimulate consumer electronics sales during new home construction. As a member of CEA’s TechHome Board, he serves as liaison, coordinator and promoter for CEA TechHome to the NAHB. Rodarte was named to CEA’s 2009 Board of Industry Leaders, which meets three times annually to review the state of the industry and determine CEA strategic goals to assist the industry and CEA members.