CRT Labs Year in Review

Goodbye 2016, and hello 2017. CRT Labs has had quite a first full year. A lot of products have surprised us; a good number have disappointed. We’ve been working hard to create our own innovative products for members and their clients and seen some great results in a short amount of time. We’ve developed software and hardware meant to analyze cities, communities and buildings.

Our goal at CRT Labs is to represent our members on the technology front and educate people outside of real estate on the value of our members and membership. In the past year we’ve won $30,000 for a local organization, volunteered at a local Boys and Girls Club, and designed our own indoor environmental and air quality-sensing hardware and software. Our hardware, the PiAQ (Pie-A-Q) and Touchstone, have drawn great interest from outside groups, and we are working on refining this hardware to increase accuracy and bring costs down. We spoke to 10,000 plus members and non-members and helped open eyes to the values and challenges of the internet of things. We hosted thousands of members in our labs and gave many tours highlighting our work. We also spent a lot of time educating vendors, universities, research laboratories and organizations to the value of our membership. We will spend a good amount of time in 2017 refining our hardware and software. And look for us to expand our educational offerings and push on the innovation and advocacy front as well.

There were a lot of interesting developments in smart home tech/IoT & renewables: the solar shingles announced by Tesla, home energy batteries that are attractive, voice control taking over IoT. These positive developments stand in contrast to the Mirai attacks and the decommissioning of devices that aren’t too old (leaving owners in the lurch).

The smart home market is gaining momentum and it will provide you with opportunities to rethink how you market yourself. What will 2017 bring? Wait until next week where each member of CRT will be making their smart home and IoT predictions.

#009 – Things Thursday – Interoperability, Voice and Security

We can’t stop talking about voice control and some people have a problem with that. Plus, two things that can help IoT adoption are being addressed: interoperability and security.

  1. Why Is The Home Automation Industry So Obsessed WIth Voice Control? (via FastCoDesign)
    Some good points in this article. Voice control is amethod for communicating, but it’s not the only method or always the preferred method. There could be several other methods that predominate. I think in the future, we will need several. I think things like the Pop Home Switch from Logitech, texting your smart home and other types of access. Give it a read.
  2. A Chip To Protect The Internet Of Things (via IEEE Spectrum)
    This is really cool and needed in the the IoT space. Microchip is making an encrypted chip for Amazon Web Services & users of their IoT platform. This will mean that these devices will be harder to hack. This is the type of thing 2017 needs. More of this!!!
  3. 10 Companies Moving Up In Smart Buildings (via GreenBiz)
    The benefit that I think a lot of users of smart technology don’t initially catch is energy savings. In larger commercial settings, this is one of the main benefits. GreenBiz rounds up a list of 10 companies leading the charge on smart building technology. Keep an eye on these companies and think about how IoT can help you in real estate.
  4. How The Lack Of Interoperability Standards Could Be Killing IoT (via ReadWrite)
    I am very glad to see this article. Standards are the way for things to become adopted. Look at electrical work or the internet even. For these things to survive and thrive, we needed standard ways of doing things. The Internet of Things is definitely an area in desparate need of standards. As a board member of RESO, I’ve seen first hand how standards can help and help an industry thrive. There are too many competing systems in IoT and we are seeing a lag in adoption because of it. If you are interested in standards, check out this article, it’s worth the time.
Hey!!! A Happy Holidays to you!! That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook.

What Will Be Your Homeownership Score?- IoT as a Metric

A bottom of a log exposed to show tree rings with a pixelated version overlayed to give the sense of a digital tree ring

What if data from how you lived in a home were like rings in a tree?

This past fall, I was on a panel at the RESO Conference in Nashville where we were discussing the impact of technology on the future and what it would mean for real estate. There was a lot of discussion around the internet of things, privacy and security and this led me to talk about how this data could be used in the near future.

I’d been thinking about something in particular with respect to the internet of things and data privacy for a bit. There is a lot of good that the data from these things can teach us. There are also a lot of challenges around this data too. For example:

  • Who owns the data?
  • What do the terms of service allow the device manufacturer to do with your data?
  • How do you make sure your data are deleted from these devices?

These are just a few of the questions, but they’re not the one that I’ve been wondering about. The one that keeps me thinking is ‘Will smart home data become the new currency of homeownership?’ Will metrics like average CO2, air quality and humidity inform whether or not you get approved for a new home? Will nicks and dings in walls be recorded by our smart devices and add to our ‘homeownership score’?

About the time I started thinking deeply about this concept, Chris, our Lead Lab Engineer, mentioned there was an episode of the show Black Mirror called ‘Nosedive’ that hit upon some of these themes. In it, the young woman lives in a world where anyone can rate you and that rating is used for access to exclusive things in the world. In order for her to climb up the socio-economic ladder, she needs to have a score of 4.5 out of 5. I won’t spoil the episode for you, but I will say that some of the scenarios I was thinking about appeared in this episode. Overall, we are all messy in how we live our lives, but under this type of intense scrutiny, it becomes less of an honest picture of who we are as we try to meet a standard. Believe me, I don’t like the thought of it, but I see the potential for it to affect a transaction. Data is a great influencer in real estate and IoT might amplify that impact.

Data and Real Estate

Data has long been the currency of real estate. Listings are THE main ingredient to the work our members do. Having fresh data is an advantage to their business. As the internet has matured, these data sets have transformed. Rather than just data about the house, we now have data around the house and the community. Is it walkable? What is the average price around the house? What type of businesses are in the neighborhood? Are there schools nearby? What’s my drive time to work? What will it actually cost me a month to own this home? This is all data your buyers and sellers have access to already.

What about the data the industry has on buyers and sellers? There are data packages you can buy on consumer behavior and use for analysis, and some brokerages are undoubtedly using them. We can know what magazines people subscribe to, what their buying habits are and all sorts of other stuff. There are companies out there now that provide leads based on a level of certainty that a homeowner might be ready to sell.

But what the internet of things offers is a richer data set that could be used in the same way a FICO score is used. It could give us a sense of how a home has been lived in and taken care of.

The Internet of Things and Incentivizing Private Data Access

The value of the internet of things is it allows us the convenience of control but also gives us insight into how we live. Think of personal fitness trackers. They provide data on how many steps we take on any given day as well as for other physical activities. This information allows us to make better decisions about how we live. Insurance companies and corporate health programs are taking notice and incorporating these devices into their costs. They are providing discounts to policy holders for access to some of the data on the wearables. People are willing to part with this data because there’s an added benefit to them for it.

So, wearables are already seeing programs introduced to incentivize good behavior. What about smart home technology? Are there incentivized programs for data access? The answer is yes. There are examples in the utility industry and insurance industry. A common example I use when speaking is that of thermostats. Utilities are incentivizing access to thermostats for the ability to adjust them to manage load on the grid. In Chicago, for example, our utility will give us a $100 rebate if we install a smart thermostat from either Nest or Ecobee. The gas company will give us an additional $50. The programs you enroll in allow access and control of the thermostats for the express purpose of keeping load down. The hidden benefit for the consumer is reduced energy costs as well.

Insurance companies are working on home insurance and smart home devices. Liberty Mutual will give you a Nest Protect ($99 smoke/CO detector) and up to 5% off of premiums if you enroll in their home insurance. There are also insurance companies funding multi-function sensors and offering discounts on burglary insurance with smart cameras being incentivized as part of these programs.

What Could Private Data Access Look Like in Real Estate?

Seeing how insurance and utilities are incentivizing this data access, what does it mean for real estate? How soon will it be until a brokerage offers rebates to homeowners who give them access to their smart home data? What could they use this data for?

One of the scenarios that I hate thinking about but see it coming is incentivizing access to this data as a qualifier for a loan. So, let’s say you’ve been living in a home for 7 years and you’ve decided you want to move. In order to qualify for a loan to move into this new home, you need to give the bank access to data on a few things:

  • How quickly do you change air filters in the home?
  • What was the average CO2 in the home?
  • What type of VOCs are in the home? How quickly were they mitigated?
  • What was the average humidity level in the home?
  • What does HVAC maintenance look like?

You get the idea. Things that don’t matter to us now are questions that could drive how we qualify. Why would humidity matter? If your humidity levels get too high, you will foster mold and bacteria growth in the home. Does this mean your an irresponsible homeowner? Not in my view…but to someone looking at this from a security of investment perspective, it could.

What if this led to variable monthly mortgage payments based on how well you keep the house up? Imagine if data from your air quality sensors would inform how much you pay. What if constant higher humidity levels affected your rates and cost you more? What if you could receive a ‘good owner’s’ discount based on the condition of the HVAC in your house (after an algorithm that looks at airflow, energy usage and regular maintenance determined you were a ‘good owner”)?

Again, I’m not a fan of data being used in this way, but I see a path to it. What do you think? Would you like to have this data used in this way? Would it help you? Would it hinder you? Leave your comments below.

#008 – Things Thursday – Echos in Vegas & Netflix comes (to) Home

las-vegas-udo-wolter-creative-commonsEchos in Vegas and Netflix with voice?? What’s this world coming to?

  1. ‘Alexa, open the blinds’: Virginia real estate firm to offer Amazon Alexa-enabled smart homes (via DigitalTrends)
    Brookfield Residential, based in Virginia, will become the first residential brokerage to offer fully outfitted smart homes with Amazon Echo integrations built in. From the article:

    What’s particularly interesting about Brookfield’s venture into Alexa-enabled homes is how simple it will be for families to adopt cutting-edge home automation technology. Instead of researching the ins and outs of various smart home gadgets and devices, Brookfield does all the work for them. Furthermore, integrating this smart home tech with Amazon’s Alexa not only makes it an easy transition but one which doesn’t require a steep learning curve for entry.

    I like this idea because it allows for what we’re calling the iterative smart home. Integrations are easy because of the work Amazon has done with its skills services. Kudos to Brookfield Residential!!!

  2. You can now control Netflix using Google Home (via TheVerge)
    I’m really excited to try this. With a Google Chromecast  ($35-70 tv dongle) and a Google Home, you can now access Netflix shows using only your voice. I love the idea of this. I can simply say, ‘Okay Google, play ‘The Gilmore Girls’ (or any show you’d like to watch) on Netflix’, and it will start it up using the Chromecast. The future, children…the future.
  3. Amazon Echo comes to every room in Wynn’s Las Vegas hotel (via Engadget)
    So, every room in the Wynn will have an Echo??? This means what happens in Vegas may get shipped to your house via Amazon Prime. I think this is very interesting. Room service, dry cleaning, off track bets (I kid). I think there’s a lot of potential here, but also, the mute button would come in handy for privacy.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook.

The Iterative Smart Home

Almost three years ago, Chad wrote a post about the beginnings of what he called the Iterative Smart Home. Smart home technology was just beginning to break out into the mainstream, and the need for a common, unifying system was coming to the forefront. Several players emerged (and I’ll cover their fates later in this post) with each vying to become the central hub of a smart home. Where is this technology now, what have we learned in the past three years, and what’s next for the iterative smart home?

hub

The iterative smart home that Chad wrote about seems simple now, but was revolutionary even three years ago. You chose your own devices – which could span multiple product categories, brands, and even protocols – and put them together in a system that you, ultimately, would design yourself. Central to this concept was a smart hub that would talk to all these devices without you having to program anything on your own. There were four companies that Chad pointed out were creating hubs with this in mind: SmartThings, NinjaBlocks, Revolv, and Staples Connect. As of this post (December 2016), three of these four technologies no longer exist; only the SmartThings hub, which was bought by Samsung and is the cornerstone of their smart home product line, can be purchased today. And while covering the fleeting nature of some technology is a post all on its own, I have to acknowledge that in technology, especially in such a relatively new platform like smart home devices, companies will come and go quickly. This, of course, poses a problem when you tie it to devices that typically have long lifespans, like thermostats, refrigerators, and other home appliances; but it also highlights the need for a unifying and iterative smart home platform to emerge.

As I mentioned, SmartThings is one of the hubs that existed in 2016 and is still going strong, along with the Wink, which I covered in a previous look back at some of our old predictions. I personally have a SmartThings hub in my home, and it really brought me around to making that space “smarter.” I decided to use smart products to solve a problem that my apartment’s layout has – a lack of easy-to-access lighting. By replacing my regular CFL bulbs with Hue and GE Link bulbs, I can now control a variety of lights all from my phone; and to handle the bulbs that I couldn’t replace outright, I hooked up some WeMo Insight Switches. The Hue and GE Links can speak to each other with the bridge that Hue requires for use of its bulbs; but the bulbs had no way of speaking to the WeMo switches. On top of this, my new Google Home can only natively speak to the Hue bulbs – so asking Google to turn my lights on and off only worked with those bulbs, and again not the switches. I could create a series of programmed actions through a service like IFTTT; or I could have a hub do the legwork. I picked up SmartThings since it worked with the devices I had just installed as well as Google Home. It was easy to set up – I just plugged in the hub, ran the setup through an app on my iPhone, and within minutes the hub had discovered all my devices and I was up and running. Now, Google can turn on and off all my lights, not just the bulbs. Using SmartThings, I was also able to set up an automation – when my home network detects my phone is close to home, my hallway lights turn on, which is great since I have to fumble in the dark when I open my front door just to turn on my lights.

This iterative thought process is intuitive – I identified a problem, began breaking it down into small solutions, and by taking steps on my own, was able to completely change the way I interact with the lights in my home. Before coming to CRT Labs, I was a bit skeptical on the usefulness of this technology; but now I know I have the flexibility to create a home that works the way I want it to. This is possible because companies are working together to make their products work together, instead of closing off their ecosystems so that you have to buy in to one brand and stick with it.

I talked a bit last week about voice control and the future of IoT; I believe that an iterative smart home will be part of why voice control will become more popular. By allowing a homeowner to chose their products, including the voice controller that works best for them, the owner gains a level of control and familiarity with the system they are creating for themselves. And that DIY mentality is something that we noted in our Smart Home Survey as important to REALTOR® clients when talking about smart home technology. With voice control becoming more common, I think that device manufacturers will begin creating their products with voice control in mind; for example, I could have even more voice control of my lights than I currently do with my Google Home, being able to set lights to exact colors that I save as favorites. We’ll also be seeing a move to have more devices interact with each other out of the box – if your thermostat kicked on in one room, it could trigger a light in the room you’re in to let you know that you’ll be using HVAC at that time. This flexibility will allow us to begin seeing our homes as an entire ecosystem, not just a series of rooms.