Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.
Today, we’re focusing on beginner smart home tech. If you or your giftee have never played around with smart home devices, this is a great place to start! Our gifts will get you up and running in no time, and are a low-stress way to dip your foot into home automation, voice assistants, and more.
1. IKEA Tradfri smart lighting system, $7.99 – 34.99. Like our previous choice, the Philips Hue, the Tradfri starting kit comes with two bulbs and a hub, but has options with dimmers, motion sensors, and a variety of different types of lights. The price point is much lower than Hue or other bulbs, making this an attractive option for a starter kit for beginners. As of this writing, the bulbs only work with a proprietary app or with purchasable dimmers and remotes, but IKEA plans on integrating with HomeKit and Alexa in 2018, meaning the lights will become even more customizable through those platforms. Like other bulbs, you can set up programs (like turning on lights at specific times, or when the sun goes down), and the motion sensor allows you to set up lights that turn on and off when motion is detected. Overall, this is an attractive first lighting kit that is easy-to-use and will get anyone started on a smart home in style.
2. Amazon Echo Dot/Google Home Mini, both $49. Last year, we highlighted the Echo Dot and “regular” Google Home in two separate gift guides; in 2017, the Google Home Mini was announced at the same price point as an Echo Dot. We are including both on this gift guide because, a year later, both products are neck and neck in terms of functionality and usability for the beginner smart home user. Choosing an ecosystem is a personal choice – Amazon’s Alexa is great for people who find themselves using Amazon products frequently, and Google Home is an excellent option for people who have other Google services. Both work with major smart home systems like SmartThings, Philips Hue, and more.
3. WeMo Mini Smart Plug, $34.99. Turn almost anything into a smart device by adding a WeMo smart plug to your wall outlets. You can control lights, humidifiers, fans, and more. The WeMo out of the box has a lot of great features – since its WiFi enabled, you can control the plugs from anywhere, its easy to program (for example, you can turn your Christmas tree on at sundown with just a couple taps), and even includes a great feature where if you set your plugs to “away” for vacation, it’ll turn on/off devices at random so it looks like you’re still at home. The plugs also integrate with a ton of different platforms, including Alexa and Google Home, Nest (which is handy for using the Nest’s home/away functionality), and IFTTT. The mini plug has a slimmer profile than its cousin, the WeMo Insight, and tucks away easily without interfering with the second outlet on the wall.
Using these products can get anyone started making their home smarter without breaking the bank. All the devices are easy to use, easy to set-up, and work with a variety of systems so if someone gets the smart home bug, they can continue to expand their horizons and add more to their house. Tomorrow, we will cover technology for people who are interested in starting to customize their smart home and suggest some gifts that are a bit more advanced. Stay tuned to see our favorite intermediate smart home tech!
One of the coolest things about working in a lab that makes its own hardware and software is the ability to get to find situations to test those products, and I was super happy to be able to getting to test a unique use case for the Touchstone indoor environmental quality sensor we’re working on: monitoring air quality during construction. I recently bought a three-story row house here in Chicago, and before moving in we wanted to do some cosmetic changes – a fresh coat of paint in the third floor bedrooms, brand new carpeting on the third floor as well as on 45 stairs (yes, that’s a LOT of stairs!), and new hardwood flooring on the first floor. All of these projects would be off-gassing various VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and it felt like a great time to bring in a Touchstone to monitor how high these levels got and how quickly they would dissipate. Finally, it also gave the team a chance to test user experience with installation – I am the least tech-savvy member of the bunch, so making sure the instructions were easy to follow was key.
Setup was easy, thanks in part to some of the trickier bits being done by the team before I went to my new house. The setup includes a Raspberry Pi (which I’ve used in other applications, like setting up a welcome kiosk for our Information Services department), a USB stick that allows the Raspberry Pi to talk to the Touchstone, and the Touchstone itself. I also brought with me a Verizon MiFi hotspot, since our internet would not be connected for another week and the system needs internet to communicate to the software component called Grafana. Grafana is a way to display data directly from the Touchstone itself – while we are working on our own software, we are using Grafana to track data for research purposes.
I set up the Raspberry Pi and MiFi in my kitchen on the second floor, and then the Touchstone in the hallway on the third floor.
I set these up the day that painting started, 8/11/17, with final touchups of paint happening on 8/17/17. The units have stayed plugged in since, allowing us to see how the levels “settle” over time. It’s been hands off since installation, except for when we got our internet connected in the house, when I switched the Raspberry Pi over from the MiFi network to its final network home. That process was pretty easy, and the instructions the team wrote were clear and allowed me to do the switch with ease.
What did we learn about VOCs in that time period? As expected, total VOCs went up during construction, stayed elevated during the “worst” parts (when we had paint drying, carpet installing, and the hardwood floor going in simultaneously), and then dissipated rather quickly once we took steps to rid the air of VOCs. We also were able to tell when people were most active near the Touchstone itself, since CO2 levels would raise, which I thought was a funny way of measuring the progress of the carpeting install.
The straight line from the 19th to the 21st is when the unit was offline between taking down the MiFi access point and getting our new internet installed. The 15th was the most active day for installation; the spike on the 18th likely corresponds to the actual move-in date, where lots of cardboard was being tossed around, lots of people were moving around, and any carpet fibers that were buried even after a vacuuming were being kicked up.
We mitigated VOCs in two major ways – creating cross breezes through window airflow, and by constantly running our indoor whole-house fan. We had the air conditioning on during the day – it was about 85-90 degrees during that week, and with workers bustling about we wanted to keep them comfortable – but since we were not living in the house yet, opening the windows at night to let out vapors was an easy and fast solution.
Some things to keep in mind with the graph above – we are tracking four different things that all actually do not usually exist on the same scale as each other, so the end values can’t really be judged without looking at individual points and comparing them to known ranges. But for a quick visualization, this works out great, and being able to track trends is an important part of monitoring indoor environmental quality.
Now that I’m moved in, I am planning on relocating the Touchstone after unpacking to a place that gets a lot of use, like the kitchen or living areas. That way, I’ll be able to directly see the impact had in the areas I “live” in the most. If I do see trends in VOCs or high CO2 levels, I can consider putting some pet-friendly plants that I am researching for part two of our Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air series. While indoor environmental quality sensors won’t diagnose specific issues, they are a valuable tool in tracking your home’s health, just like your Fitbit helps to track metrics about fitness, and we think these metrics will lead to happier home occupants.
Joe wanted to take a minute to reinforce some great best practices for password creation and management to keep your online information safe and secure. Check them out on last week’s office hours! As always, you can watch Office Hours Live by going to our Facebook Page at 3PM Eastern every Friday. See you next week!
Facebook Live Office Hours: Secure Passwords from CRTLabs on Vimeo.
NAR/CRT Labs is proud to sponsor our first Hyperledger Hackathon at mHub here in Chicago in September. Hyperledger Hackathons are events where software developers get together and share ideas about a topic – in this case, blockchain – in order to strengthen the community around the topic and move forward with projects that will innovate within the space. NAR’s recent investigations into blockchain have lead us to partner with multiple groups, and together we hope to innovate within the blockchain and Hyperledger communities. If you’re interested in finding out more about these technologies, and are in the Chicago area, this event is for you! Hackathons are for all levels of skill and participation, so you don’t need to be a whiz programmer to be involved. We hope to see you on September 21st for this event!
The Illinois Blockchain Initiative, Chicago Blockchain Center, National Association of Realtors and mHub are proud to partner with Linux Foundation and Hyperledger to host Hyperledger Hackfest on September 21 & 22nd in Chicago.
What is Hyperledger Hackfest?
Hyperledger Hackfests are regular gatherings for developers working on the different projects hosted at Hyperledger.
What are the goals of Hyperledger Hackfest?
The primary goal for a Hackfest is to facilitate software development collaboration and knowledge sharing between participants, with an eye towards reflecting all ideas and conclusions back outward to the public open source community afterwards. A secondary goal is to bring new contributors and passive observers up the learning curve on the different technology platforms, and the cross-cutting issues affecting multiple projects (such as identity, security, development process, etc).
Who is eligible to participate?
Hackfests are public meetings, anyone is welcome to attend and participate no matter what their skill level, though the discussions will presume a significant familiarity with blockchain technologies and software development concepts on the Hyperledger protocol.
September 21 and 22, 9a-5p
mHub: Chicago’s innovation center for physical product development and manufacturing
965 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
What is the cost?
This event is free of charge
How do I register?
This week, we’re joined again by Lee Adkins, who has some great tips for your firm when looking to adopt new technology into your day-to-day business.
Technology is a necessary evil in Real Estate. Love it or hate it, you have to use it and you will have to deal with continuously changing technology and platforms and apps. There are really only two choices here; Embrace the ever-changing world we live in or be left behind. This doesn’t mean you have to jump on every new app or program that comes out – but you do need to have a strategy to help you decide every time you hear about the latest and greatest, shiny new thing.
We’ve found that most successful agents, teams and brokerages have a basic “policy” on adopting new software. Tips for this are to set parameters like; budget (overall marketing or tech budget), annual goals, ease of use for clients/staff/agents, does it work with existing tools (or does that matter?), etc. More and more, certain apps integrate with others too – so explore if the best CRM connects to the best email distribution program for you. Many of these products have free trials or freemium models (where a certain number of users or contacts are free, but become paid as you use them or add users.)
How to decide what to explore and what not to explore:
There are many sites that provide user reviews and “apples to apples” comparisons of software – sites like Capterra and Agent Armory to name a few. Spending more time upfront figuring what you need and what specific tools you’re looking at do, can save you tons of time each week moving forward. A best practice we recommend is setting a future time (3-6 months) to evaluate the tech you’re using.
How to develop a business strategy that helps you make high-level decisions on where to spend your time:
Don’t believe what everyone else says on social – and decide on a time frame for an evaluation of what you’re doing. If you have a clear plan for where your business is headed, you’ll know what components you need to get there. If a certain lead source or software does not contribute to that goal, don’t try it. It’s always funny when people make blanket statements like “software xyz doubled my business last year.” Don’t fall into that trap – your business model is probably completely different from theirs – just because someone (whose affiliation with the company may be unknown to you) says “you” need it doesn’t mean that you do. Stick to your plan. Shiny objects, beware!
Pick one thing that is the “brain” of your business (typically a CRM) and USE IT:
In a people-centric business, often a CRM (Contact Relationship Manager) is the key software piece that you need. Learn to evaluate how the tools you use work together, using the key software piece as the measure. It is not generally a good plan to have 20 logins that don’t “talk” to each other. We’ve had success with our clients on using a specific CRM as the main tool. If lead sources or software won’t work alongside that, we don’t even talk to them. Often it’s a function of learning what NOT to do over exploring all the things you COULD do.
Consider the other Players:
If you have a team or a brokerage, be sure it’s something you can easily train (or that offers support that trains) your agents to use it properly. Many of our clients will test new ideas or platforms with their more seasoned agents before rolling out company-wide. Or maybe test with the newer, more tech savvy agents and see if they like it. People will be honored to be asked for their feedback in the decision process – it’s great team building and you’ll get buy-in from part of the group before rolling it out. You might even be able to have one of those younger agents pair up with the seasoned agents on implementation.
Bottom line is, explore, test, adopt but don’t leap from tool to tool letting it define your business. Embrace the change, but have a simple plan to follow to help you decide which tools make sense for you.
Lee and his team are proud to present the Best Conference Ever on August 22 – an event in Atlanta focused on technology and real estate – but also making it attainable and accessible to all in the business and helping our industry run a better, more efficient and effective business. Come see Managing Director for CRT Chad Curry’s session: “Under All is The Land: Emerging Technologies & Their Impact on Real Estate.” The Best Conference Ever is brought to you by the following individuals, and takes place at the Atlanta Tech Village.
David Lightburn – co-founder of Atlanta Tech Village, Clickscape, Village Realty www.vratl.com
Maura Neill – Team Owner, National Speaker, NAR course writer, www.buysellliveatlanta.com
Lee Adkins – Consultant for teams and brokerages, www.PoweringRealEstate.com
Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS® Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.