Things Thursday #020: What makes a city smart?, Microsoft entering the thermostat battle, and some great resources on smart homes for you

A hand holding our environmental quality sensor, which is called the Touchstone. It's about the size and shape of a bar of soap.

The Touchstone sensor from CRT Labs. This device will read temperature, humidity, light, CO2, VOCs, particulate matter and more.

  1. What are 10 key things that make a city smart? (via ReadWrite)
    This is a great roundup of what a city needs to be smart. From connectivity to sensing, ReadWrite put together a great roundup. If you’re interested in the real estate perspective on smart cities, we’ve got a series for you to check out called ‘The Building of Functioning Cities‘.
  2. And finally: Amazon Echo 2 incoming and more (via Wareable)
    Yes, this is a list of smart home/wearable items for you to peruse. They have some good intel on Amazon’s latest smart speaker as well as what Apple’s up to on the smart home front. Check it out.
  3. What to know about smart home technology: 10 smart home resources for REALTORS (via CRT Labs)
    Another roundup??? What’s going on with this list? 🙂 I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to our roundup of resources you can take advantage of to bolster your understanding of this emerging market. Why does it matter to you? Because it matters to your clients. Read on to find out more.
  4. Microsoft’s Cortana-powered thermostat is totally gorgeous (via CNET)
    This is definitely something to consider. A nice-looking thermostat from Microsoft and Johnson Controls. No pricing info yet, but keep an eye on this. It’s called the GLAS, it’s voice-enabled (with Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Alexa) and it monitors indoor and outdoor air quality. If you want a voice-enabled thermostat now, check out the Ecobee4 with Alexa integration. If the $249 price point is keeping you away, you should look for rebates from your utility or insurance company.
  5. Touchstone: Environmental Quality Monitor for your home! (via CRT Labs)
    Finally, a look at what we’ve been up to. This device is not on the market yet, but take a look at our work. Really proud of our group here at NAR. Akram, one of our lab engineers, provides a pretty deep dive into what we’ve been up to with this device. I’m really proud of our team and their efforts to make this piece of hardware and the software behind it. They’ve been extremely supportive of one another and have collaborated better than I could have imagined. Kudos to them.

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 to Know About Smart Home Technology: 10 Resources for REALTORS & Their Clients

Smart home technology is definitely here to stay. According to a recent report on consumer adoption of smart home technology, 79% said they own some type of smart home tech. Those that owned it said they would purchase more. Ninety-seven percent of consumers now know what smart devices are. This is up from 67% in 2015. Because of market awareness, there are several opportunities for you to discuss these devices with your clients. They may:

  • have interest in adding value to a home before selling it
  • be wondering if they should leave devices with the home
  • want to outfit their new home with devices
  • be curious about simply learning more

As more and more of these devices hit the market, consumers will ask you about the benefits and their needs. Below, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to use to educate yourself and your clients on smart home technology.

Here are 10 resources that you can use in improving your understanding of smart home technology:

1. Smart Home Glossary and Smart Home/Internet of Things FAQ

The glossary and FAQ are good places to start. They give you all the terms that relate to smart home devices. From how these devices connect to what IoT is. It’s a compendium of the most asked questions we’ve received with respect to these devices. Help clients get ahead of the curve by sharing the links with them.

2. The Insecurity of Things: Understanding Security Issues Around the Internet of Things

Last fall, when the denial of service attack happened and most of the internet wouldn’t work, I wrote a 3-part series on the security issues around the internet of things. I looked at what you as a user of these devices can do to protect yourself as well as what manufacturers need to do to protect you. Security is paramount for these devices and this series gives some insights on what to do to make sure you understand the risks and how to mitigate them.

3. Smart Home Simplified 1-Pagers

Our Smart Home Simplified series of 1-pagers is meant to give you a high level overview of the different device classes in the smart home space. These 1-pagers are great tools for educating yourself, other agents, or consumers. You are able to share them with whomever you’d like. Add a link in your newsletter or other informational posts. Each sheet talks about the pros and cons of these devices, how they work and why consumers are interested in them. The 10 classes of devices we cover are:

  • Thermostats
  • Locks
  • Doorbells
  • Cameras
  • Indoor Air Quality Sensors
  • Lights
  • Hubs
  • Voice Activated Speakers
  • Water Leak Detectors
  • Smoke/CO Detectors

Each page will also provide you with a link to a resources page for that class of devices. Think we need to add another class of devices? Let us know.

4. CRT’s Smart Home Report

Last year, we did our first smart home report with our Research Group at NAR. This will be an ongoing annual report for the next few years. We are working to better understand your knowledge of the space and that of the consumer market. Use it to understand what devices are important to consumers and where there are opportunities to help support clients in their quest to understand this market.

5. Educate Yourself & Consumers on Incentives from Utilities & Insurance Companies

I recently wrote a piece on the value of understanding what rebates and incentives are being offered by your utilities and insurance companies. These incentives may or may not be known by your clients, but knowing about what is available in your area is of tremendous value to them. It also shows that you’re looking out for ways to improve their experience.

6. CRT Labs’ Things Thursday

On a semi-regular basis, we put together a round-up on the internet of things and talk about the implications for real estate. We look at the way in the future tech as well as stuff that you can take advantage of today. It’s a great list of links you can share with your team, other agents or clients.

7. CRT Labs’ Office Hours Every Friday

Our Facebook page is a great place to find resources. Every Friday, we hold Office Hours on emerging technology. They start at 3p Eastern and run for about 20 minutes. We love receiving questions and comments during the Office Hours so we can discuss with you and have active conversation on these topics. Like the page and be notified immediately of any live videos we are doing.

8. Smart Home Checklist App

Have you sold a home that had smart home devices in it already? If so, did you have those devices reset by the seller before transferring ownership? If not, the seller may still have access to the smart devices. To help with this problem, we created a web app called the Smart Home Checklist. This simple app will allow you to identify the devices in the home, aggregate them on a list and share that list with whomever you want.

9. Smart Home DB

The Smart Home DB is a great resource to find out more about specific devices. They have nearly 1,200 devices listed in this community-curated database. They also have user-generated plans for hooking up different devices and some how-tos. We are actually feeding the backend of our Smart Home Checklist from this repository.

10. IoT Podcast from Stacey Higginbotham

Stacey is an IoT industry expert and she has a great podcast on the topic of smart homes, smart cities and industrial IoT. She has vendors and industry experts talk about the market now and what’s coming.She’s even covered CRT’s work in the past on her podcast. Stacey’s expertise comes from years of covering technology for a number of news sites, including Fortune and GigaOm. Sign up for her newsletter and find out what’s coming next.

BONUS: This blog & CRT Labs

You might have noticed a lot of the resources I posted linked back to this blog. There’s a reason for that. CRT is one of the few resources thinking about the impact of emerging technology on your business. We talk to members about it, as well as speaking to industry experts, vendors, security groups, universities, government and research laboratories about you and your business. They see you as a valuable resource and are very interested in your feedback and work. So, use us as a resource. We do webinars, presentations and all sorts of educational outreach. Drop us a line if you’d like us to present to your group.

That’s it for this roundup. Are there any resources you’d like from us that aren’t listed above? Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know.


The Versatile Raspberry Pi

This week’s guest post is republished with permission from our friends in Information Services at the National Association of REALTORS®. The librarians are some of our closest collaborators here at NAR, and recently Abby Creitz came to us with a series of projects that would help them rethink how members interact with our Library and Archives at NAR HQ. One of these projects, described here, includes a Raspberry Pi as a dedicated media/slideshow device. CRT Labs has featured the Raspberry Pi before, using them for projects like running servers and small computer projects, as well as as the base for an indoor air quality sensor. Other projects in the Library’s future include a customized iPad kiosk, a rethinking of the library’s lobby space, and more, which we will update you on as they happen! 

Ever heard of Raspberry Pi? No, I’m not referring to a baked good or an obscure geometric theorem; I’m talking about a small, inexpensive computer perfect for learning to code, and for DIY experimentation. I first heard of Raspberry Pi when I came across a Tooth Fairy Transport system created by one of the greatest dads in the world. What peaked my interest in the video was the use of a pneumatic tube system (#HomeAmenityGoals), but the real takeaway was how a Raspberry Pi made the project possible. Raspberry Pi has been used in many other innovative ways, some of which are great ways to implement smart home and home improvement projects for those unafraid of learning a new skill! At NAR Library & Archives, we decided to use it to improve how we interact with visitors.

NAR Library & Archives decided to partner with NAR’s CRT Labs to create and run a looping slideshow full of information about how REALTORS® and NAR staff use the library and its services (inspired by the Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ new office space in the REALTOR® Building). We decided that a Raspberry Pi would be the best way to run the slideshow continuously, dedicating the unit to the sole purpose of running the slideshow.

Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi

Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi was fairly simple to set up. It is a single board computer, containing all the components of a regular computer, just on a smaller surface. There are a few different Raspberry Pi kits available for purchase, but the kit we chose comes with an SD card, power cord, and an HDMI cable. You have to provide your own input devices (mouse, keyboard, microphones, etc.) and output devices (screen, speakers, etc.). We connected a Raspberry Pi to a large wall-mounted TV using an HDMI cable, plugged in a keyboard and mouse to the Raspberry Pi unit, connected the Raspberry Pi to WiFi, opened up a browser, and lastly, ran the slideshow using Google Slides.

Why do this instead of using a desktop computer? There were a number of reasons, but just to name a few: a Raspberry Pi cost $35, whereas a desktop computer costs hundreds; a Raspberry Pi has a footprint the size of a deck of cards, while the desktop takes up much more space; and using a Raspberry Pi leaves the desktop computer free for other demonstrations, or for use by our visitors while still exposing them to the information about our department that we wish to convey.

This sort of informational slideshow set-up could be used at open houses using the owner’s TV, or in reception areas of real estate offices. What other kind of projects could you see yourself undertaking with this technology?

Abby Creitz is the Web Content & Information Specialist for NAR Library & Archives. This post was originally published by Information Services Blog on June 21, 2017.

Navigating the Smart Home: Utilities and Insurance Companies

A picture of a man standing at a crossroads in a redwood forest. There is text on the picture that reads Navigating the Smart Home

NOTE: At this year’s REALTOR® Legislative Meetings, I was talking about our work with Andrew Sims, CEO of Dayton Area Board of REALTORS®. I shared with him things we talk to REALTORS® about in our presentations, and at one point, he said, ‘That should be written down somewhere.’ I realized immediately he was right. So, I’ll start by doing that in this post.

When we speak at associations and brokerages, our standard presentation includes a lot of information about why REALTORS® should care about smart homes. The biggest reason is because other industries that touch the housing market are getting involved. Utilities and insurance companies are creating rebates and programs around smart home technology. Smart home devices will allow you to do things like:

  • monitor and save energy
  • keep your home secure
  • prevent extensive damage to your property

Knowing what is available and who is offering it is a great information for you and your clients. We will include links to more information in this article.


I realized immediately smart devices would mean big things for how consumers use energy when I first saw the Nest Thermostat in 2012. These devices help consumers save 10-15% in energy costs. As I traveled and spoke, however, members weren’t too keen on its $249 price tag at that time. But around 2014, REALTORS® began sharing stories of rebates from utilities and energy savings for their clients. They were even sharing stories of how the thermostats were paying for themselves in a short amount of time. These programs have only grown.

ComEd, Chicago’s largest electric utility, is offering $100 rebates on certain smart thermostats. They’ve even extended rebates (amounts vary) toward the purchases of light bulbs, power strips and security cameras, and has a site dedicated to selling smart home devices with instant rebates included. Check with your local electric and gas companies to see what rebates they may be offering on these devices.


In the insurance industry, smart home devices are being offered as ways to reduce premiums and risk. Specific smart device types that can be up for discounts are:

  • Locks
  • Cameras
  • Water leak detectors
  • Smoke/CO alarms

One such insurer is Liberty Mutual, an NAR REALTOR Benefits® partner. They are giving away a Nest Protect smoke and CO detector and up to 5% off of insurance premiums. You can find all the life safety and security products included in Liberty Mutual’s program by searching the Liberty Mutual site.

Another insurance company with an interesting offering is State Farm. They are working with camera company Canary to provide discounts on burglar alarm insurance.

Educate Yourself So You Can Educate Clients

These are just a few examples of smart home promotions you can find outside our industry and share with your clients. Companies like Nest and Ecobee have rebates and rewards websites you can use to check and see what’s offered in your area. This is very fertile ground and there are a lot of opportunities for you to connect with your clients by educating them on these discounts and programs. Search your local area for opportunities for clients and make sure they know what’s out there.

Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.

Tech Trends 2017: A New Webinar from CRT Labs for REALTORS®

Looking for an in-depth look at the Smart Home trends of 2017? Look no further than this new webinar!

Join our User Experience Designer, Joe Sullivan, as he talks about six product categories making waves this year. Joe has a lot of great information on current smart devices, including a look at what each product does, the benefits of incorporating them into your current lifestyle, and some questions buyers and sellers may have about homes with smart home fixtures. Joe also goes over some tips for REALTORS® when working with smart home tech during the listing process. The webinar covers three security and three lifestyle smart home product families – smart locks, smart security cameras, smart doorbells, smart lights, smart thermostats, and smart air quality monitors. If you’re interested in this webinar, head on over to the product page at the REALTOR® Store and check it out! And let us know what other topics you’d like to see covered in webinars – we’re always excited to help our members learn more about technology and its impact on real estate.