Things Thursday #018: Detroit, Smart City! and how secure are your speakers and more

A picture of the Detroit skyline.

Detroit’s getting sensors provided by citizens. Read below about Sensors in a Shoebox.

  1. HomePod, Echo, Google Home: How secure are your speakers? (via C|NET)
    There are a lot of questions around security and smart devices like the speakers. In fact, the audience at my presentation at the South Bay Association of REALTORS this past Monday were very concerned around security of smart speakers. This nice quick piece on the security of your data from Apple, Google and Amazon’s voice automation speakers. It seems like Apple has the advantage based on their encryption best practices. Even though they cost around $349, the HomePods secure your data the same way that Apple’s Messages and Siri applications do. Check it out and see if your security questions are answered.
  2. Toyota is exploring heart rate monitoring cars to help prevent accidents (via Wareable)
    For me, these types of thoughts around smart technologies are very worthwhile. Nothing is imminent from Toyota, but they are exploring how to determine if a driver is incapacitated and what they can do to help them in case of emergency.
  3. Samsung challenges Google with Connect Home Wi-Fi mesh (via ReadWrite)
    Mesh networking is becoming a big market and it’s being driven by IoT. Samsung joins Google, eero and several other companies in trying to scratch this itch. Follow the link to see what they are up to.
  4. Detroit Imagines a Citizen-Led Smart City (via CityLab)
    This is the type of thing I love about smart city work. A community coming together to solve a problem. Detroit is a great innovation space due to its past economic downturn. The city is ripe for change and new ideas. Working with the University of Michigan, residents are deploying smart sensors. The project, called Sensors in a Shoebox, are providing a low-cost way for residents to understand their environment. Imagine if REALTORs could help deploy projects like this to improve quality of life. Pretty cool.

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

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.

Utilities

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.

Insurance

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.

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 2)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, and continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. The two devices here are generally what we would call voice assistant hubs. They are fully functional on their own, but also work with and to control other devices as well. There are a lot of similarities, but they do have differences in their speech patterns and tempos and their general compatibilities. Amazon Echo allows 3rd party developers to add “Skills” for Alexa (think Apps) and Google Home is actually a more of a closed system at this time (with developers creating apps, but having a more limited number at the moment). BOTH devices currently only can be connected to one account at a time – eventually, it would be great to see them be able to recognize the users voice and access their specific calendar, music and other accounts.

Pro Tips:

  • Both these devices record data when activated AND both show requests to the owner via an app. While it might be fun to play with someone else’s toys while in a home, be respectful and be careful what you or your clients say
  • On a similar note, cameras and microphones, in general, are cheaper and easier to set up than ever before. Be mindful when showing homes (ed. note: more about that below).
  • CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

What does it do?
The Amazon Echo is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
The Amazon Echo is very easy to set up. It will basically walks you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $179 on Amazon with free 2-day shipping for Prime members.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Personally, I use mine for a fun fact in the mornings (just say, “Alexa, Good morning”) and then ask about the weather, in my city or wherever I’m traveling to
  • Scheduling or just getting a “daily briefing” on your calendar
  • Answers to general questions
  • Using the grocery/shopping list feature
  • Using the timer or other hands-free options while cooking or otherwise involved in something else.Playing music via Amazon Prime (commercial free, your playlists, etc)

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Amazon Echo.

Google Home

What does it do?
Google Home is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It of course works very well with the data you already have in your google account. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
Very Easy – Google Home will walk you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $129 in the Google store and available at several major retailers.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Reviewing or adding items to your Calendar (obviously, connected to your Google account)
  • Answers to general questions, powered by Google
  • Basically searching Google – local restaurants, traffic, etc.
  • Play songs from Google Play or Spotify account (even filter explicit songs)
  • It of course works well with Chromecast and YouTube as well as Nest products (since they are all also owned by Google)
  • Play podcasts (a little better than Echo for this)
  • It also has a shopping list feature

Additional Thoughts:
Google Home isn’t currently compatible fully with G Suite (paid Google account, previously known as Google Apps for Business) – Calendar, Google Payments and Uber features currently don’t work with G Suite accounts, but do work with free Gmail accounts. The easiest remedy would be to connect to a free Google account, which might be better if you don’t own the G suite organization you are connecting anyway. However, there’s an extra step if you are the super admin to allow your G Suite account to work – that info is can be found here

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Google Home.

Adrienne from CRT Labs here! I wanted to add some information to Lee’s post about homes that are for sale and have a voice hub inside them. The Amazon Echo and Google Home both are always listening, and thus capable of easy recording – they are programmed to function so that when a “wake word” is spoken, the device will be active, but the device is always passively listening for their specific wake words. If you and your clients are uncomfortable having a recording device on, please speak with the listing agent of the home about turning these devices off when the home is being shown. This is very simple on both devices – the Echo has a button on top, and the Google Home on the side, for turning off the microphone, and both devices have visual feedback to confirm that the microphones are indeed off. NAR’s Jessica Edgerton has written a blog post for us, coming later this week, about security devices such as cameras in homes for sale, and goes into depth on the legal aspects of them; we will link to that blog post when it’s live, as it will cover some of the same issues microphones have.

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.

#015-Things Thursday: Mickey Mousing around, John ‘Oh’ Deere, and IKEA gets smart

A farmer sits in his tractor with his back to us as the sun comes through the window over his shoulder.

John Deere smart tractors are being hacked by the farmers who own them…Why???

For this Things Thursday, some really interesting IoT news the past few weeks. Farmers are hacking their tractors and IKEA enters the fray in the smart home market.

  1. American farmers are hacking their tractors with Ukrainian firmware (via Motherboard)
    What’s causing farmers to hack their smart tractors? Manufacturers are locking the tractors down with specialized software and farmers are fighting back. If you thought Apple’s walled garden was bad, read on to see what’s happening to the modern farmer. Great read and amazing ingenuity on the parts of the farmers.
  2. How I let Disney track my every move (via Gizmodo)
    Have you been to a Disney park lately? They are doing some amazing things with proximity sensing. You can pay, check in to a hotel and rides and make reservations all with the Magic Band. Disney can see how people move about the park with anonymized data and improve services. This type of trade off of our personal data is similar to what we do with services like Facebook. The author hacked his Magic Band to see what smart devices he could control with it.Turns out, he could control a lot. Check it out.
  3. IKEA launches its own low-cost smart lighting range (via Wareable)
    Some pretty interesting work from IKEA to bring smart home prices down. From motion-sensing lights to lighted doors for your IKEA furniture, they’ve got some really interesting and diverse items. You can dim the lights with an unattached knob device which uses an accelerometer. It will be interesting to see how much they start to incorporate into their furniture.

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.

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 1)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. These devices not only offer convenience for a home, but they also provide safety, security and data that can help us conserve energy use.

Pro Tips:
• Be sure it’s clear – in writing – if (and which) devices are included in the sale of the home.
• Be sure that all devices included in the sale are reset or wiped of any personal data – including the previous owner’s ability to control or monitor the devices. For more info, check out this handy Smart Home Checklist for resetting devices.
• CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

Nest Thermostat

What does it do?
Controls the temperature of your home – automatically or based on when you are home or come and go or on energy usage. Also provides historical energy usage data and compares to other users (anonymously of course) and even the local weather.

What is needed to run it?
The Nest thermostat communicates with your phone and the Nest servers via your wi-fi, so having a wi-fi connection is generally the only requirement beyond HVAC system compatibility.

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes. There is fairly nominal work to remove the thermostat if you are moving. Just be sure to keep the “old” thermostat if this is a possibility so you have something to replace it with. Generally speaking, there is no modification to the wall area around the thermostat needed.

Difficulty of set up:
The Nest thermostat is pretty easy to install – it basically walks you through setup once powered up. Everything you need is in the box including a wall plate in case your older thermostat is larger and you need to cover up an unpainted area or larger holes visible beyond the size of the Nest thermostat. I would highly recommend using this wall plate you are installing it knowing you will move it later.

Cost:
$250 one time for the 3rd generation (newest) model

General compatibility tips:
Nest in generally compatible with most modern HVAC systems. Full compatibility information at: https://nest.com/support/article/How-do-I-know-if-my-heating-and-cooling-system-works-with-Nest (click the link towards the bottom for an easy guide specific to your system)

Nest Protect Smoke and CO2 detector

What does it do?
Alerts you to smoke or carbon monoxide in the home or area you put it in – even remotely via your phone if you are not present at the time.

What is needed to run it?
The Nest Protect communicates with your phone and the Nest servers via your wi-fi, so having a wi-fi connection is generally the only requirement.

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes, relocation is very easy – please be sure to comply with local laws and fire code when removing any type of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors

Difficulty of set up:
Very simple to install – essentially replaces your old smoke detector, including hooking up via the backplate.

Cost:
$99 for the latest model

General compatibility tips:
The Nest Protect can be used by itself and is also compatible with a number of other devices and all other Nest products. Comes in both wired and battery varieties, so make sure you pick up the right one for your needs!

 

SmartThings System

What does it do?
Controls lights and plugs in your home, monitor doors and/or windows, monitor temperature and/or moisture.

What is needed to run it?
A wi-fi network and a device to run the app on (iOS or Android).

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes, pretty easily. For the most part, the system is not permanently installed. A double-sided tape is used for the door/window sensors that is pretty easy to remove or relocate those devices. Many of the rest of the devices are not permanently installed at all – such as outlet switches that just plug into outlets, then devices plug into them.

Difficulty of set up:
A kit is very easy to set up and the app will help walk you through the process of connecting and installing each component.

Cost:
Basic kits start at $199. A hub ($99 for most recent model) is needed to control the devices, which can be purchased separately. A starter kit is highly recommended for cost effectiveness and to understand the full ability of a system.

General compatibility tips:
SmartThings runs on Z-Wave technology which makes it compatible with any other Z-wave devices. There are no specific compatibility requirements for the home.

TP-link smart plugs and switches

What does it do?
TP Smart Plugs can control outlets in your home via an app. You can set a timer that runs consistently, check the status of an outlet (is it off or on) and turn any item plugged into them off or on from anywhere in the world.

What is needed to run it?
Wi-fi and a device to run the app (iOS or Android)

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes! Just unplug and take with you – nominal setup if your wi-fi network changes names or settings.

Difficulty of set up:
Just plug back in (possibly rename outlets in app) and go!

Cost:
Currently selling around $25-35 for a single plug and a 4-pack for $120

General compatibility tips:
Fully compatible with any setup – very simple to use and setup (also works great with Amazon Echo, but works as standalone device)

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.AmplifiedSolutions.co to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

#015-Things Thursday: Learning to Love Security & the Smart Home Simplified

A picture of a heart-shaped padlock on a metal bar with a city in the background.

Security continues to be the topic du jour of the smart home security. Let’s hope it’s more than just lip service.

Security is looming huge on the smart home horizon. I’ve been having more and more interview requests on the topic of the smart home and what we are doing to help members protect their clients. In this weeks Things Thursday, you’ll see a few on security, plus a new section of our site! Check it out below.

  1. How to Build a Hack-Proof Smart Home (via Mansion Global)
    Okay, I am not a fan of the title, but there’s some good advice on this site. Pair it with our Smart Home Checklist and you’ve taken some good steps to securing your smart home. They recommend regular password updates and changes and password managers to keep track of your passwords. This is good, practical advice and you should consider employing it. I would not go so far to declare the home will be hack-proof, but hey, headlines sell, right?
  2. Discover the Top Smart Home Security Systems of 2017 (via ReadWrite)
    Nice list of a few systems that you may want to employ to make your home safer. Scout is a local Chicago company who are continually working to improve the experience of their system. I am surprised to not see the Canary Smart Camera on here, as their product has encrypted hardware and software on it. They’ve done a great job of making a secure product. They also have partnered with State Farm to offer discounts on burglar alarm insurance if you install one of their cameras.
  3. Apple’s Website Now Has a Useful List of Smart Home Gadgets That Work with Homekit (via The Verge)
    Apple’s making efforts to promote Homekit an dhave now published a web page intended to make it easier for you to find devices that works with its Homekit system. The system has been slow to roll out and I think that is due to the Homekit onboarding process. Not only is software involved, but hardware as well, as Apple requires the addition of an encrypted hardware chip into the smart device. This has proven to be a challenge for companies and has lead to longer development times. BUT, there is a reason for that. Apple’s trying to build a hack-proof system. Some good products listed on here.
  4. Smart Home Simplified by CRT Labs (via this here site.)
    Okay, you want to start talking to clients about smart home tech, but don’t know where to start? You want the basics on what devices are out there? Well, say no more. We have you covered. This week, we’ve released our series of pdfs and web pages called Smart Home Simplified. These documents explain the basics of smart home tech by looking at the device verticals. So far, we have papers on:

    1. Doorbells
    2. Thermostats
    3. Locks
    4. Cameras
    5. Lights
    6. Air Quality Sensors

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.