The Building of Functioning Cities: A Smart Cities Series

There is a blurry cityscape in the background with the phrase 'The Building of Functioning Cities' overlaid. This is a line from preamble of the REALTOR Code of Ethics. We believe this statement reflects the potential impact of smart cities on our industry.

Smart cities will impact the way we live and work in the very near future. Real estate stands to benefit from the data produced in these cities with improved services for clients.

In the labs, I often point out to visitors that we’ve based our work on the preamble to the Code of Ethics. I’ve included it below with the relevant bits highlighted:

Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization. REALTORS® should recognize that the interests of the nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land and the widest distribution of land ownership. They require the creation of adequate housing, the building of functioning cities, the development of productive industries and farms, and the preservation of a healthful environment.

At CRT Labs, we use this to focus our mission. It’s not only key to your work, but also, to the potential that the Internet of Things, renewable energy, and community gardening have to impact your industry. In order to support the ‘building of functioning cities’ tenant, we’ve spoken to several smart city projects throughout the US. We believe that data from the smart city will go a long way to shaping how you do business in the future. It will change the way you interact with your customers and help you in supporting their buying choices. We are just at the very beginning of this and there’s still a way to go before this is mainstream, but what’s already happening is exciting.

What are smart cities?

Simply put, smart cities are cities that use existing data and connected sensors to:

  • Capture data and performance metrics to improve city services
  • Monitor city performance
  • Inform the general public

Cities great and small are employing smart city techniques all over the world. Singapore is one of the big leaders in this space, as is Barcelona. Here in the US, cities large and small have active programs. From Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky as examples. For this series, I want to use what’s in my own back yard. Chicago has garnered a lot of attention of late for its Array of Things initiative and the use of its open data portal to engage the citizens.

Why do they matter?

Here’s why it matters to you: there are massive amounts of data that will be coming off these devices that will show how specific areas of a city are performing. As examples, you’ll be able to see things like:

  • Pedestrian and vehicle patterns and counts aggregated by time of day
  • Utilization patterns for parks and community buildings
  • Temperature variation at your work and at your home on a block by block basis
  • Air quality outside your door and any destination you need to travel to
  • Average sunlight exposure at any location
  • Standing water after a rainstorm

A number of those things above are key to how you’re home or property performs. Understanding microclimates will help buildings use less energy because they can adjust based on time of day or season. We can also understand busy residential and commercial areas are and use that as part of our marketing material or a widget on a website. When are the peak hours at the community pool or park? Data for a community could also inform when you hold open houses. How many people are in a neighborhood during a given day?

This is just the surface. I’m going to use this series to interview people here in Chicago who are involved in the smart cities initiatives and highlight where there are opportunities for real estate. If you have a story about smart city activity in your area, I encourage you to share it.

Related Articles from CRT Labs:

Facebook Live Office Hours: Smart Cities

Interested in how the Internet of Things, and other technologies, are making the cities we live in smarter and better places to live? Chad gives a rundown on how tech is changing how we think of cities and communities during our Facebook Live Office Hours. As always, tune into our Facebook Live Office Hours by liking our Facebook Page, which will notify you when we go live on Fridays at 3PM Eastern!

Facebook Live Office Hours: Smart Cities from CRTLabs on Vimeo.

Facebook Live Office Hours: mHub Tour

CRT Labs extended our office space by moving in to a small office at mHub, a makerspace here in Chicago. This will help our engineers develop and test our electronics projects. We took a tour of mHub during our Office Hours to show off some of the cool new tools we’ll have access to in the space. As always, if you like our Facebook page, you can watch these videos live on Fridays at 3PM EST!

Facebook Live Office Hours: mHub Tour from CRTLabs on Vimeo.

How to be Smarter than the Homes You Sell

Today’s post is the first of many written by guest bloggers for CRT Labs. We’re working with industry insiders all the time, so we are teaming up to give readers first-hand information on how technology is shaping real estate. First up is Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions

Smart home technology is a relatively new industry, but it’s impact on real estate is here to stay. It is more important than ever that as a Realtor you understand the basics of this technology and how it will impact our industry and daily lives.

Here are my top 5 points to help you better understand smart home technology.

1) Control the temperature and environment of the home
This is probably what most people think of first when you mention a smart home; Devices can adjust lights, outlets, other devices and temperature either on a schedule or by certain criteria you can set. This can both save energy and provide convenience and even measure air quality. These devices can also provide historical data to help you save money by providing information such as peak times of energy use or totally monthly energy consumption.
Common devices: Nest thermostat, SmartThings, TP-link smart plugs and switches, Belkin WeMo devices, Philips Hue devices
(Some utility companies offer discounts for various devices that help save on energy usage, check specifics of your areas and wow your clients!)

2) Provide safety (alarms, lights on while gone or when returning)
In addition to energy monitoring and efficiency, there are many safety features of smart home technology. One of the easiest and more affordable complete systems is the SmartThings system. SmartThings offers a few packages to get you started – no special installation needed and no monthly fees, and the system works with many other devices from other companies. You can control exterior lights for safety – on a schedule (that can even change automatically with the seasons), manually or when a certain event happens, such as you return home after dark. The systems also has separate “modes” so that you can create an out of town mode where a different set of rules happen – such as an interior light on or to alert you if a door opens or a certain high or low temperature occurs. Nest also offers a camera and smoke alarm/CO2 alarm that work together with thermostat as a good system.
Common devices: SmartThings, Nest

3) Provide convenience, voice activated answers and commands
The Amazon Echo (Alexa) is probably the most common and comprehensive device in this space. This is largely because it has been around longer and they have allowed outside developers to create “skills” that you can add to the Echo. Amazon has also released the Echo Dot, which is just a smaller and less expensive version, with a less powerful speaker – designed to be connected to another speaker or sound device, but sufficient to operate without an extra speaker. Google Home is a newer player here, but basically like searching Google with your voice. Google also owns Nest, so it plays nicely with all the Nest devices as well. Voice Activation is here to stay. You can set a timer while cooking something, ask for conversions or even just how many days until a certain date. You can of course also order items from Amazon via the Echo. You can ask, “What time is the Falcons game?” or “What channel are the Grammys on?” or “What time is it in Australia?” or whatever you want to know – or ask Alexa to tell you a joke…
Common devices: Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Apple Home App

4) Help the family communicate and work together towards a happy home
This is something I think we’ll see more adoption of soon. It’s easy to have each family member set up with their phone as a “presence” sensor which allows the devices (and or other family members) to know if someone is home or when they came and went. Great for teenagers or young drivers and certainly there are convenience components to this – like keeping the air or heat at a certain level if everyone is gone all day, but having it turn back on when someone arrives home or at a specific, consistent time each day. You can also have lights turn on automatically if someone comes home after dark. I’m sure you’ll soon be able to easily leave voice memos for family remembers that can be played or updated as people arrive home or even play a video message on a TV or phone.

5) Be aware of privacy issues – devices watching, listening, recording
Certainly there are viable concerns that these devices are always watching, listening and possibly recording. It’s known that many of these do record commands and send to the manufacturers for improvement. Adding cameras and/or microphones to a home is easier and cheaper than ever before. I have heard several stories already of home sellers hearing conversations by potential buyers about levels of interest in the home or “we’re making an offer ASAP” which is something to be cautious of as well – if only just from a negotiation standpoint. 

On a recent trip to NAR in Chicago, I got to visit CRT Labs and learned that the Amazon Echo (Alexa) was likely the device most likely to “play nice” with the majority of the popular devices and platforms. I have played a bit with Google Home as well and it works well too with some devices, especially Nest which is owned by Google. The Amazon Echo (with a Prime membership) has an astonishing amount of free (and commercial free!) music and shows and movies that push it over the top for me at this time. Samsung purchased SmartThings in 2014 and I’m sure they have big plans to integrate with their existing product lines. Think that your phone will remind you to pick up a new water filter for your Samsung refrigerator next time you’re at a place that sells them or a reminder that the lightbulb inside has 5% left, or a smart TV that reminds you that you have laundry still in the washing machine.

If you wanted to get started, I would recommend a SmartThings system (easy to install and relatively inexpensive) and an Amazon Echo as an add on to that. A Nest thermostat is another good layer and all three of these devices can work together pretty well with no special technological knowledge.There is no one right way and more of these devices seems to be working together in the Internet of Things. I would encourage you to venture into it – it’s a pretty cool place…

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.