Gift Guide 2017: Picking the Best Gifts

Our last gift guide comes in collaboration with Deena Zimmerman, one of our Chicago-area REALTORS® and a commercial practitioner. Deena clued us in to not only some great gifts for her clients and colleagues, but to some great ways to personalize holiday gifts and best practices for giving during the season. She’s provided us with some non-tech gift ideas (and of course, some technology too!), and we’re thrilled to have her guest blog for us this week. These gifts are sure to go over great with clients in both commercial and residential settings.

It’s that time of year again when we are wishing our clients and colleagues happy holidays and showering those closest to us with thoughtful gifts and well wishes. I am blessed to have a wonderful referral network, especially awesome Residential Realtors across the country, who have referred me truly wonderful clients, many of whom have become like family to me.

I have a number of clients who are out of state, so I love to buy them “Love from Chicago” themed gifts. For example, this could include a Chicago favorite of mine,  Lou Malnati’s pizza (they have awesome dry ice frozen shipping options) and a tin of Garrett’s popcorn (Chicago mix of course!) along with coffee from various coffee roasting clients I represent in Chicago. This is a great way to show a very personalized “Chicago Touch” while also showcasing the various Tenants I represent locally in Chicago.
I also work with a lot of brokers/developers/landlords on a number of various projects every year, many of whom I have become very tight. I want to make sure I send them a personalized gift as well. I take the time to reach out to their co-workers or assistants to find out what they love. These gifts can vary from spa gift packages at the Peninsula to customized gift baskets with various types of alcohol. I am also a huge fan of sending an Open Table gift certificate so they can take a loved one out for dinner wherever they want-and they can download the certificate on their smart phone, so no need to print! I am currently putting a customized gift together now for one of my largest referral resources who refuses to let me give him a referral fee when he sends clients my way. So I am doing a basket with his favorite spirits/mixers and champagnes that he can keep at the office to share with co-workers and his clients as he does a ton of entertaining.
I also LOVE buying men I work with customized flowers from Flowers For Dreams. It’s fun to get flowers for guys and Flowers for Dreams donates a portion of all proceeds to various charities.
As I first referenced above, I represent a lot of local tenants helping them find space to lease or purchase and love to buy their products as gifts for other clients (some of my clients include those who are in acupuncture, restaurants, bakeries, wine distributors, spas, gyms, etc.) This type of personalization, along with charitable groups like Flowers for Dreams and Ruckus Teen Products, an AMAZING program for Teen Entrepreneurs at Concordia Day School not only makes me feel great supporting these amazing groups, but I also find it really helps me stand out.
For retail tenants I work with who geek out on tech as much as I do, I love to put together gift baskets with the various products I mentioned above and also include fun gadgets like a Nest, a portable Bose speaker (my favorite is the Bose Mini II that also works at the beach!), and a beacon that they can affix to their storefront to monitor daily foot and vehicular traffic to help identify key sales hours during the day.
Finally, I don’t send these gifts until after the holidays. I wait until mid to end of January and use it as more of a message to thank them for 2017 and to say how fired I am to work with them in 2018. I send holiday cards now, and then these gifts later. That really helps to stand out and remind them I am ready to rock out 2018 with them!

Deena Zimmerman is an award-winning broker who has worked in the real estate industry since 2004. Serving as a vice president in the SVN Chicago office, Deena’s focus is on investment sales and tenant representation, specializing in finding high quality sites throughout Chicagoland and surrounding areas for national operators, franchisees, and first-time entrepreneurs.

Gift Guide 2017: Advanced Smart Home

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 advanced smart home tech. Are you or your giftee ready to start taking on your own smart home projects? These ideas will help you hit the ground running with some easy DIY creations.

1. littleBits Smart Home Kit, $249. littleBits have been one of my favorite tech products since my days in working with K-6 teachers to integrate tech into their classrooms, and I was thrilled to find out that they make a Smart Home Kit. Designed for “big kids” – and adults – this easy-to-use kit uses snap-together circuits and sensors to create a variety of smart home projects, including an automated cat feeder, a door sensor for your fridge, and more. Programming is done simply with IFTTT commands, letting you also get a great introduction to some of the more advanced features of IFTTT.
2. Kooke Smart Home Sensor Kit, $21.99, and Raspberry Pi 3, $35. This Smart Home kit is a great way to begin creating IoT devices using Raspberry Pi. The kit comes with a temperature sensor, gas sensors, light sensors, and more, and includes web tutorials to get started with Raspberry Pi and Smart Home products. You’ll need to purchase a separate Raspberry Pi for each project, but you’re getting a great value for a variety of sensors! This kit will require a bit more programming knowledge than a kit like littleBits.
3. Lynda.com membership, starting at $19.99/mo. Want to begin to how to create your own Internet of Things projects, mess with a Raspberry Pi, or perhaps pick up a programming language (or two)? A Lynda.com account is a great investment. They have classes in virtually anything and everything, including high level overviews of concepts like Blockchain and hands-on instruction for IoT devices and more. There’s even a 30-day free trial to the site to start! Lynda is a great way to learn about IFTTT and Raspberry Pi hardware and software for the kits above.

If you’re looking to really get into creating your own smart home products, these are a great springboard for many projects. Soon, you’ll be customizing the smart home of your dreams!

Gift Guide 2017: Intermediate Smart Home

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 intermediate smart home tech. Do you or your giftee have a few smart devices, but want to start integrating them more? This guide is for you!

1. Samsung SmartThings Convenience and Entertainment Bundle,  $205. We’re huge fans of the SmartThings hub, which alone retails for $99. A smart hub allows you to control your smart home in a convenient and easy way, cutting out the need for multiple apps for multiple manufacturers and products. The SmartThings hub also offers some great programming options that go beyond simply turning devices on and off, and programming your devices is usually just a few taps in the app. The bundle listed here gives you great bang for your buck and includes two smart bulbs by Sylvania that can light up in thousands of different colors as well as a SmartThings motion sensor. The motion sensor is great – you can set it up near your front door and tell SmartThings to flash a color on the light bulbs when someone is coming and going out of the house. When purchasing a SmartThings kit, make sure that the recipient has an open Ethernet port on their WiFi router – the hub requires this in order to control devices.
2. Nest Secure, starter kit $499. The Nest Secure is a new player in the smart security market, and costs a bit more than systems by other companies, but you’re really getting your money’s worth here – especially if you already have Nest products in your home, like the Nest Cam. There’s some truly innovative features here, including the Tag keychain for arming/disarming the system, or temporarily disarming of the system if you want to open a window with a sensor for fresh air or opening the door quickly to let the dog do his business. If you know someone who is interested in getting a security system set up, the Nest Secure is a great way to go.
3. Awair Glow, $99. We’re big fans of knowing about the air you breathe, and the Awair is a great tool at an affordable price for monitoring air quality within your home. The best part is it doesn’t take up an outlet – you can plug any device into it and either use it as a regular plug, or you can even plug in non-smart devices and control them through the Glow. You can even do some programming using the Glow – if your humidity drops below a certain level, it can power on the humidifier you keep plugged in. It works with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so it can give you verbal feedback about the air as well. It’s a great starting device for indoor air quality monitoring.

These products are great for people who have started dipping their toes into the smart home waters and want to unlock the full potential of their smart home. Stay tuned to see our favorite advanced smart home tech for the super savvy in your lives!

Gift Guide 2017: Beginner Smart Home Tech

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!