‘Staging” — the process of spiffing up a house to prepare it for sale — usually involves a new coat of paint or some classy-looking rented furniture, but these days a seller hoping to move a property fast for the best possible price might want to consider giving the house a brain transplant.
Many buyers want houses that will connect them to the “Internet of things,” the up-and-coming global network of billions of simple digital devices. And so sellers are upgrading their properties with “smart home” technologies, including Internet-connected door locks, security cameras, thermostats, and lighting systems. “To our customers, it’s an unmatched opportunity to have their homes stand out from the crowd,” said David Siroty, a spokesman for one of the nation’s leading realty companies, Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC.
Meanwhile, people who are selling smart homes are beginning to realize they need to hit the reset button on gadgets that might contain passwords and other sensitive personal information. And smart-home buyers often find that they need professional help to set the systems to their specifications.
“We need to be thinking about this, both the buyer and the seller,” said Craig Spiezle, founder and executive director of Online Trust Alliance, a tech industry association working to improve the security of smart-home devices. “There’s certainly an opportunity for abuse there.”
Coldwell Banker has set up a special training course to teach its agents how to prepare smart homes for sale and how to boost a home’s curb appeal by adding smart features. So far, more than 2,000 of the company’s agents in the United States have taken the course. And in August, it introduced a smart-home staging kit, a roughly $1,000 package of digital devices to enable quick and relatively inexpensive upgrades of any standard home.
According to a 2015 Coldwell Banker survey of 1,250 people, 71 percent of home buyers want a property that’s “move-in ready,” with no need for further upgrades. Of these, 44 percent expect such a home to contain smart features.
But which ones? A homeowner can buy smart lawn sprinklers, smart garage door openers, smart refrigerators, and smart air conditioners, but how many of these complex and costly gadgets must she install before she can declare the home officially “smart?” “There’s no standard taxonomy or definition of what a smart home is,” Spiezle said.
To clear up the matter, Coldwell Banker worked with the technology news site CNET to develop its own definition of a smart home. The house must have Internet access and either a network-connected security system or a smart thermostat for controlling heating and air conditioning. In addition, the house must have at least two more networked systems — smart lighting, perhaps, or a smart washing machine or audio system.
Coldwell Banker’s definition contains plenty of wiggle room, which is just as well. Given our diverse needs and lifestyles, no home is likely to have every kind of smart device. In its staging kit for home sellers, the company delivers a kind of “greatest hits” package, featuring the most popular upgrades. The kit includes the Nest Learning Thermostat, as well as Nest’s smoke and carbon monoxide alarm and indoor security camera; a smart door-lock system from August Home Inc.; and a remotely controlled lighting system by Lutron Electronics Co.
On top of the kit’s $999 price tag, there’s the cost of installing it. Worthington Group , the company that created the upgrade kit for Coldwell Banker, offers installation service for a flat rate of $550.
Realtor Ricardo Rodriguez of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Boston completed the smart-home training course earlier this year and has begun tutoring all prospective sellers on the benefits of an upgrade. “I do think that having the smart home really adds to the general value proposition of that home,” Rodriguez said. “I cannot quantify it, but it certainly adds to the marketability of the home. It allows these homes to sell faster.”
But before selling any home with smart features, it’s vital to take an inventory of each device and render it as secure as possible. Smart household gadgets generally don’t store personal information like the owner’s Social Security or phone numbers, so the home seller probably isn’t at risk of identity theft, but the buyer must make sure he or she gets full access to each device while ensuring that the previous owner is locked out.
The Online Trust Alliance has drawn up a checklist full of good advice for smart-home buyers. For instance, the buyer must be sure of getting the warranties, owners’ manuals, and manufacturers’ contact information for every device. And he or she must obtain all device passwords and change them, while also restoring each device to its original factory settings. This will ensure that a former owner of the house can’t turn up the heat or unlock the front door remotely.
But a checklist may not be enough for millions of home buyers who have never had to consider the challenges of purchasing a smart home. Vin Bruno, chief executive of CEDIA, a home-technology trade association, said the inspectors who verify that a home is ready for purchase ought to include its smart features in their examinations, but rarely do. Instead, said Bruno, “they’re checking for termites.”
So CEDIA plans to establish a certification program for home inspectors that will train them to make sure that high-tech homes have been properly prepped for sale. It seems that as our houses get smarter, the rest of us will be going back to school as well.