High-Tech Homes

From advanced home sensors to computerized wine cellars, today’s cutting-edge homes are starting to think on their own. Learn about the latest gadgets and trends.

George Jetson would be impressed if he could see the wide range of high-tech gadgets and systems that are on the market for today’s homes. Though holographic phones and flying cars are still probably a few years off, today there are more space-age products than ever to improve safety, energy efficiency, and overall quality of life for home owners. If one of your listings has built-in smart features, be sure to emphasize those features to potential buyers, experts say. After all, more and more consumers are falling into the category of “constantly connected” and likely will see the gadgets as a major selling point. The computer has become the central home appliance,” Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, said during her presentation at the 2007 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Ross noted that the typical American household now has 26 consumer electronic devices.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for salespeople to show buyers all of a home’s tech-friendly features, she said.

But even old-fashioned buyers will appreciate the array of new products, which even make it simple for home owners to control their lighting and cut their utility bills by logging onto a Web site or activating a wireless control. Here are 10 the latest smart home features you can find today:

Sensors That Contact You

Why it’s smart: You can program Alarm.com’s smart sensors to send you a message when the garage door opens, when water’s rising in the basement, when there’s a power outage, or when it senses motion. Get notified by e-mail, text message, or voice mail. It’s especially helpful for second homes or if you travel often. The system can’t stop a pipe from freezing, but it can tell you that pipes are nearing a freezing point so that you can call a plumber. It can even provide a temporary access code so the plumber can enter the home and fix the problem.

Cost: About $199 for installation, depending on equipment package and installation options. The monthly service fee ranges from $24.95 to $49.95, also depending on features chosen.

More Information: Alarm.com, 877/389-4033

Fresh Air When You Need It

Why it’s smart: Broan’s SmartSense Ventilation System improves indoor air quality by automatically turning on its network of fans when it detects that a boost of fresh air is needed. The company’s “Ultra Silent” EnergyStar-rated fans and vents are installed throughout the home, communicating digitally with one another throughout the day to remove pollutants such as fumes from household cleaners or VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are emitted from carpets and paints. Fresh air also minimizes the chance for mold and mildew to grow. By tracking how much air is ventilated, the system knows when to turn fans on or off, thereby conserving energy.
Cost: $602.80, plus installation
More Information: Broan-NuTone, 888/336-3948

Weather-Sensitive Sprinkler System

Why it’s smart: Most sprinkler systems depend on manually adjusted timers to regulate watering schedules. But Cyber-Rain adjusts watering according to the weather — automatically shutting down the sprinkler on rainy days, decreasing the watering schedule on cold or humid days, and increasing watering on hot or dry days. The end result: Better-looking lawns and plants, lower utility bills, and more effective water conservation.
Cost: $295 for one controller, which covers up to 1,000 square feet
More Information: Cyber-Rain, 877/888-1452

Wireless Lighting Controls

Why it’s smart: AuroRa is a pre-programmed, wireless radio frequency control package that allows you to control lights in five different rooms via dimmers, a tabletop master control, and a wireless controller. Before leaving home, owners can hit one button and voila! There’s no longer light in five rooms, which means there’s no running from room to room to turn off every switch or lamp. Upon returning, one touch, and lights return.
Cost: $750.00
More Information: Lutron Electronics Co. Inc., 610/282-3800

Ultra-Organized Wine Cellars

Why it’s smart: Those who are serious about their wine collection will appreciate this high-tech inventory system.Cellar Advisors’ proprietary software program allows you to check the contents of your wine cellar from just about anywhere. Before the program can be used, the company’s founder Marc Lazar or a staff member makes a special visit to record a collector’s inventory in person. Each bottle is assigned a rack location and its data is entered into the program. Special barcode labels are printed for each bottle, capturing data such as the bottle’s name, industry ranking, and optimal year to drink. After the system is up and running, you can easily add and delete bottles to or from your inventory as you buy them (or drink them).
Cost: $3 a bottle, $1,000 for hardware, $30 to $100 a year for an ongoing subscription, and any travel costs
More Information: CellarTracker, 314/667-5328

A Watchdog Robot

Why it’s smart: “Spygee,” an 18-inch-high battery-operated robot, keeps an eye on the home while you’re away. From a Web site, you can direct the robot’s movements and see what it sees through its digital eyes. Avoiding walls and obstacles, Spygee snaps still photos and records videos with sound, which you can view and hear online. When placed on surveillance mode, Spygee sounds an alarm if anything comes into its line of sight and e-mails a photo to its owner.
Cost: $299.95
More Information: Meccano, 800/77-NIKKO

Close the Shades From Afar

Why it’s smart: Using a hand-held remote or by hitting a wall switch, you can open and close a group of window shades, or simply zero in on one window. Unlike some window-control systems, The PowerRise system from Hunter Douglas’ uses a combination of radio and infrared frequencies. The radio frequency allows home owners to operate a shade or group of shades within 100 feet; the infrared feature allows them to do so by pointing at a particular shade or shades if they’re up to 30 feet away.
Cost: Cost varies, depending on the shade and system selected
More Information: Hunter Douglas, 800-436-7366 Solar-Powered SavingsWhy it’s smart: If you’ve got a home with solar roof panels, you can easily monitor their energy performance with InPower’s Powerview system. On a personalized Web page, the system displays energy consumption and energy savings by the day, week, month, or year. The system also provides access to local weather reports, live Web-cam footage of the home’s solar panels, and information on how much CO2 the home emits into the environment. “It takes the invisible and makes it visible, so you make smart energy decisions — maybe turn down the water heater,” says CEO Anson Fogel.
Cost: $2,500, if purchased separately from the company’s solar power system
More Information: InPower Systems, 970/963-6441
Hi-Def Art GalleryWhy it’s smart: Why look at a blank TV screen when you could be enjoying famous paintings such as Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” or Edward Hopper’s “Cape Cod Morning.” GalleryPlayer’s collection of 2,000 artwork images allows you to download works on your playlist and choose which image will display on your TV screen. Or, you can have the program cycle through 20, 200, or all 2,000 for a fast art history tour.
Cost: From 99 cents to $2.99 for a single image and $9.99 to $24.99 for a collection
More Information: GalleryPlayer, 206/622-4500

Help in the Kitchen

Why it’s smart: No need to wait by the oven or grill to find out when dinner’s ready. A two-part thermometer — one part goes into the food and the other wireless part stays with the chef — it beeps or speaks when the meat, seafood, or veggies are “almost ready,” “ready,” or “overcooked.” The Grill Right Wireless Talking BBQ/Oven Thermometer also beeps if you move beyond the 330-foot thermometer range. You decide whether you want the information delivered in an audio or verbal command. It speaks English, Spanish, German, French, and Danish.
Cost: $59.99
More Information: Oregon Scientific, 800/853-8883  

By Barbara Ballinger, REALTOR® Magazine Online

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