By Charles Wardell While home systems installers have been around for years, most work with high-end custom builders. Now, home technology subcontractors who cater to the middle-market production builder are on the scene. They will install a base-wiring package in all of a builder's homes and offer technology upgrades for buyers who want them.

Two such companies are the Charlotte, N.C.-based Lifestyle Technologies, and My Home Technology in San Diego. Both operate showrooms where home buyers can choose technology options that range from security systems to home theaters to central vacuum systems. But while they have had success selling their services to regional and national builders, the production market is still largely a hard sell. According to Lifestyle president Glen Barrett, builders fear that the time required to install home technologies will slow the construction schedule.

As an incentive, builders get an average margin of 25 percent on any option sold to the home buyer. "It's found money," says Barrett. San Diego developer Don Goss has been happy with My Home Technology, but he sees the margin as a secondary benefit. The real value is that the service enhances his reputation with potential buyers. "People get excited about the fact that they have capacity to have a computer in every room," he says.

Home-tech firms are poised for growth. Most use showrooms to let customers try before they buy. The one shown belongs to My Home Technology in San Diego. [Photo: Courtesy My Home Technology]

Despite builders' reservations, demand has been strong enough that both companies are expanding beyond their original base. My Home president Robert Watson wants to open three offices in Los Angeles and Las Vegas this year, and 20 to 30 offices over the next five years. Lifestyle decided to franchise its business model last year; it has already sold franchises in eight southeastern cities.