BUILDERS COPING WITH A MUCH slower housing market are beginning to see how home technology can give them a competitive edge.

One example is Lennar's Bay Area division, which is offering home entertainment, home automation, and solar power as part of its highly touted “Everything's Included” program for 77 homes at Milano at Monterosso, a new project in Danville, Calif., about 25 miles east of San Francisco.

Pete Beucke, senior vice president of Lennar's Bay Area group, says the first models will be completed and decorated by the end of the year. Homes will be priced in the $1.3 to $1.4 million range.

“We're in a tough market now, so we have to get creative,” says Beucke. “Instead of presenting dollar incentives, we're offering features that add value to the home.”

BRAVO BRAVIA: One of Lennar's latest projects in the Bay Area features Sony's Bravia HDTV  as a standard.
BRAVO BRAVIA: One of Lennar's latest projects in the Bay Area features Sony's Bravia HDTV as a standard.

Beucke says that because Lennar keeps a tight rein on its supply and demand, the builder is not saddled with excess inventory. This lets Lennar move forward on building homes with the latest technology.

“We can build this year's homes instead of selling last year's inventory with last year's features,” he says.

Central to the base package is GE's structured wiring system, the Smart Connection-Center; and GE's home-automation system, SmartCom. The GE gear supports the rest of the home-technology package, which includes Sony WallStation units and Klipsch speakers.

The Everything's Included package also features whole-house audio for the kitchen, master bedroom, and loft. In the kitchen there is a touchpad, while the master bedroom and loft have keypads. With the touchpad and keypads, the features built into SmartCom let homeowners manage security, whole-house music, lighting, an intercom system, and HVAC.

Each family room will have a Sony Wall-Station DVD unit, one of Sony's 46-inch Bravia HDTVs, and a 5.1 Klipsch surround-sound system. The homes will also be prewired so a Dirt Devil central vacuum can reach every room in the house with a 30-foot hose.

“Since the house is prewired for all this home technology, we have the flexibility to sell additional components, add Wall-Stations, or change the keypad in the bedroom and put in a touchpad,” says Beucke.

“The idea is that our integrator will come with the Sony TV the day the homeowner moves into the house and help them set up the system, show them how to use it, including all the lighting, and set up the keypads the way the home buyer wants them,” says Beucke.

Greg Barker, vice president of sales for Interactive Home, the integrator on the project, says that Milano at Monterosso is the first set of homes to install GE's Smart-Com home-automation system.

“We've been able to show the builders how they can differentiate themselves with technology,” says Barker. “We explained to builders that there's no value to the home buyer in just simply prewiring the home,” he says.

“You have to put a value-added product in the house that the customer can use the first day he moves in,” says Barker.