“Have you heard of the Interactive Home?”
That’s the first question Ed Mercado, a sales representative for Taylor Morrison’s Houston division, asks customers when they walk through the door of a model home – while they’re giving him the ‘old Heisman’ and trying to escape. If they’re not sure, Mercado pulls the customers around the corner to an iPad Mini installed on the wall in a central location of the home called the Command Center.
First Mercado will demonstrate a few features on the iPad, such as turning on the lights, locking the front door, and changing the music station playing in the kitchen. He’ll even go outside to ring the doorbell to show buyers the front door security camera feature. Once he shows them a few items, the buyers, and their kids, will take over and test it out for themselves.
“That’s what makes it so great,” says Mercado. “They know that it’s an iPad mini, so they’re not afraid of it. They start pushing all the buttons and testing out the system.”
The Interactive Home is Taylor Morrison’s trademarked term for its smart home offering, which its Houston division first launched with Legrand, an electrical and home automation product manufacturer, in 2012. Last year the company started to look for a better solution that could work across all its product lines. Legrand ultimately won the contract once again because of its newly updated Intuity Home Intelligence platform and the vendor’s experience with Taylor Morrison.
Jim Ellison, VP of sales and marketing for Taylor Morrison’s Houston division, says the company wanted the ability to scale the smart home solution to its various price points from $190,000 to over $1 million. According to Legrand, the Intuity Home Intelligence system is meant to bring home automation to the masses, by being scalable to both a consumers’ and a home builders’ needs and price points.
This March, Taylor Morrison unveiled its rebranded and upgraded Interactive Home offering. The new system comes as a standard feature in all the homes Taylor Morrison builds in the Houston metro area. Each of the packages is scaled to the price of the home, adding technology value slightly proportional to the home value. For example, a base package in one of Taylor Morrison’s $700,000 homes would be valued at roughly $10,300, while a base package at an entry-level home may only cost $4,600.
The various Interactive Home features Taylor Morrison makes available include just about anything a homeowner could imagine in a 21st century house: WiFi, video door entry, built-in speakers in various rooms, surround sound, lighting control, security, thermostat control, garage control, and more. All home owners have the ability to upgrade their smart home features outside the base package included as a standard feature, with Taylor Morrison’s five packages: base, base enhanced, plus, plus premium, and plus ultimate. Home buyers also have the option to include pre-wiring for upgrades down the line, and can add on any individual features outside the available bundles – for a price, of course.
Legrand helps train and certify all Taylor Morrison’s Houston division sales people with the new Intuity home automation system. The sales teams learn how it works, are trained in demonstrating the various features, and perform mock meetings to develop the ability to show individual’s how the Interactive Home integrates into different lifestyles.
Ahead of a tour, a sales representative at a model home would typically start playing country music (it is Texas, after all) through the built in audio system, but, if the salesperson knows the buyer is relocating, he or she will find a local radio station in the buyer’s home town. If kids are along on the tour, the salesperson can encourage them to play with the command center as well, which Mercado says usually increases the parents’ interest in the technology’s ease of use.
In a survey across the Houston sales team, Taylor Morrison found that tours lasted average 15 minutes longer than they had without the Interactive Home, showing customers’ engagement with the technology.
“That extra 15 minutes of face time with the buyer is a big deal, considering the amount of homes they’re probably seeing,” says Ellison.
Taylor Morrison has also worked hard to incorporate, not alienate, the real-estate-agent community into this new home environment. Ellison says his team has held open houses just for the real estate agents, at which point the sales team can train the agents on the technology. Real estate agents will communicate the enthusiasm and innovation around the new technology to their clients, then bring them on a tour and demonstrate it themselves.
When buyers choose a Taylor Morrison home in one of its 37 developments in the Houston area, they get a dedicated set of hours in the design center to pick out finishes for tile, cabinets, counter tops, etc. Then they walk roughly 200 feet across the parking lot of the shopping center to a DataSmart showroom to pick out all their technology amenities.
DataSmart, a home automation company that helps customers plan and install all their smart home features, teamed with Taylor Morrison on the Interactive Home. DataSmart has a team of employees specifically dedicated to all things Taylor Morrison, which is why it has a specific showroom just out front of Taylor Morrison’s design center. Taylor Morrison’s home buyers will meet with a DataSmart sales representatives to discuss the various Interactive Home packages and select locations for the command center and which room they want built-in speakers installed.
“We help customers understand what they saw in the model environment and begin to dial that into their specific floorplan,” says DataSmart founder Randall Duncan.
The representatives use PDFs of Taylor Morrison’s floorplans to move room by room with the home buyers when deciding which feature to include and where to install it. In the PDF, the representative will write technology specific notes for the installer.
All of the features shown in the home are also at DataSmart’s Taylor Morrison showroom. This way the sales representative can go over every feature again to help the buyer decide if they’d like to include it in their house.
Once the home is completed, Ellison says the Taylor Morrison team will do a final testing of all the technology, and the last step before handing over the keys to the buyers is an Interactive Home demonstration to ensure he or she knows how to get their smart home.
Once the buyers are in their homes, there’s always concern about callbacks. The increase of technology in the home can scare some builders when it comes to the liability of maintaining the technology’s operations. However, Ellison says it really hasn’t been a problem in the four years Taylor Morrison has done this.
“Tech problems are usually a quick fix over the phone,” he says. “It rarely requires a scheduled visit.”
DataSmart provides 24/7 customer support. If Taylor Morrison gets a callback, there are a few technological issues its warranty team can handle, but problems usually are forwarded to DataSmart, which offers 24/7 customer support. All of the callbacks regarding the technology will be logged to track common problems. Legrand can always issue a software update across all systems if needed. Legrand also provides its own five-year, end-to-end warranty program on all parts and labor.
Adding this technology hasn’t just helped Taylor Morrison gain customers, it’s starting to help its homes to gain value in the appraisal process as well. Homes that truly offer a “smart home” experience help boost the price, and could feasibly increase the resale value – especially as this technology gains more ground in the market.
Coldwell Banker Real Estate and CNET also recently just defined the “smart home’ experience,” with hopes to end any fraudulent claims around what a smart home actually includes. A home with just a Nest thermostat doesn’t provide the same all-encompassing experience that a home like Taylor Morrison’s Interactive Home provides.
For now, only Taylor Morrison’s Houston division is incorporating the Interactive Home into its building strategy. According to Ellison, other divisions, such as Florida and California, are beginning initial research to determine the Interactive Home’s value in the individual markets. They’re treating the Houston division’s effort as a pilot program for the time being, seeing what they can learn as the technology advances.
Even as it advances, Taylor Morrison’s effort in trademarking the term Interactive Home is likely what will pay off the most in the next few decades. It’s provided increased marketing efforts so the Houston team can track its reach. It’s also given a new definition to what a ‘smart home’ can actually be.
“This technology isn’t just smart,” says Ellison. “It creates an experience where buyers physically interact with our homes. It’s a lifestyle.”