According to our 2014 Energy Pulse survey, a full 49% of Americans are interested in home energy management systems. And the profile of that 49% is pretty much the same as the profile of those looking to buy a new, more efficient home: They’re under the age of 35 with a household income of $100,000+, they have kids in the home, they own a smartphone, and they tend to be male.
So the easy conclusion is to make your new, efficient homes smart-enabled. Include the systems that allow your buyer to connect and control his lights, thermostat, security system, locks, stereo, and appliances. There’s no shortage of players who’d like to help you do exactly that. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, countless firms highlighted their connected home products: security cameras, smart thermostats, Internet-connected lighting, and smart appliances. Key players who want to oversee the management of connected homes were also on hand, including tech companies like Apple and Google, communications stalwarts like AT&T and Comcast, and traditional security firms like ADT and CenturyLink. Each offers a variety of features and plans, reminiscent of cellphone plans from the late 1990s. Many of these are considered well-known and trusted brands. But can they be trusted to manage your buyer’s connected home?
While there is great excitement about the trend toward connected homes, concerns are also beginning to emerge. Every year, Splash Data puts out a list of commonly stolen passwords, noting that many of these passwords are ALWAYS on this list. In other words, hackers know this and are just salivating, waiting for one of your buyers to use one to “secure” their connected home. Don’t believe me? We recently saw a story about a site (we’re not including the link here, for obvious reasons) offering access to over 73,000 unsecured cameras that are easily accessible because their owners never changed their default user names and passwords. Creepy, isn’t it?
And while the use of stronger passwords could eliminate some of these concerns, there are other ways a more determined hacker can get into your system. A Consumerist report recently exposed many vulnerabilities within connected home products.
These issues underline the key potential weakness of connected homes: security. Who can you trust to actually secure the connected homes you build, manage/use your future buyer’s data responsibly and not sell it to unwanted third parties?
There’s one type of provider we haven’t mentioned that is actually among the leaders in the trust department: utilities. A recent international study from Accenture shows that customer trust in utilities with regard to energy advice remains higher and is growing faster compared to telecommunication companies and home security firms. This provides an edge to utilities with respect to newer market entrants, like Google/Nest, who are actively seeking to gain market share through energy management. (And we all know Google doesn’t make its money keeping information secret.)
Even more importantly, the same study found that customers prefer utilities/energy firms to provide connected home services far more often than phone/cable providers or home security companies. Only firms that specialize in connected home products and services were preferred more often than a utility/energy provider.
Utilities have a great opportunity to stake a claim in the connected home marketplace, especially if they strategically position their offers on trust. So, as a builder, reach out to your local utility. See what kind of connected home products and packages they’re putting together. They may not be “there” yet, but they will be soon. And, frankly, they might be able to use your help in nudging them along.
Bottom line: it might enhance your value proposition to be able to say you’ve partnered with the local utility in imagining and creating your energy-efficient, connected homes. And just as we always recommend that you do training with your home buyers on how to best manage and operate their homes to see maximum energy savings (help them set their smart thermostats, turn down the water heater to an efficient setting, etc.), teach them how to make their homes truly secure and resistant to hackers. They’ll thank you for it…and refer you to their friends.