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Can The Smart Tech Industry Convince Consumers To Take The Smart Home Leap

Can The Smart Tech Industry Convince Consumers To Take The Smart Home Leap
September 15, 2016 Christopher Mohs

Home building expert, Sabine H. Schoenberg, offers insights to the smart home tech industry at CEDIA 2016 in Dallas, TX

Sabine H. Schoenberg, host of Sabine’s New House

Sabine H. Schoenberg, host of Sabine’s New House

DALLAS, Sept. 15, 2016 – Sabine H. Schoenberg, host of Sabine’s New House, has been often described as a designer, builder, and realtor wrapped into one over the years. The combination has set her up well in understanding several nuances that go into home design and home construction. Because of this expertise, she will be a presenting at CEDIA 2016 in Dallas, Texas today. She will dive into the struggles the industry is having to break into broader adoption in households across the country and offer a path to getting smart home tech to go mainstream.

Schoenberg’s experience with smart home tech goes all the way back to 2005, when she was one of the first builders in Connecticut to install smart home wiring in a spec house she built. The home got the attention of Robb Report and other publications at the time seeking to capture the trend.

Today, Schoenberg is still working with clients through her real estate brokerage company in Greenwich, Connecticut, a suburb of the greater New York metropolitan area.

“My clients come from all around the world and represent all age groups and income levels,” says Schoenberg. “Most of them do not have smart home tech installed and are intrigued, but nervous about having it. They share one common element, they are consumers who are making decisions around what home environments and home products they want to surround themselves with.”

Consumers are much more willing to make lifestyle upgrades and changes around the time they are buying a home. It may be adding bedrooms for a growing family, downsizing into retirement, or simply wanting an enhanced the home experience.

“This willingness to make changes is key. It’s consumers in this transition that the industry needs to reach out to in order to drive adoption of smart home tech in a mainstream market,” added Schoenberg.

Schoenberg’s access to feedback and consumer exposure doesn’t stop at her real estate brokerage. Through her series, Sabine’s New House which launched last fall, she constantly receives feedback from consumers across the country. They are reacting to the various social, editorial coverage and video content that tracks what Sabine calls “smart, healthy, and green – next generation home building.”

“Our audience often reaches out to ask questions around what products they should install in their homes, both for renovations and new construction projects.”

One example that Schoenberg offers is a follower who recently sold her home and is looking to downsize. She watches Sabine’s New House closely and is aware of the various product innovations that are featured. When she approached her builder about smart tech the response was shocking, “Oh, you’ll do that later – it’s all wireless now.”

“Thankfully this viewer reached out when she didn’t quite believe what she was hearing. We were happy to answer her questions. Now with better, more complete information, she is ready to tackle her new construction project complete with a full home automation system,” added Schoenberg.

Schoenberg feels that the industry is certainly at an exciting junction as it moves from early adopters to going more mainstream in homes. She sees a couple of challenges that the industry still needs to overcome however, emotional barriers and changing habits.

“You’ll probably laugh when I tell you this, but people are very much afraid of something as simple as a smart thermostat. They fear losing control over their home,” remarked Schoenberg. “They very much feel that someone will start screwing with their heating and cooling systems in order to ‘save energy’.”

She is confident that consumers want products that improve their lifestyles. They are eager to purchase products that make them feel better and enhance how they live within their home.

Her latest project, dubbed “The Greenwich House,” serves as a demonstration on how products can enhance a consumer’s lifestyle within the home. It is filled with choices and building products that Schoenberg believes today’s consumer wants and often demands.

Lifestyle Trends Shape Consumer Choices

Schoenberg feels that consumers are looking more at new construction and away from fixer uppers filled with DIY projects. She sees new construction as offering less headache, less maintenance and greater comfort through smart temperature control, smart irrigation and other features.

She also notes that consumers today have a different sense of time. “We live in a now culture, there is less time for everything including long remodeling projects,” says Schoenberg. She adds that smart home tech really speaks to that instant gratification that consumers are looking for.

Buyers are also seeking out a healthy home that enhances overall well-being. The Shelton Group has conducted several surveys around healthy living and smart home technology and notes that both men and women respond to healthier living. According to a recent survey 19% of women see smart home tech as their path to healthier and safer homes. A key factor that is likely to increase as smart home tech moves into the mainstream.

The same group found a significant spike in how consumers identified eco-friendly products with energy efficiency. For several years the sentiment was at 26%, this year that number jumped to 47% representing a significant change. That same study noted that almost half of female consumers believe smart home tech can help their homes be more energy efficient.

Schoenberg also believes that access and control on the go will define the importance of having smart home tech. She believes that most home systems should be available on any device, any platform, even when you are away from the home to enhance mobility and independence.

Bettering Living, Lifestyle Enhancement Transcends Generational Divide

Often when asked about what age demographic “The Greenwich House” was built for, Schoenberg replies “We all really want the same thing, millennials, gen x’ers, baby boomers. There is a fundamental desire for better living, for lifestyle enhancement.”

In her presentation today, Schoenberg walked through what she sees as the major motivators that impact each generation differently.

First, she talks about how we’re currently in a “now culture.” Millennials have a very different sense of time and expect to be able to access information and needs instantly. In contrast, she believes that baby boomers simply want to be able to pack as many life experiences into their retirement as possible.

Mobility also plays a big part according to Schoenberg. She points out that millennials and baby boomers alike want to be on the go with their jobs and with travel. Both groups have a desire to close the door to their home, yet still be connected with vital home systems and security.

Schoenberg also points out a desire to make maintenance easier. Her experience shows that millennials are new to home maintenance and are frankly fearful of key system breakdowns. Gen X’ers on the other hand are working harder for less and are seeking to simplify and make things easier so they have more time to spend with family and their careers. Baby boomers similarly are seeking easier ways to maintain their home.

Further, she talks about how eco-minded and money-minded go hand in hand for all age groups. Millennials are known for their eco-minded and money-minded approach to life and baby boomers are seeking to stretch retirement savings across longer life spans.

All of these trends amount to lifestyle enhancements according to Schoenberg. Therefore, the focus needs to be on how do smart home tech products improve everybody’s lifestyle.

According to Schoenberg, based on the trends all generations will embrace technologies and products that give them an enhanced lifestyle. “This is really good news for the smart home tech industry.”

Although millennials are often seen as the likely adopters of smart home tech, they still only account for 2.6% of the home buying market. Schoenberg notes that in order for smart home tech to go mainstream today, the industry needs to focus attention on baby boomers and gen x’ers who make up the remainder of the home buying market.

“As we’ve just seen, focusing the conversation on lifestyle benefits relates to all age groups and is one of the keys to make smart home tech go mainstream,” adds Schoenberg.

Women May Very Well Be The Best Path Forward

Home improvement product manufacturers and retailers have been shifting their marketing focus towards women for years. Stores like The Home Depot are now stocking lighter tools for example that are specifically designed for women’s preferences. They are leading the decisions around home products and technologies.

Schoenberg asks, “What are the motivating lifestyle choices for ‘these home purchasing managers’ when it comes to smart home technology?”

Studies in this area repeatedly show that women are motivated by technologies that provide safety, result in savings, enhance health, and are environmentally friendly.

Sabine tells the audience, “Stop telling women about the latest ‘cool’ gadgets.”

She feels that companies that can figure out how to connect with women’s desires and needs, are focused on healthy and safety for families, comfort, and energy efficiency will win this market.

“When I present “The Greenwich House” I know men will head right to the utility room to check out all the gear. Women on the other hand want to be in the kitchen and family room where I often hand them my phone so they can control the thermostat, lighting, and more, they discover quickly that they can control and easily manage their domain, their home out of the palm of their hand. This control over their nest is what they get,” adds Schoenberg.

She is confident that smart home technology will go mainstream across the country very soon. It will be dominated by companies who can position their products to enhance daily life within the home and answer key motivating factors that are relevant to women.