The Best of the Tech Helpline: The Not-so-Smart Thing About Smart Homes

 May 13, 2019
Best of the Tech Helpline

Today, you can talk to your house. Just tell Alexa or Google to lock your front door, turn off your lights, close the garage, set the coffee maker for 6:00 a.m., or turn the temperature down to 68 degrees, and it will happen. And you can do this — and a lot more — all from the comfort of your bed or your couch. That’s a pretty smart home, isn’t it?

But there’s a not-so-smart thing about smart homes that can get a real estate agent or broker in trouble: most smart homes won’t set themselves up when a home is sold.

This does not apply to all smart homes, but it does to the ones controlled by voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home. These smart home systems are set up and customized by the current owner, and they can’t be transferred to a new owner. That means the buyer, most often, must start from scratch and create his or her own smart home setup.

Now that may sound like a simple thing, but if you promoted the fact that the house is a smart home, you might end up with a very unhappy buyer. Depending on the number of smart home devices within a given property, it could take hours, and depending on the age and brand of the smart devices, even days for an inexperienced person to fully set up a smart home with all the bells and whistles.

Everything in that house today connects specifically to the current internet setup and connection in which the current owners have in their house. Every single smart device uses the owners’ password to connect to the internet.

More importantly, the master controller for all the devices is inside a mobile app. That mobile app can only be accessed by the owner’s Amazon or Google account. So far, neither Amazon nor Google has made it possible to transfer these smart home setups. And sellers are not about to share access to their Amazon or Google accounts with a buyer.

When a buyer purchases a smart home controlled through Alexa or Google, the buyer will have to start at the beginning. Most sellers are likely to take the voice-activated controls, like the Amazon Echo that operates Alexa or the Google Home devices. They also might take the smaller items, such as wall plugs for appliances and lamps. But they are not likely to take the smart locks or the Ring doorbell or the garage door opener or the smart appliances.

That’s why your seller needs to provide a complete inventory of every smart device, including the make and model. The make and model information is vital because not all smart devices connect the same way.

The key for an agent is how you describe smart homes in terms of each house’s capabilities — not what it can do, but what it can’t do. Be transparent with your buyers. Tell them they will have to create their custom setup, but that will also mean it will be more secure: it will be tied to their account, their internet connection and their passwords.

Providing buyers with a detailed inventory list of all the smart devices will be a blessing — and a huge time-saver when they need to troubleshoot. It’s almost guaranteed they will need to troubleshoot when setting up smart home devices.

Setting up a smart home can be very time-consuming if you have dozens of devices from different manufacturers. And it’s especially time-consuming for individuals who have have never done it before. And most buyers have never done it before.

The best advice, therefore, is not to oversell a smart home. When demonstrating what it can do, provide a full disclosure that what you are showing is customized to the owner, not the house.

Fortunately with your WRA membership, you have free access to the WRA Tech Helpline, which can offer agents help with their own smart home setups. If you have smart home questions or difficulties, feel free to contact the helpline to find your solution. 

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA.

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