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How long it takes to break even on smart home upgrades

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Smart home features can spruce up any house but when you’re upgrading to these features, where does the spending end and the savings begin?

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Smart home devices are primarily marketed as adding convenience and luxury to your home. They allow you to interconnect your appliances with your smartphone and to monitor and control your utilities remotely. But do smart home devices actually save you money?

Smart devices like speakers and music players are obviously designed to allow you the convenience of playing whatever music you want, wherever you want it. But smart devices that monitor or adjust utilities like heating and water could also save you money on your bills.

Joel Lee over at MakeUseOf has crunched the numbers. He’s published a rundown of the most money-saving smart devices, and how long it will take for the devices to “pay for” themselves.

Smart thermostats are perhaps the most obvious devices for saving you money on utilities. Nest says that their thermostat will save you 13 percent on heating and cooling; ecobee3 claims an even more impressive 23 percent.

Comparing these numbers with U.S. Department of Energy statistics on average household utility costs, Lee calculated that a Nest thermostat will pay for itself in just over two years, while an ecobee3 will pay for itself in just one year.

Rachio is a smart sprinkler device that maintains your lawn watering schedule. It makes sure that the sprinklers turn off on rainy days, conserves water when it’s cold out, and optimizes the watering schedule for maximum absorption.

Rachio claims it can help you cut your spending on water for the lawn by 50 percent. Lee estimates a more conservative 30 percent, but even so, says that the device will pay for itself within 15 months.

Plus, he adds, a smart sprinkler system will also increase the overall value of your home, letting you set a higher price point should you decide to sell it.

Lee wasn’t particularly impressed by LED lightbulbs, pointing out that it will take almost the full lifecycle of the LED bulb to recoup the expense of buying them in the first place. The savings are a bit better, he says, if you compare them to the costs of running incandescent bulbs, and if you skip over the big brand names in favor of lesser known, but also less expensive LEDs.

Lastly, Lee recommends smart moisture sensors. These devices can warn you of leaks, roof damage, and other water damage long before you might notice the effects. If these sensors can give you a heads up on even one potential water-damage disaster, the device will clearly have paid for itself.

It appears that smart home devices could be worth the investment, although it’s important to note that these devices are notoriously insecure. While you may save money on your utilities, one bad hack could easily cancel out these money-saving benefits.

Ellen Vessels is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily, and is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Real Estate Technology

How Artificial Intelligence will boost your sales skills, not replace them

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence will drive the future of sales with time-saving solutions, not career-destroying deviance.

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Artificial Intelligence is getting pretty wild, y’all. Google and Uber are both working on developing AI systems with self-doubt, the University of Cambridge added a “Superintelligence” modification to popular computer game Civilization, and Japanese scientists can basically read minds with deep neural networks now.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) broadly covers the idea of machines and technology carrying out “smart” tasks. AI is driven by machine learning (ML), which allows devices to analyze data and learn through pattern recognition.

AI’s potential is widespread, from personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, to services like Pandora and Netflix. Utilizing machine learning (ML) software, these services apply algorithms to data sets to analyze and learn user preferences.

Whenever you like a movie or show on Netflix, you get suggestions of what you may like based on previous reactions, watching history, and Netflix’s extensive dataset. Machine learning does the analysis work, while Netflix as a service is considered something that uses AI.

Many companies use AI and ML to evaluate and manage data. In 2016, $20-30 billion was spent worldwide on AI. Of this, ninety percent went to research and development, which speaks to global interest in improving and increasing AI technology.

As the amount of worldwide data increases, AI and ML can help manage information and deliver insights across a variety of industries, including retail, real estate, education, energy, manufacturing, and so many others.

Sales can particularly benefit from AI since it reduces the manual labor of researching prospects and qualifying leads. With AI, sales teams can determine when to engage prospects, and which information will be most relevant.

Additionally, AI provides insight into which content is doing well so sales teams can better optimize high-performing strategies. In turn, this can improve engagement based on insights instead of intuition to increase close rates.

Close analysis of data doesn’t have to be a tedious administrative task with AI and ML. By finding out what your customers need based on close data analysis, you can create targeted, personalized solutions.

Plus, AI can help reduce lost sales by evaluating product availability, and implement dynamic pricing along and demand forecasting.

In terms of customer support for sales, you can already easily implement chatbots that use machine learning to answer frequently asked questions and generate leads.

We’re not exactly at Westworld levels of automation yet, but the future is leaning towards AI. Those in the sales industry can greatly benefit from implementing artificial intelligence solutions to save time and increase productivity for anyone who’s still human on the team.

And now for a neat graphic to digest:

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Real Estate Technology

Coming soon: A video screen for your car’s roof

(TECH NEWS) There are no more places for a display to be installed in a car, so let’s put one in the roof and all be ballers.

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Look up at your car roof. Pretty boring, right? How nice would it be to have a calming, mood-setting visual display to show to a client while en route to a tour? If you find yourself in possession of a self-driving car equipped with a Harman MoodRoof, that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do.

With autonomous cars trending so heavily over the past few years, someone was bound to push the envelope on what’s considered “fundamental technology”; in that category, Harman might take the cake. The MoodRoof is a panoramic, roof-mounted display that shows tranquil imagery and music-activated dynamic presentations (think iTunes’ equalizer, but better), giving you something pleasant to stare at while your self-driving car speeds down the freeway.

The MoodRoof itself is stunning enough, but it’s actually designed as a complement to an audio system also designed by Harman. This means that whatever is playing on your self-driving car’s audio system can dictate the kind of imagery you see on the MoodRoof display (and vice versa), making your trips nothing short of personalized lightshows.

When it comes to the technology behind the MoodRoof and the accompanying Moodscape audio suite, Harman is all about convenience. The suite’s software is designed to predict music preferences that pair well with certain displays—a decision that is based on other information, such as your schedule, location, and vehicle status—meaning that all you have to do is sit back, relax, and let the display do its thing.

Since Harman doesn’t manufacture automobiles, the MoodRoof will have to be installed in a different company’s vehicle. This is hardly a problem, since the wide array of different available vehicle types leaves room for some pretty interesting applications for the MoodRoof. For example, using it in a spacious SUV might facilitate an upbeat, enthusiastic mood, while a closer, more intimate use of this technology might be best for the milder among us.

Self-driving technology is still in its infancy, meaning that anything goes when it comes to prospective accessories. It will be interesting to see what other technologies are offered in response to the newfound freedom that accompanies not having to watch the road, but for now, the Harman MoodRoof is a solid 10 in our book.

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Real Estate Technology

How OpenDoor became a unicorn (a company valued at over $1B)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Good news for direct home sales and fans of adorable mythical quadrupeds – OpenDoor is a unicorn. What does its billion dollar valuation mean for the modern real estate market?

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Online direct home sales is officially a thing. That was probably inevitable, given increasing automation of sales (robots are coming for your jobs – not that they can do them yet!), an ongoing Disrupt All The Things mentality amongst entrepreneurs, and sellers’ frankly understandable desire for a smoother, easier way to get rid of their people boxes.

Seriously, the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Index puts selling a home above quitting freaking smoking in terms of medically significant stress. People are understandably interested in making that suck less.

Enter OpenDoor.

The OpenDoor offer is direct online sales. TL;DR – OpenDoor gets information from the customer, then sets a price for the property being sold, sight unseen. On top of that price, OpenDoor charges a risk fee, a flat 6.7 percent on top of the stated value, to guard against depreciation. In exchange, OpenDoor takes over the selling process, spiffs up the house and sells at a profit. As CB Insights says in its excellent analysis of OpenDoor, it’s basically high tech house flipping.

The OpenDoor pitch is that their system benefits both seller and buyer. They’re impressively honest about the math: They say their flat 6.7 percent is pretty much comparable with the costs and fees associated with traditional real estate sales, which is true. The advantage comes in, says OpenDoor, because the property is then out of the seller’s hands, no muss, no fuss.

That spares them from the hassle of home sales, but it’s also easier on the prospective buyer than the usual peer-to-peer approach. No need to balance two mortgages, no deals contingent on the house selling at a certain price. The house has already been sold at a certain price. Pony up and it’s yours.

We could argue pros and cons all day, but that’s not the point. The point is that, on a small but growing scale, the OpenDoor offer is working. OpenDoor currently operates in and around Atlanta, Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, and my own fair hometown of DFW. OpenDoor focuses on second-tier real estate markets, avoiding the fluctuations and complex variables of Realty Madness as it is to be found in NYC, the Bay Area and so on.

In those cities, since its start as a spindly little startup in 2014, OpenDoor has served better than 10,757 total customers.

Per the CEO, it currently accounts for 3 percent of home sales in Phoenix and Dallas. Chump change that ain’t.

They’re already thinking expansion. San Antonio and Charlotte are the next towns slated for Missy Elliot treatment. For those of you who missed the 90s, Missy Elliot treatment is of course “put the thing down, flip it, and reverse it.” Surprisingly apt! Seriously, OpenDoor’s missing a trick if they don’t license that one.

Catchy but unpronounceable hooks aside, OpenDoor is taking a fair amount of risk along with their more than fair amount of money. In particular, focused as they are on moving up in the world, OpenDoor is carrying a lot of debt. As of fall 2017 they had borrowed on the order of $600 million to fund home purchases.

At their current 7.4 percent average gross margin on home sales, that’s sustainable, but it’s a whole lot of money to gamble on a new thing continuing to work. A housing downturn or even a comparatively minor shift in value could easily throw that balance out of whack, and while OpenDoor executives state that the debt would still be supportable in a downturn with an increase in risk fee, there’s always the possibility of chilling an already shaky market with too big a jump.

To state the obvious, avoiding that kind of risk is literally why there are Realtors, and why the real estate market in general works the way it does.

Distributing the risk between bank and homeowners, rather than having one organization take it all, minimizes the possibility of failure. OpenDoor has decided to take that risk, and is confident its model will be enough to ameliorate it. Whether that’s the case or not is an open question.

Most unicorns are just shiny horses standing under the right branch. But if OpenDoor can sustainably deliver on its core offer, then score one for the mythical horsebeast.

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